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 Tuesday (2/4) in North and Central CA surf was waist to chest high and a bit warbled but with clean with no chop or wind effect. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist high and clean but weak. In Southern California up north surf was waist to chest high at top spots, but mostly waist high and fairly weak. Down south waves were chest to shoulder high at top spots and getting hacked by southerly winds. Hawaii's North Shore was getting solid swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and clean but a little lurpy. But not bad. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at waist high and a bit lumpy from east-southeast trades in the 6 kt range.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A small gale developed on the dateline Sun-Mon (2/3) falling southeast again targeting Hawaii with 28 ft seas with swell expected to arrive there Wed (2/5). But after that the bottom falls out for a bit. Some sort of cutoff gale to forecast to form in the Gulf Fri (2/7) but it's footprint in terms of fetch is currently projected to be limited. Perhaps a small area of 22 ft seas to occur starting late Sun (2/9) into Tuesday in the Gulf targeting mainly California and the Pacific Northwest. But overall a weak storm pattern is to continue.
Note: NDBC has updated their buoy maintenance plan. 46012, 46013 and 46014 are scheduled for maintenance in May 2014. There is no schedule for 46059 or 46006.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (2/4) the jetstream was split directly east of Japan with the northern branch pushing up the Kuril Islands and into the Bering Sea stealing energy from the remain flow that was tracking flat east on the 30N latitude line over the dateline. Limited energy was returning south from the Bering Sea rejoining the main flow west of Hawaii forming a trough there with 140 kt winds feeding it and offering only limited support for gale development. From there the jet ridged slightly and pushed into the US West Coast over Central CA. Over the next 72 hours the split is to get more pronounced pushing well up into and north of the Bering Sea with the return flow disappearing. remaining wind energy to track from japan across the Pacific near 28N eventually pushing into Central California through Friday (2/7). No troughs of interest are forecast. Beyond 72 hours the split is to hold just off Japan. A bit of a weak return flow is to set up over the Gulf of Alaska on Sat (2/8) forming a cut off upper low there circulating into Monday (2/10) offering limited support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. But after that the split is to continue stealing all energy from the main flow shunting it north into the arctic leaving a weak and aimless flat over the greater Pacific with the jet continuing down at nearly 25N in the West Pacific and then ridging some starting near Hawaii pushing inland while slowly rising from Central CA to Oregon by late Tues (2/11).
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (2/4) swell from the first of two gales that developed on the dateline was still hitting Hawaii. Swell from the second gale was right behind it (see Second Dateline Gale below). Otherwise no swell producing weather systems are forecast.
Second Dateline Gale
Yet another small gale developed Sun PM (1/2) on the dateline with a small elongated area of 40-45 kt northwest winds and 28 ft seas at 37N 180W aimed at Hawaii down the 313 deg path and falling south-southeast. 35-40 kts winds faded overnight over a broader area falling southeast with seas holding at 28 ft at 33N 176W Mon AM (1/3) (312 degs HI). Fetch dissipated from 30 kts Mon PM with seas dropping from 22 ft over a large area at 32N 171W (315 degs) and only 850 nmiles out. More swell to result targeting primarily Hawaii on Wed (2/5).
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival late on Tues (2/4) at 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft ) and building overnight. Swell to peak near sunrise Wed (2/5) at 7.5-8.0 ft @ 15 secs (11 ft) fading slightly through the afternoon. On Thurs AM (2/6) swell fading from 6.6 ft @ 13 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 312-313 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (2/4) north winds at 15 kts were in control of outer waters and making their way into many nearshore breaks driven by modest high pressure off the California coast. Those winds are to falter a bit on Wed (2/5) as a weak upper low moves into Central CA late with winds turning light south Thurs AM with the low moving onshore over North and Central CA late. Light rain starting Wed PM for North and Central CA from Big Sur northward and reaching to Pt Conception and continuing through Thursday mid-day. Maybe 3 inches of snow accumulation for Tahoe through the day Thursday. A light southerly flow to develop later Friday as more low pressure builds off the coast. Saturday a new gale is to build in the Gulf with a front poised just off Northern CA brining a light southerly flow to all of Central CA and 15+ kts for Northern CA continuing Sunday. Rain for North CA Saturday down to San Francisco with a few inches of snow possible for Tahoe late. Heavier rain for Central North CA on Sunday with snow developing at the highest elevations later in Tahoe. High pressure to build in behind for Southern CA Monday up into Pt Conception with northwest winds 15-20 kts perhaps reaching Monterey Bay later Tues (2/11). 6 inches of snow for Tahoe Monday before the front clears out. Low pressure to continue to lock down the Gulf of Alaska reaching south to Oregon Tuesday.
