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 Tuesday (3/18) in North and Central CA surf was head high to 1 ft overhead and pretty warbled and sloppy, though local winds were not too strong out of the northwest early. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high with a few head high sets and clean and lined up, but generally somewhat weak and sloppy. In Southern California up north surf was head high to 1 ft overhead and lined up and pretty decent, though there was some texture on the surface and waves were a bit on the mushy side. Down south waves were waist to chest high and a bit warbled. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northerly windswell with waves 1 ft overhead and pretty torn up by northeast winds. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were 3 ft overhead and chopped with northeast wind in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A small gale developed over the Northern Dateline Sun (3/16) with 32 ft seas aimed east. Small sideband swell to result for Hawaii on Wed (3/19) and more direct but decayed energy for the US West Coast on Thurs (3/20). Another gale was developing further south on the dateline Tues (3/18) with up to 32 ft seas projected aimed east on Wednesday offering another shot of modest swell for Hawaii late in the workweek and the US West Coast mid-weekend. And yet a third small gale is forecast for the Northern Dateline Thurs (3/20) with barely 30 ft seas over a small area. Remnants of that gale to track east and try and redevelop in the Gulf of Alaska late Sun (3/23) only generating possibly 20 ft seas targeting the US West Coast north of Pt Conception. The pattern is definitely getting weaker.
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) and fortunately the first set of those buoys (at 95W and 110W) are back in operation (see MJO/ENSO update below). TAO Buoys at 125W are scheduled for April.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (3/18) the jetstream was pushing flat off Japan near 30N but almost split as soon as it pushed over the Pacific with both streams tracking parallel to a point just east of the dateline, then splitting with the northern branch lifting northeast and pushing into British Columbia while the southern branch tracked southeast over Hawaii, then pushed into Baja. In the northern branch a weak trough was embedded near the dateline with a second one in the Northeast Gulf of Alaska, both offering only minimal support for gale development with winds 110 kts in the west and 100 kts in the east. Over the next 72 hours the same pattern is to hold into Wednesday, then the northern branch is to become infused with more winds energy pushing near 140 kts but also splitting more strongly and tracking north northeast up to the Western Aleutians by Fri Am (3/21) and then falling southeast forming a bit of a trough over the Western Gulf . Limited support for gale development possible there. the southern branch is to continue flat to the east eventually passing over Hawaii and into Baja. Beyond 72 hours the split jet pattern is to hold, with the northern branch splitting a second time, retrograding back up into Kamchatka with the remaining energy heading towards the Gulf of Alaska on Sat (3/22) feeding a weak trough there with 110 kts winds. Limited support for gale development in that trough. That trough is to eventually push into the Pacific Northwest on Tues (3/25). Beyond the jet is to flatten back out tracking west to east on the 35N latitude line, but a bit unfocused and diffuse. No troughs of interest are forecast suggesting no support for gale development is to be likely.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (3/18) swell from a gale that developed off Kamchatka Sat-Sun (3/16) was pushing towards Hawaii and the US West Coast (see North Dateline Gale below). Another gale was building over the dateline Tuesday (3/18) (see Dateline Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours yet a third gale is forecast developing just east of the Kuril Islands on Wed AM (3/19) with 45 kt northwest winds building and seas building over a tiny area from 24 ft at 42N 158E targeting Hawaii. 40-45 kt northwest winds to hold while pushing east in the evening with 28 ft seas at 43N 166E (315 degs HI). On Thurs AM (3/20) 40 kt northwest winds to hold west of the dateline with seas building to 30 ft at 45N 170E (319 degs HI, 301 degs NCal) aimed mainly due east. 35-40 kt west winds to push east in the evening with seas near 30 ft still at 45N 175E (323 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). A quick fade is expected thereafter. Yet another pulse of swell is possible for Hawaii and less for the US West Coast.
