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 Monday (3/3) in North and Central CA surf was waist high with some bigger sets and clean but with southerly lump running through it. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to chest high and clean but weak and warbled. In Southern California up north surf was waist to maybe chest high and clean and fun looking. Certainly down from the storminess of the weekend. Down south waves were chest to shoulder high and clean but weak and inconsistent. Hawaii's North Shore was dropping from the larger size of Sunday with waves 10 ft (double overhead plus) but still pretty torn up with northwest winds in control. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap around dateline swell with waves 1 ft overhead and clean.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A broad and stronger gale 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. Swell is fading in Hawaii and expected for the US West Coast on Tues (3/4). Additional fetch is to develop directly over the same area Mon (3/4) with 24-26 ft seas on the northern dateline falling southeast Tues (3/4) while fading. Reinforcing swell likely for Hawaii. A local gale is possible just off Northern Ca on Wed (3/5) with 24 ft seas. A small and weak system is expected for the northern dateline Wed-Fri (3/7) with maybe 34 ft seas pushing southeast towards mainly Hawaii. Remnants of that system to redevelop in the Gulf on Sun (3/9) perhaps generating 26 ft seas over a small area targeting the US West Coast. In all more modest size surf is likely for the next 10 days.
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 Monday (3/3) the jetstream was pushing off Japan near 35N and almost splitting with winds in both streams 125 kts, then consolidating near the dateline and falling into a weak trough north of Hawaii offering only slight chances for support for gale development. The consolidate jet then ridged northeast with winds building to 160 kts and pushed into Northern CA just south of the Oregon border. Over the next 72 hours wind speeds are to be building off Japan to 170 kts by late Tuesday (3/4) with the jet reconsolidating and then falling into the trough north of Hawaii offering some better support for gale development. The jet to ridge northeast from there pushing into Northern CA through Thurs (3/6). Beyond 72 hours more of the same is forecast with 160 kts winds continuing in a consolidated flow pushing off Japan on Fri (3/7) falling into a weak a broad trough north of Hawaii then ridging northeast up into British Columbia. Limited support for gale development in the trough. If anything winds to build late Sunday (3/9) streaming off Japan at near 180 kts extending from Japan to a point north of Hawaii and the jet flattening out with a weaker flow pushing into Northern CA. The broad trough is to be gone. But just based on wind speeds alone, some support for gale development seems likely.
Surface Analysis - On Monday (3/3) swell from a broad gale that was on the dateline was still hitting Hawaii (but falling in size) while swell energy was pushing east bound for the US West Coast (see Dateline Storm #5 below). Secondary fetch was in-play over the same area (See Secondary Dateline Fetch below).
Of Note: An area of disturbed weather in the tropical West Pacific developed into a weak tropical storm (Faxai) on Sat (3/1) with winds 35 kts building to 45 kts late Sunday and expected to build to 50-60 kts while lifting north late on Monday (3/3). This is unusual and speaks 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 another small gale is forecast developing on the northern dateline Tues PM (3/4) with a small area of 45 kts west winds building at 45N 175E. Seas on the increase. On Wed AM (3/5) 45 kt west winds to hold in the exact same area over a small fetch. 32 ft seas forecast at 45N 179E. By the evening 45 kt northwest winds to be falling southeast with 32 ft seas forecast at 43N 178E (325 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). Thurs AM (3/6) 45 kt northwest winds are to be falling fast southeast over a tiny area generating 34 ft seas at 38N 180W targeting NCal (290 degs) and Hawaii (317 degs). In the evening the fetch is to be fading from 35 kts with 28 ft seas at 35N 172W again targeting primarily Hawaii (319 degs) with secondary energy towards Northern CA up the 282 degree track. Friday AM (3/7) fetch is to be fading from 30 kts with 24 ft seas at 35N 164W (336 degs HI, 280 degs NCal). 30 kt west winds to hold in the evening with seas fading from 22 ft at 39N 160W (bypassing HI, 284 degs NCal). Possible swell to result largest for Hawaii and smaller for the US West Coast. this is something to monitor.
Also a small gale is forecast developing off San Francisco on Wed AM (3/5) with 35 kt west winds and 20 ft seas at 34N 143W (266 degs NCal, 280 degs SCal). 35-40 kt west winds to building while the gale lifts northeast on Wed PM with a small area of 40 kts west winds and seas building to 24 ft at 40N 135W (286 degs NCal, 300 degs SCal). The gale is to be inland over Oregon Thurs AM (3/6). Possible small swell to result for mainly Central CA late Thurs (3/6). Will monitor.
