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 Tuesday (1/7) North and Central CA surf was head high and clean and peeling with nice fun looking waves with glassy conditions and no wind. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to maybe chest high and warbled with modest northwest winds outside the kelp. In Southern California up north surf was thigh to waist high and clean. Nothing remarkable but rideable on occasion. Down south waves were waist high and weak but exceedingly clean. Hawaii's North Shore was 2-4 ft overhead and pretty warbled from east-northeast trades. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting east windswell at waist high and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A weak gale developed on the dateline Mon-Tues with up to 28 ft seas aimed due east targeting mainly the US West Coast. Sideband swell for Hawaii by Thurs (1/9) with more directly but smaller swell by the weekend for Central CA. A series of 3 small gales are forecast developing just off the Pacific Northwest in quick succession Wed-Sat (1/11) with the last being the strongest producing a small area of 30 ft seas. More swell starting late Thurs and through the weekend from a rather north direction for North and Central CA. More spurious activity forecast for the dateline at that time too with seas 25 ft or less and small in coverage. Perhaps a stronger gale develop on the dateline Tues 91/14) with up to 36 ft seas late targeting the Islands best. So a little bit for everyone if the models are correct, but nothing over the top.
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 Tuesday (1/7) the jetstream was tracking generally flat off Japan at 150-160 kts falling into a bit of a trough mid-way to the dateline, then ridging slightly on the dateline with a pinched and almost cutoff trough dipping south over the Islands before continuing east and pushing into Central CA. A bit of a split flow was peeling off the main flow in the Hawaiian trough, but not too bad. Limited support for gale development in the trough west of the dateline with far less in the pinched trough over Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours the trough west of the dateline is to push up to and over the dateline but weakening significantly, offering no real support for gale development and then causing the jet to split on Fri (1/10) on the dateline. A stronger flow of wind energy to build off Japan at 160 kts at that time but offering no trough or support for gale development. A split and muddled flow to persist east of the dateline into the US West Coast. Beyond 72 hours the jet to start building solidly with 190 kt winds pushing off Japan by Sun (1/12) tracking flat to the dateline and then splitting a bit east of there at 170W with the northern branch pushing up into North Canada. No troughs are immediately forecast though given the strong winds in the jet (building to 200 kts on Mon (1/13), there remains potential for gale development from the dateline westward. The split flow to support high pressure over the Eastern Pacific.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (1/7) residual proto-swell from last weekend was still hitting Hawaii with a poor local wind pattern still in-play. Swell from a gale over the Kuril Islands on Thurs (1/4) was also hitting (See Kuril Gale below). Swell from a gale on the dateline Mon-Tues (1/7) was in the water traveling towards both Hawaii and the US West Coast (see Dateline Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours atmospheric energy from the Dateline Gale below is to track east and in combination with a more supportive jetstream flow aloft, start redeveloping off the Pacific Northwest forming a series of small gales. The first to start forming on Wed (1/8) just off Oregon peaking in the evening with 35kt northwest winds and 22 ft seas at 45N 132W on the 319 degree track to NCal. 13 sec period swell possible for exposed breaks Fri AM (1/10) at 7 ft @ 13 secs (9 ft) but well shadowed in the SF Bay area coming from 310-319 degrees.
A second gale to develop further west in the Gulf on Wed PM (1/8) producing 45 kt northwest winds over a small area and seas building from 22 ft at 46N 159W - bypassing any route into Hawaii. By Thurs AM (1/9) 45 kt west winds to be holding with the gale lifting northeast and seas building to 28 ft at 50N 150W (310 degs NCal). by evening the gale is to be pushing into Central Canada with seas 34 ft over a tiny area up at 52N 142W barely on the 319 degree track to NCal. Limited potential for swell to result, but mainly focused on the Pacific Northwest.
Yes a third gale is to develop Fri PM (1/10) just off the Pacific Northwest generating northwest winds to 45 kts and seas 28 ft at 45N 144W (302 degs NCal). A tiny area of 50-55 kt northwest winds to be just off Vancouver Island on Sat AM (1/11) generating 30 ft seas at 45N 134W just outside the 319 degree path to NCal. If this develops some degree of swell is possible for the Pacific Northwest with very north angled swell for NCal. Something to monitor.
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 hit Hawaii 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.
An ill formed gale developed off the Northern Kuril Islands late Sat (1/4) with winds to 35 kts in pockets and tracking east. This system reached the northern dateline region Monday AM (1/6) producing 35-40 kt west winds and seas of 24 ft at 45N 172E aimed east targeting the US West Coast mainly. By evening the fetch held still at near 40 kts with seas building to 28 ft at 44N 177E aimed east (325 degs HI, 297 degs NCal). By Tues AM (1/7) this system was dissipating with seas from previous fetch fading from 28 ft at 44N 175W (335 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). Limited well decayed background swell is expect for NCal from 296-297 degrees starting on Sat AM (1/11) with period 15 secs but likely buried in other more local swell. Sideband energy is likely for Hawaii too starting later Wednesday evening holding into Thurs AM (1/9) at 6.0 ft @ 14 secs (8.5 ft) from 325 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 Tuesday (1/7) a light northerly flow was in place over outer waters, but near calm winds were nearshore for all of California. Wednesday 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 to 20 kts late and up to 30 kts near Pt Conception. 15 kt north winds forecast for all of North and Central CA on Friday but starting to fade off Pt Conception. Saturday low pressure and a front to reach extreme North CA, but make no further progress southward. A generally light winds flow is forecast for North and Central CA down into Southern CA. High pressure to try and ridge into Oregon on Sunday (1/12) setting up north to north-northeast winds for Central CA at 15 kts and then making it into the mainland with winds turning offshore for the whole state on Monday continuing into Tuesday. In shore, the high pressure blockade which is to be weakened this weak, is to rebuild next week, eliminating any chance for precipitation for the Golden State.
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 another small gale is forecast developing approaching the dateline on Fri AM (1/10) while lifting northeast with 50 kt west winds and 38 ft seas at 48N 174E targeting mainly the US West Coast with limited secondary fetch south of the core generating 26 ft seas at 44N 176W. Limited swell possible mainly for the US West Coast.
Another stronger but still small gale is forecast tracking from the Southern Kuril Islands east approaching the dateline Tues (1/14) with a small area of 45 kt west winds and seas building to 36 ft late at 36N 173E offering decent odds for Hawaii. 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 Tuesday (1/7) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at 1.04. The 30 day average was up to 1.07 and the 90 day average was down some at 1.79. The nearterm trend based on the SOI was indicative of a neutral if not weakly 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 far western Maritime Continent turning neutral in the Central Maritime Continent continuing neutral on the dateline holding that way south of Hawaii and on into Central America. A week from now (1/15) strong west anomalies are forecast building over the Western Maritime Continent turning neutral over the dateline holding neutral to slight east 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 1/6 are mostly in-sync. Both suggest a very weak Active Phase is over the dateline region and expected to hold if not ease east some 5 days then fade per the statistic model 10-15 days out while the dynamic model has it building while moving to the dateline. It would be nice if this occurred. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/7 suggests a weak Active Phase is already just east of the dateline and tracking east, expected to push into Central America near Jan 22. 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 2/16 with a new weak Active Phase building behind it starting 2/6. 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 (1/6) 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. The California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California remains in-place and unchanged, 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 2 deg C above normal remains poised off of and pushing into South America from a point at 75 meters depth near 100W. 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 1/7 are holding steady. 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 +0.6-0.7 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