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 (1/26) North and Central California was getting the end of Swell #18 with surf in the 10-12 ft range and a little raw with south winds (lighter) and rain still in the mix. Not real hospitable. Southern California was doing well with Swell #18 hitting producing surf in the 2-3 ft overhead range and clean up north. Waves were 1-2 ft overhead down south and clean with a definite north tilt to the swell. Hawaii's North Shore was settling down with biggest waves in the head high to 1 ft overhead range and clean, but a little warbly but not too bad. This is just leftover swell with more to come. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for local clearing to set in with Swell #18 fading, down to 1-2 ft overhead on Wednesday and head high or so on Thursday. Swell #19 is to due in on Friday at 12 ft on the face with south winds again, holding into early Saturday with improving conditions and dropping on Sunday from 9 ft. Southern California is to see the same thing with Swell #18 fading Wednesday from waist to chest high and waist high on Thursday. Swell #19 is to be building through the day Friday reaching head high or so up north late, and then hitting 1-2 ft overhead at top spots early Saturday, fading from head high on Sunday. Better conditions than day past too. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see Swell #19 arriving on Wednesday with waves at 16-17 ft Hawaiian at top spots near noon then dropping from 14 ft on Thursday and 3-4 ft overhead Friday. Head high leftovers Saturday then things heat up again on Sunday. 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 fully in the Active Phase with El Nino controlling the storm track, suggesting that a solid storm pattern should be in play. But the models depict a less than enthusiastic forecast for the coming week. Regardless, the jetstream is to continue on it's consolidated and southerly track, meaning that the storm machine should continue productive, but not over the top. Looks like a bit of a slowdown for later this week, but things should be picking up by the middle of next week.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (1/26) the North Pacific jetstream continued flowing flat east on the 30N latitude with a pocket of 170 kt winds tracking off Southern Japan reaching to the dateline then fading some while feeding into a trough there, then ridging north between the Islands and the US West coast, before dropping back into a trough pushing into Central CA. Decent support for gale development in the troughs on the dateline and over Central CA. Over the next 72 hrs the California trough is to push inland with the ridge off the coast building locally, meaning higher pressure and a clearing pattern. The dateline trough is to weaken some and meander east pushing to a point north of Hawaii on Wednesday and then towards North CA on Friday while a new weak trough sets up northwest of Hawaii. Decent support for gale development in these troughs, though wind speeds in the jet are not to be exceptional, only in the 140 kt range. Beyond 72 hours the trough northwest of Hawaii is to track east to within 700 nmiles off the CA coast then dissipate on Sunday (1/31), likely continuing to support a gale at the oceans surface there. But after that winds in the jet are to drop to the 130 kts range, still running flat west to east on the 30 N latitude over by Japan and dropping to 25N pushing into Baja, very far to the south indeed. This looks to provide ample opportunity for more weather to be spilling southeast, focused on Southern CA. A new pocket of 150 kts winds is to be building over Japan on Tuesday, possibly setting up a new gale cycle there pushing east, but far from guaranteed.
At the surface on Tuesday (1/26) Swell #18 was fading along the California coast. A new storm formed northwest of Hawaii on Monday (1/24) and was tracking east. This is Storm #19 (see details below). Over the next 72 hours Storm #19 is to continue on a easterly course while fading, dying before reaching the US West Coast. A new gale is forecast developing on the dateline on Thursday AM (1/28) with 40-45 kt northwest winds forecast at l43N 175E aimed exclusively down the 319 degree path to the Islands. 25 ft seas building fast at 44N 175E. In the evening 45 kt northwest winds are to be sinking southeast at 40N 180W aimed just like before with 30 ft seas forecast at 40N 179W. On Friday AM (1/29) more 45 kt northwest wind are forecast at 38N 173W aimed down the 322 degree path to Hawaii and over 50 degrees south of any route to the US West coast. 35 ft seas are forecast over a small area at 37N 175W pushing towards the Islands from 1200-13000 nmiles out. In the evening this system is to be fading with 35 kt northwest winds at 32N 165W aimed down the 331 degree path to the Islands and dissipating. 32 ft seas forecast at 35N 168W and fading. Assuming all goes as forecast some degree of smaller significant classs well is likely for Hawaii starting Sunday (1/31). This would be Swell #20. Little to no energy is expected from the core of this storm pushing into the US West Coast.
On Monday AM (1/25) a solid area of 40-45 kt northwest winds developed at 34N 176W pushing towards Hawaii down the 319 degree path with 28 ft seas at 32N 180W and on the increase. Nothing was aimed at the US West Coast yet. In the evening a decent sized area of 45-50 kt west winds were building in the storms south quadrant at 37N 170W aimed well down the 320 degree path to Hawaii with seas up to 32 ft at 35N 170W and aimed at Central CA up the 287 degree path and lesser height towards Hawaii. The ASCAT satellite confirmed west winds of 40-45 kts at 35N 170W, a bit less than what was modeled.
