Swell Classification Guidelines
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate/Utility Class: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft).
Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Saturday (1/4) North and Central CA surf was 1-2 ft overhead coming from the Gulf of Alaska and reasonably lined up, clean with light offshore's. Another great day in Northern CA. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high on the sets and clean and pretty lined up, but generally weaker than up north. In Southern California up north surf was knee high or so and clean but mostly too small to be rideable. Down south waves were maybe waist high and very clean but weak. Hawaii's North Shore was in the 8-10 ft range on the face but pretty torn up by Kona winds. Not rideable. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting northeast windswell at thigh to waist high and chopped. .
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a tiny gale that in the Northern Gulf on Wed (1/1) continued hitting Central California. More localized north windswell was hitting Hawaii but also generating Kona winds making for poor conditions that are to hold for a few more days. A new complex gale is to develop over the Northern Dateline region on Mon (1/6) with seas to 28 ft but covering a small area aimed mostly east. Maybe some limited swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast, but nothing remarkable expected. Theoretically remnants of this system are to regenerate in the Gulf of Alaska on Wed (1/8) producing a tiny area of 38 ft seas aimed east on Wed offering potential for the Pacific Northwest followed by a small secondary system right behind. And yet another small system is forecast for the Northern Dateline region on Sat (1/11) again with 38 ft seas. In all not a strong pattern, but not flat either (depending on your location).
Note: NDBC has issued a schedule to start repairing buoys as of 11/12/13. Unfortunately no buoys of interest to California are scheduled through September 2014. TOA Array (El Nino Monitoring) buoys are set for maintenance in April 2014.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (1/4) the jetstream was tracking generally flat off Japan with 160 kt winds pushing to the dateline then splitting hard just northeast of Hawaii with the northern branch tracking flat north up into Western Alaska while the southern branch continued east pushing into Baja. A secondary split was fading but still pulling some wind energy out of the jet tracking north on the dateline. A weak trough was present north of Hawaii offering only limited support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours much the same pattern is expected with winds in jet over the West Pacific fading to 150 kts still tracking more or less flat off Japan, then splitting northwest of Hawaii (165W) with the northern branch lifting generally northeast pushing towards British Columbia and the southern branch falling directly over Hawaii and then splitting again, with energy tracking southeast to the equator and then also northeast into Northern CA by late Monday (1/6). Beyond 72 hours no real change is forecast with a flat easterly flow continuing off Japan with perhaps a weak trough embedded and tracking east to the dateline on Wed (1/8) and the Gulf by Friday. Limited support for gale development there. Back to the West winds in the jet are to start building to 180 kts on Fri (1/10) but with a new split point developing on the dateline and ahead of that pocket of energy easing east into Sat (1/11) with the split point moving to 170W. A generalized weak trough to be north of the wind pocket offering some support for gale development. But overall the pattern is to remain much as it has been lately with no large scale support for gale or storm development expected.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (1/4) swell from a gale previously in the Gulf of Alaska early on Wed (1/1) with 26-30 ft seas near 52N 156W on the 310 degree path to NCal for 12 hours was hitting North and Central CA. This swell to be dissipating late Sunday (1/5). Also swell from a cutoff low was hitting Hawaii. This low developed 1200 nmiles northwest of Hawaii on Thurs PM (1/2) with a tiny fetch of 45-50 kt north winds producing 28 ft seas at 40N 162W targeting Hawaii down the 350 degree path. This system faded with only 35 kt north fetch holding into Fri AM (1/3) generating 27 ft seas at 38N 161W 1100 nmiles out on the 353 degree path. Additional northerly fetch Friday evening resulted in 26 ft seas at 37N 160W aimed directly at Hawaii down the 357 degree path. By Sat AM (1/4) this system was fading fast and tracking east out of the Hawaiian swell window. Raw local proto-swell started hitting the Islands late Fri (1/3) and was in the 7 ft @ 11 secs range (8 ft) Sat (1/4). The core of the swell is to hit near sunset Sat into Sun AM (1/5) at 8.4 ft @ 14 secs (12 ft Hawaiian) from 355 degrees. Local northerly winds to make most breaks untouchable.
