New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 Thursday (1/7) North and Central California was getting a fresh shot of weak dateline swell with waves in the 1-2 ft overhead range and reasonably clean early. Southern California was small but rideable with waves waist high or maybe a little more on the sets and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting the second pulse of Swell #10 with waves about 15 ft Hawaiian and pretty raw and hacked with near-Konas in control, but slowly turning towards trades. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for swell to start pushing up with the first pulse from Swell #10 arriving on Friday in the large utility class range at double overhead, being reinforced on Saturday with a second equal sized pulse. Then Swell #11 hits overnight Saturday , fading fast on Sunday AM but still maybe 13 ft on the face. Swell to continue dropping some on Monday. Southern California is to see Swell #10 arriving from Friday with waves filtered by the Channel Islands but still pretty decent due to it's rather west direction, in the head high to 1 ft overhead range and better at top spots, continuing into Saturday and maybe sliding down a bit late with Swell #11 hitting for Sunday AM at 2-3 ft overhead with top spots doing better than that down south, then heading down on Monday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see sideband energy from Swell #11 with leftovers from Swell #10 on Friday though down from days previous but cleaner with trades moving in, with waves 13 ft (Hawaiian), dropping on Saturday to 10-11 ft on the face. Then possible Sideband swell from Storm #12 arrives for late Sunday again pushing up to near 20 ft Hawaii at sunset and continuing into Monday. The East Shore is to have no easterly windswell. The South Shore is in hibernation for the winter.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is already transitioning from the Inactive Phase to the Active Phase and expected to be there by 1/14, helping to fuel a stronger storm pattern for the weeks ahead. Swell # 10 has pushed past the Islands and is expected to reach California by Friday, but far more limited in size due to the storms extreme southern track. Storm #11 is tracking through the Gulf of Alaska with energy already grazing Hawaii and bound for California on Sunday. And yet another stronger system is trying to organize off Japan forecast to ramp up well early in the weekend on the dateline pushing east with another possible solid swell for Hawaii late Sunday into early next week and really taking aim on California also early next week. A short break is forecast after that, but it's most likely more is to be organizing right behind with the MJO moving into the Active Phase and El Nino steadily ramping up.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (1/7) the North Pacific jetstream remained quite active flowing hard and flat off Southern Japan at 100 kts on the 32N latitude (well to the south) reaching to the dateline then fading just a bit before falling into a weak trough reaching 300 nmiles north of Hawaii, then splitting and with the northern branch pushing northeast into Washington with the southern branch dipping over southern Baja. Some support for gale development in the trough north of Hawaii and better support in a building trough off Japan. Over the next 72 hrs the pocket of energy off Japan is to build to 200 kts and push over the dateline with a bit of a trough trying to form by Saturday (1/9) there and getting better defined north of Hawaii on Sunday but winds down to 180 kts. Still, the amount of raw energy in the jet is impressive and more than we've seen in years. Beyond 72 hours the big burst of energy in the jet north of Hawaii is to steam east and push directly over Southern CA on Tuesday evening (1/12) with the associated trough moving onshore too while a new pocket of 180 kts winds builds off Japan. A new steep trough is to start building north of Hawaii on Thurs (1/14) with 170+ kts winds feeding into it while winds off Japan build to 190 kts with a new trough getting organized there. This is most encouraging with gale development expected in both troughs. Looks like the El Nino upper atmosphere conveyor belt is setting up, supporting much gale activity down at the oceans surface.
At the surface on Thursday (1/7) Storm #11 had peaked out in the Southwestern Gulf of Alaska and was fading 900 nmiles north of Hawaii while working it's way east (see Storm #11 below). Another broad new gale was starting to organize in the far West Pacific off Japan and expected to build in intensity (see Possible Storm #12 below). Swell from Storm #10 was hitting the outer buoy off California and was expected to reach the coast on Friday (1/8). Over the next 72 hours the main focus is going to be watching Swells #10 and 11 hit the California coast while Storm #12 starts wrapping up on the dateline (see Storm #12 below). Certainly an active pattern as would be expected for this El Nino Winter, but not quite into the supercharged state one would quite expect yet.
