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 Thursday (2/27) in North and Central CA surf was 3 ft overhead and lined up but chopped by south winds at exposed breaks. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 2 ft overhead on the sets, lined up but trashed by south winds. In Southern California up north surf was 1 ft overhead, lined up and clean. Down south waves were head high and clean and lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northerly windswell with waves head high or so and lined up and clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were head high and chopped with trades back in control.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a local gale off North CA Monday with 30 ft seas hit and was fading along the Central Coast on Thursday (2/27). Additional fetch developed behind it starting north-northwest of Hawaii on Wed (2/26) tracking southeast Thurs (2/27) producing 24 ft seas. Sideband energy expected for Hawaii while the gale redevelops off Pt Conception late Fri with 30 ft seas targeting Southern CA southward. And a broader and stronger gale also developed on the dateline Thurs (2/27) generating 41 ft seas targeting both Hawaii and the US West Coast. This system to fade Friday into Saturday with seas dropping from 38 ft while tracking east towards the US West Coast. Decent swell to result for all locations. A much smaller fetch to follow directly over the same area with 38 ft seas on the northern dateline Tues (3/4) and holding there in Thurs (3/6) with 34 seas persisting. . And perhaps another small system to follow tracking off Japan behind that. We're on a roll thanks to the Active Phase of the MJO.
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 Thursday (2/27) the jetstream remained solid ridging slightly over Japan and diffuse but falling into a decent trough on the dateline with winds up to 170 kts offering good support for gale development. A bit of a ridge developed east of there but then again fell quickly into a second trough off Southern California with 140 kt winds feeding it and again offering decent support for gale development. from there the jet was pushing directly into Pt Conception at 140 kts, and fairly impressive and well needed. There were no signs of a split expect in the far West Pacific over Japan. Over the next 72 hours the trough off California is to push inland over Pt Conception on Sat AM (3/1) likely pushing a gale inland and bringing weather to that region. The dateline trough is to moderate some while tracking east positioned almost north of Hawaii with winds down to 160 kts, still offering limited support for gale development. And off Japan the jet is to become slightly unfocused and diffuse but not splitting, though looking to be on the verge of it. Beyond 72 hours energy levels in the jet to drop to the 110 kt range with the jet becoming a bit diffuse, though still flowing flat west of Japan right into Central CA with no signs of a split developing. But by late Tues (3/4) 180 kt winds to redevelop just west of the dateline up to 37N with a broad weak trough starting to develop north of Hawaii and the remaining energy ridging out of the trough and pushing into Northern CA at 140 kts. No clear indication of troughs or direct support for gale development indicated, but that does not preclude it. By Thurs PM (4/6) a broad pocket of 160 kts winds to be flowing flat off Japan on the 35n latitude to a point north of Hawaii offering some support for gale development, then splitting slightly off the California coast, only to rejoin and flow consolidated over Monterey Bay and easing south some perhaps offering another chance for weather for the Golden State.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (2/27) two gale systems were being monitored. The first was weaker and about 1000 nmiles off Pt Conception producing 35 kt northwest winds (see Another California Gale below). The stronger of the two was over the dateline producing 55 kt northwest winds targeting Hawaii (see Dateline Storm #5 below). Over the next 72 hours the California Gale is to push into Central CA while the Dateline storm moderates and pushes east. No other unique swell producing system area forecast. Of Note: An area of disturbed weather in the tropical West Pacific is forecast to develop some over the weekend, perhaps reaching tropical storm status. This would be most unusual if it did occur and would also be a strong testament to the influence of the Active Phase of the MJO and a solid Westerly Wind Burst currently in-play there. More below in the MJO/ENSO section.
Another California Gale
A fetch of 35 kt northwest winds built Wed AM (2/26) in the Gulf 1100 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii getting a little traction. 24 ft seas were at 39N 162W (351 degs Hi). By evening those winds pushed southeast still at 30-35 kts with 24 ft seas at 36N 156W or due north of Hawaii (355+ degs) and on the 275 degree track to North CA. 35 kt northwest winds to continue falling southeast Thurs AM (2/27) with 24 ft seas at 33N 149W bypassing Hawaii and NCal and mainly on the 279 degree path to Southern CA. This system to start regrouping Thursday PM with 35 kt west winds building off the Southern CA coast with 22 ft seas holding at 30N 140W and increasing in coverage. On Fri AM (2/28) 45 kt northwest winds to build over a tiny area off Pt Conception with 30 kt west winds south of there all targeting Southern CA. Seas building from 28 ft up at 35N 133W (281 degs SCal). 40 kt west winds to be pushing towards the SCal coast in the evening with 30 ft seas projected at 33N 130W (275 degs SCal). Fetch is to be nearly gone Sat AM (3/1) at 30 kts just outside the Channel Islands with 25 ft seas at 31N 124W (268 degs SCal). Possible raw swell for mainly Southern CA if all comes together as forecast. Much weather likely too upon swell arrival.
