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 (3/13) in North and Central CA surf was 3-4 ft overhead and a blown out mess with chopped conditions. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high with sets 1-2 ft overhead on the peak with reasonably clean conditions and well lined up. In Southern California up north surf was waist high with perhaps some bigger sets with northwest wind putting some texture on it but not too bad. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high with some northerly texture on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting sideband Western Gulf swell with waves 2 ft overhead and lined up with glass conditions and looking quite fun. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were chest high and chopped with northeast trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A pair of weak fetch areas associated with a single gale tracked east over the dateline Tues-Wed (3/12) with 32-34 ft seas offering modest swell for both Hawaii and the US West Coast over the weekend. Remnants of that system remain forecast to redevelop and track northeast through the eastern Gulf Fri-Sat (3/15) perhaps producing a tiny area of 44 ft seas aimed east. Swell possible for the US West Coast by late weekend. And one last gale is forecast for the Northern Dateline Sun (3/16) with 34 ft seas aimed east. A much diminished surf pattern to follow.
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 monitoring buoys on the equator).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (3/13) the jetstream was pushing weakly off Japan and diffuse centered near 35N then becoming more focused over the dateline with winds building to 160 kts and forming a gentle trough there then ridging slightly while pushing north of Hawaii. Limited support for gale development in the dateline trough. The jet reached to 140W or 800 nmiles west of Southern Oregon and split, with most energy diving hard south pushing towards the equator. A weak remaining flow eased northeast up into Northern British Columbia. Over the next 72 hours the dateline trough is to get better organized Friday (3/14) pushing quickly east into Saturday AM (3/15) with 140 kt winds feeding it offering good support for gale development pushing towards the US West Coast. Otherwise 160 kt winds to build off Japan with a consolidated flow pushes east from there, but splitting before reaching the dateline with the northern branch pushing hard northeast up into the Bering Sea then falling southeast into the Gulf and supporting the gale previously mentioned there. But by Sunday (3/16) the split jet is to push east and moving into the Gulf of Alaska, therefore covering the entire area from the dateline east and only supporting high pressure down at the oceans surface between the split flows. Beyond 72 hours winds to falter pushing off Japan by Tues (3/18) with a nearly split but parallel flow pushing off Asia at 110 kts or so tracking over the North Pacific reaching to the dateline then splitting and loosing all wind speed (80 kts or less). By late Thurs (3/20) winds to build to 140 kts off Japan but the flow is to remain very split with the northern branch pushing north up to Kamchatka and into the Bering Sea offering nothing but support for high pressure down at the surface. Some residual energy from the northern branch is to fall southeast into the Northern Gulf of Alaska but winds are to be so weak as to not support even low pressure development. The projected turn from the Active Phase of the MJO to a neutral Phase is likely to cut off energy to the jet, which in turn will reduce fuel to support gale development over the North Pacific.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (3/13) residual swell from a small storm that tracked through the Gulf of Alaska Sun-Mon (3/10) was hitting California and Hawaii. The last wind associated with a gale that tracked over the dateline (Tues-Wed 3/12) was fading north-northeast of Hawaii (see Dateline Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours remnants of the Dateline Gale (below) is to start redeveloping north of Hawaii on Thurs PM (3/13) with 45 kt west winds building over a small area and seas regenerating from 26 ft down at 38N 167W. Winds to build to 50-55 kts Fri AM (2/14) as the gale starts lifting gently northeast aimed due east with seas building to 37 ft at 39N 158W (284 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). The fetch is to continue lifting northeast in the evening with northwest winds 50 kts and seas 43 ft up at 42N 151W (291 degs NCal and 13400 nmiles out, 297 degs SCal). 45 kt west winds to be lifting north Sat AM (3/15) with 41 ft seas at 44N 144W (297 degs NCal) and targeting primarily the Pacific Northwest but energy down to Central CA. This system is to fade fast thereafter. This system could potentially produce another short pulse of energetic swell for the US West Coast mainly from Pt Conception northward starting late Sunday into Monday (3/17). Will update over the weekend after this system starts forming.
