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 (1/14) North and Central California was getting more energy from westerly directed Swell #12 with surf in the 12-14 ft range and reasonably clean conditions early, but heading down. Southern California was clean and in the head high range with sets to 2 ft overhead at top spots. Nice. Hawaii's North Shore was getting local swell with waves 14 ft Hawaiian and pretty raw with Kona winds and poor conditions. 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 be fading out on Friday with leftovers expected Friday at double overhead with some limited reinforcements moving in for Saturday with waves in the 9 ft range, then dropping Sunday as rain and south winds move in for a long stay. Southern California is to see more of Swell #12 but dropping on Friday with waves head high to 1 ft overhead. Shoulder high leftovers expected on Saturday with reinforcements expected in on Sunday holding surf in the shoulder high range. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see fading energy from the local storm on Friday at 9 ft and down more on Saturday to 2 ft overhead before new energy from Storm #13 starts arriving late in the day and heading up steadily. 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 weakly into the Active Phase and expected to hold there through the end of the month. Storm # 13 is getting well wound up just west of the dateline with seas forecast pushing to 52 ft this evening, which is pretty impressive. Details of the path and strength of this storm are provided below. But the short of it is this system and much follow-on energy is to track east and plow right over California making the swell a mess when it arrives, but Hawaii is to remain free-and clear south of the storm track with trades in effect and significant class swell resulting from this storm Sunday and Monday (1/18). In fact, a rather significant weather event is possible in California as the remnants of Storm #13 reorganize just off the coast later next week. Certainly something to monitor.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (1/14) the North Pacific jetstream remained very active flowing off Southern Japan reaching to the dateline with winds peaking at near 220 kts with a broad trough trying to set up just west of the dateline and supporting storm development at the oceans surface there. Energy from this area was spilling east into a steep trough north of Hawaii with winds to 170 kts feeding into the trough and a gale in-play in it. 160 kt winds were ridging from there into the California coast and pushing down the state likely signaling the end of the split jetstream configuration there that had been protecting the state from the storm machine over the greater Pacific. Over the next 72 hrs the strong jetstream energy that is over the West Pacific is to roar east flowing mostly flat on the 35N latitude with a trough now pushing east to a point north of Hawaii with winds still pushing near 220 kts late Saturday supporting storm formation there with the trough moving to about 800 nmiles off the Central CA coast on Sunday. It looks like the whole Pacific is fixing to unload on the US mainland, classic El Nino. Beyond 72 hours a non-stop flow of 190+ kts winds and a trough are to pushing into California through Wednesday (1/20) with the trough actually becoming better defined just off the coast there, and winds speed building to the 220 kts range again by Thursday with the bottom of what is to building into a solid trough pushing into Pt Conception late in the day. This is a serious situation. Back to the west the jet is to falter on the dateline but more 200 kts winds are to be building over Japan on Thursday (1/21) likely setting up the next pulse of North Pacific storms. Between the Active Phase of the MJO and El Nino, there is no shortage of energy to support storm formation.
At the surface on Thursday (1/14) Storm #13 was maxing out just west of the dateline pretty much filling the Western Pacific from the Kurils to a point 1200 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii with winds 50-55 kts at it's core and pushing due east on the great circle paths to the US West Coast but providing solid energy also towards Hawaii (see Storm #13 details below). Weak high pressure at 1024 mbs was centered over Central CA like it has been for months now, but that is likely going to be short lived. Weak low pressure energy was queued up just west of this protecting high and could signal the start of something much different for the US mainland in the days ahead. Over the next 72 hours weak low pressure off California is to continue pushing the high pressure system inland while Storm #13 lumbers east, and nothing is going to stop it. In fact, the storm itself is expected to hold together in some fashion with 40+ kts winds continuing and reaching the California coast by Sunday (1/17) with lesser fetch extending all the way back to the dateline. Hawaii is to be 600-700 nmiles south of the storm track and totally protected with weak high pressure at 1018 mbs providing a light trade wind flow over the Islands.
