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 Monday (1/11) North and Central California was getting a leftovers from Sundays solid Swell #11 with surf in the 1-3 ft overhead range coming from the west and clean with offshore winds early. Southern California was clean with lines to the horizon and surf in the head high to 1 ft overhead range and maybe a bit more at top spots. Hawaii's North Shore was getting the brunt of Swell #12 with waves 20+ ft Hawaiian and winds just barely northeast enough to make it rideable. Konas were moving out. 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 #12 to start pushing into the coast late on Tuesday (after sunset) and heading up through the evening, peaking early Wednesday in the 17 ft range then heading down on Thursday though still in the small significant class range. Leftovers expected Friday with some limited reinforcements moving in for Saturday with waves up to the 9 ft range, then dropping Sunday. A significant rain even is expected to start Sunday too. Southern California is to see more smaller leftovers from Swell #11 on Tuesday with local windswell intermixed, then Swell #12 arrives by early Wednesday holding solid if not building through the day to the 3 ft overhead range or more at exposed breaks with decent conditions. Solid leftovers are expected on Thursday at 2 ft overhead then dropping Friday but still well rideable. Near chest high leftovers expected on Saturday with reinforcements expected in on Sunday pushing surf to shoulder high or so. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see more but fading energy from Swell #12 on Tuesday with waves in the 14 ft range, fading to the 10 ft range on Wednesday. Shorter period energy from a more local gale is forecast arriving Thursday in the 14-15 ft range, fading from 10 ft on Friday and down more on Saturday. 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 moving into the Active Phase but weakly so and expected to hold there through the end of the month. Swell # 12 is peaking in Hawaii and bound for the US West Coast mid-week. A weaker system is forecast focusing mainly on the Hawaiian Islands. But of more interest is a strong storm forecast for the dateline later in the week with seas projected up to 50 ft aimed well east. This is only a projection and will likely change, but it seems to validate that El Nino is pretty well dug in and not expected to go anywhere anytime soon.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Monday (1/11) the North Pacific jetstream remained active flowing flat off Southern Japan pushing over the dateline and peaking north of Hawaii at 170 kts on the 32N latitude (very far south) splitting literally 100 nmiles off the Central California coast. A weak trough was trying to organize in the dateline to Hawaii region providing some limited support for gale development at the oceans surface. Over the next 72 hrs the jetstream is to start roaring onshore into Central CA after having been protected by a split pattern just off the coast for weeks now. At the same time that trough is to continue building north of Hawaii, getting pretty steep by Wednesday there with 160 kt winds flowing into it and supporting gale development there. At the same time 220 kt winds are to be building into a broad trough under Japan. Beyond 72 hours Hawaiian trough is to pinch off and dissipate while the new Japan trough expands east reaching a point north of Hawaii on Friday (1/15) with a building trough approaching the dateline. That pocket of energy is to hold solid and push east positioned just off the California coast by Monday (1/18). Though no clearly defined trough is modeled, this energy is likely to manifest itself in some degree of gale at the oceans surface. In all, there is piles of energy in the jetstream with no change forecast for the next week, the most we've seen this time of year in years and is likely all attributable to a building El Nino
At the surface on Monday (1/11) Storm #12 was fading in the Southern Gulf of Alaska, though a solid fetch of 30-35 kt west winds was covering the area from nearly the dateline pushing into Northern California. The early incarnation of another gale was trying to develop just west of the dateline with a solid fetch of 30-35 kts northwest winds aimed best at Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours the remnants of Storm #12 are to dissipate and push into the US West Coast Tues/Wed (1/13) generating some much needed rain while the next gale starts building on the dateline Monday evening. A small area of 45 kt northwest winds is forecast at 35N 180W with seas on the increase. On Tuesday AM (1/12) winds to be fading from 40 kts at 33N 173W aimed exclusively down the 312 degree path to Hawaii. Seas are forecast reaching 30 ft over a tiny area at 33N 175W. In the evening 35 kts winds to be fading at 30N 162W aimed down the 330 degree path to Hawaii with seas dropping from 29 ft at 30N 167W. At this time some degree of raw local 15-16 sec period swell is likely for Hawaii on Thursday (1/140 fading out on Friday with period down to 11 secs.
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 was modeled 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 were modeled at 40N 174W. In the evening 45 kt west winds were holding 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 46 ft seas were at 37N 170W all tracking almost due east.
On Sunday AM (1/10) a broad but weakening fetch of 40-45 kts west-northwest winds were modeled at 37N 164W aimed 20 degree sot of the 285 degree path to NCal. Seas were at 44 ft at 35N 162W. In the evening 40 kt fetch was fading at 36N 158W aimed 15 degrees south of the 279 degree path to NCal with seas fading from 40 ft at 34N 159W mostly bypassing the Islands but only 900 nmiles away. Large sideband swell was just off the Hawaii Islands.
