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 Tuesday (1/18) North and Central California was remnants from Swell #4 still hitting with waves shoulder high and clean but weak and crumbly. Southern California was more energy from Swell #4 with waves chest high and still pretty lined up up north but a little winds ruffle late. Down south it was shoulder high and clean with a little texture on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting the initial pulse of Swell #5 with waves at 20 ft Hawaiian early and holding through the day though inconsistent. 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 remnants of Swell #4 to continue fading into early Friday at 5 ft (faces) as early arrivers from new Swell #5 arrive in the afternoon, starting to get solid after dark. Swell #5 to be hitting solid on Saturday at 15-16 ft then fading on Sunday from 14 ft. Maybe some residual swell producing 10 ft surf on Monday and fading Tuesday from 8 ft. Southern California is to see more of Swell #4 on Friday at waist to chest high. Swell #5 expected in for Saturday at 3 ft overhead at better deepwater breaks fading from 2 ft overhead on Sunday and 1 ft overhead Monday and then head high on Tuesday. The North Shore of Oahu is to see Swell #5 fading from 15-16 ft Friday and 15-15 ft Saturday. 11-12 ft leftovers on Sunday dropping to 10-11 ft Monday maybe rebuilding to 12 ft Tuesday. The East Shore is to see no easterly windswell till Friday when trades try and return, but that windswell will be buried in wrap around energy from Swell #5. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
The Active Phase of the MJO has effectively peaked out with a downward trend forecast as it moves towards the Inactive Phase through the end of the month. Large Storm #5 developed off Japan tracking slowly east over the dateline while fading Sun-Tues (1/18) with up to 48 ft seas. Hawaii has received the peak of the swell with waves in the 20 ft Hawaiian range but a bit inconsistent. The US West Coast is up next for Saturday but is expected to be very inconsistent and plagued by mid-day high tides. Nothing of any real interest is on the charts behind it.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (1/20) the jetstream was holding solid with 200-210 kt winds tracking flat off Japan falling into a bit of a trough on the dateline then making it a bit further east before lifting gently northeast up into British Columbia. A minor amount of energy was peeling off the jet just 500 nmiles northwest of Hawaii falling due south to the equator. Still decent support for gael development over the dateline and this remained the best the jet has been configured all season. Over the next 72 hours no real change is forecast other than winds slowly dropping to 180 kts (still strong) and the trough on the dateline fading, with the split point easing just a bit east of Hawaii. The energy previously lifting into British Columbia is to lift a bit further north with high pressure in the upper atmosphere off California. Decent support for gale development expected again on the dateline and Western Gulf. Beyond 72 hours virtually no change is forecast with a single consolidated jet hold it's configuration with winds slowly moderating to the 160 kt range into Friday (1/28). Good support for gale development possible if a defined trough were to develop.
At the surface on Thursday (1/20) the remnants of Storm #5 continued circulating with it's center a bit west of the dateline and producing a moderate fetch of 30-35 kt west and northwest winds extending from Northern Japan about 2/3rds of the way to dateline. 28 ft seas were still being generated at 37N 175E but steadily fading. Swell was already hitting Hawaii and migrating to the US West Coast (see details below - Storm #5). Otherwise high pressure at 1028 mbs was locked 600 nmiles west of San Francisco generating north-northeast winds at 15- 20 kts off the Central CA coast. Over the next 72 hours fetch west of the dateline is to become a little bit better organized building by Friday AM (1/21) to 40 kts on the dateline (35N 170E) and building in areal coverage while pushing east to northeast into Saturday PM (1/22) with up to 45 kt fetch at 45N 171W generating seas modeled up to 36 ft at 45N 170W targeting California and the US West coast with secondary fetch producing 30 ft seas at 36N 178W targeting Hawaii. This is just a projection but suggests the end is still not here. Will monitor.
Large Storm #5
A low pressure system started to organize off Japan on Sun (1/16) with a fetch of 50 kt west winds setting up at 35N 158E in the morning trying to get traction on the oceans surface. Winds were confirmed by the ASCAT satellite at 45-50 kts at 10Z a bit south of where the models projected at 32N 152E. 30 ft seas modeled building at 34N 158E. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the fetch and reported seas of 31.6 ft with a peak to 37.4 ft where the model projected 30 ft seas. The model was on track. In the evening the storm wrapped up with 55-60 kt west winds building at 40N 167E embedded in a broader area of 40+ kt fetch aimed due east or pushing right up the 299 degree path to NCal (but a long ways away) and well down the 313 degree path to Hawaii (and much closer). The ASCAT satellite confirmed a solid sized area of 50 kt west winds at 22Z at 40N 165E covering 625 nmiles aimed due east, right on track with the models. A small area of 35 ft seas were modeled building at 36N 167E.
