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 (3/1) in North and Central CA surf was 4 ft overhead and lined up pushing sideways down the beach from the south and a bit on the soft side. Conditions were clean with southeast winds. Down in Santa Cruz surf was double overhead plus and completely trashed with south winds blowing it to bits. In Southern California up north surf was head high or a little more and pretty warbled and formless and washing around some, though not fully chopped. Down south waves were shoulder high or so and gutless with a fair amount of sideshore bump running through it. Hawaii's North Shore was tiny with waves waist high and chopped with southwest winds building in early. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were flat and clean with southwest to west winds in control.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A local gale that previously tracked southeast from Hawaii Wed-Thurs (2/27) redeveloped off Pt Conception late Fri with 30 ft seas targeting Southern CA southward. But the resulting swell was not as large as expected on Saturday. 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, then faded Fri-Sat (3/1) with seas dropping from 38 ft while tracking east towards the US West Coast. Decent swell is expected for all locations arriving in Hawaii on Sun (3/1). A much smaller fetch to follow directly over the same area with 26 ft seas on the northern dateline Mon (3/3) and fading Tuesday while approaching Hawaii. Reinforcing swell there. A small and weak system is expected for the Northern dateline Thurs-Fri (3/7) with maybe 30 ft seas pushing southeast towards mainly Hawaii. And perhaps another small system to follow tracking off Japan on Fri (3/7) with 32 ft seas. A little run of swell is in the works.
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 (3/1) the jetstream had backed off strength wise but was still holding good form. Winds were pushing off Japan but a bit diffuse at 100 kts broadly centered on the 35N latitude line tracking flat east then starting to consolidate on the dateline forming a weak and soft trough peaking 800 nmiles northwest of Hawaii with winds 160 kts offering limited support for gale development. from there the jet ridged just slightly then fell into another tiny but steeper trough that was pushing into Pt Conception CA. Limited support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hours the trough north of Hawaii is to hold and get a little steeper into Mon (3/3) but winds to only be 110 kts falling into it offering only the most limited support for gale development at lower levels in the atmosphere. But wind speeds to be building some pushing off Japan at 120 kts and work their way to about the dateline. Meanwhile east of Hawaii the jet is to ridging slightly pushing up into Central CA with winds 140 kts off California. Only the Hawaiian trough to provide any direct support for gale development as winds build off Japan and off the US West Coast. Beyond 72 hours starting Tuesday (3/4) 170 kt winds to redevelop just west of the dateline up to 37N starting to fall into a broad but weak trough holding north of Hawaii with the remaining energy ridging out of the trough and pushing into Northern CA at 140 kts. Limited support for gale development indicated in the trough. By Thurs (4/6) a decent flow of 150-160 kt winds are to be flowing flat off Japan on the 35N latitude to a point north of Hawaii with the trough previously there gone and flattened out. Still, winds speeds alone should offer some support for gale development. Winds to continue flat into Central CA but weakened at 100 kts. This basic pattern to hold to Sat (3/8) with 150 kt winds over the dateline tracking flat east perhaps forming a weak trough 1400 nmiles west of Central CA with the jet then ridging east of there and pushing up into British Columbia supporting high pressure for the US West Coast.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (3/1) two gale systems were being monitored. The first was small and just off Pt Conception producing 35 kt northwest winds (see California Gale below). The larger of the two was just east of the dateline producing 40 kt west winds targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast (see Dateline Storm #5 below).
Of Note: An area of disturbed weather in the tropical West Pacific has developed into a weak tropical storm (Faxai) on Sat (3/1) with winds 35 kts expected to build to 50-60 kts while lifting north on Sunday 93/2). This would be unusual if it did occur and would speak well 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.
Over the next 72 hours the California Gale is to push into Central CA late Saturday while the Dateline storm moderates and pushes east. Also a broad fetch of 35-40 kt northwest winds to build over the dateline Sun AM (3/2) in the same area as Storm #5 started getting some traction on the oceans surface. By the evening 40 kt northwest winds are to hold with with 26 ft seas developing at 40N 173W targeting Hawaii down the 330 degree track. That fetch area is to be fading from 35northwest of Hawaii Mon AM (3/3) with 26 ft seas at 37N 170W targeting mainly Hawaii down the 331 degree track. Fetch is to be fading fast Mon PM from 30 kts with seas barely 24 ft at 35N 165W (337 degs HI). Perhaps more 13-14 sec period swell for mainly Hawaii with luck.
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 continued 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 started 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 built over a tiny area off Pt Conception with 30 kt west winds south of there all targeting Southern CA. Seas were building from 30 ft up at 35N 133W (281 degs SCal). 40 kt west winds pushed towards the SCal coast in the evening with 32 ft seas at 33N 130W (275 degs SCal). Fetch was nearly gone Sat AM (3/1) at 30 kts just outside the Channel Islands with 25 ft seas at 31N 124W (268 degs SCal). Raw swell for mainly Southern CA expected. Much weather likely too upon swell arrival.
