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 Sunday (1/24) North and Central California were in between storms and swells, with surf in the 2-4 ft overhead range coming from the west, just leftover swell really, and clean though still pretty lurpy at select breaks with much short period energy in the water from a week of wind. Southern California was doing quite nice with the same west swell at 2-3 ft overhead sets up north and lined up with east winds and good conditions. Waves were up to head high down south and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting another pulse of more northerly angled windswell from a local gale that was north of the Islands on Friday (1/22) with waves 2-3 ft overhead at select breaks and clean with no wind at all early. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for another front with south wind and rain to move in later Sunday continuing Monday and Tuesday (1/26) while Swell #18 arrives at 20-23 ft on Monday from the west-northwest then quickly fading on Tuesday. Small scale surf forecast for Wed/Thurs (7 ft faces). Southern California is to see the same thing with Swell #18 hitting late Monday afternoon at more exposed north facing breaks up north with waves at 9-10 ft on the face and a bit more north than previous events, but west winds in control turning south with the front moving in Tuesday and pretty much blowing it out. Waist to chest high leftovers expected on Wednesday and fading into Thursday with improving conditions. The North Shore of Hawaii is to be pretty small on Monday with leftover northwest windswell at head high holding with a bit more period on Tuesday. Then Swell #19 is expected in Wednesday with waves at pushing 18 ft Hawaiian at top spots near noon then dropping from 14-15 ft on Thursday and 4 ft overhead Friday. 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 now fully in the Active Phase with El Nino controlling the storm track, meaning more weather and storms are expected to take the southerly route into the US West coast. The jetstream energy levels are down some from weeks earlier but still solid. Curiously a weak gale track is forecast for the North Pacific focused on the Western Gulf with no real strong systems expected a week out. Looks like a bit of a slowdown for a week, but by all indications things should be picking up thereafter.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Sunday (1/24) the North Pacific jetstream continued flowing flat east on the 32N latitude with 140-150 kt winds tracking off Southern Japan pushing over the dateline to a point north of Hawaii, with lesser energy pushing on east into Baja north to Oregon. A small bit of energy was being bled off to the north from Japan, pushing the overall wind levels down a bit from weeks previous bit not particularly bad. Over the next 72 hrs a weak trough is to build off Central CA on Monday pushing into the coast Tuesday supporting gale development there, while another weak trough sets up on the dateline pushing east. More 150 kts winds to be tacking off Japan. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to sink even further south, dropping down to near 25N from Hawaii eastward while a generalized weak trough continues on the dateline pushing east to a point north of Hawaii over the weekend likely support gale development there. The jet is to drop down to Southern Baja by the late weekend in the east but continuing at near 33N in the West. Winds speeds are to remain at 150 kts in the west, but be only 130 kts in the east. In all, more of the same just weaker.
At the surface on Sunday (1/24) Swell #17 was fading fast in Central CA but was still decent in Southern CA. Swell from a local that was north of Hawaii on Friday (1/22) was hitting the Islands as expected. Storm #18 was peaking off the North CA coast (See details below). More fragmented low pressure (3 small separate systems) were hanging near the dateline/Western Gulf, forecast to congeal in the coming days. Over the next 72 hours a new storm is forecast forming northwest of Hawaii on Monday. This will be Storm #19. On Monday AM (1/25) the storm is to have a small area of 40-45 kt northwest winds at 35N 175W pushing towards Hawaii down the 319 degree path with 23 ft seas at 35N 180W and on the increase. Nothing is to be aimed at the US West Coast yet. In the evening 50 kt west winds are forecast building in the storms south quadrant at 37N 170W aimed well down the 320 degree path to Hawaii with seas up to 30 ft at 35N 170W and aimed at Central CA up the 287 degree path. Tuesday AM (1/26) 45 kt west winds are to hold at 38N 165W with 37 ft seas building at 38N 163W pushing towards Central CA up the 285 degree path. Winds to be fading from 40 kts at 40N 158W in the evening with seas at 37 ft at 38N 159W pushing directly towards Central CA up the 285 degree path. 35-40 kt west winds to hold Wednesday AM (1/27) at 41N 155W with more 35 ft seas forecast at 41N 152W pushing towards the Pacific Northwest. This system is to dissipate after that. If all goes as forecast another small significant class swell could results for the US West Coast and Hawaii. Rough data suggest swell arrival in Hawaii on Wednesday (1/27) at noon at 10.8 ft @ 17 secs (18 ft Hawaiian at top spots) from 325 degrees. Swell pushing towards California for late in the week if not early in the weekend.
