South Asia monsoon seen below average to average in 2014

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India and its South Asian neighbours are expected to see below average to average rains this year if the El Nino weather pattern gains strength during the four-month monsoon season, a forum of weather experts said on Wednesday.

Poor monsoons could dent crop output in India - the world's No.2 rice and sugar producer, while less rains in soybean areas could make the country, already the world's top importer of cooking oils, more dependent on overseas purchases.

"There is a strong consensus about the possibility of evolution of an El Nino event during the summer monsoon season," said D.S. Pai, the lead forecaster of the Indian weather office, when releasing the consensus forecast of the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum - a group of global weather experts affiliated to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Rains could be below average in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and some parts of Pakistan, while an average monsoon is expected in Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan, Pai said.

A strong El Nino, marked by a warming of the sea surface on the Pacific Ocean, can cause severe drought in Australia, Southeast Asia and India, while drenching other regions such as the U.S. Midwest and Brazil in rains. A string of global agencies, including the Climate Prediction Centre have forecast a high chance of El Nino arriving during the Northern Hemisphere summer this year.

Earlier this month, the WMO assessed an El Nino could develop around the middle of the year, though the U.N. agency said it was early to predict the strength of the weather event.

The WMO assessment follows predictions by other national forecasters, including weather bureaus in the United States, Japan and Australia, that an El Nino event was likely within months.

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