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 Wednesday (2/10) North and Central California was getting new windswell in the 1 ft overhead range and heavily textured. Southern California was getting the same northwest windswell with waves waist high up north and a little textured but clean as a whistle down south and looking small but fun. Hawaii's North Shore was getting a decent hit from Swell #22 with waves rarely in the 15-17 ft range Hawaiian and textured conditions but clean enough. The East Shore was quiet. The South Shore was getting early pulse from the Southern Hemi with waves shoulder high or better at top spots.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for chest high windswell and poor conditions expected later Thursday before things pick up for the weekend. Swell #22 and #23 are expected in for Friday building to 13 ft later in the day with windswell intermixed, then possibly moving into the large size range Saturday as Swell #24 pushing thing to the 20 ft range but raw. Swell #24 settling down on Sunday to 15 ft and 10 ft on Monday. Southern California is to see surf fading to thigh high on Thursday, before things start picking up Friday, pushing 7 ft late up north. Saturday surf is to really come up with waves near double overhead or more at top spots, fading from 3 ft overhead Sunday and 1-2 ft overhead on Monday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see Swell #22 dropping to 14 ft Thursday and 12 ft on Friday. ( ft faces on Saturday are expected from a more northerly direction holding into Sunday. The East Shore is to maybe have some chest high east windswell on Friday too settling down to waist high over the weekend. The South Shore is actually expected to have swell by Thursday with waves to near head high and then chest high on Friday and fading.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is just starting to pass it's prime in the Active Phase on the dateline while pushing slowly east, still generating a Westerly Wind Burst and fueling the North Pacific storm track. But a rapid decline is forecast over the next week with the Inactive Phase starting to take control then. Storm #22 has resulted in solid swell hitting Hawaii and moving towards the US West Coast. Remnants of this system regenerated on the dateline Tuesday making Storm #23, with more swell pushing towards the US West coast for early weekend with sideband energy towards Hawaii. And a new Storm #24 is on the charts and expected to fire up today on the dateline pushing east on a devils course for Northern CA. A bit of a break then 2 more storms are forecast in the North Pacific starting next Tuesday (2/16) before the Inactive Phase of the MJO likely shuts things down (or at least dampens the fire a bit) for a few weeks.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Wednesday (2/10) the North Pacific jetstream was solid but different than in months past. A flow of energy was propagating east out of the tropics (Philippines) to the dateline and joined there by another flow tracking southeast off Northern Japan. At the junction point winds boosted to 180 kts forming a bit of a trough and likely support ing gale development at the oceans surface. The trough extending to a point 800 nmiles west of California, where a bit of a ridge was present, then the jet dove hard south into a steep small trough just off the California coast, then pushed inland over Central Baja. No support for gale development there likely though. Over the next 72 hrs the dual stream jet configuration is to persist in the west with the trough on the dateline pushing east to just off the California coast late Thursday, then dissolving with the parallel flows now extending the width of the North Pacific. Interesting but unusual. By Friday the 2 flows are to merge in the far West Pacific while an apparent split forms 600 nmiles off Southern CA, with a full clear air split centered on central CA by Saturday AM. Meanwhile back to the west, a pocket of 150 kt winds are to be approaching the dateline. Beyond 72 hours the split is looking to hold off California looking very similar to the pattern that was in place in Dec and early January while 150 kts winds start feeding a new trough developing on the dateline and pushing into the Gulf of Alaska. good support for gale development there. That trough to push east to a point north of Hawaii on Wed (2/17) and fading while a new pocket of 180 kts winds starts building over Japan and presumably heading east. It is possible the jet could move into a great consolidated pattern in the west with the split in the east, but just as possible the entire thing could unwind and split over it's width. It's just too early to tell.
