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 (3/18) North and Central California was getting leftover northwesterly Gulf swell with waves pushing double overhead and a bit warbled but with calm local wind early. Southern California was getting more wrap-around Gulf swell with waves chest high and a little textured up north but pushing near head high down south. Hawaii's North Shore was getting local north windswell with waves pushing head high and blown with Konas in effect. The East Shore was getting east windswell and wrap around local north swell at chest high and chopped. The South Shore had minimal southerly swell at thigh high or so and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for slowly fading Gulf windswell at 1 ft overhead Friday. Head high northwest swell is expected in for the weekend with chest high southern hemi swell underneath Saturday. Southern California is to a little more Gulf swell at waist high Friday then dropping out entirely. But southern hemi swell is expected pushing chest high Friday and waist high plus on Saturday, then dissipating. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see local north swell Friday at 10 ft fading from 8 ft Saturday with new generic swell to 1 ft overhead Sunday and Monday. The East Shore is to see low grade easterly windswell at waist high into the weekend with Gulf swell wrapping around too. The South Shore is to see new southern hemi swell Saturday at 3 ft overhead or more with double overhead sets then 2-3 ft overhead on Sunday and should to head high Monday.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is in the Inactive Phase reducing odds for storm formation. As such high pressure is to have a pretty good grip on the Eastern Pacific for the next week. The models continue to hint at a decent gale just east of the dateline Sun/Mon (3/22) with 30 ft seas, but that is way down from previous projections. Significant class southern hemi swell remains forecast pushing into Hawaii for the weekend (3/20) with less size for the US West Coast the week beyond. The Inactive Phase of the MJO is certainly taking it's toll, but maybe not as bad as it appears at the moment if the models long term view is correct..
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (3/18) the North Pacific jet was consolidated in the west with some wind energy in it to 170 kts pushing from Japan and ridging to the northeast, then disintegrating when it hit the dateline with 2 weak eddies meandered east into Baja and Canada. A bit of a steep trough was in-place in the Gulf, but not offering much in terms of support for gale development. Over the next 72 hrs even the energy over the West Pacific is to fade with a fully split jetstream pattern forecast building there while an even a weaker pattern takes control in the east. Perhaps a bit of a trough is to build over the dateline on Sat-Mon (3/22) but wind speeds running under it are to be modest at best. Limited support for gale development there only. Beyond 72 hours things to become slightly more organized with a split flow taking control over the entire Pacific with winds in the 140-150 kt range in the northern branch and it running more or less flat over the 45N latitude, dipping some through the Gulf of Alaska. At least this is better than a big ridge, and provides some hope for gale development in the future, once the Inactive Phase of the MJO moves out.
At the surface on Thursday (3/18) moderate high pressure was centered over the southern dateline region at 1028 mbs driving a northerly flow over Hawaii while a second high pressure system was pushing inland over the Pacific Northwest, making for some northerly winds along the upper CA coast. No swell producing weather systems were indicated though. Previously a weak and disorganized low pressure system was 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii on Wednesday (3/17) generating 30-35 kt northwest winds near 35-45N 155-160W producing 20 ft seas targeting Hawaii reasonably well. Windswell expected for Hawaii on Friday at 9 ft @ 13 secs (11 ft) from 345 degrees.
Over the next 72 hours a tiny area of low pressure is to form Saturday about 800 nmiles west of San Francisco generating 35 kt northwest to west winds and 20-22 ft seas at 38N 140W resulting in small 13-14 sec period swell (5-6 ft @ 13 secs - 6-7 ft faces) by early afternoon in San Francisco from 280 degrees.
At the same time a new gale (really a storm) is forecast building on the dateline early Saturday with up to 50 kt west winds at 42N 172W Saturday evening pushing pretty well east of the 331 degree path to Hawaii but well up the 292 degree path to NCal. 23 ft seas are to be building there. On Sunday AM (3/21) 45 kt west winds are to hold over the same location perhaps aimed a little more to the south, providing the opportunity for energy to also radiate down to Hawaii. 30 ft seas forecast 41N 170W. By Sunday evening this system is to be winding down with residual 40 kt northwest winds forecast at 42N 170W aimed even better towards Hawaii and about 1400 nmiles out. 30 ft seas forecast at 42N 170W. This system is to be effectively over by Monday AM (3/22). Possible decent large utility class swell could result for the Islands and the US West coast with luck. Will monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (3/18) high pressure at 1036 was pushing inland over the Pacific Northwest with some isobars still lingering out over the California coast generating 20 kt northwest winds over outer waters from Pt Conception northward with lesser wind nearshore, kinda hacking conditions up a bit. But by Friday light winds if not an offshore flow is forecast holding into Saturday while a local gale tracks northeast up into Oregon. Weak high pressure is to build in behind on Sunday but have not real effect till right at sunset when northwest winds starting to slowly rise. By Monday (3/22) high pressure at 1032 mbs is to be lodged off the coast ridging into the Pacific Northwest with 25 kt north winds again over outer waters making for a jumbled lurpy mess nearshore, and up to 30 kts over Cape Mendo by early Tuesday (3/23) looking very much like a summer windswell pattern. Fortunately that is to be gone by Wednesday with light winds taking control holding into Thursday while a series of gale build in the Gulf of Alaska and pretty far south (40N). That ought to help hold off the high pressure a little longer.
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 developed Thurs PM at 43N 131W aimed mostly north towards California. Small swell is expected into Southern CA on Thurs (3/18) from 190 degrees at 2 ft @ 16 secs (3 ft faces) building to 2.6 ft @ 15 secs (4 ft faces) on Fri (3/19) fading from 2.6 ft @ 14 secs on Sat (3/20).
