Swell Classification Guidelines
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/Utility Class: 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 (1/23) in North and Central CA surf from Swell #4 was still hitting producing waves in the 10-12 ft range and lined up and offshore with glassy conditions at select locations. Down in Santa Cruz surf was solid with waves 3 ft overhead on the sets and clean and lined up. Almost too much for many breaks. In Southern California up north Swell #4 was booming with waves 2-3 ft overhead and breaking very far out with glassy conditions and lines to the horizon. Down south waves were head high with some bigger sets but not as impressive and a bit closed out. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting energy from Swell #4 with waves 10-12 ft Hawaiian with trades finally back in control and cleaning up. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at head high to 1 ft overhead and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from Storm #4 was fading in Northern CA while peaking in Southern CA. Swell from a small gale previously over the dateline was hitting Hawaii and moving towards California. This small gale tracked southeast over the dateline Thurs (1/23) with 34 ft seas dissipating north of Hawaii early Friday with seas fading from 30 ft. Small energy is expected into North CA by Sunday. Another tiny gale was falling southeast from the dateline targeting Hawaii on Sat (1/25) with barely 32 ft seas and is to be gone by midday Sunday positioned just 400 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii. Swell for the Islands Monday (1/27). After that maybe a weak gale to develop in the Northwestern Gulf early Wed (1/29) into Thursday with 30 kts seas mainly targeting Alaska and Canada and then things calm down even more. Feast while you can.
Note: NDBC has issued a schedule to start repairing buoys as of 11/12/13. Unfortunately no buoys of interest to California are scheduled through September 2014. TOA Array (El Nino Monitoring) buoys are set for maintenance in April 2014.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (1/25) the jetstream was weak tracking off Japan but built momentum on the dateline with winds to 180 kts tracking flat to a point well west of Hawaii near 145W then splitting with the northern branch tracking almost northwest up into Alaska and the southern branch pushing down toward the equator. A weak and fading pinched of trough was at the split point offering only minimal support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the fading energy from the pocket of winds over the dateline to form a trough north of Hawaii on Sun (1/26) with a tiny area of 160 kt residual winds feeding it. Some support for gale development expected in that trough through Monday. At the same time on Mon (1/27) the jet is to split off Japan with winds pushing up into the Bering Sea rendering anything east of there pretty ineffective at supporting gale development of any magnitude. Beyond 72 hours the split in the jet west of the dateline is to try and repair itself several times, but is to fail with wind speeds in the jet never exceeding 150 kts, and that only in pockets off Japan. The net result is to be a generally flat flowing jet pushing off Japan to the dateline but with winds speed less than 160 kts and split well west of the dateline with no support for gale development indicated. Winds need to dramatically increase in the jet. In the east the split jet is to break down with the jet moving onshore over Central California on Fri (1/31) and holding into the weekend, possibly signaling some drought relief.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (1/25) swell from Storm #4 was peaking in Southern California and fading in Northern CA. Swell from a Small Dateline Storm was hitting Hawaii (see details below) and bound for the US West Coast. Swell from a Second Dateline Gale was also pushing towards Hawaii (details below). Over the next 72 hours no other swell producing weather systems of interest are forecast.
Small Dateline Storm
A small storm developed just west of the dateline on Wed AM (1/22) with a tiny area of 50 kt west winds. By the evening this system pushed over the dateline with winds down to 45 kts and seas building to 34 ft at 38N 179E (313 degs HI, 290 NCal). By Thurs AM (1/23) the gale was fading northwest of Hawaii with winds down to 40 kts from the west and seas 33 ft at 37N 170W (pushing east of the 326 deg path to HI, 285 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal). Fetch rejuvenated some Thurs PM to 45 kts from the northwest with 32 ft seas at 35N 158W (283 degs SCal). This system was gone by Fri AM (1/24) with seas fading from 28 ft at 37N 145W (278 degs NCal, 288 degs SCal).
Modest swell hit Hawaii late Friday (1/24) with swell 9 ft @ 16 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) holding into Sat AM and fading from 9 ft @ 15 secs (13.5 ft Hawaiian) from 313-326 degrees.
