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 (2/22) in North and Central CA surf was shoulder to head high and clean but a little wonky and warbled. Pure windswell. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to chest high and clean and lined up but weak. In Southern California up north surf was thigh to waist high with little lines and clean but weak. Down south waves were chest high and clean but unremarkable. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northwesterly swell with waves 1-2 ft overhead on the sets and clean and lined up. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were flat and clean with no trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a gale that built off the Kuril Islands on Mon (2/17) holding stationary there with up to 34 ft seas over a small area was hitting Hawaii. This system tracked east with seas fading below 20 ft, then rebuilt slightly Thurs (2/20) with 22 ft seas again targeting the Islands from the dateline. Swell for Hawaii late in the workweek and is to continue through the weekend. A bit of a break after that til the remnants of the Hawaiian system start re-developing well north of Hawaii on Sun (2/23) with maybe a small area of 30 ft seas in-play Monday targeting the US West Coast. Additional fetch to result mid-way between the US and Hawaii on Wed-Thurs (2/27) with 22 ft seas forecast. Perhaps a broader gale to follow on the dateline Fri-Sat (3/1) with up to 40 ft seas projected targeting both Hawaii and the US West Coast.
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 (2/22) the Active Phase of the MJO was feeding the jetstream with 190 kts tracking off Japan ridging slightly over the dateline up near the 38N latitude line then falling south east into a small tight trough north of Hawaii. A split developed there with 80 kt winds tracking up into Western Alaska with the remaining energy falling southeast towards the equator. Limited support for gale development was possible in the trough north of Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours the jet is to hold with 190 kt winds still on the dateline Monday (2/24) with the trough easing east to 145W with the northern branch tracking up into the Pacific Northwest and the southern branch splitting again with some energy heading to the equator and the rest towards Northern Baja. The trough to hold in the Eastern Gulf offering some support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to flatten out tracking from Japan flat over the dateline at 170-180 kts and dipping southeast to a point near 125W or 600 nmiles west of San Francisco on Tues (2/25) with the trough continuing off the Northern CA coast. The northern branch of the jet is to again start pushing north up into Alaska with the remaining energy tracking flat east into Southern CA. A new trough is to developed Thurs (2/27) near 145W with yet another trough on the dateline all embedded in the main flow, but winds to be down to 140-150 kts in the main flow now tracking down on the 30N latitude. By late Friday (2/28) the first trough is to be pushing into Central CA likely making weather more than anything with the second trough moderating just east of the dateline. Both offering limited support for gale development. The jet is to become much more diffuse tracking off Japan on Sat (3/1) and almost split but holding together with winds down to 130 kts in pockets on the 35N latitude and tracking flat across the entire Pacific pushing directly into Central CA. Finally a real winter jet pattern is forecast, but a bit late in the season.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (2/22) residual swell originating from a gale just off Japan last weekend was hitting Hawaii and expected to show in California tomorrow (Sun 2/23). Size to be minimal though. Secondary energy was right behind mainly for the Islands (See Japan Gale - including Part 2 below). Over the next 72 hours a small gale is to develop 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii Sun AM (2/23) tracking east with 35 kt west winds over a tiny area with seas on the increase. 40 kt west winds are to build into the evening with seas building to 26 ft at 37N 155W targeting primarily the US West Coast (284 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds to be holding Mon AM (2/24) over a slightly broader area with 30 ft seas at 37N 149W (283 degs NCal, 289 degs SCal). Fetch to be fading from 35-40 kt in the evening and lifting north with seas dropping from 28 ft up at 39N 143W (283 degs NCal, 289 degs SCal). A quick fade to follow. Possible nice little swell for CA (North and South) if all goes as forecast arriving in NCal on Wed (2/26). Something to monitor.