Also a tiny gale is developing over the Northern Kuril Islands Thurs AM (1/4) producing a tiny area of 30 ft seas midday at 44N 154E (310 degs HI). It built some in the evening producing 31 ft seas aimed east at 43N 158E with energy aimed down the 312 degree path to Hawaii. It faded Fri AM (1/3) with seas dropping from 28 ft at 43N 163E. Small swell is expected for Hawaii starting late Mon at 4.5 ft @ 17 secs (7.5 ft ). Swell to hold Tues AM (1/7) at 5.1 ft @ 14-15 secs (7.0-7.5 ft) from 310-315 degrees. Northeast Kona winds to still likely be a problem though.
Over the next 72 hours an ill formed gale is to develop off the Northern Kuril Islands later Sat (1/4) with winds to 35 kts in pockets and tracking east. This system is to reach the northern dateline region Monday AM (1/6) producing two fetches, one with 40 kt west winds and another with 35-40 kt west winds resulting in seas of 28 ft at 45N 172E and 49N 170W aimed east targeting the US West Coast mainly. By evening the fetch is to start fading down to 35+ kts in each area with seas 28 ft at 45N 177E and 50N 168W again aimed east. By Tues AM (1/7) this system is to dissipate. This system was on the 302 degree track to NCal and 2800 nmiles out, a long ways away. Limited well decayed background swell is expect for NCal from 302 degrees starting on Sat AM (1/11) with period 15 secs but likely buried in other more local swell (see Long Term Forecast below). Sideband energy is likely for Hawaii too starting Thurs AM (1/9) at 5.3 ft @ 14-15 secs (7.5 ft). from 320 degrees. Swell to hold into Friday at 4.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (6 ft).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/4) a light offshore flow was in place early but expected to turn light north over outer waters everywhere but Southern CA. Sunday a light offshore flow is expected turning dead neutral Monday into mid-Tuesday. Light rain in north most California Tuesday and maybe a trace of snow for Tahoe Tuesday AM and again in the evening. Wednesday weak high pressure is to start building well off Pt Conception with low pressure taking over the Gulf of Alaska setting up a light north flow off North and Central CA and up to 20 kt isolated to Point Conception. More of the same Thursday but with north winds on the increase for all of Central CA. 15 kt north winds forecast for all of North and Central CA on Friday fading a little Saturday but not much. Looks like the offshore flow that has been so stable is to fade as low pressure starts moves from the Gulf preventing high pressure from riding into the Pacific Northwest. This also suggests moisture for the Pacific Northwest too with a series of front moving into Oregon and Washington starting Tues (1/7).
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were in play. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing gale activity is forecast aimed up into our forecast area.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hours remnants of the Northern Dateline gale are to redevelop in a more organized fashion in the Gulf of Alaska Wed AM (1/8) with a tiny area of 55 kt northwest winds tracking flat east and seas building from 32 ft at 48N 158W. By evening winds are to fade from 50 kts with seas peaking at 39 ft at 48N 148W (293 degs OR, 309 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading from 35 kt off the Washington coast Thurs AM (1/9) with seas dropping from 32 ft at 48N 138W. If all goes as forecast some decent swell is possible for the US West Coast focused on the Pacific Northwest.
A secondary small fetch is to develop right behind in the Gulf on Thurs AM (1/9) with 50 kt west winds and seas building from 30 ft over a tiny area at 46N 163W. By evening 45 kt west fetch is to hold tracking east with seas building to 36 ft at 48N 158W (307 degs NCal). Fetch is to fade from 40 kts Fri AM (1/10) in the Central Gulf with 34 ft seas at 49N 151W. The gale is to be holding with 40 kt west winds Fri PM and seas 32 ft at 51N 144W (311 degs NCal) and the gale bound for Northern Canada.
Yet another small gale is forecast developing approaching the dateline on Sat (1/11) while lifting northeast with 50 kt west winds and 39 ft seas mid-day at 48N 180W targeting mainly the US West Coast. Something to monitor.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather cycle that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized in it's Inactive Phase by enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is in control of, and in it's Active Phase by slack if not an outright reversal of trade winds and enhanced precipitation. The oscillation occurs in roughly 20-30 day cycles (Inactive for 20-30 days, then Active for 20-30 days) over any single location on the planet. During the Active Phase in the Pacific the MJO tends to support the formation of stronger and longer lasting gales resulting in enhanced potential for the formation of swell producing storms. During the Inactive Phase the jet stream tends to split resulting in high pressure and less potential for swell producing storm development. The paragraphs below analyze the state of the MJO in the Pacific and provide forecasts for MJO activity (which directly relate to the potential for swell production).
