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 (2/14) North and Central CA had local windswell taking over with underlying swell from across the dateline building somewhat. Waves were 1 ft overhead but pretty warbled and unorganized, though conditions were clean. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were thigh high and clean but weak. Southern California up north was waist high and clean and lined up but looking more like windswell than ground swell. Down south waves were waist high with some bigger sets and light textured and generally weak looking. Hawaii's North Shore was getting fading Kamchatka swell with waves shoulder high with some biggest sets and clean but weak. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting wraparound swell at thigh high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A small gale developed in the Western Gulf on Wed-Thurs (2/14) producing a tiny area of 40 ft seas aimed best towards the mainland. very limited swell to result. A far stronger but still small storm started pushing off Japan moving to the dateline Wed-Thurs (2/14) with seas to 50 ft late but only over a tiny area aimed due east, then fading on the dateline Fri (2/15). So more swell is theoretically on the way. But after that no swell producing weather systems of interest are forecast likely the result of the building Inactive Phase of the MJO.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (2/14) the jetstream was flowing flat off Japan with winds to 160 kts in two pockets reaching to the dateline then splitting there with the northern branch pushing northeast tracking through the Northern Gulf of Alaska moving inland over North Canada. A tight and well defined trough was embedded in the jet off the Kuril Islands heading east with a second far milder trough moving through the Northwestern Gulf of Alaska. The first trough was offering good support for storm development with the second trough offering only limited support for gale development. the southern branch was tracking southeast just west of Hawaii then turning east and pushing into Central Baja with no winds of interest. The area between the split flow was supporting high pressure down at lower levels of the atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours the Kuril Island trough is to peak out Friday then lift northeast and quickly dissipate as it moves east of the split point. Diminishing support for gale development from it. A more consolidated pocket of 180 kt winds are to build in the jet off Japan briefly Sat (2/16) forming another trough off Kamchatka but fading over the weekend with the trough lifting north rather than east. The split point in the jet is to become more pronounced with the northern branch pushing up into the Bering Sea on the dateline by Sun (2/17). Only limited support for gale development off Kamchatka. Beyond 72 hours winds to rebuild over Japan to 180 kts mid-next week with the split point holding solid on the dateline and the northern branch tracking steadily up into the northwestern Gulf and over the Eastern Aleutian Islands. No troughs of interest forecast with no real support for gale development indicated.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (2/14) swell from a small gale just off Kamchatka last weekend was starting to hit California (see Small Kamchatka Gale below). Another small gale developed on the dateline easing into the Western Gulf Tues-Wed (2/13) with small swell radiating towards HI and CA (see Small Gulf Gale below). And a small but strong storm developed off Japan Wed (2/13) and is pushing east bound for the dateline Friday then fading east of there on Saturday (1/16) (see Dateline Storm below). Beyond a far quieter pattern is forecast with no swell producing weather systems expected.
Small Kamchatka Gale
A weather system developed 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 34 ft over a small area at 43N 160E (312 degs HI) and too far away from the mainland to be of interest. Winds were fading from 35 kts in the evening with seas fading from 32 ft at 44N 166E (314 degs HI). Limited 30-35 kt west winds were fading in the evening with seas dropping to 26 ft at 45N 170E.
Some smaller inconsistent swell to continue for Northern CA on Fri (2/15) at 3 ft @ 15-16 secs (4.5 ft) from 300 degrees
Small Gulf Gale
A small gale developed midway between Japan and the dateline on Tues AM (2/12) producing a tiny area of 35 kt northwest winds and 20-22 ft seas lifting steadily east-northeast. By evening a more consolidated fetch of 45-50 kt west winds evolved on the dateline and northeast of the original fetch with seas building to 34 ft over an infinitesimal area at 44N 176W (328 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). By Wed AM (1/13) 50 kt west winds were still in place but fading in overall coverage with seas 40 ft over a tiny area at 45N 171W (336 degs HI, 297 degs NCal) with lesser seas of 24 ft just south of there (319 degs HI). In the evening the gale was fading with 40 kt northwest winds falling southeast targeting Hawaii in the Western Gulf with seas 28-30 ft at 42N 170W (335 degs HI, 292 degs NCal). One last push of 35 kt northwest winds held into Thursday AM with seas 26 ft at 40N 165W (mostly bypassing the 345 degree path to HI, 288 degs NCal).
Smaller utility class sideband swell could result pushing towards the Hawaii arriving on Oahu on Friday (2/15) building to 6.3 ft @ 14-15 secs late (9 ft faces) fading Saturday AM from 5.1 ft @ 13-14 secs (7 ft) from 325-335 degrees.
Smaller swell from the West Coast arriving in North CA on Saturday AM 92/16) with swell 4.0-4.5 ft @ 17-18 secs (6.5-8.0 ft) from 292-296 degrees.
