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 Saturday (3/20) North and Central California was getting small chest high windswell with light onshore winds and pretty uninspiring. Southern California was really small with waves maybe thigh high and clean early but socked in down south. Hawaii's North Shore was getting fading local northwest swell with waves 1 ft overhead or so early and fading fast. The East Shore was getting some east windswell and wrap around local north swell at waist to chest high and chopped. The South Shore was getting the leading edge of Swell #1S with waves should high early and clean and on the way up.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for a little bit of westerly swell on Sunday at 2 ft overhead then fading from head high or so Monday while southern hemi swell builds underneath, holding through the work week and providing a nice taste of summer. Not ready for that yet. Southern California is to remain small on Sunday with only a taste of the westerly swell later Sunday to waist high up north but southern hemi swell is expected by Monday and holding for the balance of the workweek. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see generic swell to 1 ft overhead Sunday and Monday. New swell from the Gulf is possible later Tuesday to 13 ft fading from 10 ft Wednesday and down to near head high Thursday. The East Shore is to be basically quiet during the period except for some minimal wrap around energy from the Gulf. The South Shore is to see more southern hemi swell with sets 2-3 ft overhead on Sunday dropping to head high Monday and waist high Tuesday, Wednesday before dropping out.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is in the Inactive Phase reducing odds for storm formation. But El Nino is still in play pushing the North Pacific Storm Track some. A decent gale is forecast for the Western Gulf on Sun-Mon (3/22) with 36 ft seas possible aimed mid-way between Hawaii and CA. Swell to results for both. And another stronger system is on the charts for Fri/Sat (3/27) with up to 38 ft seas and pushing well into the California swell window. Of course that is just a very early projection and is not to be expected. And yet more is forecast behind that. So the North Pacific appears far from ready to lie down for the summer. Significant class southern hemi swell is starting to push into Hawaii for the weekend (3/20) with less size for the US West Coast next week beyond. And another smaller gale might try to squeeze under New Zealand later Wed (3/24) providing more southern hemi swell for the week beyond. So in all a nice little set up, as long as you manage your expectations accordingly.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Saturday (3/20) the North Pacific jet was generally weak and meandering, ridging some in the west pushing off the Kuril Islands with 120 kts winds and falling into a weak trough in the dateline, then unorganized and weak with only 90 kt winds in pockets pushing over the East Pacific. No clear support for gale development was in evidence. Over the next 72 hrs the trough on the dateline is to get better organized Sunday with 140 kts winds flowing into it providing decent support for gale development at the oceans surface. That is to slowly fade into Monday (3/22) as the trough pushes into the Gulf of Alaska while a huge steep ridge pushes north of even the Bering Sea then starts to breaks away fro the main flow. Beyond 72 hours things to become slightly more organized as that ridge vanishes and a split flow takes over. The split point is to be just off Japan but a decent amount of energy is forecast in the northern branch of the jet at 150 kts ridging up to nearly Kamchatka, then falling slowly into the Gulf of Alaska with a decent trough developing there on Fri (3/26) and holding into the weekend while tracking east. More energy is forecast pushing off Japan too. In all better support for gale development in the troughs.
At the surface on Saturday (3/20) a weak pocket of low pressure was 800 nmiles off Central California generating 30 kt west winds and 20 ft seas at 38N 140W. Winds were actually up to 40 kts on Friday late Morning as verified by the ASCAT satellite. Suspect 23 ft seas occurring Friday evening. Small swell of 6.5 ft @ 13-14 secs - 8 ft faces is expected by early afternoon Sunday (3/21) in San Francisco from 280 degrees. Otherwise another gale was starting to build on the dateline with an ill defined area of 30 kts winds rotating around it's core. High pressure at 1024 mbs was locked in 700 nmiles northwest of Hawaii providing for brisk east-northeast trades there.