Swell for Northern CA expected on Sunday (1/26) building to 4.5 ft @ 16-17 secs late (7.5 ft) then fading Mon AM from 6 ft @ 14-15 secs (8.5 ft). Swell Direction: 285 degrees.
Energy for Southern CA expected starting Monday AM (1/27) at 3.4 ft @ 16-17 secs (5.5 ft). Swell fading from 2.7 ft @ 14-15 secs (3.5 ft) Tues AM (1/28). Swell Direction: 280-285 degrees.
Second Dateline Gale
On Friday PM (1/24) a new small gale built on the dateline producing 45 kt northwest winds aimed a bit at Hawaii with seas on the increase. On Sat AM (1/25) 40 kt northwest winds held tracking just east of the dateline with 32 ft seas at 33N 174W (310 degs HI, 281 degs NCal, 286 degs SCal). The fetch is to fall southeast towards Hawaii on Sat evening fading to 35 kts with seas fading from 26 ft at 30N 168W (315 degs HI, 280 degs SCal). This system is to be gone Sun AM with seas from previous fetch 22 ft just 550 nmiles northwest of Hawaii.
Hawaii - Expect swell arrival on late Sunday (1/26) pushing 11 ft @ 15 secs (17 ft Hawaiian). Swell heading down overnight dropping from 10 ft @ 14 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) Mon AM (1/27). Swell Direction: 3310-315 degs
Sideband energy for North CA expected arriving Tues (1/28) pushing swell back to 5-6 ft @ 13 secs (6.5-7.5 ft) from 275-280 degrees
Southern CA to see swell building later Tues (1/28) to 3 ft @ 13-14 secs (4 ft) fading Wed (1/29) from 3.3 ft @ 13 secs (4.0-4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 280-285 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/25) a light southeast wind pattern was in play for Central and North CA with light offshore's over Southern CA. Calm winds to return Sunday everywhere. High pressure tries to build Monday off Central CA with a light flow early forecast building to 15+ kts from the north near Pt Conception and far later over Central CA, continuing Tuesday (1/28) and getting better traction up into North and Central CA on Wednesday. Southern CA to remain protected. The north wind flow is to dissipate on Thurs (1/30) as weak low pressure builds just off Central CA Thursday moving onshore Friday. Rain possibly for much of Central CA with up to 10 inches of snow for Tahoe. Clearing high pressure is expected for North and Central CA on Friday and Saturday (2/1) with north winds 15+ kts.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were in play. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing gale activity is forecast aimed up into our forecast area.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hours a small gale us purportedly to develop in the Northwestern Gulf of Alaska on Wed AM (1/29) with 30 ft seas aimed east peaking in the evening still at 30 ft at 47N 168W targeting the Pacific Northwest. With a weak and highly fragmented jet, no storm development seems likely.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather cycle that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized in it's Inactive Phase by enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is in control of, and in it's Active Phase by slack if not an outright reversal of trade winds and enhanced precipitation. The oscillation occurs in roughly 20-30 day cycles (Inactive for 20-30 days, then Active for 20-30 days) over any single location on the planet. During the Active Phase in the Pacific the MJO tends to support the formation of stronger and longer lasting gales resulting in enhanced potential for the formation of swell producing storms. During the Inactive Phase the jet stream tends to split resulting in high pressure and less potential for swell producing storm development. The paragraphs below analyze the state of the MJO in the Pacific and provide forecasts for MJO activity (which directly relate to the potential for swell production).
