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 Saturday (2/9) North and Central CA had local windswell was producing waves at 3 ft overhead but pretty jumbled due to brisk northwest winds over outer waters. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were chest high and clean but still exhibiting some warble. Southern California up north was knee to waist high and warbled and not looking even rideable. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and clean and lined up but pretty swamped by high tide. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting dateline swell at double overhead with bigger sets and clean with trades in effect but heading down. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting wraparound dateline swell waist high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A reasonably strong gale tracked off Japan Tues (2/5) pushing east with seas in the 34 ft range targeting Hawaii well, then reorganizing to the north Wed (2/6) with seas to 42 ft range approaching the dateline with all fetch aimed east, then fading while tracking over the dateline Thursday with seas dropping from 32 ft. Solid swell hit Hawaii on Friday and is expected into the US West Coast by Sunday. Remnants of this system reorganized in the Western Gulf Friday (2/8) with seas briefly to 36 ft over a small area targeting primarily the US West Coast, but was gone by Saturday. A series of small weather system to track east northeast from the dateline with the first peaking in the Western Gulf Wed (2/13) with up to 28 ft seas followed by another system peaking on the dateline Friday again with seas to 35 ft. So though the MJO is turning Inactive, the atmosphere is to still have some momentum and swell machine is to not die out immediately.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (2/9) the jetstream was flowing flat off Japan with winds over Japan to 170 kts, but then splitting some before even reaching the dateline with the northern branch pushing northeast up to the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutians, then diving into a small and steep trough pushing east through the Gulf of Alaska before ridging hard north and pushing up into Central Alaska. This trough to last only 24 hours then pinch off and wash out. The southern branch continued tracking flat east over the dateline and Hawaii eventually moving into Baja Mexico. Only the small trough in the Gulf was supportive of gale development, and then only just barely. Over the next 72 hours the split point is to push east to the dateline as 170 kt winds build off Japan with the northern branch tracking steadily east-northeast pushing into Northern Canada. No troughs of interest forecast. Beyond 72 hours wind speeds to fade off Japan at 140 kts but pushing flat east to the dateline if not a bit beyond with a trough building in the far Western Gulf of Alaska Wed (2/13) supportive of gale development and tracking northeast up into the Gulf. A second trough to follow from the dateline taking a similar route starting late Thursday (2/14) and again offering support for gale development in the upper levels of the atmosphere.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (2/9) swell from the North Dateline Gale (see below) had peaked in Hawaii and was tracking towards the US West Coast. This system reformed on Friday (2/8) tracking through the Western Gulf of Alaska (see Gulf Storm below) generating more swell pushing primarily towards the US West Coast. Over the next 72 hours yet one more small system started to develop off the Kuril Islands on Friday evening (2/8) producing a small area of 45 kt west winds and seas building from 32 ft at 43N 153E. Winds were fading from 40 kts Sat AM (2/9) with seas peaking at 35 ft over a small area at 43N 160E (312 degs HI) and too far away from the mainland to be of interest. Winds fading from 35-40 kts in the evening with seas fading from 34 ft at 44N 166E (314 degs HI). Limited 35 kt west winds expected in the evening with seas dropping below 30 ft. If all plays out as forecast some smaller inconsistent utility class swell could result for Hawaii. Expect swell arrival there starting late Tuesday peaking Wednesday (2/13) at 6 ft @ 16 secs (9.5 ft).Swell Direction: 312 degrees
North Dateline Storm
On Monday (2/4) a new broad gale was building off Japan tracking east with winds to 45 kts late over a small area. Seas built from 18 ft off Japan late. Tuesday AM (2/5) the core of the storm was lifting rapidly northeast while fetch from earlier in the storm life was still producing 50-55 kt west winds well off Japan with seas to 32 ft over a small area at 38N 162E. In the evening the core of the gale was approaching the Aleutian Islands just west of the dateline with winds 55 kts up at 45N 170E and seas 42 ft over a tiny area associated with the core of the storm at 45N 172E aimed due east (322 degs Hi, 300 degs NCal). The core of the gale was just south of the Aleutians on the dateline Wed AM (2/6) with 50 kt west winds resulting in a small area of 41 ft seas at 45N 177E targeting mainly the US West Coast (325 degs Hi, 300 degs NCal). In the evening west winds were fading from 45 kts with seas fading from 36 ft at 45N 180W. Thursday AM (2/7) fetch was fading from 40 kts with seas dropping from 32 ft at 45N 177W mostly bypassing Hawaii (331 degrees) and aimed best at the US West Coast (298 degs NCal). Fetch to be fading in the evening from 35 kts with seas down to 26 ft at 46N 174W (296 degs NCal) and fading from there. Some solid utility class swell is expected to result for Hawaii and the US West Coast.
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (2/9) near sunset with period 20 sec and size tiny, building through the night. Swell to peak Sunday (2/10) just past sunrise with pure swell 5.5-6.0 ft @ 18 secs (9.0-10 ft) with period dropping to 17 secs through the day. Swell partially shadowed in the SF Bay area. Swell Direction 297 degrees
Additional fetch from the North Dateline Storm (above) redeveloped just east of the dateline Thurs PM (2/7) with winds building from 40 kts over a small area pushing east. By Friday AM (2/8) pressure was down to 968 mbs with west winds up to 55 kts over a small area aimed due east with seas to 36 ft at 40N 168W (289degs NCal). By evening the storm was lifting northeast fast with winds down to 45 kts aimed due east with seas 34 ft at 43N 161W (293 degs NCal). On Sat AM (2/9) winds continue at near 45 kts in the storms northwest quadrant aimed at the US West Coast with seas 30 ft at 45N 158W (296 degs NCal). By evening this system is to be gone.
