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 (2/23) North and Central California was getting leftover swell from the Northern Dateline storm with waves in the head high to 1 ft overhead range and clean early but south winds moving in mid-AM. Southern California was also getting the same dateline swell with waves in the waist to shoulder high range up north with a little texture on it mid-day and waist high down south but not too bad. Hawaii's North Shore was getting another solid pulse of swell from Storm #26 with waves in the 15 ft range and trades in effect. Only the bigger wave breaks were happening with other swamped by swell, but not over the top. The East Shore was getting the wrap-around energy from this swell with waves double overhead. The South Shore was getting southern hemi swell with waves waist high or so and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for swell to continue. Swell #26 hit Wednesday at triple overhead with pretty mixed up conditions then fading from double overhead early Thursday and dropping to 6 ft Friday. Another swell to push in Saturday near 15 ft fading from 10-12 ft Sunday and 8 ft Monday. Southern California is to see the same pattern with decent swell for Wednesday at 2 ft overhead at the more northern exposed breaks late up north then fading from head high to 1 ft overhead Thurs AM and chest high Friday. Windswell expected Saturday at chest to should high building late up north, with waves 1-2 ft overhead Sunday and shoulder to head high Monday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see fading energy from Swell #26 at double overhead Wednesday. More sideband swell for Thursday at possibly 3-4 ft overhead then back to double overhead on Friday. Swell fading on Saturday at 3 ft overhead and chest high Sunday. Possible larger sideband swell for Monday. The East Shore is to see no easterly windswell until Friday into the weekend though wrap-around swell from the North Shore is likely. The South Shore is to have some leftover southern hemi swell Wednesday at waist to chest high slowly settling down through Thursday then gone Friday and beyond.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) has moved into a neutral state or slightly Active Phase and expected to hold there into mid-March. If this is true it will slightly enhance storm development in the north and southern hemispheres. Swell #25 is in the water. On the charts another gale is on it's heals Wed/Thurs with up to 32 ft seas on the dateline and expected to rebuild before it hits the CA coast, with yet another behind it in the Gulf for that next weekend and another on the northern dateline early next week. Certainly no lack of surf is projected, focused mostly on the US West Coast with sideband swell for the Islands. But weather could provide to be a problem in CA, typical of El Nino. And beyond the jetstream is looking to be far less cooperative
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (2/23) the North Pacific jetstream was consolidated and flowing flat east on the 32N latitude with wind speeds in pockets over the width of the pacific to 140 kts. A weak trough was over the dateline with a smaller and weaker one just 300 nmiles west of North California. Limited support for gale development forecast in both of these. Over the next 72 hrs the dateline trough is to build some with up to 190 kt winds flowing into it on Wednesday providing better support for gale development, while the trough of CA pushes inland over Oregon. The dateline trough is to push east with energy levels slowly backing down but continuing to support gale formation, then the trough is to really build Thurs/Friday (2/26) on it's approach to North CA, pushing inland Friday evening. Gale development likely there. While that is occurring a second trough is forecast forming west of the dateline Thursday (2/25) pushing northeast into the Gulf of Alaska supporting gale formation there. A curious split in the jet is forecast developing over Japan on Wed (2/240 and drifting east while expanding slightly all the while. Beyond 72 hours the split jetstream pattern is to start looking ominous pushing to the dateline Sunday (2/28) while a trough persists in the Northern Gulf of Alaska. The split flow is to have reached east over the entire North Pacific late Mon (3/1) and expected to hold at least a few days after that. The Gulf trough is to push into British Columbia on Tues (3/2) and after that no immediate signs of troughs are projected.
