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 Tuesday (2/16) North and Central California was getting leftovers from Swell #25 and heading down with waves in the 3-5 ft overhead range and reasonably clean early. Southern California was getting the same westerly remains at chest high on the sets up north and head high or better down south and fairly clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting background swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead on the sets and clean. The East Shore was quiet. The South Shore had some waist high sets and maybe a little more and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for 3-4 ft overhead residual westerly swell continuing on Wednesday fading from 1 ft overhead Thursday then back up to 2 ft overhead Friday and bigger for the weekend pushing double overhead plus on Saturday. Weather supposedly moving in too though. Southern California is to see surf holding in the chest to shoulder high range Wednesday fading to waist to maybe chest high on Thursday and barely waist high Friday. New swell expected for Saturday at 1 ft overhead. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see new northwest windswell at double overhead on Wednesday building to real swell on Thursday at 12 ft on the face then fading from near double overhead on Friday dropping to head high Saturday. The East Shore is to see no easterly windswell for the week. The South Shore is to have fading 2 ft southern hemi swell on Wednesday and fading out with nothing to follow.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is moving towards the Inactive Phase with the last of the active phase pushing over the far East Pacific through the end of the week. Will be interesting to see how much gale activity El Nino can muster on it's own without the influence of the MJO. Expect a less active surf pattern for the next 3-4 weeks.The models suggest a gale building north of Hawaii today pushing east through the workweek and positioned just off North CA for the weekend while storm builds over the Northern Dateline region Wed/Thurs (2/18) with most fetch aimed due east. Modest gale activity is forecast on the central dateline region early next week and off North CA. No swell of significant class proportions is expected to result, but there should be decent surf for the Hawaii and the mainland just the same.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (2/16) the North Pacific jetstream remained reasonably active tracking east on the 30N latitude, with a ridge off Japan falling into a nice little trough north of Hawaii with a pocket of 150 kt winds flowing under it, then ridging a little east of there before falling into another weak but deep trough off the Southern CA/Baja coast. Decent support for gale development north of Hawaii but not much in the trough off the mainland. Over the next 72 hrs the ridge off Japan in to hold with more winds building in it, to 180 kts on Friday (2/19). The trough north of Hawaii is to push east but loose definition, nudging just up to the Central CA coast on Friday and likely supporting some degree of weak low pressure there. Beyond 72 hours the ridge off Japan is to flatten out with the wind energy there building east to the dateline with lesser energy pushing flat east into Central CA with no obvious troughs present. Limited support for gale development. By Tues (2/23) the wind pocket is to be over the dateline at 160 kts pushing into the far Eastern Pacific with a broad trough starting to build on the dateline and tracking east. Decent support for gale development in this region.
At the surface on Tuesday (2/16) a weak high pressure system was holding over Vancouver Island dropping south to a point between Hawaii and Central Baja providing nice warm conditions for California up into the Pacific Northwest. A weak but broad low pressure system was in the Gulf of Alaska generating a fetch of 30-35 kt northwest winds targeting Hawaii reasonably well. Windswell likely for the Islands by Wednesday (2/17). A storm was wrapping up off the Northern Kuril Islands but almost all it's fetch was pushing north towards Alaska. Over the next 72 hours the Gulf gale is to reorganize with a new fetch of 45 kt northwest winds building way south at 33N 145W Wednesday PM aimed reasonably well at Southern CA up the 272 degree path with seas building to 30 ft at 32N 144W (1200 nmiles out), then fading fast Thursday while residual winds lift north. Good odds for 17 sec period very west swell pushing into Southern CA by Friday PM (2/19). Also on Wednesday AM (2/17) the Kuril Island storm is to regenerate with 55 kt west winds at 50N 168E aimed right up the 308 degree path to North CA and shadowed by the Aleutians for the Pacific Northwest. Seas building. In the evening 55 kt west fetch is to hold at 50N 172E aimed right up the 306 degree path to NCal with seas building to near 40 ft at 50N 170E. Thursday AM (2/18) the storm is to start fading with a broad fetch of 45 kt west winds at 50N 172E aimed right up the 306 degree path to NCal with seas at 39 ft at 50N 176E (2900 nmiles out). The storm is to be down to gale status in the evening with winds 35 kts and fading fast. Residual seas of 36 ft forecast at 49N 175E and fading fast. Rough data suggest swell arrival in North CA late Monday (2/22).