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 Thursday (2/4) North and Central California was getting limited head high clean west swell early, but the south winds are building with a front just off the coast. Southern California was getting thigh to waist high leftover west swell up north and smaller down south with light south winds starting to put a textured on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more northwest swell/windswell combo in the 3-4 ft overhead range and still pretty torn-up by Kona winds. The East Shore was getting wrap-around head high northwest swell. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for a messy mix of southwest windswell to arrive on Friday at 2-3 ft overhead with south winds and rain continuing into Saturday. A mix of swells is to start building late on Saturday continuing into Sunday from multiple sources (some local and some further out) in the double overhead or so range making for confused conditions. A slow drop though still double overhead surf is expected and better conditions Monday before reinforcing swell from a gale off Oregon arrives for mid-next week. Southern California is to see a mix of west and southwest windswell on Friday at chest high and blown out as a front moves in. More heavily mixed swell is expected on Saturday at chest to shoulder high and still pretty hacked, then building to the 1 ft overhead range and a little more on Sunday with better conditions. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see swell fading some on Friday at 3 ft overhead with new dateline swell building underneath late with luck. Sideband energy from Storm #21 to peak early Saturday at 15 ft or a little more then fading Sunday from double overhead. 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 holding strongly in the Active Phase on the dateline and pushing slowly east, still generating a solid Westerly Wind Burst and starting to fuel the North Pacific storm track. A series of storms are expected on the dateline pushing east next week and the week beyond, the by-product of this likely last big push of the MJO. Surf is likely but also bad weather for Hawaii and the US West Coast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (2/4) the North Pacific jetstream was running dead flat west to east on the 30N latitude much like it has for months now with a pocket of 160 kts winds under Japan and a lesser pocket of 140 kt winds off Southern California. No clearly defined troughs were present, meaning no clear support for gale development yet. But this is the fuel that is expected to start feeding the storm machine for the next 2 weeks. Over the next 72 hrs a trough is to start digging out just off California on Friday pushing inland Saturday likely supporting gale development there but also supporting a modest rain event for the West Coast. At the same time the Japan pocket of wind energy is to start building, reaching 190 kts on Saturday with a broad trough starting to form. Decent support for gale development there. This is likely a direct reflection of the building Active Phase of the MJO just south of there. Beyond 72 hours a steep trough is to continue digging out off the California coast Sunday (2/7) with a bit of a ridge building north of Hawaii almost splitting off to the north pushing towards Canada while a most solid trough continues building over the dateline with 200 kts winds forecast there. Storm formation possible on the dateline then pushing east as the trough itself settles down some into Monday (2/8) pushing head east taking up a position north of Hawaii on Tuesday with winds still at 200 kts. The trough off California is to get very steep and effectively pinched off by Tuesday (2/9) with the whole jet surging east hard. interesting, but before the California trough pinches off it's to reach down to 15N, or well south of Baja. Impressive southward momentum. Beyond a solid jetstream flow is to continue with energy flowing off the Kurils joining the fray setting up almost continuous 150 kt winds over the entire Pacific heading right into Central CA by early Thurs (2/11). Looks like the local storm door for California will be well supported aloft by the jetstream. Also another trough is also forecast developing on the dateline at that time supporting gale development there.
At the surface on Thursday (2/4) a gale low was building just off the US West Coast with a front starting to push into the coast there, likely setting up 2 days of subsequent rain and poor conditions. Windswell from 30-35 kt west winds associated with this system was likely being generated, but will be unrideable upon arrival in the CA coast. Weak high pressure was trying to building northwest of the Hawaiian Islands, through trades still had not taken root, and are not expected until Friday when the high jogs a little more east. A fragmented but building pool of low pressure was trying to set up off Japan and the Kuril Islands, with limited 30 kt northwest fetch off the later, but of no real interest just yet. In short, a squally pattern was in effect over most of the North Pacific, but nothing organized yet. Over the next 72 hours the gale off California is to continue circulating there with a core forming in the Northern Gulf and the rest pushing inland over California and into the Pacific Northwest. Weak high pressure and some clearing is expected by late Saturday evening setting up a cleaner weather pattern for Sunday there.
Also on Thurs/Fri (2/5) secondary fetch from the California gale with to organize at 35 kts bound directly for Southern CA generating 26 ft seas Friday AM at 34N 142W. This could result in more swell for Central CA starting Saturday at 8 PM at 7.7 ft @ 15 secs (10-11 ft faces) from 268 degrees. Southern CA to see 4.0 ft @ 15 secs or 6 ft faces from 274 degrees from this one starting Sunday at 4 AM.