On Saturday PM (3/13) a broad gale (almost a storm) starting developing just south of New Zealand 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 were building from 32 ft back at 55S 170E. By Sunday AM (3/14) 50 kt southwest winds were forecast at 52S 176W aimed at CA (209 degree and partially shadowed) and up the 192 degree path to HI. Seas modeled to 40 ft at 53S 180W. In the evening 50 kts winds were modeled barely holding at 50S 168W generating 46 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 was modeled into Monday AM (3/15) at 49S 161W with 44 ft seas forecast at 49S 162W 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 occurred Monday PM with winds 40 kts all aimed due east towards Peru. 40 ft seas from previous fetch occurred at 48S 152W. A quick fade followed.
If all this occurred exactly as modeled one could conclude that a larger southern hemi swell was on it's way north. But as always, the devil is in the details. The ASCAT satellite confirmed winds a bit less in the core of the storm than what the weather model suggested. The model indicated 50 kts solid but the satellite only found a small area of 50 kt winds and most in the 40-45 kts range. Likewise the Jason-1 satellite passed over the core of the fetch on Sunday evening and reported seas at 38.8 ft (15 reading average) with one peak reading to 41 ft where the model suggested 43 ft seas, then again 6 hrs later reporting seas at 37.4/41 ft (peak) where the model said 44 ft. So the weather model was biased on the high side which in-turn caused the wave model to be biased on the high side. And for California, consider that the peak of the swell generation occurred in the core of the Tahitian Swell Shadow.
Still, there's good odds for decent swell for all locations including Tahiti, Hawaii, and the US West coast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival late Friday evening well after sunset with period 23 secs and becoming rideable by Saturday AM (3/20) with swell building to 4 ft @ 19-20 secs late (8+ ft faces and pushing double overhead at top spots). Swell to peak out just after sunset then fading some overnight with swell down to 4.0 ft @ 17-18 secs (7 ft faces with some double overhead sets) early Sunday (3/21) and slowly declining. Swell to be fading from 3 ft @ 15 secs at sunrise Monday (3/22) (head high and up to 2 ft overhead at top spots) dropping to 2 ft @ 13-14 secs Tuesday AM (3.0-3.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 188-192 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Monday (3/22) well before sunrise with period 23 secs and size steadily building though inconsistent, reaching 2.3 ft @ 20 secs late (5 ft faces with sets to 6 ft) continuing to slowly build Tuesday peaking late afternoon at 3 ft @ 17-18 secs (5.5 ft faces with sets to 7 ft - top spots). Swell to hold into Wednesday (3/24) at 2.6 ft @ 16 secs all day (4 ft faces with sets to 5 ft) and more consistent. Swell fading slowly Thursday (3/25) from 2 ft @ 14-15 secs (3.0-3.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 209-212 degrees
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Monday (3/22) well before sunrise with period 23 secs and size steadily building though inconsistent, reaching 2.3 ft @ 20 secs late (5 ft faces with sets to 6 ft) continuing to slowly build Tuesday peaking at sunset at 2.8 ft @ 18 secs (5.0 ft faces with sets to 6.5 ft - top spots). Swell to hold into Wednesday (3/24) at 2.6 ft @ 16 secs all day (4 ft faces with sets to 5 ft) and more consistent. Swell fading slowly Thursday (3/25) from 2 ft @ 15 secs (3.0-3.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 207-211 degrees
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 the models suggest remnants of the Gulf Gale over the
weekend are to slowly lift northeast up into Canada through early
Wednesday with winds holding in the 30 kts range. Possible more 12-13 sec period follow on swell to result. And another gale is to form right behind it, Wed/Thurs (3/25) with 35 kt west fetch pushing towards mostly the US West coast and pretty far to the south. And yet a stronger system is forecast developing on the dateline late Wed (3/24) with 45 kts west winds pushing fast east, and organizing better Thursday evening (3/25) 1200 nmiles north of Hawaii with fetch aimed best towards the US West coast. And yet more is projected tracking east off Japan. So maybe all is not lost just yet. El Nino is a long ways from over yet.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (3/18) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) appeared to be fading from the Active Phase of the MJO, moving towards a neutral state, but not there yet. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained negative with the Daily SOI at -9.10. The 30 day average was down to -8.94 (It bottomed out for the winter on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average up to -13.21 (bottomed out at -14.2 on 3/14). El Nino maxed out on 2/15.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated moderate easterly anomalies from the mid-Indian Ocean to Northern Australia and New Guinea almost reaching to the dateline, a clear signal of the Inactive Phase. Weak remnants of the Active Phase still lingered from south of Hawaii into Central America and fading fast. Models project the Active Phase to be gone by 3/22 and the Inactive Phase holding over Northern Australia reaching the dateline then holding there and drifting east into 4/1. A weak version of a new Active Phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean at the same time almost reaching Northern Australia by 4/6. 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 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 (3/18) indicated no dramatic 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, almost gone off South America. Erosion of warmer waters over the Galapagos continues, 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 3/17 tongue of warmer than normal water was in-place extending east from 150W into Central America averaging 3 deg C above normal with a small core now down to 5 C at 110W. 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. Previous, an area of fully blowing westerly winds which started to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline on 1/20 and which continued through 3/15 has all but faded out. This generated the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east into Central America. We expect a normal trade pattern to take over the entire equatorial Pacific for the remainder of the Spring. 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 continues affecting the global atmospheric weather pattern 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