At the surface on Wednesday (2/10) weak high pressure was between Hawaii and Southern CA trying to ridge east but not making it yet. Another pocket of high pressure was extending from the Philippines east to nearly Hawaii. Broad fragmented low pressure was over the Western Gulf of Alaska generating west winds at 30 kts but not very organized. Swell from Storm #22 was hitting Hawaii and tracking east towards California. Swell from Storm #23 was also on an easterly track to the US West coast. The first signs of fetch associated with a new storm forecast for the dateline (Storm #24) was starting to organize in the low pressure system in the Western Gulf/dateline region. Over the next 72 hours new Storm #24 is to form on the dateline and and push east, almost slamming right into Northern CA before veering northeast at the last minute, driven north by the suggested split in the jet (see details in Storm #24 below). Right behind Storm #24, another gale is to rapidly develop on Friday AM (1/12) with 45 kt west wind at 37N 150W building to 55 kts in the evening at 43N 142W, then heading northeast and just off Vancouver Island Saturday AM. 35 ft seas are forecast at 42N 146W Friday evening pushing up the 285 degree path to NCal and points north of there. Possible Swell #25 for NCal later in the weekend.
A new large gale took shape off Japan on Sat AM (2/6) with 45 kt west winds taking the southern track at 33N 152E aimed at Hawaii down the 295 degree path and 35 degrees south of the 295 degree path to NCal. Seas building. In the evening the same somewhat fragmented area of 45 kt west winds held at 33N 155E with seas to 35 ft at 33N 152E.
The gale was gaining in coverage on Sunday AM filling the West Pacific with 45-50 kts west winds at 35N 162E aimed more purely to the east producing seas of 37 ft at 33N 160E. This could result in longer period very west swell for Hawaii (296-299 degrees - almost shadowed from the North Shore). This fetch was aimed 20 degrees south of the 290-292 degree path to NCal. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the trailing edge of the fetch area and confirmed seas at 32.4 ft with a peak reading to 39.7 where the models suggested 32 ft seas. Right on track. In the evening the fetch faded a little but held it's coverage with a broad area of 40-45 kt west winds at 35N 175E aimed at Hawaii down the 305 degree path to Hawaii and NCal down the 287 degree path with seas building to 39 ft at 33N 171E. The Jason-1 satellite tracked over the leaded edge of the seas and reported heights at 30 ft with a peak reading to 37 ft where the model indicated 36 ft seas solid. A bit less than hoped for.
An area of 40 kt west fetch was all that was left on the dateline Monday AM (2/8) at 35N 180W aimed 30 degrees east of the 312 degree path to Hawaii and right up the 285 degree path to NCal. 38 ft seas were modeled at 34N 177E. In the evening all fetch is to be gone and absorbed in a new gale to the north. 35 ft seas from previous fetch is forecast at 35N 175W pushing exclusively at NCal up the 286 degree path.
This system has developed much weaker than originally anticipated, though still covering a good area. Winds have only been in the 45 kts range and positioned way south of the better tracks into California, but providing ample opportunity for a decent west swell to push into Hawaii. And all the energy from this system is to occur mostly west of the dateline with only one last little push to reach over the dateline. This again favors Hawaii (1130-2678 nmiles away) since they are closer to the fetch (meaning less swell decay) where NCal is 2531-4043 nmiles away (meaning much more decay). All this suggests good odds for larger longer period swell possible for Hawaii on Wed (2/10) then pushing smaller longer period energy into the US West Coast for late week. Unfortunately current data suggest poor local conditions for both Hawaii and Northern CA upon swell arrival though Southern CA might do alright.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Wed (2/10) at 1 AM with period 20 secs and size small but coming up fast. Swell to start peaking between 6-9 AM HST with swell reaching 9.3-9.7 ft @ 17 secs (16-17 ft Hawaiian) coming from 296-303 degrees. Swell to hold solid through the day with period slowly easing it's way down, dropping to 16 secs late. Still solid energy is expected on Thursday with swell hovering at 9.5 ft @ 15-16 secs range (14-15 ft Hawaiian) with perhaps a little more northerly component 296-307 degrees). Period dropping to 8.5 ft @ 13-14 secs on Friday (11-12 ft Hawaiian).
