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 (2/15) in North and Central CA surf was chest to maybe head high and clean early but weak. Down in Santa Cruz surf was thigh to maybe waist high and soft and clean early. In Southern California up north surf was thigh high on the sets and clean but weak with fog in control. Down south waves were waist high and clean but weak. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more Gulf swell with waves head high to 1 ft overhead on the sets and clean but weak. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at chest to shoulder high and chopped with trades in control.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Fetch from a previous gale that fell from the Gulf towards Hawaii generating 20 ft seas on Wed (2/12) was hitting the Islands but on the way down. Of more interest is a broader gale that tracked through the Gulf Fri-Sat (2/15) with 20 ft seas then is to rebuild off Southern Oregon Sun (2/16) with 28 ft seas targeting the US West Coast and with secondary winds producing 22-24 ft seas into Tues (2/18). And a second gale is to build off the Kuril Islands on Mon (2/17) holding stationary there with up to 30 ft seas targeting the US West Coast but closer to Hawaii. A bit of a break then another small gale is forecast tracking northeast through the Western Gulf on Sat (2/22) with 32 ft seas offering swell for Central CA northward if it develops. So surf looks to be a little more likely for the coming week or so.
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 Saturday (2/15) the jetstream was split while pushing off Japan with 2 distinct flows tracking east, one up at 47N and the other down at 25N. Winds in both were to 120 kts in pockets and unremarkable. The two streams merged about 700 nmiles west of San Francisco forming a weak trough there, then ridged slightly and tracked into Washington. Only limited support for gale development in the trough off North CA. Over the next 72 hours the two flows are to start pushing almost forming one coherent flow, but with a remnant split north of Hawaii on Tues (2/18). A steady flow of 120-130 kt winds is to be tracking into Oregon and North CA Sun -Tues (2/18) bring weather to that area while 130 kt winds start building in the consolidate flow over Japan and pushing east slightly. No troughs of interest nor support for gale development indicated. Beyond 72 hours the consolidated jet in the west is to be building with winds to 180 kts pushing off Japan up at 30N ridging slightly over the dateline then falling into a bit of a trough north of Hawaii late Thurs (2/20) before the jet splits, with most energy riding northeast into the northern branch then falling down the Canadian coast tracking into Oregon. Limited support for gale development in that trough. The rejoined and invigorated jet in the West is to continue pushing east reaching a point north of Hawaii by Sat (2/23) but with no troughs indicated. Still winds to be in the 170 kt range offering some support for gale development. The improving jetstream flow to be attributable to a building Active Phase of the MJO developing over the Western Pacific.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (2/15) small swell was hitting Hawaii from a gale that was north of the Islands Tues-Wed (2/12). That swell to be fading slowly over the weekend. Swell from the Gulf of Alaska was hitting North CA and trying to building into Central CA, but taking it's time.
On Thurs PM (2/13) a broader fetch of northwest winds at 35 kts was starting to develop in the Western Gulf with seas building. By Fri AM (2/14) 30-35 kt northwest winds were tracking east in the Central Gulf with 18 ft seas at 40N 162W (350 degs HI). Fetch continued east in the evening with west winds 35 kts producing seas at 18-20 ft at 40N 150W (291 degs NCal). The fetch held at 35 kts 700 nmiles off the Northern CA coast on Sat AM with seas 20 ft at 40N 140W (285 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Fetch is to be impacting the Pacific Northwest in the evening at 30 kts with 20 ft seas at 40N 133W (292 degs NCal). Over all the fetch was somewhat diffuse and not particularly well organized. Still some 13 sec period swell is likely for Central CA northward.
Some building 13 secs period swell is expected for Northern CA late in the weekend pushing 8 ft @ 13 secs Sunday (2/16) afternoon (10.5 ft) from 290 degrees with sideband energy for Hawaii at 5.1 ft @ 11-12 secs (6 ft faces) early Sunday (2/16) from 345 degrees.
Second Gulf Gale
A far broader fetch associated with a building low in the Western Gulf was developing on Sat AM (2/15) generating 30-35 kt west winds extending from Kamchatka to the Central Gulf aimed at the US West Coast. Seas were building over the entire expanse, or nearly 2600 nmiles. In the evening 35-40 kt west winds to consolidate from the dateline to a point just off Oregon with most fetch 1500 nmiles north of Hawaii producing 22 ft seas aimed east over a large area reaching to 44N 147W (298 degs NCal). The fetch is to consolidate in the Eastern Gulf Sun AM (2/16) with 35-40 kt west winds there building 28 ft seas at 43N 140W (296 degs NCal). Fetch is to fade in the evening from 25-30 kts over a broad area targeting and impacting the Pacific Northwest with seas still 25 ft approaching the Oregon Coast at 45N 134W (312 degrees NCal) with 20 ft seas down to 40N 137W (287 degrees NCal). More swell being generated targeting Oregon and California. This system to be gone by Mon AM (2/17).
Assuming all goes as forecast swell arrival for NCal is forecast on late Mon AM (2/17) with previous swell and new swell combining to produce swell of 8 ft @ 14-15 secs (11.5 ft) a nd a bit raw coming from an average of 295 degrees. Residuals holding into Tuesday AM fading from 7 ft @ 13-14 secs (9.5 ft).
