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 Saturday (2/6) North and Central California was getting very west angled raw local swell in the 3-4 ft overhead range and not too pretty, though not completely trashed. Southern California was getting the same west raw swell with waves chest to shoulder high and maybe a bit bigger down south and completely blown to bits. Pure stormsurf. Hawaii's North Shore was looking quite nice with new swell hitting in the double overhead range, not as large as hoped for, but with pristine yet overcast conditions early. The East Shore was getting wrap-around longer period swell in the head high range. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for a a mix of swells is to start building later on Saturday to double overhead continuing into Sunday from multiple sources (some local and some further out) in the double overhead plus range and very confused. Local winds to be an issue too. A slow drop though still double overhead surf is expected and better conditions Monday dropping to 2 ft overhead Tuesday and 1 ft overhead on Wednesday and a little more Thursday. Southern California is to see building swell in the 1-2 ft overhead range Sunday with improving conditions then dropping from head high or so Monday and shoulder high Tuesday. Chest high leftovers Wednesday dropping to waist high on Thursday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see swell fading energy from Swell #21 on Sunday near double overhead early dropping to 1 ft overhead Monday and head high Tuesday. Possible large Swell #22 arrives on Wednesday. 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 pushing slowly east, still generating a solid Westerly Wind Burst and starting to fuel the North Pacific storm track. A broad gale is to result starting to develop today southeast of Japan and is expected to push to the dateline over the weekend and into the Gulf of Alaska early next week with possible lesser energy spinning off and moving towards the US West Coast. Large surf is likely but also increasing odds for bad weather for the US West Coast and to a certain extent, Hawaii too.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Saturday (2/6) the North Pacific jetstream was looking most solid running flat west to east on the 32N latitude as it has for months with a pocket of 200 kt winds under Japan pushing almost to the dateline then dropping to the 110-120 kt range as it tracked just north of Hawaii and into Central Baja. A very weak but broad trough was trying to form over Japan with another weaker one pushing into Central CA. Some support for gale development over Japan. Over the next 72 hrs the Japan pocket of wind energy is to take precedence, reaching 210 kts on Sunday and supporting a broad trough just west of the dateline then pushing over it on Monday and moving towards the Gulf of Alaska Tuesday. Good support for gale development there. A bit of a ridge is to form just east of there before dropping into a large trough off the US West Coast Monday (2/8) with 130 kts winds or greater flowing into it, offering good odds for gale development there. That trough is to be pushing east into the coast on Tuesday likely making for raw weather down into Southern CA. All this is to be fueled by the very Active Phase of the MJO set up on the dateline. Beyond 72 hours the dateline trough is to pushing east, north of Hawaii on Wednesday the regrouping a little just off the CA coast Thursday before pushing inland there Friday. Good support for gale development there but also for bad weather. Additional energy is to start flow east off the Kuril ISlands merging with the main flow on the dateline Thursday forming a secondary trough all spilling east and positioned north of Hawaii by next Saturday (2/13) with 150 kts winds providing more support for gale development. Things to be backing off over Japan at the same time suggesting a calmer pattern in the days ahead.
At the surface on Saturday (2/6) broad low pressure was fading in the Gulf of Alaska with high pressure at 1020 mbs trying to get a foothold between Hawaii and the US West Coast. A short dryout for the US West Coast looks likely. But a large gale was starting to build southeast of Hawaii with 45 kts winds modeled. This is to become Storm #22 (see details below). Over the next 72 hours Storm #22 is to take control filling 50% of the North Pacific as it lumbers east with 45-50 kts west winds. Back east little fragments of low pressure as to drop south to Central CA, but not have any swell generating fetch associated with them. Maybe some light rain is all. Again, the focus is to be the dateline.
On Thurs/Fri (2/5) secondary fetch from a gale that was off California organized at 35 kts bound directly for Southern CA generating 26 ft seas Friday AM at 34N 142W. This is expected to result in more swell for Central starting Saturday at 10 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.
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 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
Possible Storm #22
A new large gale was taking shape off Japan on Sat AM (2/6) with 45 kt west winds taking the southern track at 33N 150E aimed at Hawaii down the 295 degree path and 35 degrees south of the 295 degree path to NCal. Seas building. In the evening a building area of 45 kt west winds are forecast at 35N 160E with seas to 35 ft at 33N 154E.
The gale is to be gaining in coverage on Sunday AM filling the West Pacific with 45-50 kts west winds at 37N 170E producing seas of 40 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 290-292 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 33-43N 175E aimed at Hawaii down the 298 degree path and NCal down the 296 degree path with seas building to 44 ft at 33N 173E. This is an upgrade from previous estimates and will benefit Hawaii.
