New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead). Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft) Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft). Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs. Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Thursday (3/11) North and Central California was getting leftover swell from the Gulf of Alaska with waves pushing double overhead but kinda warbled and unorganized even though wind was light. Southern California was getting waist to chest high wrap around swell with a bit of northwest wind up north but pretty clean down south. Hawaii's North Shore was small with waist to maybe chest high sets coming from the Gulf and pretty clean with trades in effect. The East Shore was getting east windswell at head high or a little more and chopped. The South Shore was getting no southern hemi swell.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for new Gulf swell to arrive for Friday to 12 ft and pretty much from the north fading from 9-10 ft on Saturday with a more westerly component. Swell to be fading Sunday at 8 ft and 7 ft Monday. Southern California is to fading waist to chest high surf early Friday but new Gulf swell to arrive late up north at head high holding at shoulder to head high Saturday, then fading on Sunday from chest to shoulder high and Waist high plus on Monday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see sideband Gulf swell at chest to shoulder high Friday with a new pulse forecast for Saturday at 1-2 ft overhead dropping from head high Sunday. Possible larger swell for Monday with luck. The East Shore is to see easterly windswell at head high Friday and slowly settling down into the weekend to chest high Sunday into Monday. The South Shore is to be quiet through the weekend into early next week.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is in the Inactive Phase reducing odds for storm formation. But that seems to have no bearing since El Nino is still in effect. Longerterm a solid gale is forecast for the Central Gulf over the weekend setting up possible swell for both Hawaii and California early next week and hanging around for a while. Another weaker one is to possibly form a later next week north of Hawaii and offering opportunity for the US coast too. nothing over the top, but surely not flat either.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (3/11) the North Pacific jetstream was split in the east but consolidated in the west and starting to pick up some momentum with winds 180 kts pushing northeast off Japan reaching just south of the Aleutians at the dateline, then falling into a building trough in the Western Gulf of Alaska with winds still 180 kts there. Pretty interesting. The trough bottomed out in the Gulf with a small flow of 130 kts winds pushing into Washington state. The only area capable of supporting gale development is the Gulf trough. Over the next 72 hrs that trough is to push rapidly east into the Pacific Northwest late Friday with a new trough building behind in the Western over the weekend, digging deeper but with less wind energy supporting it (150 kts). Still it should support gale development in that region. By the end of the weekend a consolidated jetstream flow is to be coving the entire North Pacific. Beyond 72 hours a bit of a split flow is to redevelop in the West Pacific with most energy in the northern branch ridging to the dateline then diving into the pre-existing trough in the Gulf by Tues (3/16), with more 150 kt winds forecast likely supporting development of another gale there through Thursday. At that time the jet is to re-consolidate in the west with 160 kts winds present and pushing east, while the jet disintegrates in the east.
At the surface on Thursday (3/11) remnants of a gale in the Gulf on Wednesday (see Gulf Gale below) were fading and pushing into Canada. 35 ft seas were up at 50N 135W with limited swell energy pushing down the 319 degree path to North CA, but shadowed south of there. A secondary fetch from that gale was still present producing 35 kt northwest winds out near 45N 152W resulting in 25 ft seas at 45N 155W heading east. Over the next 72 hours residual fetch from the secondary gale in the Gulf is to push east with 30 kts winds 900 nmiles off the north CA coast producing 25 ft seas back at 41N 147W (1100 nmiles out from Central CA) and fading. Some form of swell is likely to reach Central CA on Saturday (3/14) at 7 ft @ 14 secs (9-10 ft faces) from 292 degrees mixed with the leftovers of Fridays swell (see Gulf Gale below).
