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 (1/31) North and Central California was still getting decent utility class leftovers from Storm #19 with waves near double overhead and reasonably clean conditions. Southern California was getting a decent pulse of Swell #19 too with waves up to 2 ft overhead and clean up north, even cleaner down south but swamped by high tide. Hawaii's North Shore was getting new swell from a gale that was northwest of them earlier in the week with waves pushing near 15 ft on the face at top breaks and cleaning up, though still a little residual warble from a front the day before. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for swell to pretty much drop out on Monday with waves shoulder high then building Tuesday to near double overhead as the next batch of rain moves in and holding at near double overhead Wednesday then fading from 1-2 ft overhead on Thursday. Southern California is to see fading swell on Monday with waves maybe to chest high at better breaks with new swell moving in on Tuesday again to chest high late up north. Wednesday surf is to pick up with waves near head high and still fairly westerly in direction then dropping from chest high Thursday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see the dateline swell quickly fading overnight with waves down to double overhead on Monday fading to 1-2 ft overhead on Tuesday. Another pulse from a dateline gale is due in on Wednesday at double overhead or a little more and holding rock solid on Thursday and even into Friday. Nice. The East Shore is to have no easterly windswell. The South Shore is in hibernation for the winter.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) remains strongly in the Active Phase and is in-phase with El Nino, which by all rights should be enhancing the storm track like mad now. We still expect this to happen, but it might take a little bit of time for the storm pattern to start winding up, which it now looks like it will do about a week out starting in the West Pacific and slowly working it's way east into mid-February. This is likely to be the last big push from El Nino, so we'll be watching it closely. Certainly as of right now bad weather looks likely for the California coast this week, and this is likely just the start of it.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Sunday (1/31) the North Pacific jetstream was running ruler flat from Southern Japan east over the dateline with peak winds occurring there at 140-150 kts continuing 600 nmiles north of Hawaii and then dipping south down into Southern Baja Mexico. On average the flow was at 30N, way to the south and typical of El Nino. No obvious troughs were in-play, though a little one was trying to develop west of the dateline and another north of Hawaii providing a little support for gale development. Over the next 72 hrs the western dateline trough is to push east and deepen a little tracking north of Hawaii on Wednesday (2/3) with winds in the 150 kts range providing decent support for gale development. And the trough that was north of Hawaii is to push east and almost southeast pushing into Southern CA and Baja mid-week providing good opportunity for rain there. A bit of a weak split is forecast setting up west of the dateline then but not much and not expected to last long. Beyond 72 hours a stronger trough is to set up off California on Friday (2/5) with 130 kt winds flowing under it not helping to build it much and mostly setting up a weather event for the coast there. Further to the west a new pocket of stronger winds is forecast develop under Japan and seeping east reaching nearly to the dateline by Sat (2/6) with winds up the the 200 kt threshold and looking to be building with a trough starting to form on the dateline by Sunday offering good support for storm development there. And the semi-permanent trough just off California is to be building with energy from the dateline streaming east and fueling development of a local gale pattern. Looks like the storm track will be on the increase in the week ahead.
At the surface on Sunday (1/31) a broad but weak low pressure system was setup on the dateline filling nearly 50% of the North Pacific with energy pushing east off it to within 500 nmiles of the North California coast. Winds in this low never exceeded 30 kts and most with in the 20 kts range, but covering a huge area and with most fetch pushing well west to east on the 40-45N latitude generating 9-10 sec period windswell. This is likely being aided by a developing Active Phase of the MJO and El Nino. Near neutral pressure was nestled from the immediate California coast southwest to just north of Hawaii providing a brief respite from rain and poor weather. Residual swell from Storm #19 was still dribbling into California. Swell from Storm #20 was hitting Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours the low pressure system on the dateline is to develop some with a small area of 40 kts winds forecast Monday (2/1) generating 27 ft seas at 43N 180W in the evening aimed mid-way between Hawaii (325 deg) and the California coast (40 deg south of the 296 deg path for NCal). This system is to be all but dissolved by Tuesday AM with 25 ft seas at 41N 175W heading best towards Hawaii. Expect larger utility class swell to arrive in the Islands on Wednesday AM (2/3) at 6.5 ft @ 14 secs at sunrise (9 ft faces) from 325 degrees with much more local shorter period energy on top.
At the same time a local gale is to be stationary 600 nmiles off Oregon on Monday (2/1) generating 25-30 kt northwest fetch aimed at California and slowly decaying while drifting east pushing a weak front with south wind and rain into Central CA. Maybe some windswell too with more behind it (the remnants of Storm #20). But of more interest is the forecast development of a storm off Southern Japan on Monday PM (2/1) producing 45 kt southwest winds at 35N 158E aimed right up the 294 degree path to NCal. 45 kt southeast winds to continue on Tuesday at 35N 165E pushing up the 292 degree path to NCal then building to 50-55 kts Tuesday PM at 42N 168E aimed 20 degrees south of the 297 degree path to Ncal and down the 314 degree path to Hawaii. 30 ft seas forecast at 42N 165E. This system is to hold into Wednesday AM (2/3) with 50 kt west winds at 45N 171E pushing 20 degree south of the 300 degree path to NCal and well down the 319 degree path to Hawaii. 41 ft seas forecast at 44N 170E. This system is to dissipate in the evening. If all goes as forecast some degree of longer period utility class swell could be pushing towards NCal and Hawaii, but it's a bit early to know for sure.
