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 (1/13) North and Central California was getting relatively local windswell mixing with longer period energy from the northern dateline producing waist to chest high surf with some larger sets and clean early. Southern California was getting next to nothing with waves knee high or so with northwest winds on it. Down south it was even flatter with wind on it too. Hawaii's North Shore was getting locally generated northwesterly windswell with waves 2 ft overhead or so and a bit warbled but looking like trades were trying to build in through the rain. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore is not being monitored for the winter and presumed to be asleep with waves 2 ft or less.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for reinforcing dateline swell from a gale that was off Japan arriving on Friday (1/14) to 7-8 ft (faces) and then windswell originating from another small gale just north of Hawaii intermixing on Saturday providing waves in the 6 ft range and about the same on Sunday (6.5 ft faces). Monday more windswell expected at 7.5 ft and then possible real swell from a new gale currently tracking over the southern dateline on Thurs-Fri (1/14) to hit late on Tues into Wed at 14 ft. Southern California is to see new swell originating from across the dateline arriving on Friday to 4 ft (faces) holding into Saturday (3.5-4.0 ft faces) with windswell from a gale that was north of Hawaii intermixed, then waves dropping to thigh to waist high on Sunday. Residual windswell to be in the waist high range Monday and Tuesday. The North Shore of Oahu is to see fading Kuril Islands/windswell mix fading from 7 ft Friday and 5-6 ft on Saturday. Possible real swell from a close moving gale is expected in for early Sunday pushing 19 ft fading from 14 ft early Monday and 12 ft Tuesday. The East Shore is to see no easterly windswell until Sunday and Monday and then only waist high. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
The last big push of the Active Phase of the MJO is starting to take hold on the dateline with most gale activity expected on the dateline pushing a bit east. On Saturday (1/8) a gale organized off Northern Japan producing 32-34 ft seas and held into early Sunday AM (1/9) with 30 ft seas but died before even reaching the dateline. It was a very long ways away from the Us West Coast and not very strong so only utility class background inconsistent swell is expected (7-8 ft faces) on Friday (1/14). This swell has already passed Hawaii. A small gale formed north of Hawaii Tues evening (1/11) with 24 ft seas setting up windswell for Saturday (1/15) along the US West Coast. On Thursday (1/13) another gale was forming west of the dateline expected to track east through Sat (1/15) with up to 42 ft seas pushing well towards Hawaii and in close proximity, routing most energy there and arriving at sunrise Sun (1/16) with limited utility class energy possibly for the US West Coast by Tues-Wed (1/19). The models continue bouncing all over the place but suggesting a large storm holding stationary just west of the dateline Sun-Thurs (1/20) with up to 45 ft seas. It's to be relatively close to Hawaii (1769 nmiles) but a long way from the US West Coast (2875 nmiles) and not moving forward any, meaning much swell decay. The good news is it's is to be huge in areal coverage. But at this early date it still remains way too early to project any certain outcome.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (1/13) the jetstream was starting to look more impressive with 180 kt winds flowing flat off Japan to the dateline eastward to a point 500 nmiles north of Hawaii, then splitting some with the northern branch heading northeast up into the Pacific Northwest and the southern branch heading southeast into Central America. This was the best it's looked in months providing solid support for gale development from mid-way between Japan and the dateline eastward almost to Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours this consolidated flow is to continue pushing hard east from Japan while building east of the dateline with winds to 190 kts setting up just off Japan on Friday (1/14) and reaching almost to the dateline on Sunday with a solid trough building on the dateline and another back over Japan. And the flow into the US west coast is to build too. Improving support for gale formation off Japan and on the dateline. Beyond 72 hours the single consolidated jet is to steamroll east with 200 kts winds pushing flat off Japan to a point north of Hawaii and after a small split tries to peel off to the north Mon-Wed (1/19) the impressive flow is to be holding solid through Fri (1/21). The split point is to hold just 1200 nmiles off the Central Ca coast providing high pressure over CA at least for a bit before it inevitably roars onshore there. A bit of a semi-permanent trough is to be developing on the dateline and holding in the region between then and just northwest of Hawaii possibly supportive of solid gale formation there. This remains the best possible jetstream flow we've seen all winter and it appears to be materializing as forecast.