Also another broad gale is forecast developing just east of Kamchatka and south of the Aleutians on Saturday AM (3/15) producing 35 kt west winds and building some into the evening with winds to 40 kts and tracking east. Seas building from 32 ft at 50N 169E. This system is to track flat east Sun AM (3/16) with 40-45 kt west winds holding and seas building to 34 ft at 50N 175E. 40 kt west winds to be tracking east Sun PM and fading in coverage with seas fading from 32 ft at 50N 178W. A quick fade to follow. No additional swell producing fetch is forecast. One last pulse of 17-18 sec period swell could result, mainly for the US West Coast and well decayed upon arrival.
A tiny gale developed west of the dateline Tues AM (3/11) with 45 kt west winds tracking flat east and seas 32 ft over an infinitesimal area at 42N 176E (295 degs NCal) with a secondary fetch and 34 ft seas at 35N 163E. This gale tracked flat east with winds fading to 40 kts in the PM with seas fading to 30 ft at 43N 180W (295 degs NCal) and again back at 35N 160E (299 degs HI). 45 kt west winds rebuilt in the main fetch over tiny area tracking east Wed AM (3/12) with seas 34 ft moving up to 43N 176W (296 degs NCal) and the secondary fetch providing 28 ft seas at 34N 165E (299 degs HI). More of the same is occurred in the evening with 40 kt west winds in the 2 fetch areas tracing east with seas 36 ft up at 42N 168W (293 degs NCal) and 24 ft in the secondary fetch at 35N 174E (304 degs HI). The more southerly fetch is to target Hawaii with the northerly fetch targeting the US West Coast. But relative to the US West Coast, the fetch is to be so small and so far away as to be negligible. Both system were fading Thurs AM (3/13) with 29 ft seas up at 42N 160W (291 degs NCal) and 20 ft seas down at 35N 176W (314 degs HI). Limited sideband swell for Hawaii with more direct energy for the US West Coast, but well decayed upon arrival assuming all goes as forecast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Friday (3/14) building to 6 ft @ 16 secs (9.5 ft) then fading some Saturday (3/15) at 6 ft @ 14 secs (8.5 ft) with secondary swell (from the northern more fetch) arriving at 4.5 ft @ 14-15 secs early (6.5 ft) from 330 degrees. Swell fading from 6 ft @ 13 secs (7.5 ft) on Sunday (3/16). Swell Direction: 300-310 degrees
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (3/15) mid-AM building to 5 ft @ 13-14 secs (6.5 ft). Swell Direction: 296 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 (3/13) high pressure at 1026 mbs was moving east from Hawaii and just off the CA coast. North winds at 15 kts were in-play for North and most of Central CA. Southern CA was mostly protected. By Friday the new high is to start impacting the coast with north winds building solidly at 15 kts for most all of North and Central CA later building to 20 kts late. A new strong low pressure system is forecast building north of Hawaii pushing northeast. By Saturday (3/15) it's to cut off the high some but 15 kt north winds are still forecast holding along the North and Central Coasts through the day but then giving way to light winds Sunday. High pressure is to sneak in again on Monday pushing 20 kts for all of North and Central CA finally breaking up Tuesday with a cutoff low just offshore. A light wind pattern is forecast through Thursday (3/20).
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 to try and build just east of the Southern Kuril Islands Mon AM (3/17) with 40 kt northwest winds while the gale itself lifts quickly northeast. The gale is to be moving into the far western Bering Sea Tues PM (3/18) with seas never exceeding 26 ft targeting mainly Hawaii. Maybe small 15 sec periods well to result there. Otherwise high pressure at 1036 mbs is to start taking over the dateline Wed-Thurs (3/20) locking down the North Pacific from storm development.