A gale that was over the dateline built Thursday PM (1/28) with 40 kt northwest winds sinking southeast at 42N 175E aimed down the 319 degree path to the Hawaiian Islands. 23 ft seas were modeled at 37N 180W. On Friday AM (1/29) a small area of 45 kt northwest winds developed at 36N 175W aimed down the 322 degree path to Hawaii and over 50 degrees south of any route to the US West coast. 27 ft seas were modeled over a moderate area at 35N 175W pushing towards the Islands from 1200-1300 nmiles out. In the evening this system was fading with 35 kt northwest winds at 30-32N 160-165W aimed down the 331 degree path to the Islands and dissipating. 27-28 ft seas were modeled at 34N 168W and fading. This system quickly disintegrated after that with residual 25 ft seas at 33N 161W Saturday AM (1/30) heading on a course just east of the Islands.
Some degree of large utility class/small significant class swell is likely for Hawaii starting Sunday (1/31). Expect swell to hit at 6 AM HST with swell reaching to 8.3 ft @ 14 secs (11-12 ft faces) coming from 317-325 degrees.
Little to no energy is expected from the core of this storm pushing into the US West Coast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (1/31) a weak front associated with a gale 800 nmiles off Oregon was pushing towards the Northern CA coast sitting about 600 nmiles out. This looks like the first of what is to be a whole string of weather systems forecast to move into the Golden State in the week ahead. The front itself is to dissipate over outer waters but perhaps might start producing light southerly winds Monday from Monterey Bay northward and holding as the gale itself pushes closer to the coast. Light rain is forecast up in the Pt Arena area too on Monday reaching down to Monterey Bay Tuesday with south winds down to Pt Conception late. A bit of a break is expected on Wednesday (2/3) though light southwest winds are still likely from Morro Bay northward as a much stronger system is forecast queuing up just off the coast. By Thursday (2/4) that gale is to be building with the front starting to impact the SF coast at sunrise with light south winds into Southern CA by 10 AM and rain into all of Central CA by sunset. Full-on south winds are forecast for the entire state Friday and Saturday with rain holding out of Southern CA on Friday but moving in for Saturday, then drying out for all on Sunday (other than Cape Mendo and vicinity) and winds starting to die everywhere (though much southerly lump will persist).
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 short lived gale is to form off the Kuril Islands on Thurs (2/4) generating a solid fetch of 40-45 kt west winds up at 47N 168E focused entirely ion the US West Coast. It is to remain stationary into Friday and then dissipate there. Up to 36 ft seas are forecast Thurs AM at 43N 168E. More small longer period swell possible for the US West Coast 5 days beyond.
And then another broader gale is forecast forming off Japan on Sat (2/6) with 45 kt west winds taking the southern track while gently lifting northeast to the dateline on Sunday (2/7) at 41N 179E with seas in the 35 ft range. More swell possible for Hawaii initially and then the US West Coast.
In short, no lack of swell potential is suggested, though none of it particularly large and mostly positioned in the far West Pacific as would be expected with the MJO focused on that patch of real estate for the short term.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Sunday (1/31) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was moving more negative with the Daily SOI down hard to -42.49 (26 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was down to -8.90 with the 90 average was down some at -7.71.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models continued to indicate a solid area of westerly anomalies covering from Indonesia east over the dateline fading at a point southeast of Hawaii. A core of strong westerly winds remained from north Australia to the dateline. This continues looking like a certified Westerly Wind Burst. It was occurring right on-time as we reach 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 in the coming 2 weeks. 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 2/4, then easing on the dateline 2/9-2/14 before fading out entirely 2/19 while a new stronger Inactive Phase starts to push east into the Pacific. Suspect if there is going to be a big last push from El Nino, it will occur during the next 2-3 weeks. And with the Phases of the MJO starting to look stronger rather than weak, this suggests that the MJO is coming back into dominance and El Nino will start to deteriorate in the months ahead. Still, the effects on the atmosphere are already well dug in, and that momentum will be very slow to dissipate (6 months).
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/28) 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 degree warm anomalies still present from 125W into the coast there and loosing their coverage. 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 almost the Philippines, but only in the normal range. Still, this looks like the Springtime transition typical for this time of the year. But a solid 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 1/25-1/28, looking very much like a real Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) event. And even on 1/30 solid Westerly Winds were occurring just south of the equator to near 160W with solid anomalies over the same area. 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 late-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