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 (2/6) in North and Central CA surf was chest high and mostly warbled if not chopped except at breaks protected by south wind. Down in Santa Cruz surf was thigh high and blown out by south wind. In Southern California up north surf was knee high and clean but weak and not really rideable. Down south waves were thigh to maybe waist high and weak with some bump on top. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting solid swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at thigh to waist high and lumpy from southeast winds at 5 kts.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a small gale that developed on the dateline Sun-Mon (2/3) falling southeast towards Hawaii with 28 ft seas was on the decline in the Islands on Thurs (2/6). California to see little if any of that swell. A weak and diffuse cutoff gale remains forecast for the Gulf on Fri (2/7) but only generating 20 ft seas north of Hawaii on Sat (2/8). Perhaps some secondary fetch from this system to generate 22 ft seas well off Oregon late Mon (2/10) with luck. But after that things are to settle down even more.
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 Thursday (2/6) the jetstream was unchanged and split directly east of Japan with the split flow pushing up the Kuril Islands and into the Bering Sea stealing energy from the remain flow that was tracking flat east on the 25N latitude line over the dateline while fading from 100 kts. A weak trough was north of Hawaii offering no support for gale development with the jet ridging north slightly then falling into another weak trough that was pushing into Southern CA. Over the next 72 hours the split is to continue off Japan pushing up into the Bering Sea with a return flow falling into the Gulf of Alaska on Sat (2/8) forming a cut off upper low there circulating into Sunday (2/9) offering limited support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. After that the split is to continue off Japan but weakening some with the main branch tracking flat east over the dateline at 90 kts. A return flow is to continue falling south down the dateline joining the main flow near Hawaii with winds in the main flow building to 130 kts by Wed (2/12) and ridging northeast pushing into Oregon. A bit of a cutoff trough to develop where the split flow joins the main flow northwest of Hawaii, but nothing dramatic and nothing particularly supportive of gale development through Thursday.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (2/6) swell from a gale that developed on the dateline was still hitting Hawaii but on the way down, expected to be much smaller by Friday (2/7). Otherwise no swell producing weather systems were occurring. If anything a broad fetch of 20 kt east winds was in control over the area south of the Aleutians from the Gulf to Kamchatka, directly opposite the direction it should be flowing.
Over the next 72 hours an upper level low is to develop over the Gulf of Alaska helping to support formation of a gale in the Western Gulf of Alaska Fri (2/7) generating 30 kt north winds early but not getting much traction on the oceans surface until the evening when 18-20 ft seas are forecast over a tiny area at 37N 164W (347 degs HI) continuing at 30-35 kts Sat AM (2/8) producing seas to 18-20 ft at 35N 159W (350 degs HI, 277 degs NCal). The system is to be gone by evening. Maybe some background swell for Hawaii.
Another limited fetch of 35-40 kt north winds to be falling south of the Eastern Aleutians Sat PM into Sun AM (2/9) generating 24 ft seas at 45N 170W barely aimed at Hawaii (340 degs HI). By evening this fetch is to be gone. Maybe some more background swell for Hawaii.
But overall the models are not very stable regarding any particular outcome from gale. At least it's something to monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (2/6) south winds were in control early associated with low pressure moving into North Ca and Oregon. Cloudy skies and light rain were still in play mainly north of the Golden Gate. A light southerly flow to develop later Friday over Central CA as a new and stronger low pressure system builds off the CA coast. South winds to be in full effect for North CA. Light rain early down to Monterey Bay and building through the day but not making any southward progress. Saturday yet another pulse of gale activity is to build in the Gulf with a front poised just off Northern CA bringing a 15 kt southerly flow to all of North and Central CA continuing into early Sunday. Rain for North and Central CA all day Saturday. Heavier rain for Central and North CA on Sunday. Our models suggests up to 60+ inches of snow for Tahoe from Thurs PM through Sun PM, but that is likely overhyped. 30 inches seems more likely. High pressure and a clearing pattern to build in behind for Southern CA Monday up into Pt Conception with northwest winds 15-20 kts over the Channel Islands perhaps reaching Monterey Bay. But a lighter wind pattern is suggested for San Francisco and holding Tuesday (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. A series of small weather systems to try and impact Northern CA Wed-Thurs but mostly getting shunted north by high pressure holding off Central CA. San Francisco to be the dividing line between low pressure and south winds to the north and north winds and high pressure to the south. Rain, even in high elevations is forecast for North and Central CA down to Monterey Bay with the dividing line moving north of San Francisco and Tahoe Thurs AM (2/13).
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 hours and other fetch to develop off Oregon associated with the Gulf gale on Mon (2/10) generating 35 kt southwest winds aimed mainly at Vancouver Island with 22 ft seas near 45N 145W offering potential for swell down to Oregon or so. But after that nothing of interest is projected.
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 (2/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 1.15. The 30 day average was up to 14.00 and the 90 day average was up at 7.30. This is a continuation of what is an unexpected upward spike in the SOI but is perhaps related to the backside of the Kelvin Wave impacting South America (more below). 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. We're still waiting for the SOI to turn negative in response to a strong Westerly Wind Burst that recently occurred in the West Pacific. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning to modest westerly anomalies over the dateline continuing south of Hawaii then fading to neutral there to a point off Central America. These westerly anomalies are the remnants of a strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started 1/8, peaked 1/28 and then faded while moving over the dateline. A week from now (2/14) moderate easterly anomalies are forecast building over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline turning westerly south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the dateline and is easing east but is to be fading over the next week. Of most interest is the previous WWB which has created prime conditions for development of another Kelvin Wave.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/5 are reasonably in agreement. Both suggest a neutral Phase of the MJO was occurring with no anomalies present. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to redevelop weakly on the dateline over the 3-8 days winds then fade out. The dynamic model suggests much of the same but with the Active Phase remaining holed up in the far West Pacific and lasting 15 days out. Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 2/6 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the dateline and is to track east while fading, moving inland over the East Pacific on Mar 3 or almost a month away. A very weak Inactive Phase is to start developing in the far West Pacific Feb 21 easing east and moving into the Central Pacific 3/11 but then dissipating. A new weak Active Phase is to be right behind developing 2/26 in the West Pacific and making it to the dateline around 3/18. 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 (2/6) a cool water regime that unexpectedly developed on the equator south of Baja reaching to almost the dateline remains in play. This is likely tied to the rising 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 remains dissipated. Current thinking is the cool pool on the equatorial Pacific is tied to the downwhelling (backside) of the Kelvin Wave currently impacting South America, and that as that portion of the wave moves inland, temperatures will rise. 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's continued 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. But at the same time a large area of warm water nearly +4 deg C is building under the dateline and increasing in temp and coverage with it's leading edge moving east now to 130W (+1 deg C). This is the start of a new large Kelvin Wave generated by 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 with the cool pool behind it a normal response to the previous wave. The warm pool off Central America 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 still ab it too early to know with any certainty (especially considering the cooler surface water temps discussed above).
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 2/6 are holding steady. 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 +1.2 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