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 (3/6) in North and Central CA surf was 2-3 ft overhead and a bit lurpy and warbled, though conditions were clean. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high and pretty torn up, but rideable. In Southern California up north surf was thigh to maybe waist high and a little textured. Down south waves were chest to shoulder high and nearly chopped with northwest winds on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting waves in the head high to 1 ft overhead range and clean with light south winds blowing and fun looking, but not real energetic. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap around dateline swell with waves chest high and clean.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a secondary fetch of northwest winds on the dateline Mon-Tues (3/5) producing 24-26 ft seas was fading in Hawaii. A local gale is developed off Northern CA on Wed (3/5) with 24-27 ft seas. Swell expected late Thursday (3/6). Also a small and weak system developed on the northern dateline Wed-Thurs (3/6) with up to 34 ft seas initially pushing southeast towards mainly Hawaii. Swell for the Islands later Sat (3/8). Remnants of that system to push east through Fri (3/7) in the Gulf generating 25 ft seas over a small area targeting the US West Coast. A small but solid system is forecast for the Northern Gulf on Mon (3/10) with 44 ft seas aimed east at the Pacific Northwest. And another small system is forecast tracking east over the dateline Wed (3/12) with 34 ft seas. More modest sized surf is likely.
Note: NDBC has updated their buoy maintenance plan. 46012, 46013, 46026 are scheduled for maintenance in May and 46014 in Aug 2014. There is no schedule for 46059 or 46006. Most operations are focused on repairing the TAO array (ENSO buoys on the equator).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (3/6) the jetstream was pushing flat off Japan tracking on the 32 N latitude at 140 kts building to 170 kts on the dateline then fading north of Hawaii, with the jet almost splitting but not quite doing it before tracking into and over Central California. A weak trough was trying to organize in association with the pocket of wind over a east of the dateline. Limited support for gale development possible there. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to get a bit better organized moving to a point north of Hawaii by Fri (3/7) though wind speeds associated with it are to drop some. Steady support for modest gale development possible there. The jet is to ridge north as it pushes over the US West Coast reaching up into Oregon. Back to the west winds to build to 170 kts off Japan and hold into Sun (3/9) and covering a larger area all the way to a point north of Hawaii. Improving support for gale development possible mainly in a new trough starting to build then just east of the dateline. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to push east into the Central Gulf on Monday (3/10) offering more support for gale development. A split flow is to develop east of there off the US West coast at that time supporting high pressure in lower levels of the atmosphere. By Wed (3/12) a ridge is to start building front he dateline east with nearly 190 kt winds feeding up into it reaching a point north of Hawaii then splitting with the northern branch pushing up into Alaska and the southern branch down to the equator. Limited support for gale development in association with the pocket of highest wind speeds while a weak trough tries to build off Japan. That trough to reach tot he dateline on Fri (3/14) perhaps offering some weak support for gale development, but mainly wind speeds to be dropping across the jet with a near split developing off Japan and the jet remaining split just off the US West Coast. It looks like a weakening pattern is to be setting up in the upper levels of the atmosphere.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (3/6) residual swell from a secondary fetch over the Northern Dateline Sun-Mon (3/3) was fading out in Hawaii. Swell from a local gale off Central California was pushing towards the coast (see California Gale below). Swell from a gale over the dateline was pushing towards Hawaii (See another Dateline Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours a new small gale is forecast developing in the Western Gulf on Sun (3/9) with 45 kt northwest winds and seas on the increase. by evening the gale is to build to storm status with 55 kt west winds over a small area and seas building from 38 ft at 45N 168W (296 degs NCal). 50-55 kt west winds to hold into Mon AM (3/10) lifting slightly north with seas building to 44 ft at 45.5 N 161W (297 degs NCal). A quick fade is forecast in the evening with winds fading from 40 kts and seas fading from 34 ft up at 47N 157W (302 degs NCal). This system is to be gone by Tues AM (3/11). This is something worth monitoring over the weekend with swell potential focused on Central CA northward.
A small gale developed off San Francisco on Wed AM (3/5) with 40 kt west winds and seas building from 24 ft at 34N 142W (264 degs NCal, 279 degs SCal). 40-45 kt west winds built while the gale was lifting northeast on Wed PM with a small area of seas building to 28 ft at 40N 137W (287 degs NCal, 301 degs SCal). The gale was inland over Oregon Thurs AM (3/6).
Possible small swell to result for mainly Central CA late Thurs (3/6).
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Thursday near sunset with size quickly on the increase, peaking near 8-10 PM at 9 ft @ 14-15 secs (13 ft). Swell to be fading there after, dropping fast from 8 ft @ 13-14 secs (10.5 ft) Fri AM (3/7). Swell Direction: 270-280 degrees.
Another Dateline Gale (Hawaii)
A small gale started developing on the northern dateline Tues PM (3/4) with a small area of 45 kts west winds building at 46N 175E. Seas on the increase. On Wed AM (3/5) 45 kt west winds held in the exact same area over a small fetch. 32 ft seas were modeled at 45N 179E. By the evening 45-50 kt northwest winds were falling southeast with 32 ft seas at 44N 174E (320 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). Thurs AM (3/6) 40 kt northwest winds were falling fast southeast over a tiny area generating 32 ft seas at 38N 179E targeting NCal (290 degs) and Hawaii (314 degs). In the evening the fetch is to be fading from 35 kts with 26 ft seas at 34N 176W again targeting primarily Hawaii (311 degs) with secondary energy towards Northern CA up the 282 degree track. Friday AM (3/7) fetch is to be fading from 35 kts with 25 ft seas at 34N 161W (352 degs HI, 276 degs NCal). 30 kt west winds to be fading in the evening with seas fading from 22 ft at 38N 152W (bypassing HI, 278 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal).