Possible Secondary Gulf Energy
Additional 30 kt northwest to west winds to build in the Central Gulf Mon evening (2/17) generating 20 ft seas at 44N 148W (295 degs NCal). Fetch building to 35 kts over a small area Tues AM (2/18) pushing east and generating 23 ft seas near 45N 139W (303 degs NCal) and targeting primarily Oregon and Washington. 35 kt west winds to hold into Wed AM just off the Washington Coast with 30 ft seas well north of the NCal swell window but with 20-22 ft seas down to 45N 135W or in the 310 degree path to NCal. If all this develops as forecast, more 13-14 secs period northwest angled swell could result for Central CA by mid-Wed (2/19) and earlier for points northward.
A gale was starting to build off Japan on Sat (2/16) taking on larger proportions Sun PM (2/16) while lifting northeast off Northern Japan with 45 kt northwest winds and seas building to 30 ft at 37N 152E (300 degs HI). The gale is to hold position and strength Mon AM (2/17) with 45 kt west-northwest winds over a larger area and seas holding at 31 ft at 37-40N 157E aimed well down the 305 degree path to HI (296 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds to hold into the evening with 28-30 ft seas holding at 39-43N 155E (306 degs HI, 301 degs NCal). Fetch and seas fading from there with 35 kt west winds Tues AM (2/18) and seas fading from 26 ft over a solid area at 35-40N 160E (299-306 degs HI, 294-298 degs NCal). Fetch is to start tracking east from there reaching mid-way to the dateline by Wed PM (1/19) with 24 ft seas at 35N 170E (304 degs HI, 290 degs NCal). The gale to fade after that.
Possible decent swell for Hawaii if all goes as forecast with lesser energy into the US West Coast. 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 Saturday (2/15) a gale was approaching California with south winds reaching down to maybe Monterey Bay late and rain building from the north to Monterey Bay late evening. Light snow developing late for Tahoe. Sunday AM high pressure is to build in again for most of California with rain gone. 5-6 inches of snow for Tahoe by 7 AM Sun. North winds 15 kts focused mainly on Pt Conception and much lighter for the SF Bay area. Another weather system to be impacting Southern Oregon and northern most California Monday AM with south winds down to Pt Arena but reaching no further south. Light rain to Pt Arena Monday evening and holding into Tuesday evening. But high pressure and north winds at 15 kts to hold tight over Pt Conception. High pressure is to be in control Tues AM building northward clearing things out and by Wednesday late AM it's to bring north winds to the entire coastal California area pushing 20 kts for the entire state (except Southern CA) holding through Friday (2/21). Perhaps some slackening of those winds by Saturday nearshore.
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 a small gale is to develop on the dateline tracking east-northeast with 40 kt west winds over a small area. 45 kt west winds building into the evening with seas building to barely 30 ft at 42N 176W targeting primarily the US West Coast (293 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to hold into Sat AM (2/22) with 32 ft seas at 44N 167W (295 degs NCal). Fetch to be fading from 40 kts in the Gulf in the evening with 32 ft seas at 48N 158W (304 degs NCal). This system is a long way from forming still but is worth watching.
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 (2/15) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to -2.35. The 30 day average was down to 5.76 and the 90 day average down to 6.12. This is what appears to finally be a reversal of an unexpected upward spike in the SOI 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 new Active Phase of the MJO associated with a strong Westerly Wind Burst over the West Pacific in January. The longer term pattern was indicative of the Inactive Phase, but was improving. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated neutral with one pocket of westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning slightly westerly over the dateline continuing south of Hawaii. Wind anomalies turned light easterly midway to Central America. The 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 (2/22) modest westerly anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent fading on the dateline continuing light westerly south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies are forecast over the Eastern Pacific into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was gaining control of the dateline and points east of there and are to be holding 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 2/14 are reasonably in agreement. Both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was rebuilding over the far West Pacific with the Inactive Phase all but gone over the Central Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to ease east over the next 15 days, peaking 7-10 days out but still solid 15 day out on the dateline then. The dynamic model suggests much of the same with the Active Phase peaking 5 days out then weakening slowly while tracking east to the dateline 15 days out. Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected, which is good news. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 2/15 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the West Pacific and is to track east while holding if not building some, moving inland over Central America on Mar 12 or about a month away. This is what we want to see if some flavor of El Nino were to develop. A modest Inactive Phase is to start developing in the far West Pacific 3/7 and track east, reaching the East Pacific at the end of the run or 3/27. The consensus is that some prolonged Active Phase of the MJO is developing (which is good news) and is to hold for the next 3-4 weeks. 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 (2/13) a cool water regime that unexpectedly developed on the equator south of Baja reaching to almost the dateline remains in play. But it continues to loose coverage and depth as of the most recent image. This cool pool was likely the source of the rising SOI during later January. What was perplexing is that a Westerly Wind Burst was occurring at the same time this cool regime developed. Water temps are -0.5 deg C below normal over that region, moderating some from a week ago. The pool of slightly warmer water that previously was on the equator nestled up to and off Ecuador, Chile and Peru has dissipated with cooler water taking root. This indicates a previous Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there is spent. 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 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 upwelling (backside) of the Kelvin Wave currently impacting South America, and that as that portion of the wave moves inland, temperatures will rise again. But 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 remain most impressive. 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 block any warm flow trying to move east. But at the same time a large area of warm water at now up to +5 deg C is building under the dateline and increasing in temp and coverage with it's leading edge moving east now to 105W (+1 deg C) and is tracking under the cool pool. 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 dissipated with the cool pool behind it a normal response to the previous warm wave. The hope is the January WWB over the Maritime Continent has set up another Kelvin Wave that will add more fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. But it's still way too early to know with any certainty (especially considering the cooler surface water temps discussed above). But signs are promising.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 2/15 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 +1.1 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 recent developing cool pool at depth off Central America gives 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