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 (1/30) in North and Central CA surf was 1-2 ft overhead and completely trashed by northwest winds. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high and blown out with brisk winds wrapping into the Bay generating chop, even through the kelp. In Southern California up north surf was still running chest to shoulder high and clean though a bit weak. Down south waves were head high and lined up but pretty hacked by cross shore lump. Hawaii's North Shore was residual dateline swell with waves 3-4 ft overhead and clean with light southeasterly trades in effect. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at 2-3 ft overhead and lightly bumped from southeast wind.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a small system previous on the dateline was fading in North and Central CA on Thursday (1/30) with locally generated windswell on top. After that things settle down for the US West Coast. A small cutoff gale is forecast developing in the Gulf tracking southeast to a point just off North CA on Sat (2/1) with 20 ft seas, setting up small raw swell for Mon (2/3). A cutoff gale remains forecast developing just east of the dateline on Fri-Sat (2/1) with 26-28 ft seas targeting Hawaii. A secondary smaller system to develop on the dateline Sun-Mon (2/3) falling southeast again targeting Hawaii with 18-20 ft seas. But after that virtually nothing else is forecast.
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 Thursday (1/30) the jetstream was tracking flat off Japan at 160 kts but fading fast, reaching over the dateline and splitting with some energy peeling due north up into the Bering Sea. The remaining energy reached a point north of Hawaii and split again, with most energy tracking flat east into California and the split flow falling south to the equator. There was no real troughs indicated and no real support for gale development suggested. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast but with winds fading while pushing off Japan and splitting far stronger off the Kuril Islands tracking up into the Bering Sea by Saturday (2/1) with the remaining energy reaching a point northwest of Hawaii and splitting again with the main flow tracking into Central CA and the rest heading towards the equator. This pattern to hold into Sunday (2/2). A cut off trough to form north of Hawaii offering some support for gale development there into Sat-Sun (2/2). Beyond 72 hours yet a stronger split in the jet is forecast starting just off Japan tracking hard north up into the Bering Sea on Wed (2/5) then falling hard south over the dateline forming a trough north of Hawaii into Thursday. A bit of a ridge to develop off the US West Coast but falling into another trough over all of California offering hope for more weather there.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (1/30) swell energy from a small gale on the dateline on Sat (1/25) hit California on Wed (1/29) and was on the way down by Thursday (2/30). A weak fetch also developed in the Western Gulf Wed PM (1/29) generating 35 kt westerly winds and 24+ ft seas up at 50N 164W targeting the US West Coast somewhat down the 308 deg path. Maybe some very small and weak 13 sec period swell to result for NCal starting Sun AM (2/2). And an equally weak gale developed off the Kuril Islands Wed PM (1/29) with 40-45 kt northwest winds and barely 30 ft seas at 44N 162E (312 degs HI) perhaps good for well decayed background swell for the Islands 4 days out (Sun PM - 2/2). But overall things have really backed off.
Over the next 72 hours a small gale is forecast developing in the Gulf falling southeast on Fri AM (1/31) with 40 kt west winds over a tiny area generating 24 ft seas in the evening at 44N 150W (296 degs NCal). This gale to fade overnight with barely 30 kt west winds over at tiny area off NCal Sat Am (2/1) with seas fading from 20 ft at 43N 144W on the 294 degs path to NCal 1100 nmiles out. Small 13 sec period swell possible by mid-morning Monday for NCal in combination with the previous Gulf gale (above). Swell maybe 6 ft @ 13 secs (7.5 ft faces).