As of Saturday (1/25) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was falling from -1.17. The 30 day average was up to 8.13 and the 90 day average was up at 5.75. This appears to be the end of what was an unexpected upward spike in the SOI. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of perhaps a building Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of the Inactive Phase. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends, so the move into positive readings is not unexpected.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated strong west anomalies over the far Western and Central Maritime Continent weakening to neutral anomalies over the the dateline and holding that way south of Hawaii. Weak east anomalies developed from there almost into Central America. A week from now (2/2) modest west anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent turning weak westerly on the dateline then weak easterly south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies to hold into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is in control over the West Pacific and trying to get better footing moving east but not making it with a weak version of the Inactive Phase holding over the East Pacific.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/24 are reasonably in agreement where it counts. Both suggest a modestly Active pattern in play today with the Active Phase of the MJO over the West Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to hold into the next 5 days pushing east, then slowly fade 15 days out while moving east of the dateline, gone at the end of the run. Conversely the dynamic model suggests a moderate Active Phase is already in play just west of the dateline and is to hold there the next 15 days and building steadily. This is most promising if it materializes and the projection has not changed much (other than getting stronger) for a week now. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/25 suggests a very weak Active Phase is over the West Pacific and tracking east, expected to move inland over the East Pacific on Feb 14. This is an upgrade from previous runs. In parallel a new modest Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Feb 9 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 3/6 while a new weak Active Phase builds behind it starting 2/24. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of now (1/23) a completely neutral water temp pattern covers the equator from Central America to the Philippines other than one pool of slightly negative water temps south of Hawaii extending west to the dateline and slightly warmer water on the equator off Ecuador. Overall equatorial water temps are biased on the warm side of neutral (+0.25 degs C). The slightly warm pool on the equator in the Eastern Pacific continues to be losing a little coverage as compared to previous imagery, but not bad. This pocket of warmer water actually originates over Chile and Peru too, and appears to have built more from the previous image, suggesting some positive effect caused by a Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there. This almost looks like a weak El Nino signature, but that is a very premature analysis. Warm water from off the South American coast is getting driven west along the equator by trades. The California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California continues to fade with warm waters starting to build along the North CA coast. Thousands of miles of warmer water is lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast. In short, there's no sign of a legitimate warm pattern developing yet, but there are more hints and suggestions of such a pattern trying to develop. But there remains a cool pool on the equator in the Atlantic, from Africa to South America. If there's any sort of global teleconnection, this same pattern might develop in the Pacific, which it appears to be doing. Something to monitor. We remain in a pure neutral pattern (as neutral as it can get).
Subsurface waters temps on the equator indicate a somewhat concerning scenario with cooler than normal water (-1 deg c) setting up 100m down at 110W (off Central America). This cool patch is blocking any warm flow trying to move east. But it covered a much larger area just 2 days ago so there's some hope it is only a temporary setback. At the same time warm water +2 deg C is building under the dateline. This could possibly be the start of a new Kelvin Wave, especially seeing how there has been 15 days of modest to strong westerly anomalies west of the dateline (A Westerly Wind Burst) with another week of such anomalies expected to continue. All warm water from a previous Kelvin Wave was now east of the TOA buoys and off the chart, presumably impacting Central America. This warm pool is expected to provide slight warming to the already neutral to warm surface warm pool near the Galapagos (a good thing) over the next 30-45 days. The hope is this will add some fuel to the jetstream over the next 2 months. A the westerly wind burst over the Maritime Continent might force yet another Kelvin Wave adding yet more fuel to what is at this time some smoke of a potentially developing fire. But it's far too early to know with any certainty.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 1/25 are pushing upwards. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb-March 2014 building to + 0.75-1.0 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs are up to the +1.4 deg C range by Oct 2014. For the immediate future (this Winter) an effective neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering below +0.5 deg C through April. But a slow but steady increase is to set in. If anything, those increase are starting to appear on the current water temp plots. A consensus of other models suggests slow warming, but not passing beyond mildly positive territory till Spring of next year.
Overall the immediate outlook remains nothing stellar, but trending towards something that would be considered right on the threshold of warm, by Summer 2014, assuming one were to believe the models. All this is good news. If anything the ocean is in a recharging mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures gradually on the rise again in fit's-and-starts. We are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014 with perhaps a slightly warmer pattern by early 2014. But, the cool water in the Atlantic, and the developing cool pool at depth off Central America give us cause for concern. The weak presence of the Inactive Phase of MJO in the summer of 2013 still seems to be biasing the weather global pattern. But with the ocean turning neutral, we suspect the atmosphere will make the turn as well over the next few months (into March 2014). This is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. It is becoming apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. Longer term the expectation is there will be at least one to two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest 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