A gale built over Japan on Sat (2/16) pushing into open waters off North Japan Sun AM (2/16) with with 45 kt northwest winds and seas building to 28 ft at 37N 147E aimed south of even Hawaii. In the evening 45 kt westerly winds took hold off Japan with 32 ft seas building at 37N 152E (300 degs HI). The gale held position and strength Mon AM (2/17) with 40-45 kt west-northwest winds over a larger area and seas holding at 32 ft at 37N 158E aimed well down the 305 degree path to HI (296 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds were fading in the evening with 27 ft seas at 35-40N 162E (299-306 degs HI, 294-300 degs NCal). Fetch and seas were fading from there with 35 kt west winds Tues AM (2/18) and seas fading from 25 ft over a solid area at 36-41N 160E (300-307 degs HI, 295-299 degs NCal). This system is effectively dead with no additional fetch forecast in the evening.
Possible decent swell for Hawaii with much lesser energy into the US West Coast.
Expect swell fading in Hawaii from 5.4 ft @ 14-15 secs (7.5 ft) Sat AM (2/22). Swell Direction: 300-305 degrees
Small swell for NCal starting Sat afternoon (2/22) to 2 ft @ 18 secs (3.5 ft) peaking Sun afternoon (2/23) at 2.8 ft @ 15-16 secs (4.0-4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 294-300 degrees
Japan Gale (Part 2)
Remnants of the Japan gale are forecast redevelop Thurs AM (2/20) west of the dateline generating a fetch of 30-35 kt west-northwest winds and seas building to 22 ft at 38N 165E (305 degs HI). Fetch is to push east in the evening with 23 ft seas pushing to 35N 176E (306 degs HI). Fetch is to fade Fri AM from 30 kts with residual seas fading from 20 ft at 35N 176W (313 degs HI).
Possible small secondary swell expected for the Islands starting Sun (2/23) at 7.0-7.5 ft @ 14 secs (10 ft faces) then fading Monday (2/24) from 6.5 ft @ 13 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 306-310 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday AM (2/22) high pressure at 1020 mbs was losing control off the CA coast but still generating 15 kt north winds over outer water off all of the North and Central regions of the state. The high is to fade Sunday with a light northerly flow (5 kts for North and Central CA in the afternoon). Winds fading even more Monday as low pressure builds in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska pushing closer to the coast but it doesn't influence it until later Tuesday AM (2/25) with a light southerly wind pattern projected down to Pt Conception late and up to 15 kts for Cape Mendocino. Wednesday (2/26) the leading edge of the low is to hit the coast with south winds 15 kts early down to Monterey Bay and up to 20 kt for Cape Mendocino building to 20 kts down to Pt Conception late. Light rain from Pt Reyes northward early building to Pt Conception late. Thursday light winds everywhere early. 6-8 inches of snow possible for Tahoe ending in the afternoon. Rain clearly through the morning. But then Round #2 queues up with south winds 20 kts for Cape Mendocino late and 10 kts down to Big Sur. A full onslaught is forecast Fri AM (2/28) with 30 kt south winds from Pt Conception northward building into Southern CA late. Solid rain early north of Pt Conception peaking late morning and building in to Southern CA. Heavy snow building through the day. Saturday southwest winds to slowly give up ground as the next system builds north of Hawaii. Snow tapering off. Up to 2 ft of accumulation at Tahoe and down to Mammoth.
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 another secondary fetch of 30-35 kt northwest winds to build Wed AM (2/26) in the Gulf 1100 nmiles north of Hawaii getting a little traction. By evening through winds to push east at 30-35 kts with 20-22 ft seas building at 40N 160W or almost due north of Hawaii (355+ degs) and on the 285 degree track to North CA. 30-35 kt winds to fall southeast Thurs AM (2/27) with 21 ft seas at 36N 154W mostly bypassing Hawaii mainly on the 287 degree path to Southern CA. This system to fade but still tracking east with 30-35 kt westerly fetch holding off Southern CA on Fri AM (2/28) with 18 ft seas at 29N 132W (258 degs Southern CA). This looks more like a weather maker for all of California than a surf maker. Something to monitor none the less.