On Wednesday AM (1/13) another storm formed off Japan, this time a real one and positioned a bit more north than any of recent months. 50-55 kt west fetch was modeled at 44N 155W and seas on the increase. In the evening winds built to 55-60 kts at 43N 164E aimed up the 299 degree path to NCal and a bit east of the 315 degree path to Hawaii. Seas built to 37 ft at 43N 162E.
On Thursday AM (1/14) 50-55 kts pure west winds were covering a solid area at 43N 172E aimed right up the 298 degree path to NCal and reasonably well down the 315 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were modeled building to 47 ft at 43N 170E. In the evening 45-50 kt east 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. 51 ft seas to continue at 44N 177E.
Friday AM (1/15) more 45 kt winds are to be holding in the same area though covering a smaller area at 43N 180W aimed right up the 296-297 degree paths to NCal and 40 degree east of the 326 degree path to Hawaii. 48 ft seas forecast at 44N 180W. In the evening 40 kt fetch is to be holding at 44N 177E aimed like before with seas fading to 43 ft at 44N 175W.
On Saturday AM (1/16) yet more 40-45 kts fetch is to hold sinking a little south at 43N 175W pushing right up the 295 degree path to NCal and mostly blowing 45 degree east of the 335 degree path to Hawaii, pretty much ending the fetch aimed there. Seas of 41 ft are forecast at 43N 174W all tracking due east. In the evening more 40 kt fetch is to be holding at the same location with 40 ft seas forecast at 43N 170W.
Even on Sunday AM (1/17) some limited 40 kt east fetch is forecast at 43N 160W aimed right up the 294 degree path to NCal. 38 ft seas are forecast at 43N 165W and on the move to the east. In the evening a small area of 40-45 kts west winds are forecast at 40N 153W generating more 35 ft seas at 41N 160W.
On Monday AM (1/18) fragmented 35-40 kt west fetch is to be moving on California at 38N 143W with residual 36 ft seas forecast at 38N 148W pushing east. In the evening that fetch is to be racing east at 40 kts and positioned 600-800 nmiles west of San Francisco up to the northern state border. More 32 ft seas are forecast at 35N 140W. Yet more 50 kts fetch is to be developing behind that.
On Tuesday the gale is to be just off North California with 34 ft seas at 43N 135W getting ready to push right into the coast with more 50 kts west winds building directly behind at 40N 150W aimed up0 the 285 degree path to NCal. By evening that fetch is to top 50 ks at 39n 140W aimed right at Central CA. More 38 ft seas are to be developing at 38N 142W and taking direct aim on Central CA building to near 40 ft on Wednesday. All this is to be very near the coast, within 600-800 nmiles and likely making a complete mess of local conditions and unrideable form a surfing perspective. And if anything the fetch is to be building with a solid fetch of 40 kts winds forecast pushing right into the CA coast from San Diego north to San Francisco.
Owners of beach front property should start considering preparations to protect property with a multi-day onslaught of high surf with longer periods likely coupled with much precipitation and a direct hit of southwest winds making cliffs very unstable. Our first taste of a real El Nino is to be experienced with this event if it develops as is currently forecast, something we have not seen in 12 or more years. But again, this is just a forecast and not even close to pushing anywhere near the mainland yet.
From a surf perspective large long period swell is expected to arrive along the North and Central California coasts early next week (1/18) but a full-on rain and south wind event is scheduled for Central and North CA starting mid-Sunday (1/7) reaching into Southern CA on Monday and continuing non-stop while building into Thursday (1/21) and possible longer. In short, expect no rideable surf except at the most protected breaks.