North California: Expect swell arrival on Thurs (2/11) at 10 PM with period 20 secs and size building steadily. Swell to be solid on Friday morning (2/12) up to 6 ft @ 18 secs mid-morning and peaking at 7.3 ft @ 17 secs in the early afternoon (12-13 ft Hawaiian). Swell holding decently even into Saturday (2/13) with swell 7 ft @ 15-16 secs (11 ft Hawaiian) then slowly fading. Swell Direction: 285-291 degrees
Southern California: Expect swell arrival on Friday (2/11) at 7-11 AM with period 20 secs and size building steadily. Swell to creep up through the day then starting to peak late evening (after sunset) and into early Saturday morning (1-3 AM) at 6.6-7.0 ft @ 17 secs outside the Channel Islands (11-12 ft) and 3.4-3.6 ft @ 17 secs inside the Channel Islands (5.8-6.1 ft faces). Swell to hold solid through the day Saturday with period dropping only to 16 secs late. Swell to continue on Sunday (1/14) too at 3.5 ft @ 15 secs (5.3 ft faces) inside the Channel Islands then drifting down after sunset. Swell Direction: 288-291 degrees
On Monday evening (2/8) a new gale formed on the dateline with pressure down to 960 mbs and a small fetch of 45-50 kts west winds modeled at 43N 175W aimed exclusively at NCal up the 295-296 degree path with sideband 35-40 kt wind energy pushing down the gales west quadrant at Hawaii down the 328 degree path. Seas were modeled at 32 ft at 43N 177W.
On Tuesday AM (2/9) the gale was easing east with 40 kt west fetch at 43N 169W generating seas of 39 ft at 44N 170W (2170 nmiles from NCal pushing up the 295.5 degree path to NCal). In the evening the fetch rapidly dissipated dropping to 30 kts or less and having no swell generation potential. Seas from previous fetch were 32 ft at 45N 163W pushing exclusively towards NCal and the Pacific Northwest up the 296 degree paths.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival starting Friday (2/12) at 9 AM with period 18 secs and size building steadily, starting to peak at 1 PM with pure swell 8 ft @ 17 secs (14 ft faces). This swell will be intermixed with Swell #22. 15 sec remnants will still be hitting NCal Sat AM at sunrise at 7 ft @ 15 secs (10-11 ft faces). Swell Direction: 295-297 degrees
On Wednesday (2/10) evening a new small but strong storm is forecast forming on the dateline at 40N 170W pushing hard to the east with 55 kt west winds at 39N 169W aimed right up the 289 degree great circle path to NCal with limited sideband fetch pushing towards Hawaii down the 331 degree paths. Seas are to be building from 29 ft at 38N 170W.
On Thursday AM (2/11) the fetch is to build to 60-65 kts at 38N 155W aimed right down the 283 degree path to NCal and bypassing Hawaii. Seas building to 38 ft at 38B 158W. In the evening 50-55 kt west wind are to continue at 38N 143W aimed down the 282 degree path to NCal (290 degrees SCal) and moving to within 1000 nmiles of Northern CA. Seas to 43 ft at 38N 147W.
On Friday AM (2/12) the fetch is to hit high pressure building over Central CA and jog north with winds down to 40 kts at 42N 134W (296 NCal) and a mere 600 nmiles off the coast. Seas forecast at 36 ft at 39N 140W . In the evening the fetch is to be gone with decaying sea from previous fetch at 28 ft @ 39N 132W.
This looks very much like what would be expected from this active phase of the MJO. This is not to be a large storm, but it is to have what finally looks like decent winds (first one in a long time with 60 kts winds). The good thing on this one is that it is to be positioned fairly close to Northern CA, allowing all the energy the storm has to offer to reach the coast with minimal decay. The bad thing is that since it is so close, the resulting swell will be very raw upon arrival. Also this increases the probability for poor conditions in Central CA with the front from this system moving dangerously close. Rough data suggests swell arrival in Northern CA on Saturday (2/13) at 20 ft Hawaiian from 280-285 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Wednesday (2/10) a short break in the weather pattern was occurring with northwest winds at 15 kts covering most California waters while a large gale pattern was building well out near Hawaii and west of there. By Thursday a local gale is to be slamming right into North CA with 35 kt south winds reaching south to Pt Arena and with lesser south winds to Monterey Bay with Storm #24 right behind. Friday the front from Storm #24 is to generate some degree of south winds down to Morro Bay. And on Saturday the front from yet a new third gale is to push a front close to the coast perhaps pushing more light south winds down to Monterey Bay or so. Regardless by Sunday light winds are forecast for all of CA holding into Monday as high pressure start to build in. Northwest winds at maybe 15 kts are forecast Tuesday (2/16) before another front pushes close and winds die again.