Remnants of a local gale that tracked just north of Hawaii on Friday (1/22) regrouped off Northern CA on Sat PM (1/23) with 45 kts west and northwest winds forecast at 40N 145W and seas on the increase. By Sunday AM (1/24) the gale made it to storm status with 50 kts west winds at 42N 140W aimed directly an Central CA down the 292 degree great circle path and seas quickly jumped to 35 ft at the same locale pushing 38 ft at 43N 136W 6 hrs later. In the evening 40-45 kt west winds to be fading at 43N 135W (308 degrees relative to Central CA) with seas peaking at 38 ft at 43N 135W. Larger raw swell is to be pushing towards North and Central CA with the storm only 600-800 nmiles offshore with lesser energy into Southern CA.
Expect swell arrival in Central CA at 9 AM Monday (1/25) peaking near noon at 11.5-13.5 ft @ 17 secs (20-24 ft faces) and raw. Swell Direction: 292-298 degrees with lesser energy north of that.
Expect swell arrival in Southern CA at 5 PM Monday (1/25) with swell peaking near 11 PM at 5.5-6.0 ft @ 17 secs (9-10 ft faces at exposed north facing breaks), then heading down after that. Swell Direction 302-310+ degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (1/24) a new storm was building just 700 nmiles was of North CA with the front from it already impacting the extreme North CA coast with south winds and rain expected to build down to Monterey Bay late and continuing over the entire Central Coast by Monday. Reinforcing secondary low pressure is to push into the Central Coast on Tuesday possibly setting up east winds and a clearing pattern up north late but driving south winds and rain into Southern CA early. Weak high pressure is to settle over the area Wednesday with clearing skies and light northwest winds, fading on Thursday as more low pressure queues up off the coast. By Friday (1/29) the remnants of a gale are to push into the Central Coast with south winds taking hold a and light rain late holding into early Saturday, then high pressure and light winds trying to take hold for the weekend.
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 small gale is to be pushing east off the Kuril Islands Wed/Thurs (1/28) with 30-35 kts west winds generating up to 40-45 kts winds over a small area on Friday (1/29) at 40N 170W aimed exclusively at the US West coast and down the 287 degree path to NCal. Seas to peak at 30 ft over a tiny area at that time. Maybe some smaller non-significant class swell to result mostly for the US West Coast. Another gale is forecast starting to wrap up in the same region on Sunday (1/31) but it's a bit early to speculate about details yet. In all a weaker gale pattern looks likely, but not out entirely. .
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Sunday (1/23) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -5.65 (19 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was up to -3.27 with the 90 average up to -7.89.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicating a moderate area of westerly anomalies covering from Indonesia east over the dateline to a point south of Hawaii. We are no reaching into the core of a new Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely to be helped slightly by this phase, but with El Nino of and by itself driving most of the storm track now. The Active Phase and it's weak westerly wind anomalies is expected to seep east holding over the dateline and parts east of there through 2/2, then fading on the dateline by 2/7 and gone by 2/12 while a new Inactive Phase starts to limp east into the Pacific. This Active Phase should gently push the storm track into even more of a favorable mode.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/21) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator more towards the dateline and less in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. Interestingly a strong Kelvin Wave (see below) that had erupted along the Ecuador coast in Dec and early Jan was expected to build surface temperatures there, but it appears trades are blowing that warm water quickly west. This is looking more like a Midoki El Nino than one of the classic variety. Overall the warm water signature remains non-exceptional from a historical El Nino perspective, but clearly in the moderate category and holding, not building. Suspect we are at or near the peak of this ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator things are starting to back off from weeks previous. 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. But the Kelvin Wave which has been impacting the the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast has peaked out with only 3-4 degree warm anomalies still present from 145W into the coast there and slowly loosing it's warm advantage. Still, it continues fueling the warm surface anomalies associated with El Nino in the East equatorial Pacific as it continues impacting the coast there. We're looking for one more Kelvin Wave with luck before this El Nino producing event is over.
Over the Equatorial Pacific solid trades were blowing in the East, but only in the normal range. And a building area of fully blowing western winds which started to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline on 1/20 were covering a larger area on 1/23, looking much like a real Westerly Wind Bust event. This is what is needed to generate yet one more Kelvin Wave. Regardless at some point in the next month or so we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down completely and a normal trade pattern to take over. But that will likely not happen until sometime after this Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe mid-February (at the earliest). Previously Westerly Wind Bursts produced Kelvin Waves that resulted in the subsurface warm pool currently present in the tropical East Pacific that have formed El Nino.
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 remains in place, but seems to be eroding some suggesting El Nino has maxed out. But as long as there continues to be WWB's, then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold, and the atmosphere above it will respond in-kind to the change (towards El Nino). We expect this 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