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 Thursday (2/25) North and Central California was getting leftover energy from Swell #26 with waves 3-4 ft overhead and clean early though still looking a little raw and warbled, improving through the day. Southern California was getting a nice dose of the same swell with waves head high or a little better up north and well lined up with near glassy conditions early but shoulder to head high down south. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more but smaller sideband swell from the northwest with waves in the 1ft overhead range and clean. The East Shore was getting the wrap-around energy from this swell with waves double overhead. The South Shore was getting thigh to waist high fading southern hemi swell and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for Swell #26 to be dropping to 6 ft Friday. Another more local very west swell to push in Saturday near 15 ft fading from 10-11 ft Sunday and 7-8 ft Monday. Southern California is to see the same pattern with swell fading from chest high Friday. Windswell expected Saturday at chest high building late up north, with waves 2-3 ft overhead Sunday and shoulder to head high Monday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see new sideband swell building in to double overhead or more on Friday. Swell fading on Saturday at 3 ft overhead and chest high Sunday. Possible larger sideband swell expected for Monday at double overhead or better. The East Shore is to see easterly windswell Friday through the weekend in the waist to chest high building to shoulder high Saturday with wrap-around swell from the North Shore likely too. The South Shore is to be quiet through the weekend and beyond.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) has moved into a near-neutral/slightly Active Phase and expected to hold there into mid-March. Slight enhancement of the storm track is expected. A gale organized on the dateline Wed with 32 ft seas then was reorganizing Thurs/Fri off the California coast with up to 32 ft seas expected pushing best towards Central and Southern CA down into Baja. This would be Swell #27 for CA hitting over the weekend with sideband energy from Hawaii on Friday too. Yet another stronger storm is forecast behind it in the Gulf for the weekend (#28) and another in the northern Gulf early next week. No lack of surf is projected focused mostly on the US West Coast with sideband swell pushing down into the Islands. But weather remains an issue for CA, as one would expect in this, and El Nino year. A split jetstream remains forecast, though it seems to not be causing too many problems, at least not for the short term future.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (2/25) the North Pacific jetstream was mostly consolidated in the east but starting to split in the west. In the east starting on the dateline 150 kts winds were flowing under one trough on the dateline ridging some east of there, then diving into a new building trough mid-way between Hawaii and the US West coast. Both troughs were providing decent support for gale development though the one closer to the mainland looked the best. Over the next 72 hrs both trough are to amplify while pushing east with the dateline one now up in the Western Gulf by Saturday (2/27) and the other pushing into Central CA with the axis of the trough pushing into Pt Conception. A weather event likely there. Good support for continued gale development expected in the Gulf trough with it tracking on east into the Eastern Gulf by Sunday. Beyond 72 hours the split jetstream pattern is to have reached the whole way across the width of North Pacific with most energy in the northern branch running west to east up near 40-45N. Another trough to set up in the Western Gulf on Tues/Wed with up to 160 kts winds and yet another behind it off Kamchatka with 170 kt winds. All are to continue due east likely favoring gale if not storm production but with energy focused on a very easterly course favoring the US West Coast up into British Columbia.
At the surface on Thursday (2/25) the remnants of the Dateline Gale (see Dateline Gale/Possible Storm #27 below) were starting to reorganize 1200 nmiles off the Central CA coast with 35 kts winds building. Theoretically this one is to regenerate on Friday with significant class swell potential projected for the US West Coast. Otherwise another good sized blob of fetch associated with low pressure on the dateline was starting to organize. Spurious high pressure was interspersed between the two, but of no consequence. But high pressure was more prevalent than in week past, providing a hint of the change in season trying to take root. Over the next 72 hours a broad gale is forecast developing just east of the dateline late Friday (2/26) with 45-50 kt north and west winds forecast at 45N 170W aimed both at Hawaii (336 degrees) and California (296 degrees NCal) and covering a rather large area generating 28-30 ft seas near 40N 170W. This system is to push east on Saturday AM with an expanding area of 50 kt north and west fetch forecast likely at 45N 167W (340 degs HI, 295 NCal) generating 28-30 ft seas near 40N 170W. Seas forecast at 32 ft at 40N 170W heading towards Hawaii and to 37 ft at 42N 163W heading towards the US West Coast. In the evening the storm is to hold with 50 kts northwest winds at 44N 162W aimed a bit east of Hawaii down the 350 degree path and 45 degrees south of the 293 degree route to NCal. Seas forecast at 36 ft at 41N 168W heading towards Hawaii and to 42 ft at 41N 158W heading towards the US West Coast. On Sunday AM (2/28) 45 kt residual winds forecast at 44N 153W in the central Gulf of Alaska aimed 35 degrees south of the 294 degree path to NCal. 40 ft seas to continue pushing mostly due east at 39N 151W pushing entirely towards the US West coast. This system is to be fading fast in the evening with residual 40 kts northwest winds at 45N 150W with 32 ft seas over a large area at 37N 145W. Assuming all goes as forecast larger swell should be generated with sideband energy pushing into Hawaii on Monday (2/1) and maybe the Pacific Northwest late Monday down into CA on Tuesday (3/2). This should be Swell #28.