Note: during the big El Nino Winter of '97/98 we recorded 36 Significant class storms by the time the season ground to a halt, only reporting the details on the best of the lot because the frequency was so relentless. It's almost looking like we're moving into a weaker version of that mode now.
Storm #11 (California) Updated Sat AM
On Wednesday evening (1/6) the residuals of Storm #10 started to reorganize in the Gulf of Alaska with pressure down to 964 mbs generating 45 kts northwest winds at 41N 168W aimed a bit down the 339 degree path to Hawaii and 35 degrees south of the 292 degree path into NCal. Seas were building from 30 ft at 41N 160W. This is further north than anything in recent weeks but not that much to the north. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the fetch at 6Z and confirmed seas at 32.5 ft with one peak reading at 37.4 ft where the model depicted 35-36 ft seas, a bit lower than expected.
On Thursday AM (1/7) 40-45 kts west winds were forecast at 39N 159W aimed right up the 285 degree path to NCal. Seas modeled building to 38 ft at 39N 161W. In the evening 35-40 kt west winds are to be fading at 38N 152W aimed up the 283 degree path to NCal. Seas forecast fading from 38 ft at 38N 154W.
On Friday AM (1/8) no fetch is to be left with seas fading fast from 32 ft at 39N 149W.
Assuming all this occurs as modeled a possible small significant class swell could result for exposed breaks along the Central CA Coast. The issue is still most of the fetch is to be positioned a bit too far south to be of optimal use to Central California, though not so bad for Southern CA.
San Francisco: Expect swell to arrive Saturday (1/9) at 11 PM with period of 17 secs and size heading up fast, peaking from 1 AM till just after sunrise Sun (1/10) with pure swell 9.0-10.0 ft @ 16 secs (15-16 ft) then settling down mid-morning with swell 8.5 ft @ 16 secs (13-14 ft) and dropping steadily from there. Swell Direction: 283-286 degrees.
Possible Storm #12 Updated Sat AM
Yet another gale was building off Japan on Thursday (1/7) with 40-45 kt west-southwest winds building at 35N 165E aimed right up the 291 degree path to NCal and the 298 degree paths to Hawaii and seas building from 30 ft at 33N 160E late.
On Friday AM (1/8) a small area of 40 kts west winds persisted tracking east at 35N 175W again aimed up the 287 degree path to NCal and the 305 degree path to Hawaii with seas building from 35 ft at 33N 170E in the morning and repositioned to 33N 177E in the evening. A building fetch of 45 kt west to northwest winds developed on the dateline at 40N 180W in the evening as well with central pressure dropping to 960 mbs.
On Saturday AM (1/9) a building fetch of 45-50 kt west winds is forecast up at 40N 178W aimed 20 degrees south of the 292 degree path to NCal with those winds getting good purchase on an already roughed up ocean surface from previous fetch. 37 ft seas are forecast at 40N 174W. In the evening 45-50 kt west winds are to hold pushing east at 39N 170W aimed 15 degrees south of the 287 degree path to NCal and mostly bypassing the 331 degree path to Hawaii producing 44 ft sea at 38N 170W all tracking almost due east.
On Sunday AM (1/10) a broad but weakening fetch of 45 kts west-northwest winds are forecast at 37N 164W aimed 20 degree sot of the 285 degree path to NCal. Seas forecast up to at 46 ft at 38N 163W. In the evening 45 kt fetch is to continue at 36N 158W aimed 15 degrees south of the 279 degree path to NCal with seas fading some at 44 ft at 35N 159W mostly bypassing the Islands but only 900 nmiles away. Large sideband swell likely pushing into Hawaii.
On Monday AM (1/11) the fetch is to be fading fast from 35 kts with residual seas from previous fetch at 41 ft at 35N 151W. In the evening residual seas of 37 ft are forecast at 35N 143W heading well towards the California, and in particular, Southern CA and Baja.
Current data suggest a significant class swell (Storm #12) could result for California, but a bit raw and accompanied by wind and rain initially as the jetstream roars onshore aloft with southwest winds continuing well into Wednesday. Large significant class swell is expected to hit Hawaii as well.