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 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 faded while pushing east in the evening with seas fading from 30 ft at 36N 159W (284 degs NCal). The gale dissipated thereafter. Significant class swell resulted for HI with lesser energy expected for CA.
Hawaii: Swell to be fading Monday (3/3) from 9.4 ft @ 14-15 secs early (13-14 ft). Swell Direction: 311-313 degrees
North California: Expect swell arrival near sunset with pure swell to 3.5 ft @ 19 secs (6.5 ft). Swell to build overnight peaking near sunrise Tues (3/4) at 7.6 ft @ 17 secs (12-13 ft) holding through mid-day. Swell dropping by sunset. Residual swell to be 6.5 ft @ 14-15 (9 ft) early Wed (3/5) and fading from there. Swell Direction: 284-293 degrees
Secondary Dateline Fetch
A broad fetch of 35-40 kt northwest winds built over the dateline Sun AM (3/2) in the same area as Storm #5 and started getting some traction on the oceans surface. By the evening 40 kt northwest winds were holding with with 25 ft seas developing at 40N 173W targeting Hawaii down the 330 degree track. That fetch area was fading from 35 kts northwest of Hawaii Mon AM (3/3) with 24 ft seas at 37N 168W targeting mainly Hawaii down the 331 degree track. Fetch is to be fading fast Mon PM from 30 kts with seas 23 ft at 35N 167W (335 degs HI). This system is to be gone after that.
Perhaps more 13-14 sec period swell for mainly Hawaii with luck.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Tues AM (3/4) with swell building to 10 ft @ 13-14 secs (13-14 ft) and holding through the day. Swell fading on Wed (3/5) from 8 ft @ 13-14 secs (10-11 ft). Swell Direction: 325-330 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday AM (3/3) weak high pressure was off Southern CA with a gale low north of Hawaii and it's leading edge trying to make headway into the Pacific Northwest. A light southerly flow was over Central CA and stronger (20 kts) up into Northern CA. Rain is forecast building southward to maybe Monterey Bay 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 Monterey bay northwards early but clearing. Maybe 3-5 inches of snow for Tahoe late Monday into early Tuesday AM. The gale move to start moving into Oregon on Wednesday with high pressure and northerly winds forecast south of the front for Pt Conception and the Channel Islands. Otherwise south winds are forecast from San Francisco northward. Rain for Northern CA moving south to San Francisco Wed evening and to Monterey Bay Thus AM before dissipating. Central California to be the dividing line between the two with light winds. Finally Thursday evening high pressure is to start building over all of California with north winds over Central CA at 15 kts (nearshore) Friday, fading some Saturday then dying. Light winds everywhere on Sunday and Monday. More rain moving into Northern CA on Sat PM reaching into San francisco Sunday continuing Monday. Maybe light rain even high in Tahoe.
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 small gale is forecast for the Gulf of Alaska on Sat Pm-Sun (3/9) with 40 kt west winds tracking flat east with 24-26 ft seas near 42N 149W (292 degs NCal). A weaker pattern forecast directly thereafter.
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 Monday (3/3) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -8.71. The 30 day average was down to -3.00 and the 90 day average down slightly to 2.93. 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 continuing weak westerly to the dateline then fading to neutral from there south of Hawaii. Modest east anomalies continued in pocket east of there to nearly 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 (3/11) neutral anomalies are forecast taking root over the Maritime Continent holding on the dateline and continuing neutral south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies to continue 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, but then is to turn neutral longer term. This Active Phase is getting very interesting with a previous WWB likely creating a large Kelvin Wave and then this current WWB (which is already as strong as the previous one) setting up and offering yet more potential to transport warm water east. 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 3/2 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 days 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 15 days. Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected for the next 5 day at least, which is good news. Then it is likely to fade. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 3/3 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the East Pacific and is to track east and fade, moving inland over Central America on Mar 12. A modest Inactive Phase is starting to develop in the far West Pacific and is to 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 (3/3) 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 regrouped 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 but only in pockets, with most water temp just slightly below ar normal. 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 are of most interest and 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 3/3. 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 3/3 have returned to previous projections. 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 back up to 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