Dateline Gale/Possible Storm #27
This system is to reinvigorate itself 1200 nmiles west of Southern Oregon on Thursday PM with west winds building to 40 kts at 38N 149W (280 degs NCal). Seas building to 30 ft at 38N 150W. On Friday AM (2/26) near 50 kt kt northwest winds are forecast building at 37N 140W with 32+ ft seas at 37N 142W heading directly to Central and South CA (275 degrees/290 degs). In the evening residual 40 kt northwest winds to continue at 36N 132W sinking out of the Northern CA swell window but still aimed directly at Southern CA down the 287 degree path. Seas at 32 ft at 35N 135W. Residual 35 kts northwest winds to be just off Pt Conception on Saturday AM with 26 ft seas 33N 130W.
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 developed at 43N 178E aimed well at Hawaii like before with 30 ft seas building at 42N 179E.
This system dropped southeast on Wednesday AM (2/24) with 40 kt residual winds at 40N 176W with 32 ft sea modeled at 40N 177W. In the evening a limited 35-40 kts west fetch held at 38N 169W generating more 32 ft seas at 40N 171W (296 NCal - 331 deg Hawaii).
Winds were fading from 30 kts Thurs AM (2/25) with seas dropping from 28 ft at 39N 164W.
Fairly decent winds and seas resulted from this one. 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 was 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).
This is to be a decent small class storm but pushing very close to the Central and SCal coast (within 819 nmiles away) which has good odds of producing larger raw swell arriving there Saturday (2/27). Given the short leads times, a preliminary forecast is being posted now. Errors could be large depending on how the storm actually forms.
Northern CA: Rough data suggests swell arrival on Saturday afternoon with pure swell 10-11 ft @ 15-16 secs (16-17 ft faces) from 265-275 degrees. Swell quite raw.
Southern CA: Rough data suggest swell arrival in Orange CO on Sunday (2/28) at 1 AM with pure swell 10.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (17 ft faces) outside the Channel Islands and 5.5 ft @ 16 secs nearshore (8.8 ft faces) from 280-285 degrees. Solid size to hold through sunrise.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (2/25) light winds were in control while a new gale was organizing off the coast, now expected to make storm status. South winds and rain are to start building up north late pushing south. The front arrives over San Francisco Friday AM pushing to Pt Conception late with south winds and rain in effect. Solid snow in the mountains. This system is forecast slipping southeast off the coast Saturday AM (2/27) bringing southerly winds to Central CA with rain over the entire CA coast, then clearing on Sunday though moderate north winds expected over North and Central CA. Another broad gale to be circulating in the Gulf Sunday pushing towards the coast with a front limping up to San Francisco late Monday (rain North CA and south winds to San Francisco), dissolving with another right behind it Tuesday AM bringing south winds an rain down into San Diego late in the evening. A broad strong high pressure system is forecast trying to build in behind on Tuesday getting some legs into Thursday (3/4) offering a bit of a dryout. But suspect that will be short lived.
No swell producing fetch of interest 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 hrs another storm is forecast developing just south of the Aleutians and just east of the dateline on Tues AM (3/2) with 55 kt west winds forecast up at 49N 170W resulting in 38 ft seas at 51n 170W decaying from 50 kts at 46N 160W Tuesday PM with 40 ft seas at 49N 163W and then dropping from 45 kts at 47N 55W Wed AM (3/3) with seas still 40 ft over a small area at 49N 157W. Possible sideband swell for Hawaii and more direct energy for California up into the Pacific Northwest if this materializes.
Yet another one is forecast behind that just off the Kuril Islands on Wed/Thurs (3/4) with 50 kts winds and 37-38 ft seas near 45N 170E.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (2/25) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) appeared to be in a near neutral state. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was positive with the Daily SOI at 13.21. The 30 day average was up to -21.51 (It bottomed out on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average up slightly -11.83 (bottomed out at -13.61 on 2/15). El Nino maxed out on 2/15.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated light westerly anomalies across the Western Pacific Ocean with weak signs of the Active Phase hanging on from Northern Australia to a point south of Hawaii on the equator. A modest area of anomalously east winds were depicted over the Western Indian Ocean, a new Inactive Phase. The models project weak active Phase signals through 3/6 while the Inactive Phase pushes to Northwestern Australia into 3/11, then dies. A totally neutral/normal wind pattern is to take hold by 3/15. 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 (where the Inactive Phase takes control).
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 (and current) 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 2/23-25. 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. A solid area of fully blowing westerly winds which started to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline on 1/20 covered 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 starting to fade. those winds were all but gone by 2/25. This WWB is what generated the Kelvin Wave currently 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