Assuming all the above holds true and for planning purposes:
Northern CA: Expect raw and very southwest angled swell to arrive late Friday evening (2/28) peaking Sat AM (3/1) at 13 ft @ 15 secs (16 ft) coming from 235 degrees. Winds east turning northeast but with much lump and lurp in the water. This might be a bit overstated but it is well worth monitoring.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival near sunset Sat (3/1) with swell to 3.6 ft @ 14 secs (5.0 ft faces) at the most exposed breaks. Swell to peak overnight then start fading by sunrise Sun (3/2) dropping from 6.1 ft @ 14 secs early (8.5 ft faces). Wind west to southwest and likely chopped. Swell Direction 260 degrees
Dateline Storm #5 (Hawaii)
A gale developed just west of the dateline Wednesday evening with 45 kt northwest winds setting up over a decent sized area targeting Hawaii initially. By Thurs AM (2/27) a small area of 55 kts northwest winds built approaching the dateline with 38 ft seas at 43N 175E (319 degs HI). 50 kt northwest winds to hold into the evening falling slightly southeast with 41 ft seas developing at 38N 175E (312 degs HI, 293 degs NCal). 45 kt northwest winds to hold into Friday AM (2/28) on the dateline targeting Hawaii. Seas holding at 39 ft at 37N 179W (311 degs HI, 289 degs NCal). 40-45 kt west winds to hold falling southeast into the evening with 38 ft seas at 37N 174W (315 degs HI, 286 degs NCal). Fetch to be fading from 35 kts Sat AM (3/1) pushing flat east with 37 ft seas at 37N 165W (345 degs HI, 283 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal). 35 kt west winds to be pushing east in the evening with seas fading from 30 ft at 38N 158W (285 degs NCal). A quick fade to follow. Possible significant class swell to result for HI with lesser energy from CA.
Assuming all the above holds true and for planning purposes:
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Oahu starting late Saturday (3/1) building to 8.5 ft @ 15 secs late (12-13 ft Hawaiian). Swell building overnight peaking just before sunrise Sun (3/2) at 11 ft @ 17-18 secs (18-19 ft). Swell fading Monday (3/3) from 10.4 ft @ 14-15 secs early (15 ft). Swell Direction: 311-313 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (2/27) a new low pressure system was off all of California pushing east-southeast with south winds ahead of it starting to influence all of Central and North California. 10 inches of snow were reported at many Tahoe resorts from the previous days weather system. This second gale is forecast arriving over South and Central CA late Thursday peaking Fri AM (2/28) with 20-25 kt south winds projected for North and Central CA building into Southern CA mid-AM. Solid rain early for the entire state is forecast peaking through the day with the most precip in Southern CA to Big Sur. Heavy snow building through the day from Tahoe southward to Mammoth. The Southern Sierras to be the main focus. Saturday southwest winds to mainly be affecting Southern CA with the core of the gale just off Big Sur and falling southeast. Winds from Monterey Bay northward to turn east to northeast through the day. Southern CA to remain in the southwesterly flow. Rain tapering off for Central CA mid-afternoon Snow and rain tapering off late. 27 inches of additional accumulation at higher elevations of Tahoe (20 inches for lower elevation) and 25 inches down to Mammoth (31+ inches more Yosemite high country). The remnants of the low to stall off Pt Conception Sunday with light offshroes for Central CA and light southwest winds for Southern CA. Northern CA to experience south winds from a new front off the coast. Rain fading from Southern CA Sunday AM. Monday south winds to build down to Monterey Bay with a light northwest flow off the Channel Islands. Rain building southward to Big Sur late. More of the same Tuesday as a new gale builds off the Central Coast lifting northeast Wed (3/5) with south winds building to 15+ kts down to Monterey Bay. More rain for the northern half of Central CA and all of Northern CA. Another foot or more of snow for the Tahoe region. The gale move into Oregon on Thursday with high pressure and northerly winds forecast behind.