Of more interest is another gale forecast to be building on the dateline Friday AM (3/12) with pressure 968 mbs resulting in 40-45 kt northwest winds at 43N 180W aimed towards Hawaii down the 328 degree path and North CA down the 298 degree path. Seas building from 26 ft at 40N 173E. In the evening 50 kt west-northwest fetch is forecast at 46N 170W aimed 40 degrees east of the 240 degree path to Hawaii and 30 degrees south of the 298 degree path into North CA. Seas building from 28 ft at 45N 170W. On Saturday AM (3/13) 50 kt northwest fetch is to hold at 45N 165W aimed pretty well down the 347 degree path to Hawaii and 35 degrees south of the 297 degree path to NCal. Seas building 36 ft at 44N 164W. In the evening 45-50 kt more west angled fetch is forecast at 45N 156W aimed exclusively at North CA and down to Central CA 20 degrees south of the 296 degree path. 37 ft seas forecast at 43N 155W. The gale is to start fading Sunday AM (3/14) with 40 kt west and northwest winds at 45n 150W resulting in a broad area of 32 ft seas at 42N 150W pushing down the 294 degree path to NCal. Residual 30-35 kts northwest fetch is to hold there in the evening resulting in near 30 ft seas at 41N 152W then decaying away. If all goes as forecast some form of legitimate swell could result for the mainland focused on Central and North CA with sizable sideband energy for the Islands early in the week. High pressure off California might actually hold off south winds there too, though it could result in northwest winds.
On Wednesday AM (3/10) a storm started wrapping up in the Eastern Gulf producing a small area of 50 kt west winds at 48N 151W tracking pretty fast to the east with winds 45 kts in the evening at 48N 141W then pushing into Canada. 30 ft seas were modeled 10 AM Wed at 46N 145W pushing down the 303 degree path to NCal, which should result in swell of 8.7 ft @ 16-17 secs (13-14 ft faces) pushing into the SF Bay area starting 2 AM Friday (3/12) from 303 degrees. A front to be impacting the area at the same time.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Friday (3/11) a front from the a gale in the Gulf is to push down the coast to maybe Morro Bay with south winds and rain in tow, then dissolving. Brisk northwest winds to follow by Friday evening, breaking up a little Saturday morning up north then returning early afternoon as high pressure builds in, continuing into Sunday. Southern CA to be in a calmer wind pattern by Sunday AM. A generally light wind pattern is forecast Monday into early Tuesday as low pressure moves closer from the Gulf, but doesn't directly impact the coast. High pressure returns by Tuesday after noon with a full Springtime northwest wind event in control north of Pt Conception through Friday (3/19). Welcome to the beginning of the big transition.
On Thursday (3/11) a small gale was circulating well southeast of Tahiti with 45 kt south winds at 45S 132W aimed due north. Those winds to be fading from 40 kts in the evening at the same location. A infinitesimal area of 30 ft seas are forecast Thurs PM at 43N 131W aimed mostly north towards California. Perhaps small swell is expected in there 8 days later (Fri PM 3/19) from 190 degrees.
The models also suggest a broad gale (almost a storm) developing just south of New Zealand Saturday PM (3/13) with 40 kt southwest winds at 53S 172E aimed up the 215 degree path to CA (mostly unshadowed by Tahiti) and up the 195 degree path to HI. Seas building from 30 ft back at 55S 170E. By Sunday AM (3/14) 55 kt southwest winds are forecast at 52S 175W aimed at CA (209 degree and partially shadowed) and up the 192 degree path to HI. Seas building to 36 ft at 53S 176W. 50 kts winds to hold at 49S 168W generating 44 ft seas at 50S 170W pushing up the 208 degree path to NCal (partially shadowed) and a bit east of the 188 degree path to Hawaii. 45 kt west-southwest fetch is to hold into Monday AM (3/15) with 46 ft seas forecast at 49S 160W pushing up the 204 degree path to CA and in the heart of the Tahitian swell shadow. Most of that energy is to be pushing east of Hawaii. A quick fade is forecast thereafter with no additional seas of interest being produced. If all this comes to pass a legitimate southern hemi swell could result for Tahiti, Hawaii, and the US West coast.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs a weak diffuse gale is forecast developing north of
Hawaii on Wed/Thurs (3/18) with 35 kt northwest winds pushing close to
the Islands. 20-23 ft seas are possible, but it's way too early to know
with any certainty.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (3/11) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) appeared to be in a near neutral state. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -16.80. The 30 day average was up to -9.31 (It bottomed out for the winter on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average down slightly at -13.14 (bottomed out at -13.61 on 2/15). El Nino maxed out on 2/15.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated light easterly anomalies across the Central Indian Ocean to Northern Australia and New Guinea, a sign of the Inactive Phase. Remnants of the Active Phase still lingered from the dateline into Central America but were fading fast. Models project the Inactive Phase holding over Northern Australia reaching the dateline 3/20 then dying there by 3/30 or so. A weak version of a new Active Phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean at the same time. The Inactive Phase of the MJO should gently suppress storm development. But with the effects of El Nino on the atmosphere already well entrenched, the momentum to support storm development will be very slow to dissipate over the coming next 6 months. We will continue monitoring the MJO for signs of Active Phase dominance in the critical March-May timeframe to see if this Midoki El Nino can hang on for another year, or whether we fall back into a La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control).