The storm lifted a little northeast into Monday AM (1/17) and grew in areal coverage with a solid fetch of 50-55 kt west winds at 42N 172E (294 degs NCal & 310 degs HI) with 48 ft seas pushing east from 42N 171E (315 degs HI & 296-297 degs NCal) and a much broader area of building seas growing southwest of it. The ASCAT satellite confirmed winds at 10Z at 45-50 kts solid over a large area at 41N 170E covering at least a 600 nmiles fetch area aimed due east. This was on track with the models. The Jason-1 satellite passed directly over the core and confirmed seas at 38.6 ft with a peak to 40.7 ft but was totally unable to decipher what was going on in the core of the storm (pretty typical when seas exceed 40 ft). In the evening 45 kt west and northwest winds were modeled dropping south some at 36N 170E getting excellent traction on a well roughed up oceans surface with 47 ft seas building and expanding coverage at 40-41N 175E (294 degs NCal & 317 degs HI). The ASCAT satellite confirmed winds fading at 22Z at from 40-45 kts over a huge area dropping south from 32N-42N and 170E and covering at least a 720 nmile fetch aimed due east, right on track with the models. The Jason-1 satellite made a pass over the east quadrant of the storm just east of it's core and reported a 15 reading sea height average 39 ft with a peak to 41 ft where the model projected 44-45 ft. This was suspicious. Suspect this is another instance of the satellite sensor peaking out at 40 ft.
The storm started to back-off in intensity while easing east Tuesday AM (1/18) with 35-40 kt west winds modeled at 41N 175E and 43 ft seas modeled at 36 178E (310 degs HI & 287 NCal) embedded in a large area of 30+ ft seas. The ASCAT satellite passed over this area and reported west to northwest winds at 35 kts covering a huge area from Northern Japan to the dateline and even a bit east of there. The Jason-1 satellite made a pass over the west quadrant of the storm and reported a max sea reading of 39.7 ft where the models suggests 34 ft. This was on track. Fetch to start fading from 35-40 kts in the evening at 40N 175E with seas down to 38 ft centered at 35N 180W and 30 ft+ seas covering a large area from 160E to 170W covering 1400 nmiles aimed east (304 degs HI & 288 degs NCal) with 20+ ft seas filling the entire Northwestern Pacific and crossing east over the dateline. Impressive.
A persistent fetch 35 kt west fetch continued on Wednesday AM (1/19) at 35N-40N 175E with 36 ft seas continuing at 34N 178E (306 degs HI & 285 degs NCal). No real change in fetch was modeled in the evening with seas fading to 32 ft at 36N 175E (312 deg HI & 282 NCal). The Jason-1 satellite passed over the eastern edge of the fetch and reported seas of 24.3 ft with one peak reading to 29.5 ft where the models suggested seas at 30 ft solid. The model over-estimated it.
Fetch fading but not dissipating in the 30-35 kt range on Thursday AM (1/20) with 30 ft seas modeled at 37N 178E (316 degs HI & 289 degs NCal) and a huge area of 20 ft+ seas radiating east and southeast nearly filling the entire North Pacific. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the core of the fetch and reported seas of only 23.8 ft with one reading to 37.7 ft were the model predicted 30ft seas. Again the model was over estimating it. This system was expected to dissipate Thursday PM.
This system formed reasonably close to the forecasts, though significant sea heights are down from the original projections - originally estimated at 52-53 ft but coming in at 47-48 ft. The ASCAT satellite confirmed wind speeds about in-sync with what the GFS wind model was suggesting (GFS drives the NOAA Wavewatch Wave model). The Jason-1 satellite made on good pass over the western edge of the fetch near it's peak and reported a fetch size about similar to the model, but peak wave size was reported at 39-41 ft where the model expected 44-45 ft for the same area. We are assuming this is a problem with the satellite sensor possibly reaching it's max capabilities, and have seen evidence of this error occurring previously. There is also the issue of the rather large fetch area and the lack of history of mapping larger fetch areas to expected swell size. So it is possible, especially for the US West coast, that the forecast estimates below might be a little low. But given the unknowns regarding the Jason-1 sensor, these risks likely balance each other out. A second pulse of this storm scheduled for Tues PM-Wed AM did not really develop as modeled, with seas instead slowly fading out from 38 ft. This still should set up continued smaller swell for all locations, extending the swells life nicely.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Wed (1/19) near 3 PM with period in the 21-22 sec range and size small but on the increase. Period to drop to 20 secs near 11 PM with size starting to come up fast. Swell to peak starting about 6 AM Thurs (1/20) with pure swell 11.5 ft @ 17 secs (20 ft Hawaiian) and holding through most of the day with seas to 16 ft @ 17 secs (lesser period energy building-in given the Islands close proximity to the storm core (1527-1986 nmiles). A little bit on the raw side. Swell Direction: 310-317 degrees. The forecast second pulse of the swell is to hit on Friday (1/21) at 10 AM with pure swell 9-10 ft @ 16 secs (15-16 ft Hawaiian) and seas 13.5 ft @ 16 secs. Swell Direction: 305-313 degrees Swell to fade on Saturday from 9 ft @ 15 secs (14-15 ft Hawaiian). Swell to continue downward on Sunday from 8 ft @ 14 secs (11 ft).