At the surface on Thursday (1/13) weak high pressure at 1028 mbs was just off Pt Conception ridging northeast up into Nevada and trying to provide protection to the US West coast. Meanwhile generic low pressure was tracking northeast from a point 900 nmiles north of Hawaii, the source of continuous windswell for the Islands in days past, and is expected to ride up the back of high pressure off California into the Pacific Northwest. Of more interest is a storm winding up west of the dateline and targeting Hawaii initially (see Dateline Storm #4 below) with significant class swell. Over the next 72 hours Storm #4 is to dip south while approaching Hawaii then track northeast towards the US West coast, fading all the while. At the end of the 72 hours window the start of what is teasing to be huge and powerful Storm #5 is to start winding up off Japan (see long term forecast).
Kuril Island Gale
A gale formed landlocked over the Kuril Islands on Friday (1/7) and then started to make some eastward progress by Friday evening (1/7) with near 45 kt northwest winds reaching 45N 155E and starting to become unobscured by land, getting some traction on the oceans surface. By Saturday AM (1/8) 40 kt northwest winds were becoming better entrenched there with 34 ft seas building at 37N 162E (304 degs HI & 296 NCal). 40 kt west winds continued in the evening at 40N 164E generating more 34 ft seas at 38N 162E (305 degs HI & 296 NCal). A quick fade occurred Sunday AM with no fetch left and residual seas from previous fetch at 30 ft at 38N 171E (309 degs HI). This system was by no means extraordinary, and netted out being just a basic West Pacific gale. It moved to within 2287 nmiles of Hawaii affording less swell decay and a decent shot at some near significant class swell for that location, but was 3484 nmiles away from NCal offering only the chance for inconsistent utility class swell.
NCal: Utility class swell of 4.5 ft @ 17 secs (8 ft) expected in on Friday AM (1/14) from 296 degrees, fading to 14 secs by Sat AM.
A small gale was 900 nmiles north of Hawaii on Tuesday PM (1/11) generating 35 kt west winds with seas modeled at 24 ft at 33N 158W aimed 30 degree south of the 273 degree path to NCal and bypassing Hawaii. Limited windswell of 4.5 ft @ 13 secs expected to reach the CA coast on Sat AM (1/15) from 270-273 degrees.
Possible Dateline Storm #4 (Hawaii)
On Thursday AM (1/13) a new tiny storm formed well off Southern Japan producing 55 kt northwest winds at 31N 162E targeting Hawaii up the 294 deg path. Seas building. In the evening 55 kt northwest winds to be falling slight to the southeast at 30N 170E producing a tiny area of 36 ft seas at 30N 167E pushing up the 292 degree path to Hawaii and well south of any route to the US West Coast.
Friday AM (1/14) pure west winds to be down to 50-55 kts with the gale tracking flat east almost on the dateline at 30N 180W generating 41 ft seas at 30N 176E (291 degs HI & 280 NCal). The system is to hold in the evening with 50 kt west winds forecast building at 31N 172W pushing a bit east of the 301 degree path to Hawaii and better up the 280 degree path to NCal. Seas holding at 41 ft over a tiny area at 30N 175W.
Saturday AM (1/15) 45-50 kt west winds to continue at 36N 165W generating seas of 38 ft at 34N 167W mostly bypassing any great circle route the Islands to the east (279 NCal). Residual 40 kt west fetch is forecast in the evening at 38N 162W producing seas of 37 ft at 37N 162W (282 degs NCal).
If all goes as forecast some degree of significant class swell could result for the Hawaiian Islands from a very westerly direction, with utility class swell for CA also very westerly. Period expected in the 17 sec range.