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 an upper level low is to develop over the Gulf of Alaska helping to support formation of a gale in the Central Gulf of Alaska late Fri (2/7) but not getting good traction on the oceans surface until later Sat (2/8) producing 40 kt north and northwest west winds Sun AM (2/9) with seas building to 28 ft at 45N 167W primarily targeting Hawaii. 40 kt west winds to hold into the evening resulting in 26 ft seas at 42N 155W targeting the US West Coast. 40 kt west winds to continue Mon AM (2/10) with 28 ft seas at 46N 148W targeting the Pacific Northwest. limited fetch a nd 20 ft seas to persist in that area (46N 140W) targeting the Pacific Northwest. At least it's something to monitor.
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 Tuesday (2/4) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 12.82. The 30 day average was up to 13.63 and the 90 day average was up at 7.19. 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.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies over the Continent turning to moderate westerly anomalies over the dateline continuing south of Hawaii then fading to neutral off Central America. This is the remnants of a strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started 1/8, peaked 1/28 and is fading while moving over the decline. A week from now (2/12) moderate easterly anomalies are forecast taking over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral over the dateline and south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was still in control over the West Pacific and is moving east but is to be fading over the next week. The WWB has created prime conditions for development of another Kelvin Wave.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/3 are reasonably in agreement. Both suggest a modest version of the Active Phase of the MJO over the West Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to hold into the next 8 days while easing east, almost gone 15 days out while moving just east of the dateline. Conversely the dynamic model remains stubborn suggesting the current Active Phase is to fade just west of the dateline 5 days out then redevelop 10 days out and hold to 15 days out at moderate strength. That seems unlikely. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 2/4 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the West Pacific and is to track east while fading, moving inland over the East Pacific on Mar 11 or a whole month away. A new Inactive Phase is to start developing in the far West Pacific Feb 19 easing east and moving into the Central Pacific 3/11 but then dissipating. 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 (2/4) a cool water regime is developing on the equator from a point south of Baja to almost the dateline. This is unexpected but is likely tied to the unexpected falling SOI (above). What is even more perplexing is that a Westerly Wind Burst is occurring at the same time. Water temps are -0.5 deg C below normal over that region with one small area to -1.0 deg C south of Hawaii. Slightly warmer water remains on the equator nestled up to and off Ecuador, Chile and Peru, and appears to have built more from the previous images, suggesting some positive effect caused by a Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there. But any previous suggestion of what looked like a weak El Nino signature has been erased in the mid-Pacific. The previous California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California is gone with warm waters continuing to build just off 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 has dissipated. There's some thought that maybe the current Pacific cool pool will follow the same pattern, but that is more a hope than anything. There's no sign of a legitimate warm pattern developing. For now we remain in a pure neutral pattern, with tendencies towards a cooler state as of 2/4, a downgrade from previous suggestions of a warming pattern developing.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator are improving. Cooler than normal water (-2 deg c) that was 100m down at 110W (off Central America) has moderated to -1 C and there are signs the entire pool is still loosing it's grip. But for now this cool patch is continuing to blocking any warm flow trying to move east. At the same time a large area of warm water +3 deg C is building under the dateline and increasing in temp and coverage with it's leading edge at 150W (+1 deg C). This could possibly be the start of a new Kelvin Wave, especially seeing how there was 24 days of modest to strong westerly anomalies west of the dateline (a Westerly Wind Burst). All warm water from a previous Kelvin Wave is now east of the TOA buoys and off the chart, 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 (especially considering the cooler surface water temps discussed above).
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 2/4 have backtracked a little from previous runs. 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 +1.1 deg C range by Oct 2014 (down from 1.3-1.4 C earlier). 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