The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a key U.S. weather forecaster, on Thursday extended into the summer its view that the El Niño climate phenomenon should present few weather problems in the Northern Hemisphere.

In its monthly report, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), a part of NOAA’s National Weather Service, said its models for the El Niño weather pattern remained neutral through the summer months, but had a more ambiguous outlook for the second half of the year due to greater variations in its longer-term readings.

The much-feared El Niño heats up the tropical ocean in East Asia, sending warm air into the United States and South America, often causing flooding and heavy rains. It can also trigger drought in Southeast Asia and Australia, regions that produce some of the world’s major food staples, such as sugar cane and grains.

During February, ocean temperatures stayed below average but began rising slightly in some areas of the Pacific Ocean, increasing the average temperature somewhat. Wind patterns were mixed, neutralizing the impact on ocean temperatures.

Both factors led forecasters to their neutral view for El Niño as well as for the La Niña phenomenon, which arises from cooler sea temperatures.

While most models call for a neutral El Niño outlook into the fall, they show greater variation beyond the summer months and a less clear view of the latter half of the year.

“There is increasing model spread and overall less confidence in the forecast during the last half of the year. Thus, ENSO (El Niño)-neutral is favored into the Northern Hemisphere (into) summer 2013,” CPC said.

(Reporting by Carole Vaporean; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)