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (3/11) indicated no change from previous weeks, with warmer than normal waters consolidated on the equator more towards the dateline and less in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands, but still present none-the-less. Actually, there has been some erosion of warmer waters over the Galapagos, symptomatic of the fading of El Nino. In all this continues looking more like a Midoki El Nino than one of the classic variety. But regardless, we are past the peak of this ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator a Kevin Wave attributable to the previous Active Phase of the MJO was fading. On 3/11 tongue of warmer than normal water was in-place extending east from 150W into Central America averaging 3 deg C above normal with a core to 5 C. This is expected to fuel or at least extend El Nino symptoms into summer, but is likely the last Kelvin Wave we are going to see.
Over the Equatorial Pacific solid trades were blowing in the East and continuing north of the equator all the way to almost the Philippines, but only in the normal range. Still, this looks like the Springtime transition typical for this time of the year. Still an area of fully blowing westerly winds which started to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline on 1/20 covered a larger area on 1/23, and in full bloom on 1/25-1/29, looking very much like a real Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) event. And even on 1/30- 2/15 solid Westerly Winds were occurring just south of the equator to 155W with solid anomalies to 140W. On 2/18-2/23 limited fully blowing west winds were still in-play with anomalies to 150W, but starting to fade. Those winds were almost gone by 2/25 but not quite and still hanging on by 2/26-3/3 if not strengthening slightly. On 3/11 still a solid area of westerly winds was They were still in place on 3/8. This WWB is what generated the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east. Regardless, at some point in the next few days we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down completely and a normal trade pattern to take over or even enhanced trades (which could result in La Nina). Previously Westerly Wind Bursts produced Kelvin Waves that resulted in the subsurface warm pool currently present in the tropical East Pacific that have formed El Nino.
El Nino is affecting the global atmospheric weather pattern at this point in time and is expected to continue having an impact into the Summer of 2010. This suggest that the spring storm pattern be enhanced in the North Pacific, but also the early summer storm track in the South Pacific too. This has not been a strong El Nino, more of a solid moderate one. A respectable accumulation of warm surface water in the equatorial East Pacific and a solid pool of warm subsurface water remains in place, but seems to be eroding some suggesting El Nino has maxed out. But the atmosphere is already being strongly influenced by the warm water buildup over the past 6 months, and it will not return to a normal state for quite some time.
Strong El Nino's bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast along with the benefit of increased potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides that storm and swell enhancement, but more of a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. This was a moderate event. Better yet, if it's not too strong (as this event appears to be) perhaps it will not degrade into La Nina the year after (which typically happens after stronger El Nino's), but hold in some mild El Nino-like state for several years in a row. This would be an even better outcome and something we are monitoring for. The months of Mar-June normally are when the transition takes place.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest no swell producing fetch is to develop.
Details to follow...
External Reference Material: El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Kelvin Wave
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table