Hawaii: Rough data purely for planning purposes and based mostly on the models suggests swell arrival on Sunday (1/10) at noon with period 17 secs and swell on the upswing fast with swell reaching 14-15 ft @ 17 secs by sunset (24-25 ft Hawaiian). Swell holding through the evening and continuing in the 14 ft range @ 16 secs (22 ft Hawaiian) through the day Monday (1/11), then settling down on Tuesday but still fairly large at 10-11 ft @ 14-15 secs (14-16 ft Hawaiian). Swell DIrection: 329-338 degrees with lesser energy north of that. Winds west-southwest on Maui 5-8 kts mid-Sunday turning almost to trades (northeast) 10 kts all Islands Monday and finally real trades later Tuesday at 8 kts.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/5) light north to to near calm winds were in control of California coastal water, with mostly clean conditions in-place. A stronger gale pattern is building offshore and filling the North Pacific, likely bound for the coast at some point as soon as local high pressure breaks down (inevitable). Latest data suggest perhaps a light east to calm breeze over waters south of Pt Reyes Friday morning, being replaced by a light southerly flow later in the day as far south as Monterey Bay as a front dies off the coast. High pressure weakly builds back in for the weekend. But by Monday (1/11) local low pressure is to impact the coast with south winds and rain likely and a whole string of reinforcements stacking up right behind through Tuesday. But there's signs that high pressure is to move back in for Wednesday with a light flow returning, but it's really anyones guess as to how this will play out.
At the surface no swell producing fetch was occurring and none is forecast for the next 72 hours.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs continued northwest to west fetch is expected in the Gulf of Alaska in the 25-30 kts range into early Wednesday associated with the remnants of Storm #12, then simmering down while weak high pressure again tried to re-establish itself off California by Wednesday sunrise (1/13). At the same time a new broad gale is forecast building off Northern Japan with winds expected up to near 55 kts in the evening (storm strength) aimed well to the east and the whole fetch plodding steadily east, but not making it to the dateline by late Thursday. Seas building to 40 ft pushing due east. Seas over the remainder of the North Pacific between 30N and 45n are to be almost entirely at 20 ft, meaning lot's of 12-13 secs waves energy is expected to continue for Hawaii and the US West coast even before this next system makes it to the dateline. Certainly a very agitate state.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (1/7) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was fading fast from the Inactive Phase with the Active Phase getting ready to appear in the Pacific. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -5.88. The 30 day average was up to -5.48 with the 90 average up to -9.78.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicating easterly anomalies were barely holding on the dateline dateline and patches east of there into Central America and steadily loosing ground. This was a quicker degradation than expected. Regardless of these anomalies, the storm pattern was progressing unimpeded presumably on the strength of El Nino, meaning that an El Nino weather pattern and momentum was trumping anything the MJO was throwing at it. This is good. This area of easterly anomalies is expected to slowly fade out in the Eastern Pacific by 1/11. At the same time a new version of the Active Phase has already forming and is filling the Indian Ocean with Westerly anomalies, expected to seep east to New Guinea by 1/11, reaching the dateline 1/22, then fading some while holding there to Jan 26 and beyond. The Active Phase is expected to help fuel more and stronger storms through the end of the month.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/7) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator from the Galapagos Islands west to the dateline and even west of there, and holding. A new strong Kelvin Wave (see below) has erupted along the coast and some evidence of it can be seen with a most solid warm anomaly signature present over and just west of the Galapagos Islands. It is expected that water temps will continue to increase yet more over the coming weeks as this Kelvin Wave and a new one (see below) continues impacting the coast there. This is classic El Nino. Overall the warm water signature remains non-exceptional from a historical El Nino perspective, but clearly in the moderate category and slowly but steadily building. This appears to be a late blooming ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator things continue to look favorable. A steady flow of warmer than normal subsurface water continues tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America as it has for months now. As of 1/7 the Kelvin Wave we've been tracking with a core of 5-6 deg C warmer than normal sub-surface water was fully impacting the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast and has peaked out. This is fueling a modest increase in the warm water surface pool as it continues impacting the coast there. This pool is expected to continue building while eventually tracking back west on the surface along the equator driven by trades. This Kelvin Wave first appeared under the dateline on 9/17 and tracked steadily east through 12/1 and was the result of a prolonged persistent westerly surface wind flow that had been in-place west of the dateline from 9/8 and continued into 11/5. Of additional interest was a new pocket of warm water that pushed west from the dateline, with anomalies now up to 5 deg C above normal and effectively merging with the previously existing Kelvin Wave, forming a continuous pool of warm subsurface water at 4-5 deg C above normal extending from 160W into South America. Pretty impressive, especially considering we are about ready to enter a new Active Phase of the MJO with the potential to produce yet anther Kelvin Wave. this will only add more fuel to the developing El Nino.