For planning purposes Hawaii to see the leading edge of this swell (assuming all develops as forecast) starting mid Saturday (1/16) with period 22 secs and on the way up, at significant class levels by the early hours of Sunday AM with pure swell by sunrise 12.0-12.5 ft @ 18 secs (22-23 ft Hawaiian with bigger sets) dropping to 17 secs about 1 PM with size still most solid. Swell holding into Monday at 10.5-11.5 ft @ 16 secs (17-18 ft Hawaiian), then slowly dropping off on Tuesday (1/19) with swell 9.0-9.5 ft @ 14-15 secs (13-14 ft Hawaiian). Trades forecast in the 12-15 kt range through the swell arrival window.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/14) a light north to north-northeast flow was in control with weak high pressure barely getting a toe into California while another low and a weak front was setting up off the coast, pushing into the North Coast on Friday and moving closer to Central CA (250 nmiles out). South winds are forecast down to Pt Conception Saturday (1/16) with light rain to Monterey Bay as the front pushes inland and disintegrates while a huge system pushes closer (about 300 nmiles out). By mid-Sunday (1/17) the flood gates are to open with south winds and rain rain reaching down to Pt Conception and then down into Southern CA and Baja in the evening on into Monday with a progressive series of pulses following through Friday (1/22). If anything, the focus of the precipitation is to be on Southern CA. The local Storm Door is to open wide and stay that way for the entirety of next week. This will become the focus of life and could possible become a major weather event.
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 the remnants of Storm #13 are to regenerate in the Southeastern Gulf of Alaska late Tuesday (1/19) with a large fetch of 30-35 kt northwest winds developing all aimed well at north California southward into Baja. This fetch is to build on Wednesday with 40-45 kts winds forecast building in the the Central Gulf as the front from this system pushes inland over California bringing more rain and wind. The low in the Gulf is to hold through Thursday too (1/21) reinforcing the rain and winds event near the coast. All this is to be east of the Hawaiian swell window. The wave models suggest perhaps high seas and a solid very local swell to result from this fetch, but any specific outcome is pure speculation at this early date.
While that is occurring a new storm is to be forming 900 nmiles northwest of Hawaii on Thursday (1/21) with winds building to 55 kts late in the evening aimed at both Hawaii and the US Mainland and lifting northeast. Possible swell to result initially for Hawaii, but again, it is too early to know with any certainty if this system will even develop.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (1/14) 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 -4.85 (7 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 -9.40 with the 90 average was down to -10.20 and falling.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicating a weak area of east anomalies over the East Pacific with weak westerly anomalies over a good part of the Indian Ocean pushing east over Indonesia and almost reaching New Guinea. This is the start of the new Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely being neither helped or hindered at this point by the MJO but 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 holding near New Guinea through 1/23, then jog east to the dateline by 1/28 and hold there into early February. If anything this should gently push the storm track into even more of a favorable mode.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/14) 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 1/14 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 solid trades were blowing, but only in the normal range for the time of year 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 trade pattern 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.
El Nino is affecting the global atmospheric weather pattern at this point in time and is expected to continue having an impact into the Summer of 2010. This suggest that not only will the winter and spring storm pattern be enhanced in the North Pacific, but also the early summer storm track in the South Pacific too. All data suggests this will not be a strong El Nino, more likely a solid moderate one. A solid accumulation of warm surface water in the equatorial East Pacific and a solid pool of warn subsurface water is evidence in-favor of continued development of El Nino. As long as there continues to be WWB's, 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). We expect one last shot at another Kelvin Wave from the current Active Phase in-play now (Jan 2010) and then the slow degradation will begin in the ocean. But the atmosphere is already be strongly influenced by the warm water buildup over the past 6 months, and it will not return to a normal state for quite some time. This El Nino it is already larger and strong than any other in the past 12 years.
Strong El Nino's bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast along with the benefit of increased potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides that storm and swell enhancement, but more of a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, 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 are looking to be in the middle to high-end of a moderate event. Since anomalous water temps on the equator have not exceeded 3 degrees (nor are they forecast to) and the SOI remains unremarkable, this all suggests a modest El Nino is all we're going to see. This is clearly already enough to provide storm enhancement, and a better than average winter surf season for the North Pacific (that is already in evidence with 13 significant class storms on the record) , 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 Nino's), 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