Also a cutoff gale remains forecast to develop just east of the dateline on Fri AM (1/31) generating 40-45 kt northeast winds building to 45 kts in the evening. But most fetch is to be aimed southwest to south or at open ocean through the wave model suggests 28 ft sea at 35N 172W aimed due south or sending sideband energy down the 321 degree path to Hawaii. Sat AM (2/1) supposedly 35-40 kt northwest winds to wrap into the gales southwest quadrant generating 26-28 ft seas at 33N 171W (318 degs HI). By evening winds to fade from 35 kts with seas fading from 26 ft at 30N 170W (312 degs HI) and targeting the Islands better. This system is to be gone by Sun AM (2/2). If all goes as forecast some nice 15 sec period swell could result for Hawaii by Sun evening to 6 ft @ 15 secs (9 ft). residual to fade Mon AM (2/3) from 8 ft @ 13 secs early (10.5 ft). Something to monitor. Swell Direction: 310-318 degrees
Yet another small gale is forecast developing Sun PM (1/2) on the dateline with a tiny area of 35 kt northwest winds and 22 ft seas at 42N 176E aimed at Hawaii down the 319 deg path and falling south-southeast into Mon AP (1/3) with winds fading to 30 kts. Seas are forecast in the 18-20 ft range over a very small area ending at 35N 170W (325 degs) and only 1000 nmiles out. Perhaps more swell to result for Hawaii.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/30) north winds associated with clearing high pressure was building into Northern CA with chop the name of the game. Clearing was occurring in the mountains too with 5-7 inches of new snow on the ground at North Tahoe resorts as of this AM with perhaps a few mire inches falling this AM on top of that. The north wind flow is to get better defined on Fri (1/31) with 20 kt north winds along the entire Central and North Coasts early. Light rain possible for the SF Bay Area early with an additional 4-6 inches of snow for Tahoe, mainly early. Light rain working it's way into Southern CA later Friday. By Saturday those north winds to start backing off as a new local low pushes up to Cape Mendocino late, with south winds possible Sunday for all of North and Central CA. Light rain on Sunday possible for Central CA pushing into Southern CA early Monday but that precipitation is not to reach inland enough except for maybe a dusting of snow for Tahoe. But by Monday high pressure and northwest winds to again set up for North and Central CA driven by weak high pressure building off the coast. Northwest winds continue Tuesday and Wednesday at 15-20 kts for all of North and Central CA pushing 20-25 kts on Thursday.
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 virtually no swell production is forecast with a split jetstream flow aloft destroying the storm track.
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 Thursday (1/30) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was rising to 16.16. The 30 day average was up to 10.83 and the 90 day average was up at 6.56. This is a continuation of what is an unexpected upward spike in the SOI. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of a Inactive 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 moderate to strong west anomalies were still in control of the far Western Maritime Continent weakening to neutral anomalies over the the dateline and holding that way south of Hawaii. This is a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started 1/8, peaked 1/28 and is likely on the decline now. Weak east anomalies were barely present from there fading to neutral into Central America. A week from now (2/7) neutral anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent and dateline regions continuing south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is in control over the West Pacific and is trying to move east but not quite making it yet, even though a neutral Phase of the MJO was building over the East Pacific. The WWB has created prime conditions for development of another Kelvin Wave.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/29 are reasonably in agreement where it counts. Both suggest a modestly active pattern was 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 10 days while easing east, then slowly start fading 15 days out while moving just east of the dateline. This model has progressively increased the duration of the current Active Phase of the MJO. Conversely the dynamic model remain stubborn suggesting the current Active Phase is to hold just west of the dateline for the next 15 days building steadily to a moderate if not weakly strong status over the next 5-10 day, then starting to fade. Even as of now the situation is most promising in that a Kelvin Wave looks likely to form, and the Dynamic models suggests yet more west winds might result. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/30 has picking up on this even more now suggesting a moderate plus strength Active Phase is over the West Pacific and is to track east, holding together well east of the dateline on 2/9, then move inland over the East Pacific on Feb 22. This continues to upgrade from previous runs. In parallel a new stronger Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Feb 15 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 3/11 while a new very weak Active Phase builds behind it starting 3/6. 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 (1/30) 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 nestled up to and 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, with perhaps even a small area of slightly cool water on the equator south of Baja. Still a pocket of warmer water continue in control over Chile and Peru too, and appears to have built more from the previous images, 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 previous California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California is gone with warm waters starting to build along the North CA coast. Thousands of miles of warmer water lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast is moving east and almost reaching the coast. A sympathetic cool pool that had developed off Africa continues to loose ground. 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. For now we remain in a pure neutral pattern, with tendencies towards a warmer state.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator indicate a somewhat concerning scenario with cooler than normal water (-2 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 a week ago and is down to just a small concentrated patch under the equatorial East Pacific now. At the same time warm water +3 deg C is building under the dateline and increasing in temp and coverage. This could possibly be the start of a new Kelvin Wave, especially seeing how there has been 11 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. And 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 1/28 have stabilized. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 building to + 0.75-1.0 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs are up to the +1.3 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