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 (3/13) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -8.57. The 30 day average was up slightly to -7.78 and the 90 day average down slightly to 2.09. 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 a small area of weak easterly anomalies over the far Western Maritime Continent with a larger area of westerly anomalies over the Eastern Maritime Continent fading some over the dateline then fading to neutral south of Hawaii. Weak east anomalies remained near 130W then faded to neutral from there to Central America. The westerly anomalies are part of the current Active Phase of the MJO and the tail end of a second Westerly Wind Burst in two months in this area. The easterly anomalies are a redevelopment of a continued trend for easterlies in the East Pacific. A week from now (3/21) moderate to strong west anomalies (and real west winds) are forecast taking root again over the Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline, associated with multiple tropical systems projected building south and north of the equator. West anomalies to continue over the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii. Modest easterly anomalies are to hold over an increasing area east of there, then near neutral the rest of the way 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, and the Active Phase is expected to rebuild a week out. This setup is very interesting with a previous WWB having likely created a large Kelvin Wave tracking towards South America in January (starting 1/8, peaking 1/28 then fading the first week of Feb). And then another strong WWB (as strong as the previous one starting 2/15 and peaking 2/20-3/2 then faded 3/10) setting up and offering yet more potential to transport warm water east. And if yet a third westerly wind burst occurs as forecast, this would be significant. Certainly something to monitor. 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 (more below).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/12 remain diametrically opposed. They both initially suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over the dateline and fading with a strong Inactive Phase building in the Eastern Indian Ocean. 5 days out the statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to be all but gone while tracking east with a strong Inactive Phase moving from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific and getting stronger 15 days out. Conversely the dynamic model (GEFS) suggests the Active Phase has also peaked over the dateline and is to slowly fade there 4-5 days out, but giving up no ground and if anything retrograding and rebuilding 8-15 days out 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, but we have no sense this will really occur. The ultra long range upper level model has not updated since 3/5 as is therefore no longer valid. The consensus is that the current Active Phase of the MJO is likely done and is fading and the next 5-7 days are critical in determining the long term evolution of a warmer pattern. 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 (3/13) a cool water regime that has set up in the equatorial East Pacific continues to be fading over the eastern equatorial Pacific and is almost dissipated. If anything warm water from the north is cutting off the flow coming off 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. 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. 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 down 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 temps 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. But there's an equal argument that suggest the cool pool is tied to easterly anomalies over the East Equatorial Pacific. With easterly anomalies forecast to rebuild in this region over the next week, it will be interesting to see if the cool anomalies reemerge. This would lend credence to the theory that the 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 warmer state (but not realized yet) with upwelling in the east and downwelling and warmer temps in the west as of 3/11. Still, two back-to-back strong WWBs 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 neutral to -1 C and is holding at 100W and appears to be dissipating some as of 3/13. Still there remains a hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the east Pacific, but there's signs it is loosening it's grip. The real issue is there are limited active sensors on TOA array buoys there (one at 110W and one at 95W), so whatever the model/graphic indicate, it's just a guess. Of the limited data available, water temps appears to be rising over the past month down 50-100 meters. For now this cool patch is continuing to block any warm flow trying to move east, but we're thinking that might not be a completely accurate depictation of reality. If warm water were to start suddenly appearing off Ecuador and Peru, this would confirm this suspicion. But that is likely still a few weeks from occurring (Due by 3/28). At the same time a large area of very warm water 5 deg C above normal is in-place and believed to be tracking east with it's core 150 meters down at 175-145W with it's leading edge holding at 105W (+1 deg C) and is tracking under the cool pool. But again, lack of sensors on the TAO array mean this is just a guess. Regardless, a large Kelvin Wave has been generated by 24 days of modest to strong westerly anomalies west of the dateline in January (a Westerly Wind Burst). The hope is the January WWB and 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 is likely in progress from the Feb-March WWB 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 3/13 have rebound more. 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 +1.4 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 +0.5 deg C until April 1. But starting then a slow and 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. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for the Spring of 2014 with perhaps a slightly warmer pattern developing by May. Still the cool pool at depth off Central America gives us cause for concern. But 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). We've turned the corned, but it is still unknown what impact it will have on the atmosphere especially in light of what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998).
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