And well off to the west, southeast of Japan, a large gale is to start building and slowly lumbering west. This is to become possible Storm #22 (see Long Term Forecast for details).
A storm formed 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.
55 kt northwest winds were modeled on Tuesday AM at 40N 161E pushing mostly up the 307 degree path to Hawaii, but nothing at NCal. 28 ft seas were modeled at 38N 161W pushing due east. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the northeast edge of the system and confirmed a 15 reading average sea height of 32.9 ft with one peak reading to 36.7 ft at 38N 162E. This was way better than expected and typical of the early phase of a storm, with winds ramping up quicker than the models expect resulting in higher seas early on in the storms life. In the evening all fetch turned to the east with the models depicting 50-55 kt west winds at 42N 168E aimed 15 degrees south of the 297 degree path to NCal and down the 314 degree path to Hawaii. But the ASCAT satellite confirmed winds at only 50 kts. 35 ft seas were modeled at 42N 165E. The Jason-1 satellite again passed right through the core of the storm and reported average seas at 40.0 ft with a one reading peak to 41.3 ft at 41.6 N 166E. Again, this was good news.
This system held into Wednesday AM (2/3) with 50 kt west winds modeled at 43N 174E pushing 10 degree south of the 297 degree path to NCal and 30 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii. The ASCAT satellite confirmed only 45 kts west winds. Seas were modeled at 42 ft seas at 42N 173E. This system was dissipating in the evening with 40-45 kt west winds at 43N 178W aimed right up the 295 degree path to NCal and bypassing Hawaii. Seas peaked at 43 ft at 42.5N 180W, but suspect this might be a bit on the high side.
No fetch is to be left by Thurs AM (2/4) with seas rapidly decaying from 32 ft at 43N 171W.
This was a generally small system but actually had solid winds early in it's life, a long ways away from either Hawaii or the US mainland. Still, it produced solid confirmed seas at 40 ft and likely a bit higher in the 12-14 hours that followed, though no confirmation was provided. As best as can be determined some degree of longer period significant class swell could be pushing Hawaii with utility class energy from the US West Coast. A bit of a wait between sets is likely for the mainland given this system got no closer than 2600 nmiles out. Swell decay will take it's toll, but most swell energy is heading well in that direction. Conversely Hawaii, though closer, is not to expect the decay problem of the mainland, but is located pretty well south of the great circle tracks where most of the swell energy is heading to. This make it harder to know exactly how much size will actually arrive.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Friday (2/5) near 7 PM with period 20 secs and size tiny but building, peaking Saturday at 4 AM HST with pure swell pushing to 10.0 ft @ 17 secs (17 ft Hawaiian). Swell size holding while period decays during the day, down to 15 sec at sunset with swell 9-10 ft @ 15 secs (14-15 ft Hawaiian). 13 sec remnants on Sunday. Swell Direction 315-322 degrees
Expect utility class swell to hit Northern CA on Saturday (2/6) near 7 PM with period to 22 secs and size tiny, slowly building as period turns to 20 secs at 2 AM Sunday (2/7). Size slowly creeping up through the day but madningly inconsistent, peaking near sunset at 7.0 ft @ 17 secs (12 ft faces) with maybe a few bigger sets. And piles of lesser period local swell is to be in the water too making things a jumbled mess. Swell down to 7 ft @ 15 secs on Monday AM. Swell Direction: 295-298 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (2/4) brisk southerly winds were in control from reaching from Pt Conception northward to Washington State with a large gale building just 300 nmiles off the coast and getting ready to impact the entire US West Coast wit wind and rain expected. A bit of a break is forecast early Friday up north as the front just reaches Southern CA while another pulse is to move onshore over Central CA later Friday, fading early Saturday up north and down south late. Weak high pressure is to move in Sunday with north winds at 15 kts in the Pt Conception area down into Southern CA. Monday another weaker and smaller gale is to set up off Oregon with impacts (light south wind and rain) down into Monterey Bay with the gale itself moving onshore and dissipating over Northern CA Tuesday (2/9). Light rain still likely into Pt Conception early. But no rest for the weary with a much larger system setting up behind it basically filling the entire Northeastern Pacific with the front from it hitting Monterey Bay northward late on Wednesday and moving onshore continuously into Friday. South winds fully in control from Pt Conception northward and rain from Monterey Bay northward, though Southern CA might be spared. And yet more is to be behind that.