As of Saturday (1/4) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -6.50. The 30 day average was up to 0.22 and the 90 day average was down some at 2.05. The nearterm trend based on the SOI was indicative of potentially a building Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was just above neutral territory suggestive of an overall neutral MJO pattern. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends, so the move into positive readings is not unexpected.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated light west anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning neutral on the dateline holding that way south of Hawaii and continuing into Central America. A week from now (1/12) west anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent turning neutral over the dateline holding neutral south of Hawaii on into Central America. In all this suggests a neutral Phase of the MJO is currently over the West Pacific and potentially turning somewhat Active longer term.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/3 are mostly in-sync. Both suggest a new weak Active Phase is over the far West Pacific expected to hold if not ease east some 5 days out then build a little 10-15 days out while moving to the dateline. Even the conservative dynamic model is in agreement. This remains an upgrade from previous runs. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/4 suggests a weak Active Phase is already east of the dateline and tracking east, expected to push into Central America near Jan 14. In parallel a new moderate Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Jan 19 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 2/3 with a new very weak Active Phase building behind it starting 2/5. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of now (1/2) a completely neutral water temp pattern covers the equator from Central America to the Philippines other than one pool of slightly negative water temps south of Hawaii. Other than that equatorial water temps are biased on the warm side of neutral (+0.25 degs C). It remains similar to previous updates over the past 2 weeks. This pool of warm equatorial water started developing over the East Pacific mid-October in sync with a building Active Phase of the MJO. This pocket of warmer water continues over Chile and all of Peru too, with no change for a few weeks now. Water temps off West Africa have eroded slightly. The California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California remains in-place driven by offshore winds and upwelling. The wall of warmer than normal water just off the North CA coast remains displaced west, held off by high pressure and local upwelling all the result of much offshore winds. Still, thousands of nmiles of warmer water is lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast. In short, there's no sign of a legitimate warm pattern developing yet, but there are some interesting suggestions of such a pattern trying to develop. And certainly there's no troubling cool water on the charts and if anything, warm water is getting the upper hand. We remain in a pure neutral pattern (as neutral as it can get). It will take at least 3 months from the time the cool eddy ended off the Galapagos and a fully neutral pattern developed (mid-Sept) till anything helpful to the jetstream manifests in the upper atmosphere (mid-Dec).
Subsurface waters temps on the equator indicate a pocket of warm water 1 deg C above normal remains poised off of and pushing into South America from a point at 75 meters depth near 105W. This is the tail end of an eastward moving Kelvin Wave. This is good news in that it is expected to provide slight warming to the already warming surface warm pool near the Galapagos (a good thing) over the next 30-45 days. The hope is this will add some fuel to the jetstream over the next 2 months.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 1/4 have backed off some. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb-March 2014 building to + 0.75-1.0 deg C by late July 2014. The recent run has backed to the low end of that scale with temps projected to +0.7 C by Aug 2014. For the immediate future (this Winter) a neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering near 0.0 deg C through late January, then a slow but steady increase is to set in. A consensus of other models suggests slow warming, but not passing beyond mildly positive territory till Spring of next year.
Overall the immediate outlook remains nothing stellar, but trending towards something that would be considered right on the threshold of warm, by Summer 2014, assuming one were to believe the models. Other models suggest a continuation of neutral conditions, though trending warmer. All this is good news. If anything the ocean is in a recharging mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures gradually on the rise again in fit's-and-starts.
We are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014 with perhaps a slightly warmer pattern by early 2014. The weak presence of the Inactive Phase of MJO in the summer of 2013 still seems to be biasing the weather global pattern. But with the ocean turning neutral, we suspect the atmosphere will make the turn as well over the next few months (into Dec 2013). This is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. It is becoming apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. Longer term the expectation is there will be at least one to two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
Details to follow...
External Reference Material: El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Kelvin Wave
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table