North Dateline Gale
A modest sized gale developed just east of Kamchatka and south of the Aleutians on Saturday AM (3/15) producing 40 kt west winds and building some into the evening with winds to 45 kts and tracking east. Seas built to 30 ft at 48N 170E over a small area (324 degs HI, 306 degs NCal). This system continued to track flat east Sun AM (3/16) with 40 kt west winds holding and seas building to 32 ft at 49N 177E (330 degs HI, 306 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds were tracking east Sun PM and fading in coverage with seas fading from 30 ft at 50N 175W (305 degs NCal). A quick fade followed. A small pulse of 17-18 sec period swell could result, mainly for the US West Coast targeting NCal from 306 degrees and well decayed upon arrival with sideband energy for Hawaii.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Wed (3/19) with swell building to 3.5 ft @ 15-16 secs early afternoon (5.5 ft). Local northeasterly windswell to still be in the water lumping things up pretty well. Swell gone by Thurs AM (3/20). Swell Direction: 325 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Thursday (3/20) building to 3 ft @ 16 secs mid-afternoon (4.5 ft) but buried in lesser period energy from when this storm crossed the dateline and decayed at 5.5 ft @ 14 secs (7.5 ft). Combined swell fading Fri AM (3/21) from 7 ft @ 14 secs (9 ft). Swell Direction: 304-306 degrees
Another small gale developed just east of the Southern Kuril Islands Mon AM (3/17) with 40 kt northwest winds while the gale itself lifted quickly northeast. The gale tracked east in the evening producing a decent sized area of 40 kt northwest winds targeting primarily Hawaii generating 25 ft seas over a modest area at 44N 165E targeting mainly Hawaii down the 308 degree path. 40 kt west-northwest winds held into Tues AM (3/18) generating 26 ft seas at 40N 175E (315 degs HI). In the evening the gale is to build and lift northeast slightly with 40 kt west winds building aimed more directly at the US West Coast and not so much at Hawaii. Seas forecast building to 28 ft at 42N 180W (321 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). 40-45 kt west winds to hold into Wed AM (3/19) just east of the dateline targeting primarily the US West Coast with seas building to 32 ft at 44N 175W (296 degs NCal). The gale is to rapidly fade and be effectively gone by the evening.
Assuming all goes as forecast perhaps some decent 15 sec period swell to result for Hawaii on Fri (3/21) or about 6 ft @ 14-15 secs (8.5 ft). Perhaps slightly smaller swell for Northern CA on Sun (3/23).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (3/18) high pressure at 1030 mbs was ridging into the Pacific Northwest generating a pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino producing 30 kt north winds early with north winds and windswell wrapping into Central CA on down over the Channel Islands. North winds at 20 kts are to continue over Cape Mendocino Wednesday with 15 kt winds reaching perhaps Pt Reyes, but no further south nearshore. The gradient is to regenerate on Thursday with north winds 30 kts and 15 kt north winds reaching down to San Francisco continuing Friday then fading from 20 kts up north on Saturday with 15 kt northwest winds limited to points north of Bodega Bay. The gradient is to finally dissipate on Sunday with winds nearshore less than 15 kts as low pressure takes over the Gulf of Alaska. The front from the Gulf gale to push up to Cape Mendocino late Monday and wash out there with light rain moving south to Monterey Bay Tuesday AM. High pressure is to get legs into Southern CA late Monday with 15 kt northwest winds over the Channel Islands building to 20+ kts on Tuesday. 15 kt north winds to reach north to San Simeon, but no further. A light winds flow north of there is expected with clearing on Tuesday. maybe a few inches of snow for high elevations in Tahoe during the day Tuesday.
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 yet one more tiny gale is forecast developing over the Kuril Islands on Fri AM (3/21) tracking northeast and almost landlocked. 40-45 kt northwest winds projected. Seas building. The gale is to lift northeast in the evening with 40 kt west winds forecast resulting in 32 ft seas at 43N 158E targeting only Hawaii. More of the same is forecast Sat AM (3/22) with 32 ft seas over a tiny area at 46N 161E. This system is to be gone after that. No other swell producing weather systems are forecast.
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 Tuesday (3/18) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding at -22.26. The 30 day average was down some to -10.43 and the 90 day average down slightly to -0.02. 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 trending Active. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies north of Australia on the equator building in velocity to the dateline reaching moderate plus strength there reaching almost to a point south of Hawaii. that was the dividing line. Weak east anomalies were east of there 140W then faded to neutral and holding on into Central America. The westerly anomalies are part of the current Active Phase of the MJO (technically the Active Phase is actually estimated over West Africa but with the strength of these westerly anomalies, we're ignoring that for the moment). A week from now (3/26) weak west anomalies are to hold over the Maritime Continent peaking at moderate strength on the dateline and extending to 170W, with modest east anomalies in play from there to and point southeast of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies to extend from there to Central America. In all this suggests an Active Phase MJO was back in control of the West Pacific with east anomalies east of there, likely due to an eastward shift in the Walker Circulation and symptomatic of El Nino. Of note, precipitation anomalies are also building at the convergence zone of these two wind flows. This setup remains most interesting if one considers 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) followed by a second strong WWB in Feb-Mar (as strong as the first one starting 2/15 and peaking 2/20-3/2 then fading 3/10) setting up and offering yet more reinforcing transport warm water east. And now a third westerly wind burst appears to be developing (it stated 3/16). If this occurs, it would be significant and is 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) but is starting to be explainable.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/17 remain diametrically opposed. They both initially suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over East Africa and fading with a modest Inactive Phase trying to build from the Eastern Indian Ocean into the West Pacific. 