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Friday (1/21) at 3 PM with period 20 secs and size steadily building getting large well after sunset. Swell to peak starting about 11 PM and holding steady through sunrise Saturday with pure swell 9.0-9.5 ft @ 18 secs (16-17 ft) then period dropping and holding in the 17 sec range solid through daylight hours at 9.0-9.5 ft @ 17 secs (15-16 ft) with larger sets likely. Swell fading overnight with residual energy on Sunday down to 7.5 ft @ 15-16 secs early and fading (12 ft). Residual swell of 7 ft @ 15 secs expected on Monday (10 ft). Swell Direction: 287-294 degrees initially then 284-288 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Friday (1/21) at 7 PM with period 21 secs and size steadily building, getting large well after midnight. Swell to peak starting about 4 AM Saturday and holding steady through daylight hours with pure swell 9.0 ft @ 18 secs (16 ft) outside the Channel Islands, and 4.5 ft @ 18 secs (8 ft) inside the islands. Period dropping and holding in the 17 sec range solid starting about 8 PM Saturday. By Sunday AM (1/23) swell to still be 8 ft @ 16-17 secs early outside the Channel Islands (13 ft) and running about 4 ft @ 16-17 secs inside the Channel Islands (7ft) with larger sets likely. Swell fading overnight with residual energy on Monday (1/24) at 7.5 ft @ 15 secs (11 ft) outside the Channel Islands and 3.8 ft @ 15 secs nearshore (5-6 ft faces). Swell Direction: 292-299 degrees initially then 289-293 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/20) high pressure at 1032 mbs was in control 700 nmiles west of San Francisco ridging northeast up into Washington and British Columbia. North winds at 15 kts were modeled over outer Central CA waters and turning more northeasterly. On Friday a generally light north to northeast wind flow is forecast then building more from the north on Saturday as high pressure makes it's move to push into the Pacific Northeast. Then finally on Sunday it moves inland with a light offshore flow forecast holding into Thursday (1/27). After that south winds are forecast starting to develop over outer waters and low pressure moves closer to the coast. But it remains unknown if those south winds and low pressure will ever reach the North and Central coasts.
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 spurious fetch associated with remnants of Storm #5 are to continue tracking northeast up into the Gulf of Alaska Mon-Fri (1/28) but no clearly defined swell producing fetch is forecast. This is looking to be the end of this Active MJO cycle as it moves eastward into the Pacific Northwest.
As of Thursday (1/20) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained unchanged. The daily SOI on 1/19 was 16.30 down a littel from days previous. The 30 day average was up to 25.82 with the 90 day average down slightly at 20.34. 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 Monday (1/17) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated the Active Phase of the MJO was peaking-out in the West Pacific with westerly anomalies (Active Phase) pushing hard from the Eastern Indian Ocean over the southern Philippines reaching to the dateline and extending 1/2 way from there to South America. The intensity remained was strong. The forecast for these anomalies has them straddling the dateline 1/19-1/24 slowly loosing power and areal coverage but still in place into 1/29 but moving east of the datleine. By 2/3 they are to totally dissipate with their remnants pushing east into Central America through 2/8. 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 late Jan. A more vigorous version of the Inactive Phase is already starting to build over the western Indian Ocean and expected to enter the extreme Western Pacific on 1/29, likely shutting down gale development potential from 2/3-3/1 as it tracks east across the tropical Pacific. But that remains just a guess with the models not extending that far into the future. Sometime in the middle of that north winds should start building along the US West Coast as Springtime high pressure builds in much stronger and earlier than usual (late Feb).
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/17) 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. 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 1/10-1/17. 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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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table