Hawaii: Rough data suggest swell arrival on the North Shore of Oahu Sunday AM (1/16) at 7 AM HST at 12.4 @ 17 secs (20 ft Hawaiian) from 301 degrees. Longer period energy to also be arriving from 293 degrees, shadowed by Kauai from breaks south and west of Waimea. Size settling down some late afternoon, but not much. Residual swell of 10 ft @ 13-14 secs expected early Monday (1/17) and slowly fading.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/13) high pressure was in control just 300 nmiles off Central CA at 1028 mbs ridging northeast up into Nevada. Light rain was falling in the SF Bay Area with south winds over nearshore waters. Low pressure was streaming from Hawaii northeast targeting Oregon and points north and this same basic macro pattern is to hold through Monday (1/17). The high pressure system is to be generating northerly winds at 15-20 kts over the immediate Pt Conception area on Friday but light winds north of there to the Oregon border. The high is slowly lift gently north and with that motion, north winds are to start building up into Central CA (to the SF Bay area) on Saturday maybe backing off some Sunday as another front tries to ride over the high bringing maybe a drop or two of rain down to the San Francisco then. Finally as low pressure ceases to track up into the Pacific Northwest on Monday the high is to bloom some with north winds at 15 kts building up to Pt Arena pushing 20 kts on Tuesday. Pretty much a blow out for all of Central and North CA. Finally on Wednesday the high is to start pushing inland with a light offshore flow possible and getting more established by Thursday (1/20).
At the oceans surface no swell producing fetch was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast with no swell producing weather systems modeled.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
72 hrs a huge lumbering low pressure system is forecast trying to organize off Japan on Sun (1/16) with a small fetch of 60 kts west winds at 37N 168E in the evening embedded in a broader area of 45+ kt fetch aimed due east or pushing right up the 292 degree path to NCal (but a long ways away) and well down the 305 degree path to Hawaii (and much closer). a small area of 42 ft seas building at 37N 167E. The storm is to hold stationary into Monday AM (1/17) with a solid fetch of 55 kt west winds at 43N 170E (296 degs NCal & 314 degs HI) with 42 ft seas pushing east from 39N 173E and a much broader area of building seas growing behind it. In the evening 50 kt west winds to continue at 42N 170E completely stationary and getting excellent traction on the oceans surface with 42 ft seas holding and expanding coverage at 43N 173E (296 degs NCal & 312 degs HI). The storm is to remain virtually unchanged Tuesday AM (1/18) with 50 kt west winds at 43N 168E and 40-44 ft seas building over a huge area centered roughly at 36-40N 174E. Fetch to hold at 45 kts in the evening at 42N 172E with seas peaking at 45 ft over a large area at 41N 173E and 20+ ft seas filling the entire Northwestern Pacific and crossing east over the dateline. Most impressive. 40 kt west fetch to continue through the day on Wednesday (1/19) with 40 ft seas continuing 40N 175E. Fetch fading to 30-35 kts on Thursday (1/20) but still covering a large area with seas fading from 30-35 ft on the dateline at 37N 180W, generated mostly from previous fetch. If this system were to form as forecast, large long period swell would propagate to all reaches of the Eastern Pacific (North and South). The models have been vasalating wildly the past 2-3 days, but have been unwavering in their projection of some large scale weather system forming early next week. It is way to early to know with any certainty what will develop, but this foretasted system bears close monitoring.
Suspect this will be the last big push of this current Active MJO pulse before it washes east and eventually into the US West coast.
As of Wednesday (1/12) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was heading back up. The daily SOI was 38.87 and was in the 27+ range the past 5 days. The 30 day average was up to 24.75 with the 90 day average up slightly at 20.62. Overall, averages remained high, just barely below the peak in mid-to-late October (90 day average near 22.0). The 30 day average peaked on Dec 30 at 26.79, the highest average reading in over 2 years.
Wind anomalies as of Wednesday (1/12) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated weak easterly anomalies east of the dateline and the Active Phase of the MJO was peaking out in the West Pacific with westerly anomalies (Active Phase) pushing hard from the Central Indian Ocean under the southern Philippines reaching just to the dateline. The intensity was stronger that previous indicated. The forecast for these anomalies has them straddling the dateline 1/17 then slowly loosing power and areal coverage but still in place on the dateline through 1/27, with only a nub left on 2/1. The remnants of the Active Phase will push on east into Central America starting 1/27 on through 2/7 with all data continuing to suggest this Active Phase is moving much slower and stronger than previously expected. Since the Active Phase supports the development of low pressure in the Northern Pacific, this remains the best shot for swell in Hawaii and the US West Coast swell window through at least mid-January and likely till late Jan. Starting Jan 15 a weak version of the Inactive Phase is expected to start building over eastern Africa pushing across the Indian Ocean, slowly tracking east and starting to enter the extreme Western Pacific on 2/1, likely shutting down gale development potential about 2/7-2/14 and continuing well into if not the whole way through February and early March as it seeps out into the West Pacific. Sometime soon after that north winds should start building along the US West Coast as Springtime high pressure builds in much stronger and earlier than usual (early March).