At the surface on Tuesday (2/23) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was easing into Southern CA reaching as far north as Monterey Bay early. But a broad low pressure center associated with the remnants of Storm #26 was in the Central Gulf of Alaska pushing a front into North CA expected to reach well into Central CA by nightfall. Behind that a new gale was circulating on the dateline (see Dateline Gale below). Over the next 72 hours the Dateline gale is to push east and fade only to reinvigorate itself 1200 nmiles west of Southern Oregon on Thursday AM with 35 kt west winds at 40N 150W building to 40 kts in the evening at 40N 140W. Seas building to 28 ft at 35N 150W. On Friday AM (2/26) 35 kt west winds to continue at 35N 140W with 30 ft seas at 37N 143W heading directly to Central and South CA. Possible larger raw swell to image the coast there on Saturday (2/27).
Dateline Storm - Swell #26
On Saturday AM (2/20) a small little storm wound up on the dateline generating 50 kt west-northwest winds at 43N 180W aimed 20 degrees south of the 296 degree path in to California and 30 degrees east of the 323 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were building. In the evening winds built to 55 kts at 44N 177W pushing 20 degrees south of the 296 degree path to NCal and 35 degrees east of the 328 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were up to 35 ft at 43N 175W. The Jason-1 satellite made a pass directly over the core of the storm and reported seas 38.5 ft solid with one peak reading to 40.3 ft. This is way better than the 35 ft seas forecast there.
On Sunday AM (2/21) winds were fading with 45 kt westerly fetch at 42N 168W aimed 20 degrees south of the 291 degree path to NCal and pretty much bypassing any route to Hawaii off to the east. Seas were modeled peaking at 40 ft at 42N 169W. In the evening fetch is to be dissipating with winds down to 35 kts at 40N 160W with seas dropping from 37 ft at 40N 162W.
On Monday no fetch is to be left with seas from previous fetch at 32 ft at 39N 154W.
This was not a strong storm by any historical perspective, just your typical short-lived winter system. Still it was enough to push sizable sideband swell down into the Islands and solid utility class swell towards Central and North CA, though a little bit too far north to be optimal for Southern CA.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival Tuesday (2/24) at 5 AM HST with period 17 secs and size building rapidly to 8.4 ft @ 17 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) and holding for the earlier part of the day. Swell Direction: 323-328 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival starting Wednesday (2/24) in the early morning hours with period 19 secs and peaking mid-morning with swell 8.9 ft @ 17 secs (15 ft faces). Swell holding through the day with period drifting down to 15 secs late. Swell Direction 289-295 degrees.
On Sunday evening (2/21) a fragmented fetch of 40-45 kt northwest winds developed at roughly 43N 167E aimed well down the 313 degree path to Hawaii and pretty much too far south of the 296 degree path to NCal. Seas were starting to build.
By Monday AM (2/22) a small but consolidated fetch of 45 kt northwest winds were occurring at 42N 173E taking good aimed on Hawaii down the 319 degree path. 28 ft seas were modeled at 43N 177E but only over a tiny area. It held it's ground in the evening but dropped to 35-40 kts at 42N 177E aimed best at Hawaii with 29 ft seas at 41N 180W.
This system continued there on Tuesday AM (2/23) but rejuvenated with near 45 kt northwest winds at 43N 178E. 27 ft seas from previous fading fetch were at 43N 178W pushing more to the east (296 degrees NCal and 40 degrees east of the 331 degree path to Hawaii). In the evening yet more 40-45 kt northwest winds are forecast at 43N 178E aimed well at Hawaii like before with 30 ft seas building at 42N 179E.
This system is to drop southeast on Wednesday AM (2/24) with 40 kt residual winds at 40N 176W with 32 ft sea forecast at 40N 177W. In the evening a limited 35-40 kts west fetch is to hold at 38N 169W generating more 32 ft seas at 40N 171W (296 NCal - 331 deg Hawaii) through that seems a bit optimistic.
Winds are to be fading from 30 kts Thurs AM (2/25) with seas dropping from 28 ft at 39N 164W.