Over the Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing, but only in the normal range and not of any real concern yet. At some point in the next 2 months we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down and fully normal trades to take over. But that will likely not happen until sometime after the next Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe mid-February (at the earliest). Previously a Westerly Wind Burst continued very obvious starting on 11/30 with fully blowing west winds near 165E, and strong. This Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) continued on 12/2 through 12/8 with a most solid area of west winds pushing almost to the dateline. On 12/6 strong west anomalies pushed to 170W and held solid through 12/15, with fully blowing west winds reaching to the dateline and anomalies to 170W. This WWB started fading by 12/17 but was still present pushing to 175E with neutral (normal) winds east of there. Fully blowing West winds were evidenced on Sat (12/19) and Mon (12/21) reaching to the dateline with westerly anomalies pushing well southeast of Hawaii. This configuration fed the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east from the dateline (see above), and is helping to fuel the development of El Nino. If anything, subsurface water temps are expected to increase as the WWB continues pushing warm water into the depths on the dateline, feeding the developing Kelvin Wave there. And the Kelvin Wave currently hitting Ecuador was formed from a prolonged bout and multiple pulses of westerly winds and westerly anomalies that occurred from 9/8 through 11/2. At one point towards it's end the anomalies reached the whole way from the West Pacific to almost Ecuador. Embedded in that run were Typhoons Dujuan, Choi-Wan, Parma, Melor and Nepartak. All this helped to deepen the surface warm pool in the tropical Eastern Pacific. Typhoon Nida and Storm #5 was associated with the most recent WWB. So at this time two Kelvin Waves are in the pipe. Impressive.
El Nino is expected to affect the global atmospheric weather pattern at least through Spring of next year if not into the middle of summer. All data suggests this will not be a strong El Nino, more likely a moderate one. NOAA's last update (11/5) forecasts the same outcome, though hints at some uncertainty. In short, all the best models aren't exactly sure how this is going to play out. Regardless a solid accumulation of warm water in the equatorial East Pacific is evidence in-favor of continued development. As long as there continues to be WWB's (as there obviously is), then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold if not build, and the atmosphere above it will respond in-kind to the change (towards El Nino). At this point there is no evidence to suggest this El Nino will stall or dissipate. The only remaining question is whether it will hold, or grow. And current data indicates that the warm pool will hold if not slowly build. And historically it is already larger and strong than any other in the past 12 years.
The current El Nino is gaining strength, with a 2 degree water temp anomaly in the tropical East Pacific the likely outcome. Coverage is pretty solid for this event, but the lack of really high water temp anomalies will likely limit it's strength. Strong El Ninos bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast, along with the potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides storm and swell enhancement, a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, but without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. As of right now things remain better than anything the Pacific has seen in the past 12 years regarding anomalous sea surface temperatures, besting anything since the big El Nino of 1997. That is very good news. But the lack of anomalous water temps exceeding 3 degrees and an unremarkable SOI suggests a modest El Nino at best. Still, it should be enough to provide storm enhancement, and a better than average winter surf season for the North Pacific, and still likely better than anything in the past 10 years. Better yet, if it's not too strong (as this event appears to be) perhaps it will not degrade into La Nina the year after (which typically happens after stronger El Ninos), but hold in some mild El Nino like state for several years in a row. This would be an even better outcome.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest no swell producing fetch is to develop.
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