A larger area of 45 kt west fetch is to set up on the dateline Monday AM (2/8) at 40N 178W aimed 30 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii and right up the 292 degree path to NCal. 44 ft seas forecast at 35-40N 178W. In the evening 45 kt west fetch is to hold at 42N 172W generating 48 ft seas at 41N 172W pushing exclusively at NCal up the 292 degree path.
This fetch is to hold at 40 kts at 42N 166W Tuesday AM (2/9) but loosing steam. Seas forecast in the 45 ft range at 44N 167W pushing up the 295 degree path to NCal. The original fetch is to be gone in the evening with 42 ft seas from previous fetch at 45N 160W (296 NCal).
Good odds for larger longer period swell possible for Hawaii on Wed (2/10) from the early part of the storm and then pushing into the US West Coast beyond.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (2/6) southerly winds were fading in Central CA and being replaced by west to northwest winds as high pressure started to nose into outer waters behind the front. Clearing skies are projected later up north but rain through the day into Southern CA. 15-20 kt northwest winds were modeled out over waters 600 nmiles off the coast and pushing east. The front was just pushing into Southern CA with south winds in effect there. Weak high pressure at 1020 mbs is to move in Sunday with north winds at 15-20 kts from Pt Arena southward down into Southern CA pretty much hacking thing up well. No rain at least. Monday another weaker and smaller area of low pressure is to drop south from the Pacific Northwest, breaking up the north winds and perhaps putting southerly winds into Central CA late in the day. But not rain just yet. The low pressure system itself is to be moving southeast and onshore, dissipating over Central CA Tuesday (2/9). Light to possibly moderate rain is expected moving from SF early south into Southern CA late. A short break on Wednesday (2/10) (though still some rain in Southern CA early) while a large gale pattern starts building in the Northeast Pacific - remnants of Storm #22. . By Thursday 2 solid gales are to be poised right behind each other off the coast pushing east, with the first starting to impact Central CA late in the day with 25 kt south winds and moderate rain pushing into Monterey Bay late and continuing south winds and rain into mid-Friday. The next front is forecast queuing up just off Central CA on Saturday and already impacting the North coast.
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 another smaller gale is forecast forming right behind Storm #22 developing from its remnants Wednesday (2/10) 900 nmiles north of Hawaii and making a beeline east with winds 40 kt but over a much smaller area, building to 45 kts late Thursday 600 nmiles off Central CA with the front already hitting the coast then, and pushing into California Friday. A small area of 32+ ft seas forecast at 36N 137W Thursday PM (2/11) moving right into the San Francisco coast late Friday.
And yet another one is to be forming 900 nmiles north of Hawaii on Thursday (2/11) mid-day with 40-45 kt west winds at 37N 158W. It is to lift northeast with 50 kts northwest winds at 43N 148W Friday AM aimed right down the 292 degree path to NCal. 36 ft seas forecast at 43N 148W. That fetch to fragment out in the evening and the gale reorganize Saturday AM (2/13) with 45 kts west winds at 40N 145W (285 degrees NCal) with a front about to impact the coast in the evening. 32 ft seas forecast in the evening at 40N 142W
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. AS the MJO moves east into the later part of Next week the storm track is to follow suit. And with the Inactive Phase building in the INdian Ocean and far West Pacific, the storm track is to fade out there.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Saturday (2/6) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was strongly in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was moving hard negative with the Daily SOI down to -58.50 (up from the previous days unbelievable -80.41) (32 days in a row negative). This looks like a real El Nino. The 30 day average was down hard to -21.73 (the lowest of this entire El Nino event) with the 90 average down to -11.86.
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 as they push into Central America. A core of very strong westerly winds extended from North Australia to the dateline reaching to south of Hawaii. Best anomalous winds so far in this El Nino event. This was 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 being 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 2/10, then easing on the dateline through 2/20 before fading out entirely 2/25. A new stronger Inactive Phase is already developing in the far Western Indian Ocean and is expected to start reaching the West Pacific about 2/16 and heading east from there reaching the dateline by 2/25. Suspect if there is going to be a big last push from El Nino, it will occur during the next 2 weeks while the Active Phase is in control. After that, with the Inactive Phase taking control, the storm pattern is to fall apart for 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 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 dribbling 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. Anomalies to 4 deg C were indicated at 170W on 2/6. 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