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/6) continues to indicate that cold waters (-2 C degs or cooler) had a grip on the equator covering solidly from South America west to the dateline and beyond, and solidifying it's coverage. The models had previously suggested a second surge of this La Nina event was to develop and take hold by late Jan-early Feb, sending water temps much colder, and that appears to be occurring now. Colder than normal waters covered the equator from Ecuador west to New Guinea with feeder bands originating off the US West Coast and South America sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, only serving to reinforce what is already a solid La Nina pattern. These colder waters are a reflection of stronger than normal high pressure built in over both hemispheres causing upwelling in the Gulf of Alaska and off South America, though it looks like the upwelling effect was stronger in the southern hemi than in the north. Regardless, it looks like a classic La Nina setup.
Below the surface on the equator no Kevin Wave activity was present and if anything colder than normal water was strong on the equator south of Hawaii and locked in position (sort of like a stationary cold Kelvin Wave). Previously this pocket was down to 7 degs below normal in mid- Sept, then warming to 6 degrees below normal on 10/18 and up to 3 degs below normal on 12/9 and moving east while not getting any colder through of 12/16. But then on 12/25 it dropped back to -4 degrees located at 120W and nearly 5 degs below normal on the 27th, expanding coverage on 12/31. With the advent of the Active Phase of the MJO in January, it seemed to be pushing it east some, with temps remaining at -4 on 1/5-1/8 but backing off and looking to be fading while pushing east on 1/10. Current data suggests this is likely the peak of this La Nina event.
Over the entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to the Philippines and beyond. From a historical 'normal' perspective these easterly winds were fully anomalous, blowing harder than normal from the east to the west, as would be expected looking at all the other data. And if anything there were only getting worse (on 12/31). This occurred starting in late Sept, with only normal winds indicated prior to 9/11.
Looking at the Pacific equatorial current: On 12/5, it was running slightly anomalously west to east, completely contrary to it's previous flow and a bit unusual for a La Nina year. It actually started this pattern in early November. But with East winds on the rise, it was expected to fall back in-line with expectations. And sure enough, data as of 1/5 indicates a full east-to-west anomaly present, typical of La Nina.
Of note: The Pacific current that runs along the equator turned abruptly from flowing towards South America to flowing towards the Philippines in mid-March (2010), right as the SOI started it's impressive drive into positive territory and the North Pacific winter storm machine abruptly shut down. And it did not waiver until Oct 2010. But trades never wavering from the normal range. This suggests trade wind anomalies might be a byproduct of the Pacific equatorial current change and not the other way around i.e. the trades do not drive the temperature change initially, but the current change does. And then the atmosphere responds in kind to the change, building high pressure and reinforcing the flow and water temps. Said a different way, the change in the current might actually foretell a coming change in the trades, and then with the advent of the trade wind change, it only serves to reinforce the current in a self amplifying loop, until such time as the cycle runs it's course and the self feeding system collapses over a multiyear period. At that time the current then switches direction, and a whole new self-enforcing cycle stars anew. Something to consider (regarding the formation and El Nino/La Nina). But for now, a La Nina dominated current is firmly in control.
A moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) is in control and momentum from it is expected to hold well into 2011 (and likely to early 2012). In short, it's going to be tough for surfers on west facing shores in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, though east facing shores of the West Pacific and Atlantic might do well from the Inactive Phase's dominance, especially in summer months. That is not to say there will be no storms, in fact, there could be short periods of intense activity when the Active Phase gets an opportunity to come to fruition, but that will be the exception rather than the rule, with the Inactive Phase trying to keep a cap on storm activity.
See more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch 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