The models have taken a bit of a hit as compared to previous runs, though still fairly decent winds and seas to result. But, since the system is forecast primarily in the dateline region and located a bit away from the US West Coast, only utility class swell to result. But Hawaii is to be closer (1300 nmiles away) with fetch aimed decently at them early in the gales life. This suggests decent odds of near significant class swell hitting Hawaii starting Friday (2/26) at 4 PM at 8.6 ft @ 16 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) from 313-327 degrees. Swell to push into North California Sunday AM (2/28). But the remnants of this system are forecast to reorganize just off North CA on Friday (2/26) with 30 ft seas at 37N 142W pushing into the coast the day beyond (Saturday 2/27) likely making a mess of things there.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (2/23) the next front was organizing off the Central Coast with 20 kt south winds and moderate rain expected late down to Morro Bay with steady snow in the mountains. The south winds are to relent just before sunrise Wednesday with precipitation following on the coast though snow continuing in higher elevations. Light winds on the coast turning northwest in the afternoon. Thursday to be a transition day with light winds (except northwest 15 kts near Pt Conception) while a strong gale organizes off the coast. South winds starting to build up north late with rain building into SF late. The front arrives Friday AM pushing to Pt Conception mid-day with south winds and rain down into Southern CA late afternoon. Solid snow in the mountains. A secondary system is forecast slipping southeast behind the main system on Saturday (2/27) bringing brisk northwest winds to Central CA with a little rain over the entire CA coast, then clearing on Sunday though light to moderate north winds to continue over North and Central CA. Another broad gale to be circulating in the Gulf late Sunday pushing towards the coast with a front limping up to San Francisco Monday afternoon, dissolving with another right behind it Tuesday AM. Another dose of decent rain is forecast Tuesday afternoon in Central CA. A broad strong high pressure system is forecast behind but shunted a little south at 1030 mbs, the strongest so far this Spring. This is possibly a harbinger of what is to come (cold clearing north winds).
No swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
On Monday (2/15) a small gale tracked northeast off New Zealand with seas to 35 ft at 55S 175W. Small southern hemi swell is expected into Hawaii starting Mon (2/22) with swell building to 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 another broad gale is forecast developing just east of the dateline late Thurs (2/26), and getting sizable on Friday (2/26) with 45-50 kts winds forecast aimed both at Hawaii and California and covering a rather large area. This system is to push east on Saturday with more 50 kt north and west fetch forecast likely generating larger seas, then simmering down some on Sunday in the Central Gulf of Alaska (40-45 kt northwest winds targeting the US West Coast). It's way too early to know anything for sure but this system has the potential to generate some larger swell with seas modeled in the 40-43 ft range on Saturday at 42N 157W. Much follow on fetch is forecast behind that too. We'll see what actually materializes.
And yet another storm is forecast on the northern dateline region on Mon/Tues with up to 55-60 kt west winds forecast up at 48N 177E (Mon PM 3/1) decay from 50 kts at 46N 175W Tuesday AM (3/2) generating seas of 43 ft at 47N 178E. Possible swell for both Hawaii and California if this materializes.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (2/23) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) appeared to be in a near neutral state. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was slightly positive with the Daily SOI at 6.92. The 30 day average was up to -22.50 (It bottomed out on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average up slightly -12.27 (bottomed out at -13.61 on 2/15).
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated normal winds across the Pacific Ocean with no signs of the Active Phase left. A small new area of anomalously west winds were depicted just north of Australia, but of no consequence. The models project a totally neutral/normal wind pattern through 3/14. With the effects of El Nino on the atmosphere already well entrenched, that momentum will be very slow to dissipate over the coming next 6 months. We will continue 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 (2/18) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator more towards the dateline and less in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. This looks 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 still in the moderate category and holding, not building. We are past 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 2/18 at 150W and officially reached 5 degrees on 2/21 at 155W, moving to 150W on 2/23. 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. Even on 2/18-2/23 limited fully blowing west winds were still in-play with anomalies to 150W, but startin to fade. This is what is generating the Kelvin Wave under the dateline pushing east. 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