Possible swell to result largest for Hawaii and smaller for the US West Coast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (3/8) late morning peaking mid-afternoon with pure swell 6.7-7.5 ft @ 17-18 secs (11.0- 13.5 ft). Swell fading overnight and continuing down Sun AM (3/9) from 7 ft @ 14 secs (9.5 ft). Swell Direction: 311-320 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 (3/6) a weak wind pattern was in play for North and Central California (other than south winds north of Cape Mendocino) and a weak northerly flow over outer Southern CA waters. By Thursday evening high pressure is to start building over all of California with north winds over southern Central CA at 15 kts (nearshore) Friday but weaker up into Northern CA (5 kts) but building later in the day. High pressure is to start fading some Saturday afternoon as a front pushes up to Northern CA late. The high and the front to die on Sunday with light winds everywhere. Still rain is forecast from the Golden Gate northward then pushing into Monterey Bay late evening. Maybe a few inches of snow for Tahoe late Sunday into early Monday. But by Monday AM more high pressure and north winds forecast for all of Central CA at 15 kts early building to 25 kts later also reaching up into Northern CA. Southern CA to remain protected. A summer like gradient to lift north on Tuesday at 25 kts over Cape Mendocino with light winds south of there. A calm wind pattern to take hold Wednesday and Thursday with new low pressure building just off the coast.
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 tiny gale is forecast developing west of the dateline Tues AM (3/11) with 50 kt west winds tracking flat east and seas 34 ft over an infinitesimal area at 40N 168W. This gale to track flat east with winds fading from 45 kts in the PM with seas fading from 36 ft at 41N 172E. 40-45 kt west winds to hold over tiny area tracking east through the day Wed (3/12) with seas 34 ft moving to 42N 173W then fading from there. limited sideband swell for Hawaii with more direct energy for the US West Coast, but well decayed upon arrival.
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 (3/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding down at -16.52. The 30 day average was down to -5.93 and the 90 day average down slightly to 2.84. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of the Active Phase of the MJO. 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 modestly from the west to the dateline then fading to neutral south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued from there to Central America. These westerly anomalies are part of the current Active Phase of the MJO and associated with what was tropical storm Faxai in the West Pacific, all part of the second Westerly Wind Burst in two months in this area. This WWB is situated directly over an area where a previous strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) started in Jan on 1/8, peaking 1/28 and then faded while moving over the dateline. A week from now (3/14) neutral anomalies are forecast taking root over the Maritime Continent holding on the dateline and turning to weak west anomalies south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies to continue from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the West Pacific and dateline regions with a near neutral pattern holding over the Central and East Pacific, but turning to a near neutral pattern a week out. This Active Phase is getting very interesting with a previous WWB having likely created a large Kelvin Wave tracking towards South America and then this current WWB (which was as strong as the previous one starting 2/15 and peaking 2-20-3/2 and expected to fade out by 3/10) 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 perplexing.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/4 are a little mixed but coming into alignment. They suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over the dateline with a strong Inactive Phase building in the eastern Indian Ocean. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase has peaked out and is to slowly fade while tracking east, gone 15 days out south of Hawaii. The Inactive Phase is to move from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific 15 days out. Conversely the dynamic model suggests the Active Phase has also peaked over the dateline and is to slowly fade there, but giving up no ground and keeping the Inactive Phase bottled up over Indonesia for the next 15 days. Clearly the dynamic model output is what we are hoping to see. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 3/5 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the Central Pacific and is to track east and fade, moving inland over Central America on Mar 20. A modest Inactive Phase is starting to develop in the Indian Ocean and is to track east, pushing into the West Pacific 3/17 tracking east and reaching the East Pacific on 4/4. Another solid Active Phase is to follow directly starting in the west on 3/30 reaching the Central Pacific 4/10 and most strong then. The consensus is that the current Active Phase of the MJO is likely done and is 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 (3/6) the ground truth is that a cool water regime has taken root over the Eastern equatorial Pacific. But things are looking somewhat improved from the previous weeks images. the cool flow appears to be somewhat cut off streaming from Peru to the Galapagos, with at least a neutral temperature pattern suggested there if not warming slightly. The only cool water remaining is from the Galapagos westward to a point south of Hawaii. Warm water from north of the equator is cutting off the flow near the Galapagos and overrunning the thin flow pushing off Peru. This cool pool was likely the source of the rising SOI during January. What remains perplexing is that a Westerly Wind Burst was occurring at the same time (in Jan) this cool regime developed. And the cool pool held if not built more while yet another Westerly Wind Burst developed in Feb-Mar. Today water temps are near normal -0.2 deg C over the region extending from Ecuador to 160W, with most water temp just slightly below or at normal. 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. This is good news. Thousands of miles of warmer water lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast is moving east and reaching the coast. Local water temp in the SF Bay Area are coming up. 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. There's the first hints of a mildly warm 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 is holding at 100W and appears to be dissipating even more as of 3/6. 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 in January (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 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 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 3/6 have rebounded. 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 1.2 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