Tuesday AM (1/26) 40-45 kt west winds were modeled holding at 38N 163W with 37 ft seas building at 36N 166W pushing towards Central CA up the 283 degree path. Winds to be fading from 40 kts at 40N 160W in the evening with seas at 35 ft at 37N 160W pushing directly towards Central CA up the 284 degree path.
35-40 kt west winds are to hold Wednesday AM (1/27) at 40N 155W barely aimed down the 358 degree path to Hawaii and mostly up the 286 degree path to Central CA the with more 32 ft seas forecast at 40N 154W pushing towards Central CA on up into the Pacific Northwest. This system is now forecast to rebuild on Wednesday PM (1/27) with 40-45 kt west winds forecast at 40N 155W aimed right up the 283 degree path to Central CA and bypassing Hawaii. Seas rebuilding to 30 ft at 39N 158W.
On Thursday AM (1/28) more 40 kts west winds are forecast at 40N 147W making a beeline east towards Northern CA with 35 ft seas forecast at 40N 150W pushing towards Central CA up the 285 degree great circle path. This system is to totally dissipate Thursday evening with barely 30 kt winds left and seas fading from 28 ft at 40N 142W.
If all goes as forecast another significant class swell could result for the Hawaii initially and possibly the US West Coast.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Wednesday (1/27) at 1 PM building quickly to 10.8-11.5 ft @ 16-17 secs (17-19 ft Hawaiian) from 325-335 degrees. Swell fading from 10.5 ft @ 14 secs early Thursday (14-15 ft Hawaiian).
Swell pushing towards Central California for Friday from the initial push of the storm. Rough estimates from this phase suggest swell of 7.7 ft @ 17 secs (12-13 ft) from 280 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/26) weak secondary low pressure was directly over the Central CA coast sinking southeast causing more light precipitation in the north down into Pt Conception, and bound for Southern CA by the later afternoon. By Wednesday AM the low and associated rain are to pushing inland over Southern CA with weak high pressure taking hold and clearing skies and a very light north flow taking hold. But a broad gale in the Gulf of Alaska is to be looming. On Thursday that gale is to be rapidly decaying off the coast with the front associated with it starting to impact the extreme Northern California coast, though light winds are forecast from Pt Arena southward and south winds north of there. By Friday (1/29) the remnants of that front are to almost reach the San Francisco Bay Area with rain to Pt Reyes, dissipating there with a light southerly flow forecast, then dissipating by early Saturday with weak high pressure and light winds taking hold for the weekend into early Monday (2/1). But by Tuesday it's starting to look like another round of light south winds and rain might be trying setting up off the Central CA coast, pushing down to at least Pt Conception, but that's more of a guess than anything.
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 a rather laconic pattern over the North Pacific from Saturday into Monday (2/1). No blocking high pressure is forecast, but no well organized low pressure systems are projected either. But on Tuesday (2/2) that is looking to change for the better. A small gale is to develop north of Hawaii with winds near 40 kts and lifting northeast possibly building into something of interest later in the week. Another gale is forecast just west of the dateline with 40 kts winds. And yet another is forecast pushing east off the Kuril Island with 45 kts winds. All this is out 180 hrs on the models which is highly unreliable, but suggest that the Pacific is not done yet. With El Nino only now starting to come into it's prime, one would expect a continued solid storm pattern.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (1/26) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was barely negative with the Daily SOI at -3.10 (21 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was down to -3.69 with the 90 average up to -7.42.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicate a modest area of westerly anomalies covering from Indonesia east over the dateline to a point south of Hawaii and starting to edge towards Central America with a core of strong westerly winds straddling the dateline. Sure looks like a certified Westerly Wind Burst is occurring. And right on time as we are reaching into the core of a new Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely to be helped by this phase (though the models don't depict it yet), and El Nino of and by itself is solidly driving the storm track now. If anything the North Pacific should be raging now (but it isn't). The Active Phase and it's solid westerly wind anomalies are expected to seep east holding over the dateline and parts east of there through 1/30, then easing on the dateline 2/4-2/9 before fading out entirely 2/14 while a new stronger Inactive Phase starts to push east into the Pacific.
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 two Kelvin Waves which that had been impacting the the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast have peaked out, with only 3-4 degree warm anomalies still present from 140W 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 from the currently occurring Active Phase of the MJO before the source of this El Nino producing event is over.
Over the Equatorial Pacific solid trades were blowing in the East and continuing north of the equator all the way to the Philippines, but only in the normal range. But a building area of fully blowing westerly 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, and in full bloom on 1/25, looking very much like a real Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) 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