At the surface no swell producing fetch was occurring and none is forecast for the next 72 hours.
On Wed PM (2/3) a decent gale formed southeast of New Zealand generating 32 ft seas at 59S 180W lifting hard to the north with 32 ft seas continuing into Thursday evening at 49S 165W. Some degree of decent southern hemi swell looks likely for Hawaii's South Shore starting late Wed (2/10) after sunset and pushing to 2.6 ft @ 17 secs midday on Thursday (2/11) with maybe some head high sets. Swell dropping from 2.6 ft @ 15 secs early Friday (2/12) (4 ft faces). Swell Direction: 187 degrees.
Unbelievably a second small gale developed under new Zealand on Sunday (2/7) tracking almost due north into Monday producing more 29 ft seas on a good heading towards Hawaii. A second pulse of southern hemi swell is expected in on Monday (2/15) at 2 ft @ 16 secs (3.0-3.5 ft faces) continuing at 2.3 ft @ 14-15 secs Tuesday (3.0-3.5 ft faces). Swell Direction:190 degrees
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 yet more 30-35 kt west fetch is forecast pushing from nearly the dateline pushing east to a point 800 nmiles off Northern CA on Sat/Sun (2/14) then lifting north Monday with winds to 40 kts. Varying degrees of 20-22 ft seas are to result likely setting up more 13-14 sec period swell for California and the Pacific Northwest Tuesday (2/16) and beyond.
And beyond two more storms are forecast, one forming just off the Kurils Islands pushing to the dateline (47N 175E) Tues/Wed (2/17) with up to 55 kt west winds fading to 45 kts and up to 43 ft seas, while a second weaker one forms north of Hawaii Tues (2/16) with 50 kts winds aimed south at the Islands then stretching north south and fading with 32 ft seas pushing a bit east of Hawaii. It's a bit early to know what will really happen, but the guess is this storm flurry will be the last push from the Active Phase of the MJO, with a quieter pattern following for a few weeks.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Wednesday (2/10) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was still strongly in the Active Phase but starting to ease. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -27.43 (36 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was down to -23.11 (the lowest of this entire El Nino event) with the 90 average down to -13.38. This is likely the end of it though.
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 Northeast Australia to the dateline and then pushing over Central America and well into the Atlantic to almost Africa. This is likely fueling the storm track in the Northeast US (Atlantic seaboard). A core of very strong westerly winds was still over a small are on the dateline continuing the certified Westerly Wind Burst there. This was right on-time with the peak of the Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely being helped by this phase and will hold for 1 more week. The Active Phase and it's weakening westerly wind anomalies are expected to seep east holding over the dateline and parts east of there through 2/14, then dissipating on the dateline through 2/19 before fading out in the Pacific entirely by 2/24. A new stronger Inactive Phase is already developing filling the Indian Ocean and is expected to start reaching the West Pacific about 2/14 and heading east from there reaching the dateline by 2/24 and into the East Pacific on 3/1. Suspect if there is going to be a big last push from El Nino, it will occur during the next week 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 weaker, 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 (2/8) 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 3-4 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 and had migrated to 165W on 2/8 holding there on 2/10 and starting to merge with the existing Kelvin Wave off Ecuador. This could possibly help fuel or at least extend El Nino symptoms into summer, but is likely the last Kelvin Wave we are going to see (sad to say).
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 and maybe weaker than day previous. 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- 2/10 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