Limited sideband swell is expected for Hawaii with another pulse of utility class swell expected for the California coast.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival starting Monday AM (2/11) with swell building to 7.5 ft @ 17 secs (12-13 ft) mid-day. Swell fading over night. Swell direction: 290-294 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (2/9) high pressure at 1030 mbs continued holding just 600 nmiles west of Pt Reyes CA with weak low pressure inland over Nevada setting up a pressure gradient with 25 kt north winds still blowing over outer waters though less nearshore but still a pretty tattered mess. Finally Sunday high pressure is to start lifting north and east trying to ridge into Washington with a light offshore flow building for the entire state continuing (or at least being light - less than 10 kts), maybe a little more pronounced Monday, then faltering with high pressure again starting to slowly sink south. Still a light wind flow is expected early Tues-Wed. But then Thursday (2/14) a summer like pressure gradient is forecast to build over Cape Mendocino with north winds 25 kts there extending south down the outer Central CA coast, but not reaching nearshore yet. Friday and beyond the high and associated gradient is to fade with just a light wind flow (calm early, light onshore in the afternoon) through Saturday (2/16).
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
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 a small gale is forecast developing midway between Japan and the dateline on Tues (2/12) producing a tiny area of 45 kt west winds lifting steadily east-northeast. Seas 30 ft over an infinitesimal area at 36N 163E (304 degs HI) Tues AM and tracking east-northeast while fading, then redeveloping slightly Wed AM (1/13) repositioned at 40N 172W (330 degs HI) with seas to 28 ft at 40N 170W. A quick dissipation to follow. Maybe small sideband swell pushing towards the Islands.
Another small system is forecast developing just west of the dateline on Thurs (2/15) producing 45 kt northwest winds and seas to 30 ft over a small area at 37N 170E lifting northeast and peaking mid-Friday (2/15) with a somewhat broader area of 40-45 kt west winds and seas peaking at 35 ft at 40N 177W. Fetch initially aimed at Hawaii then sweeping east towards the US West Coast. But that's still so far off as to not be believable.
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 Saturday (2/9) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained down at -17.53 (12 days negative and 8 of them at -20 or more). The 30 day average was down to -8.82 with the 90 day average down some at -4.54. This negative spurt is associated with low pressure directly over Tahiti and the Active Phase of the MJO centered just north of there. Overall this is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino but certainly reflects the effects of the Active Phase of the MJO.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) continuing over the dateline all the way into Central America. This suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over. Easterly anomalies were just south of the equator over the Western Maritime Continent with westerly anomalies just south of the equator on the dateline. A week from now (2/17) east anomalies are to be building moderately over the dateline and east of there to a point south of California. This suggest the Inactive Phase is to be in control. The end of the upper air pattern supportive of gale development is likely.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/8 suggests the last remnants of the Active Phase of the MJO was all but gone positioned south of Hawaii. Of more interest was a moderate version of the Inactive Phase migrating east over the Maritime Continent expecting to start reaching the dateline over the next 5 days (2/13). Both models are in close agreement regarding the long term outlook with the Inactive Phase peaking over the dateline 12 days (2/19) out then starting to fade 15 days out. At the same time the Active Phase of the MJO is to be rebuilding in the Indian Ocean and moving east starting to make inroad over the far Western Pacific maybe 18 day from now (2/24). If that were to occur the storm pattern might start redeveloping.
Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in 2012, we believed a return to a normal MJO cycle would occur with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. The pattern collapsed/stalled in November and December but then started to make a legitimate return first with the Active Phase in January, and now a legit Inactive Phase building in the West Pacific, with another Active Phase supposedly queued up behind it. Assuming this all to be true, we appear to be back in a more 'normal' pattern.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). As of now (2/7) a pocket of 3 degree above normal waters has built under the dateline (centered at 180W) pushing east, and a pocket of equally cold -3 deg C cooler than normal water is blocking it's eastward progress south of Southern CA (120W) on the equator and 150 meters deep. At the surface an almost La Nina like pattern is starting to take hold over the equator covering from the dateline eastward to Ecuador. It really looks like a mini-La Nina is trying to organize, very much like what the CFSv2 model predicted months ago. Even if the small Kelvin wave building courtesy of the current Active Phase of the MJO were to push east and makes it to the Central America Coast, it would only warm surface water temps back to something below the normal range.
Fall of 2012 started with what initially appeared to be a strengthening MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) suggested a return to a neutral ENSO pattern. But that collapsed in Nov-Dec 2012. A return of a normal MJO cycle developed January-February 2013. Projections from the CFSv2 model are not supporting any form of El Nino development but almost a return to slight La Nina conditions with -0.25 deg C water temps from now into May, then slowly returning to normal if not slightly warmer by August 2013. Virtually all the other ENSO models are on a similar track now with near normal water temps into Spring and early Summer 2013.
We are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than the previous 2 years under the direct influence of La Nina. AS of 2/7/13 the trend for this Winter has not been good or bad, just something less than normal. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell, but the reality is the storm have been small and the swell generally small and short lived, though with decent frequency. This season is more of a 4 rating than the 5 that was predicted. Longer term the expectation is this winter will be followed by at least one year of slightly warmer temps (2013-2014) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). 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 Finally updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch 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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'CBS This Morning' with the Mavericks Invitational Surf Contest - See a nice morning TV show piece on the Mavericks Contest held Sun 1/20/13. The show aired Wed 1/23. Interviews with Colin Dwyer, Jeff Clark, Mark Sponsler and Grant Washburn: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50139546n
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Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
Chasing the Swell has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table