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 broad fetch of 35-40 kt northwest winds to build over the dateline Sun PM (3/2) with a large area of 18+ ft seas targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast. That fetch area is to be holding at 35-40 kts on the dateline Mon AM (3/3) with 24 ft seas at 44N 172W targeting both Hawaii and the US West Coast. Fetch is to be fading fast Mon PM from 30 kts with seas 23 ft at 40N 168W (337 degs HI). Perhaps more 13-14 sec period swell for all locations with luck.
And another small gale is forecast developing behind that on Mon PM (3/3) with 40 kt west winds over a small area pushing east. On Tues AM (3/4) 45 kt west winds are forecast building still over a small area aimed east with 34 ft seas projected at 43N 175E approaching the dateline over a small area. 45 kt west winds to hold in the evening on the dateline with 37 ft seas at 45N 179W (330 degs HI, 299 degs NCal) pushing flat east. The gale to stall Wed AM (3/5) with 40 kt west winds holding over a broader area and seas dropping to 32 ft at 45N 174W. 45 kt west winds to build back in the west quadrant of the gale in the evening with seas 30 ft at 45N 180W (330 degs HI, 299 degs NCal). 45 kt west fetch to hold Thurs AM (3/6) with 34 ft seas over a broader area at 43N 180W (325 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). The gale to be falling southeast and fading in the evening with 40 kt northwest winds and seas dropping from 34 ft at 40N 173W (327 degs HI, 291 degs NCal). Possible swell to result largest for Hawaii and smaller for the US West Coast.
And yet another small storm is forecast developing off Japan on Thurs AM (4/6) with 50 kt northwest winds and seas building to 36 ft late at 40N 155E. The outlook is promising.
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 Thursday (2/27) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -10.23. The 30 day average was down to 0.27 and the 90 day average down slightly to 3.31. This is 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 and another developing in February. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated strong westerly anomalies (real west winds) holding over the Maritime Continent and expanding in coverage continuing weak westerly over the dateline increasing to moderate strength to a point south of Hawaii. Minimal east anomalies were south of Mexico then turning neutral into Central America. These westerly anomalies are part of the current 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 (3/7) moderate westerly anomalies are forecast holding over the Maritime Continent. Winds are to be moderate westerly on the dateline then turning to slight east anomalies south of Hawaii, continuing 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 WWB (which is already nearly as strong as the previous one) setting up and offering yet more potential to transport warm water east. And if the westerly anomalies hold as forecast a week out, the long term scenario could get most interesting. Of historical note: The big El Nino's of 82/32 and 97/98 both started forming in the February timeframe and progressed non-stop through the Summer and Fall months. Still the cool pool in the Central Pacific remains a bit perplexing.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/26 are a little mixed. The Dynamic model is experiencing errors. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was over the far West Pacific with no indication of the Inactive Phase over the Central Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase has peaked out over the dateline and is to slowly fade over the next 15 days while tracking east, but not completely gone at the 15 day mark. Conversely the dynamic model (last valid run 2/24) suggests the Active Phase is to peak 10 days out while holding steady on the dateline 15 days out. We tend to favor the dynamic model at this point, though there seems to slowly be some convergence in the two models over time (in favor of the dynamic model). Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected, which is good news. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 2/25 suggests a moderate Active Phase was over the dateline and is to track east while fading, moving inland over Central America on Mar 12. 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 on 3/31. Another solid Active Phase is to follow directly starting in the west on 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 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 (2/24) 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 but appears to at least temporarily be retreating. Warm water from north of the equator seems to be cutting off the flow near the Galapagos and overrunning the thing flow pushing off Peru. 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 (in Jan) this cool regime developed. And it ha held if not built more while yet another Westerly Wind Burst developed in Feb. Today water temps are -0.5 deg C below normal over that region extending to 140W (not change). 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 upwards on the dateline itself. If anything this convergence point appears to be migrating slowly to the east. 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 2/27. Still, two back-to-back WWBs (with the first very strong and the second building to nearly that strength) 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 150-155W 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 and is nearly as strong as the Jan event. That will only add more warm water to the proverbial fire. The concern is that the cool pool off the Galapagos might try to put a cap on 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 2/27 are holding steady. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 building to + 0.5 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 +0.3 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