Of more interest is a gale forecast developing on the dateline Thurs AM (2/27) with a small area of 45 kts northwest winds building through the day with up to 50 kt northwest winds Friday AM (2/28) on the dateline targeting Hawaii. Seas building from 30 ft. 45-50 kt northwest winds to hold falling southeast into the evening with barely 40 ft seas at 41N 175W (328 degs HI, 293 degs NCal). Fetch to be fading from 40 kts Sat AM (3/1) pushing flat east with 38 ft seas at 38N 170W (331 degs HI, 287 degs NCal). Possible swell to result if one is to believe the models.
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 (2/22) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down firmly to -23.20. The 30 day average was down to 1.74 and the 90 day average down slightly to 4.82. This appears to finally be a reversal of an unexpected upward spike in the SOI during January tied to decreasing surface waters temps in the Central Equatorial Pacific. 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 a neutral Phase and improving. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated moderate plus strength westerly anomalies holding over the Maritime Continent and expanding in coverage continuing weakly westerly over the dateline to a point south of Hawaii. Minimal east anomalies were southeast of Hawaii but almost gone and turning neutral continuing in to Central America. These westerly anomalies are part of a new Active Phase of the MJO and appear to be the second Westerly Wind Burst in two months in this area. They are situated directly over an area where a previous strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) started 1/8, peaking 1/28 and then faded while moving over the dateline. A week from now (3/1) moderate westerly anomalies are forecast holding over the Maritime Continent associated with a building tropical system there fading on the dateline then returning to moderate easterly anomalies south of Hawaii continuing half way to Central America. Neutral anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the West Pacific and dateline regions with a weak Inactive Phase holding over the Central Pacific. Things are getting very interesting with a previous WWB likely creating a large Kelvin Wave and then this current possible WWB setting up. The cool pool in the Central Pacific remains most perplexing.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/21 are a little mixed but in reasonable agreement. Both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over the far West Pacific with the Inactive Phase gone over the Central Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase has peaked out and is to slowly fade over the next 15 days, never making it to the dateline and gone at the 15 day mark. Conversely the dynamic model suggests the Active Phase peaking 5-10 days out then holding while slowly while tracking east to the dateline 15 days out. We tend to favor the dynamic model at this point. Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected, which is good news. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 2/19 suggests a moderate Active Phase was over the West Pacific and is to track east while holding, moving inland over Central America on Mar 12 or almost 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 3/31. Another diffuse Active Phase to follow directly. 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 (2/20) the ground truth is that a cool water regime continues to hold on the equator starting along the coast of Peru and reaching east to 150W. If anything the pool has gotten a bit cooler since the last update. This cool pool was likely the source of the rising SOI during later January. What remains 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 extending to 140W. 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. 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 by NOAA and others is that the cool pool in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific is tied to the upwelling (backside) of the previous 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 from a surface water temp perspective. But there's also some suggestions that normal convergence point of an eastward shifted Walker Circulation might be developing on the dateline, with west anomalies west of it and east anomalies east of it, all converging and pushing up on the dateline itself. This would be expected if the early stages of El Nino were in-play. But for now we'll remain conservative and suggest we are in a pure neutral pattern, with tendencies towards a cooler state and upwelling in the east and downwelling and warmer temps in the west as of 2/22. Still, two back to back WWBs (with the first very strong) coupled with easterly anomalies directly east of them cannot be ignored.
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 moved to 100W and appears to be dissipating. Still there's a hard barrier between the waters and warmer water below and west of it. 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 very warm water 5 deg C above normal is building and tracking east with it's core 150 meters down at 155W 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 and likely Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific that will add more fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. And yet another WWB appears to be in progress that will only add yet more warm water to the proverbial fire. The concern is that the cool pool off the Galapagos might try to put a cap on the upwhelling of this new Kelvin Wave as it tries to impact the South America coast. But it's still way too early to know with any certainty how this will play out. But signs remain promising.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 2/20 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 in the +1.0 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, but not in time for the 2013-2014 winter season. Still this is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. It seems 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 though there's increasing chatter that it could be as early as 2014 - which would be an anomaly in itself). 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