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (2/16) modest high pressure was in control off the coast generating northwest winds in the afternoon from Pt Conception northward and fog as it has since Monday eerily reminiscent of Spring. That pattern to hold into Wednesday, with winds fading later as another gale and front moves closer to the coast with perhaps a light south flow over Central CA by late Thursday (2/18). Southern CA to remain effectively in a calm bubble. Regardless by Friday light to moderate south winds with rain to start impacting the Central CA coast down to Pt Conception as the front from the gale off the coast arrives. A bit of a break is forecast from Pt Arena southward on Saturday from the south wind though rain is expected down into San Francisco then another front, south wind, rain from another weak gale to move in Sunday. A stronger one is forecast for Monday with south winds and rain actually reaching down into Southern CA and continuing Tuesday (2/23).
At the surface another small gale was tracking northeast off New Zealand with seas to 30 ft at 06Z Tues (2/16) at 55S 168W. Small southern hemi swell is expected into Hawaii starting Mon (2/22) with swell building tom maybe 2 ft @ 17 secs late (3.5 ft faces) holding at 2 ft @ 16 secs (3 ft faces) Tues (2/23) then heading slowly down through the later past of the workweek. Swell Direction: 185-190 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 the remnants of the gale off California are to reorganize some late Fri/early Sat (2/20) producing a short-lived and small fetch of 40 kt west winds at 42-44N 149-152W producing 23 ft seas and possibly generating more 13 sec period swell pushing towards the CA coast. More secondary west winds in the 30 kts range to follow. Precipitation for the US West Coast is likely associated with the local gale by late Friday (2/19) and continuing in waves if not building into at least the middle of the following week (2/24).
And a broad diffuse gale is to be forming in the Western Gulf Sun-Tues (2/23) with varying degrees of 23-25 ft seas pushing towards both Hawaii and California, though nothing more than utility class size with period in the 13 sec range.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (2/16) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was fading from the Active Phase in the east and moving towards the Inactive Phase in the West. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative but rising with the Daily SOI at -2.45 (42 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was down to -24.82 (the lowest of this entire El Nino event) with the 90 average down to -13.47. This is likely the end of it with rising indicies expected.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models continued to indicate a light area of westerly anomalies covering from the dateline east into Central America on into the Atlantic. This is likely fueling the last little burst of gale activity in the East Pacific. The Active Phase and it's weakening westerly wind anomalies are expected to dissipate in the Eastern Pacific by 2/20 while a weak version of the Inactive Phase pushes east to New Guinea almost reaching the dateline on 2/25, then weakly settling on the dateline 3/2-3/7. At this time gale development will likely not be aided any by the MJO. But the effects of El Nino 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 continue to surge a little thanks to the previous 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. Two Kelvin Waves which that had been impacting the the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast in Jan are fading with only 3 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. 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. Temps were up to nearly 5 deg C above normal on 2/15 at 160W. This is expected to fuel or at least extend El Nino symptoms into summer, but is likely the last Kelvin Wave we are going to see.
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. 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- 2/15 solid Westerly Winds were occurring just south of the equator to 155W with solid anomalies to 140W. This is what is generating the Kelvin Wave and is likely the peak of this event. Regardless, at some point in the next few days (surprised it hasn't happened already) we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down completely and a normal trade pattern to take over or even enhanced trades (which could result in La Nina). 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. This has not been a strong El Nino, more of 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