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast building just east of the dateline Saturday with up to 45 kt west winds at 43N 172W Saturday evening pushing pretty well east of the 331 degree path to Hawaii but well up the 292 degree path to NCal. 20 ft seas are to be building there. On Sunday AM (3/21) more 45-50 kt west winds are to hold over the same general location perhaps aimed a little more to the south, providing the opportunity for energy to also radiate down to Hawaii. 30 ft seas forecast 43N 170W. By Sunday evening this system is to be winding down with residual 40 kt northwest winds forecast at 40N 170W aimed even better towards Hawaii and about 1200 nmiles out. 35 ft seas forecast at 40N 170W. This system is to be effectively over by Monday AM (3/22). Seas from previous fetch at 32 ft are forecast at 38N 166W falling more towards Hawaii than the US West Coast. Possible decent large utility class swell could result for the Islands with pure swell 9.8 ft @ 16 secs Tuesday (3/23) at 7 PM from 338 degrees. Something less should be expected for the the US West coast later in the week.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (3/20) light winds were in control Saturday while a local gale was tracking northeast up into Oregon. Weak high pressure at 1028 mbs is to build in behind on Sunday but have not real effect till after sunset when northwest winds starting to slowly rise. By Monday (3/22) that high pressure system is to be lodged off the coast ridging into the Pacific Northwest with 20 kt north winds again over outer waters and less nearshore making for jumbled conditions nearshore, holding Tuesday (3/23) but coving more area to the north. Maybe better nearshore conditions wind wise, but still lumpy. Fortunately that high and associated wind is to be gone by Wednesday with light winds taking control with a gale and front just off the coast, pushing into extreme NCal by evening then gone on Thursday (3/25). Light winds to continue into Friday while another stronger gale builds off the coast suggesting south winds and possible rain for Central CA by Saturday (3/27).
No swell producing fetch is occurring or forecast to occur for the next 72 hours.
Storm 1S Hawaii
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 Western Gulf Gale are to slowly lift northeast up into Canada through early
Wednesday (3/24) with winds holding in the 30 kts range. Possible more 12-13 sec period follow on swell to result. Another gale is to form right behind it, Thurs-Sat (3/27) with 45 kt west-northwest fetch developing on Friday at 42N 153W pushing towards mostly the US West coast and pretty far to the south. 32 ft seas forecast Fri PM at 40N 150W. 40 kt west winds to hold into Sat (3/27) at 42N 148W with 32 ft seas continuing at 40N 145W. Decent swell possible. And yet another system is forecast behind that on Saturday building on the dateline.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Saturday (3/20) 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 -13.74. The 30 day average was down to -9.31 (It bottomed out for the winter on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average up to -12.81 (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 reaching to the dateline, a clear signal of the Inactive Phase. Weak remnants of the Active Phase were tracking east over Central America and fading fast. Models project the Inactive Phase to be dominant for a while pushing east from Northern Australia over the dateline and drifting east into 4/3 while dissipating. A weak version of a new Active Phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean all the while almost reaching Northern Australia by 4/6, but dissipating there. Since the Inactive Phase of the MJO is dominant now, it 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). But latest data from the models suggest a return to neutral conditions.
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 3/20 tongue of warmer than normal water was in-place extending east from 145W into Central America averaging 3 deg C above normal with a small core at 5 C at 115W. 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 entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to almost the Philippines, but only in the normal range. This looks like the normal Springtime transition typical for this time of the year. Previous, an area of fully blowing westerly winds extended from the far west to the dateline on 1/20 and continued through 3/15 generating the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east into Central America. We expect a normal trade pattern to take hold 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, resulting in 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 suggests 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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Stormsurf Wave Models Updated: On Friday (2/6) we installed the latest upgrade to our wavemodels. A year in the works, this upgrade essentially is a total re-write of every wave model product we produce. They now take advantage of the new Version 3 of the Wavewatch wavemodel. This version runs at a much higher resolution, specifically 0.0 X 0.5 degrees for the global grib with local products at 0.1667 X 0.1667 degrees, and it uses the hi-res GFS model for wind speeds. And of even more interest, the model now identifies primary swell and windwave variables. As such we now have new model images which displays this data. Also we've included out special 3D topographic land masks into all models. In all it makes for a radical step forward in wave model technology. We'll be upgrading minor components (FAQ, new menu pages etc) for a few weeks to come, but all the basics are available for your use now. Check it out here: http://www.stormsurf.com/mdls/menu_wam.html
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table