On Monday AM (1/11) the fetch was fading fast from 35 kts with residual seas from previous fetch at 36 ft at 34N 151W. In the evening residual seas of 32 ft are forecast at 35N 143W heading well towards the California, and in particular, Southern CA and Baja.
A significant class swell (Swell#12) is expected to 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 has already hit Hawaii (as of Monday AM 1/11).
Hawaii: Swell arrived in Hawaii on Sunday (1/10) well after sunset with period 17 secs and swell on the upswing fast with swell reaching 14-15 ft @ 17 secs near 4 AM Monday to 8 AM (24-25 ft Hawaiian). Swell holding through the afternoon in the 14 ft range @ 16 secs (22 ft Hawaiian) 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 turning almost to trades (northeast) 10 kts all Islands early Tuesday and finally real trades later Tuesday at 5-8 kts.
Mavericks CA: Expect swell arrival on Tuesday near 11 PM with period 18-19 secs and size on the increase. Swell is to start peaking Wednesday (1/13) 4AM-11AM with pure swell 9.5-10.5 ft @ 17 secs (17-18 ft Hawaiian) with seas 15-18 ft and lot's of southwest lump intermixed.. Period to drop to 15 secs near sunrise Thursday with swell 9 ft @ 15 secs (13-14 ft Hawaiian) and fading. Swell Direction: 274-284 degrees
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Tuesday near 11 PM with period 18-19 secs and size on the increase. Swell is to start peaking Wednesday (1/13) at sunrise and holding through the morning with pure swell 9.5-10.5 ft @ 17 secs (17-18 ft) with seas 15-18 ft and lot's of southwest lump intermixed.. Period to drop to 15 secs near sunrise Thurs with swell 9 ft @ 15 secs (13-14 ft) and fading. Swell Direction: 274-284 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (1/11) the front associated with Storm #12 was just off the coast starting to generate light south winds over outer waters and likely near the coast late. South winds and rain to be in full effect by Tuesday AM reaching down to Pt Conception (though Southern CA should remain protected). By Wednesday the core of the front is to pass through early, with lighter northwest winds and a clearing pattern taking hold over the state by the afternoon, strongest down into Southern CA driven by high pressure just off Pt Conception. A light north to north-northeast flow is forecast Thursday while another low and a weak front sets up off the North Coast on Friday, perhaps reaching south to Monterey Bay Friday (1/15) night. Maybe even rain over that area early Saturday. But otherwise the calm before the storm is forecast Saturday while a strong and broad local weather system sets up (actually extending out to the dateline). By Sunday (1/17) the flood gates are to open with south winds down into Southern CA and rain to Baja covering the state continuing in pulses at least into Tuesday (1/10) and likely longer. In short, the pristine conditions of late are to soon become a thing of the past and the El Nino weather one typically expects is to make an entrance.
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 the models suggest another storm is to form off Japan, this time a real one with winds greater than 50 kts and positioned a bit more north than any of recent months. It is to form Wed AM (1/13) with 55 kt west fetch at 43N 155W and seas on the increase. In the evening winds to hold at 55 kts at 43N 164E aimed up the 299 degree path to NCal and a bit east of the 315 degree path to Hawaii. Seas building to 44 ft at 43N 162E. On Thursday AM (1/14) 50-55 kts winds are to lift northeast to 44N 172E aimed about like before. Seas forecast building to 50 ft at 44N 170E. In the evening 45 kt fetch is to cover a solid area at 44N 175E aimed up the 298 degree path to NCal and 30 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii. 50 ft seas to continue at 45N 178E. Friday AM (1/15) more 45 kts winds to hold in the same area aimed like before easting east in the evening to 44N 180W just barely on the 296 degree path to NCal. 45 ft seas forecast at 43N 180W. Possible long period swell to result focused best on the US West Coast but a long ways away.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Monday (1/11) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was moving into the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -26.52 (6 days in a row negative). Of note: The inactive Phase's impact only raised the SOI to positive values for 11 consecutive days). The 30 day average was down to -9.23 with the 90 average was down to -10.16.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicating neutral winds over the entire Pacific with weak westerly anomalies over Indonesia and easing slowly east. This is weaker than expected, but the Active Phase also died off quicker than expected, so it's a wash. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is being neither helped or hindered at this point by the MJO and presumably El Nino of and by itself was driving the storm track now. This is good. The Active Phase and it's weak westerly wind anomalies is expected to seep east to New Guinea by 1/15 then fade there, with neutral winds in control of the North Pacific 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 1/11 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 155W 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