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 large gale is to be taking shape off Japan on Sat AM (2/6) with 45-50 kt west winds taking the southern track at 35N 150E aimed at Hawaii down the 298 degree path and 35 degrees south of the 295 degree path to NCal. Seas building. In the evening a small area of 50 kt west winds are forecast at 35N 162E with seas to 38 ft at 33N 155E. The gale is to be gaining in coverage on Sunday AM filling the West Pacific at 37N 170E producing seas of 41 ft at 33N 160E. This could result in long period very west swell for Hawaii (295 degrees - almost shadowed from the North Shore). This fetch is to be aimed 20 degrees south of the 292 degree path to NCal. In the evening additional fetch is to be wrapping from the north into the storms west quadrant with 45 kt fetch forecast at 43N 168W aimed exclusively at Hawaii down the 315 degree path and seas holding at 39 ft at 33N 168E from the original fetch and more seas building to 39 ft up at 39N 178E. A larger area of 45 kt west fetch is to set up on the dateline Monday AM (2/8) at 42N 178W aimed 30 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii and right up the 295 degree path to NCal. 43 ft seas forecast at 35-40N 179W. In the evening 40 kt west fetch is to hold at 40N 170W generating 44 ft seas at 40N 170W. This fetch is to hold at 40 kts at 42N 170W Tuesday AM (2/9) but loosing steam. Seas forecast in the 41 ft range at 42N 167W. Good odds for larger longer period swell possible for Hawaii on Wed (2/10) initially and then the US West Coast beyond.
Another smaller system is forecast right behind that one too developing from this one's remnants Wednesday (2/10) 600 nmiles north of Hawaii and making a beeline east with winds 50 kt but over a much smaller area, building to 55 kts on Thursday and pushing into California Friday. A small area of 40 ft seas forecast at 34N 148W Thursday AM (2/11).
And yet another one is to be forming on the dateline Thursday (2/11) covering a broader area with 50-55 kt winds aimed almost due east.
In short, no lack of swell potential is suggested mostly positioned in the West Pacific and then slowly easing to the east as would be expected and in-sync with the eastward propagation of the Active Phase of the MJO. This continues to looks like it could result in an long continuous swell event for Hawaii and California but also extending south into Mexico and Central America. Certainly something to monitor.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (2/4) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was strongly in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was moving negative with the Daily SOI down hard to -60.28 (30 days in a row negative). this now looks like a real El Nino. The 30 day average was down hard to -17.41 with the 90 average down to -10.08.
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 the mid-Indian Ocean east over the dateline fading at a point southeast of Hawaii. A core of very strong westerly winds expanded from Indonesia to the dateline and a little east of there. This is 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 2-3 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 2/13, then easing on the dateline 2/18 before fading out entirely 2/23. This forecast is consistent with the last one. A new stronger Inactive Phase is already developing in the far Western Indian Ocean and is expected to start reaching the West Pacific about 2/19 and heading east fro there. Suspect if there is going to be a big last push from El Nino, it will occur during this current 2-3 week period while the Active Phase is in control. 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 entrenched, and that momentum will be very slow to dissipate over the coming next 6 months. In fact, we will be monitoring the MJO for signs of Active Phase dominance in the critical March-May timeframe to see if this Midoki El Nino can hang on for another year, or whether we fall back into a La Nina Pattern.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (2/4) 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 resurge a little thanks to the Active Phase of the MJO. 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 the past month have peaked out, with only 3 degree warm anomalies/residuals 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. Signs of a new Kelvin Wave started becoming obvious on 2/1 with a patch of 3 degree warmer than normal water starting to develop under the equator on the dateline and expanding some on 2/4. This could possibly help fuel or at least extend El Nino symptoms into summer.
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 1/25-1/29, looking very much like a real Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) event. And even on 1/30- 2/3 solid Westerly Winds were occurring just south of the equator to 155W with solid anomalies to 145W. This is what is needed to generate yet one more Kelvin Wave and is likely the peak of this event. 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 even enhanced trades (which could result in La Nina). But that will likely not happen until sometime after this Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe late-February/early March. 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 is not a strong El Nino, more likely a solid moderate one. A respectable 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/Feb 2010) and then the slow degradation will begin in the ocean. But the atmosphere is already being 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