Dateline Storm #3
On Wed AM (2/13) a tiny storm started developing just off Japan with an infinitesimal area of 55 kt northwest winds starting to stir up the oceans surface. By evening 55 kt northwest winds grew some in coverage pushing east with seas to 44 ft over a tiny area at 36N 156E (299 degs HI). On Thurs AM (2/14) winds backed off slightly to 50 kt and aimed more due east with seas building to 45 ft over a tiny area at 37N 165E (302 degs HI). In the evening winds to rebuild to 55 kts aimed due east with seas up to 47 ft at 39N 170E (aimed a bit east of the 307 deg path to HI, aimed right up the 294 deg path to NCal). Seas peaking at 06Z at 49 ft at 41N 174E. On Fri AM (2/15) west winds to be fading from 45 kts as the storm lifts northeast with seas 45 ft at 40N 177E (aimed east of the 313 deg path to HI, right up the 293 deg path to NCal). By evening west winds to be fading from 40-45 kts on the dateline with seas fading from 41 ft at 42N 180W (bypassing the 322 degree path to HI, pushing right up the 295 deg path to NCal). By Saturday AM (2/16) this system is to be gone with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 43N 174W (295 degs NCal).
This is a very small but fairly intense system. The issue is though the storm is to be reasonably close to Hawaii, most energy is to be aimed east of the great circle paths to the Islands. The swell that is to hit is to be from a very westerly direction. Conversely this one is to be a very long way from the US mainland, covering only a small footprint, but most energy is to be aimed directly towards this target. Swell decay will take it's toll both on size and distance on consistency.
Hawaii (Oahu): Rough data suggest swell arrival at sunset on Saturday (2/16) with period 22-23 secs and size 2.6 ft @ 22-23 secs (5.5 ft). Swell to build overnight. Swell to peak on Sunday starting before sunrise with swell 8.4 ft @ at 20 secs (16.8 ft) and holding till sunset with swell still 8.4 ft @ 17-18 secs (14.7 ft Hawaiian). Residuals on Monday fading from 6.9 ft @ 16 secs early (11.0 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 304-314 degrees
North CA: Swell details to be posted once the storm completes it's life cycle.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (2/14) high pressure at 1034 mbs continued holding just 600 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino setting up an almost summer like pressure gradient extending southwest off Cape Mendocino producing 25 kt north winds, but well off nearshore waters of Central CA. A light wind flow was in control of Central and South CA. Friday the gradient is to nearly disappear with a light offshore flow in control of almost all the state (except the far north). Light winds forecast Saturday AM but by afternoon and building northerly flow at 15+ kts is forecast building southward to Pt Reyes. By Sunday AM high pressure is to be ridging in strong with north winds forecast at 15-20 kts for all of Central CA and pushing near 25 kts for North CA down to San Francisco. Monday the gradient fades some but still 15+ kt north winds forecast for all of North and Central CA. Southern CA to be protected from this wind event. A weak low to start moving south inland over North CA Tuesday with the high off the coast, setting up south winds early giving way to a pressure gradient and 20 kt northwest winds by afternoon down to Pt Conception by sunset. Rain pushing south with the low reaching San Francisco early and down to San Diego by sunset. Up to 1 ft of snow for Tahoe starting mid Tuesday AM through early Wednesday. Rain clearing through the day Wednesday (2/20) with north winds 20+ kts for the entire state including Southern CA Wed AM fading slowly into Thursday. Still another strong high at 1040 mbs is to be building north of Hawaii likely ridging into the coast a day later. Almost looks like a spring weather pattern shaping up. The Inactive Phase of the MJO is to be doing it's thing.
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 no real swell producing weather systems of interest are forecast.
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 (2/14) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 8.21. The 30 day average was holding at -9.28 with the 90 day average down some at -4.88. This negative spurt was associated with low pressure directly over Tahiti and the Active Phase of the MJO centered just north of there. But that is now over. Still, 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 light west anomalies over the central Maritime Continent (WPac) turning easterly over the dateline and continuing easterly to a point south of Hawaii, then turning westerly the rest of the way into Central America. This clearly suggests the Inactive Phase of the MJO was building over the West Pacific. A week from now (2/22) a tiny area of west anomalies are to be over the extreme Western Maritime Continent, but modest east anomalies are to be in control of the rest of the Continent extending east over the dateline to a point south of Hawaii, with neutral anomalies the test of the way into Central America. The Inactive Phase is to remain in control and less supportive of gale development than weeks past.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/13 suggests a moderate version of the Inactive Phase of the MJO was in control of the Pacific with no remaining signs of the Active Phase to be found. It is to be centered over the dateline 5 days from now (2/18). Beyond, the normally conservative statistical model has the Inactive Phase dissipating quickly 10 days from now (2/24) with the Active Phase currently building strong in the Indian Ocean moving into the far West Pacific, and then taking over the dateline by 2/28 though fading in strength. Conversely the dynamic model has the Inactive Phase holding on the dateline through 2/28, though slowly loosing energy but still not fully allowing the Active Phase to take over. It's too early to know what will happen but there is some hope for one more pulse before the Winter season is over.
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 is 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 (2/12) a pocket of 3 degree above normal waters has built under the dateline (at 175W) 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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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