5 days out the statistic model suggests a moderate to strong Inactive Phase moving from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific and getting stronger and reaching the dateline 15 days out. This would be the normal progression in a 'normal' year (typical of the statistic model). Conversely the dynamic model (GEFS) suggests the Inactive Phase is to start fading 5-6 days out and is to retrograde back over Indonesia while a new Active Phase builds on the dateline 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. Just to be clear, these models are projecting Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR). We are interchangeably using the term 'Active Phase' as a replacement for 'reduced OLR' (where reduced OLR means more precipitation and presumably westerly wind anomalies, since it has the same affect as the Active Phase). But technically the Active Phase is actually over East Africa, and the west winds and increase cloudiness anomalies forecast for the dateline are wholly separate from the MJO, meaning this forecast episode on the dateline is self contained - even more interesting). The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Active Phase is to push east from the dateline and move into South America 4/7 while a very weak Inactive Phase tries to build but gets no legs. A neutral pattern is to then take hold 4/17-4/27. The consensus is that the next 3-5 days are critical in determining the long term evolution of a warmer pattern. If western anomalies develop and hold (as they appear to be doing) then we are well on our way to a warm event and this possibly signals a change in the global weather pattern for months to come. But even if this all plays out, this signal would have to hold into at least August before one could declare the development of El Nino. So at this time this is all idle speculation. 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 (3/17) a cool water regime that had set up in the equatorial East Pacific (east of 155W) continues to fade. If anything warm water from the north is shifting south over the equator shunting off the cool upwelling flow tracking east to west from the Galapagos with at least a neutral temperature pattern suggested there if not warming slightly. The only cool water remaining within 2 degrees of the equator is a small pocket midway between the Galapagos and 155W and a new small pocket of cooler water starting to push off Peru. Given increase in easterly winds in the East Equatorial Pacific, upwelling and cooler waters is not surprising in this small area. Otherwise the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water as is the West Pacific (north and south). This is good news. A sympathetic cool pool that had developed off Africa remains dissipated. No high pressure induced cool water is streaming southwest off California. The only cool water is that streaming off Chile almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by all the warm water from the Northern Hemisphere.
We continue to suspect the vestiges of the cool pool over the East Equatorial Pacific is tied to a shift in the Walker Circulation. With easterly anomalies forecast to rebuild in this region over the next week, it will be interesting to see if the cool anomalies re-emerge. This would lend credence to the theory that the convergence point of an eastward shifted Walker Circulation might be developing near 160W, 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 given that surface water temps remain in a pure neutral pattern, even through the trend suggest moving towards a warmer state (but not realized yet) with upwelling in the east (though fading) and downwelling and warmer temps in the west as of 3/18. Still, two back-to-back strong WWBs (with a third possibly developing) 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. Of Note: A NOAA ship reached the eastern equator region and has started working on the TOA buoy array. The first and second row in the array (95W and 110W) returned to operation on Fri (3/14) with sensors again starting to report water temps at depth. The third row at 125W is scheduled for repairs in April (not a moment too soon). This is a good and critical step forward in monitoring eastbound Kelvin Wave activity. With this new data it has become apparent that cooler than normal water (-2 deg C) that was 100m down at 110W (off Central America) has moderated to near neutral and appears to be being overrun by warmer water with a pocket of +2 degree water there 50 meters down. The hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the east Pacific has been broken. If anything, more surface warming seem imminent. Of great interest is a large area of very warm +6 deg C above normal water in-place and believed to be tracking east with it's core 150 meters down at 155W with it's leading edge at 115W (+1 deg C) and is tracking east. Yes - recent data from other sources indicates temps are up to +6 degrees above normal. Given the lack of sensors between 150W and 120W exact details concerning the leading edge remain sketchy. 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) and was likely reinforced by a second WWB in Feb-Mar. And yet a third burst appears to be developing. The hope is the developing Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific will fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. The Kelvin Wave has also been confirmed via satellite in the form of increased surface water heights, (suggesting warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards). But it's still way too early to know with any certainty how this will play out, but all signs suggest something positive developing.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 3/18 remain unchanged. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 (but that did not happen) building to +0.75 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs have it peaking at +1.45 deg C range by late Nov 2014. for reference, the big El Ninos of 82/83 and 97/98 were +2.0 degs). 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. A consensus of other models suggests slow warming, but not passing beyond mildly positive territory till Spring.
Overall the immediate outlook remains unchanged, but potentially trending towards something that would be considered warm by Summer 2014, assuming one is to believe the models. Beyond there models there is a host of other promising signs, including multiple westerly wind bursts, changes in the wind circulation pattern on the equator (Walker Circulation), a large Kelvin Wave moving towards Central America, increased sea surface height anomalies confirm by satellite etc. All of this is good news. At a minimum 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 at this time with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for the Spring of 2014 with perhaps slight warming developing by May in the equatorial Pacific. Monitoring the affects when the Kelvin Wave arrives in the East Pacific will be key to the potential evolution of this potential warm event. Still there remains 6 months ahead where any number of hazards could derail this event. But this is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. And it seems apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. In a normal situation one would expect there to be at least one or two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). 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 corner, 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