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)
Assuming all the above holds true and for planning purposes:
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 held into the evening falling slightly southeast with 39-40t seas developing at 38N 175E (312 degs HI, 293 degs NCal). 45 kt northwest winds held into Friday AM (2/28) on the dateline targeting Hawaii. Seas held at 39 ft at 37N 179W (311 degs HI, 289 degs NCal). 40-45 kt west winds were falling southeast into the evening with 37 ft seas at 36N 173W (315 degs HI, 286 degs NCal). Fetch was fading from 35-40 kts Sat AM (3/1) pushing flat east with 36 ft seas at 37N 167W (343 degs HI, 283 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal). 30-35 kt west winds to be fading while pushing east in the evening with seas fading from 30 ft at 36N 159W (284 degs NCal). A quick fade to follow. Possible significant class swell to result for HI with lesser energy from CA.
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 11-12 ft @ 17 secs (18-20 ft). Swell fading Monday (3/3) from 9.4 ft @ 14-15 secs early (13-14 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 Saturday AM (3/1) a gale low was nestled right up to the coast centered off Big Sur driving south to southwest winds at 30 kts there and southwesterly winds into Southern CA at 15 kts. A southeast flow was in effect for San Francisco at 20 kts. Rain was isolated to Southern CA and Central CA south of Monterey Bay. By Sunday the remnants of the low are to be pushing northeast and inland over San Francisco with a light southerly flow for for all of the state. Light rain is possible late for Central CA northward. Monday south winds to build down to Monterey Bay with a light northwest flow off the Channel Islands. Rain building southward to maybe San Francisco late. More of the same Tuesday as a new gale builds off the Central Coast lifting northeast with south winds 5 kts north of Monterey Bay and north winds 15+ kts from Pt Conception southward outside the Channel Islands. Light rain possible for Northern CA. No precip forecast for Tahoe southward. The gale move to start moving into Oregon on Wednesday with high pressure and northerly winds forecast south of the from Pt Conception and the Channel Islands. Rain for Northern CA moving south to San Francisco Wed afternoon and to Monterey Bay Thus AM before dissipating. Central California to be the dividing line between the two with light winds. Finally Thursday high pressure is to start building over all of California with north winds over Central CA cat 15 kts (nearshore) continuing through Friday, then finally a calm pattern to develop Saturday.
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 small gale is forecast developing on the northern dateline Thurs AM (3/6) with 45 kt west winds over a tiny area generating 26 ft seas at 46N 176E targeting the US West Coast and Hawaii. In the evening the fetch is to hold at 45 kts falling southeast with 30 ft seas at 42N 178W (320 degs HI, 293 degs NCal) targeting primarily Hawaii. The gale to fade Fri AM (3/7) with 40 kt northwest winds over a small area and seas dropping to 29 ft at 39N 170W (331 degs HI). 35 kt west winds to hold in the evening with seas fading from 24 ft at 38N 160W (bypassing HI, 283 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 45 kt northwest winds and seas building to 34 ft late at 44N 156E. The gale is to fade from there while tracking southeast but growing in areal coverage, possibly rejuvenating some on Sat (3/8) still well west of the dateline with 40 kts west winds possible. Something to monitor at least.
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 (3/1) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at -4.69. The 30 day average was down to -1.00 and the 90 day average down slightly to 2.98. 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 the fading to neutral anomalies south of Hawaii. Minimal east anomalies continued in pocket east of there into Central America. These westerly anomalies are part of the current Active Phase of the MJO and associated with tropical storm Faxai in the West Pacific all of which appears to be related to the second Westerly Wind Burst in two months in this area. The current WWB is 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 (3/8) moderate westerly anomalies are forecast holding over the Maritime Continent. Winds are to be moderate westerly on the dateline then turning to neutral 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 near neutral pattern holding over the Central and East Pacific. This is 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 2/27 are a little mixed. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was over the dateline with no indication of any Inactive Phase. 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, with the Inactive Phase moving from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific 15 das out. Conversely the dynamic model suggests the Active Phase is to peak 10 days out while holding steady on the dateline 15 days out. We suspect there is some problem with the dynamic model in that there is almost no change in the situation over the next 16 days. Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected for the next 5 day at least, which is good news. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 3/1 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the dateline and is to track east while fading, moving inland over Central America on Mar 12. 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 3/26 reaching the Central Pacific 4/10. . The consensus is that the current Active Phase of the MJO is likely done and is to start fading. 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 (2/27) 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 that was cutting off the flow near the Galapagos and overrunning the thin flow pushing off Peru has retreated some. 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 has 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 160W (an increase in areal coverage). 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 pushing into the North CA coast and building sown to the equator. 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 and no sign of the cool pool moving east. 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 even more as of 3/1. Still there remains a hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the east Pacific. 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 holding at 105-110W (+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 3/1 has backed off some. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 (but that did not happen) building to + 0.25 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs are in the +0.9-1.0 deg C range by Oct 2014 (down from 1.3-1.4 C earlier). For the immediate future (this Spring) an effective neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering below +0.2 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