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 (3/20) in North and Central CA surf was 3-4 ft overhead coming from the northern dateline and relatively clean early but still pretty warbled. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high with a few bigger sets and lined up but heavily textured with whitecaps outside the kelp. In Southern California up north surf was thigh high and mushy on the sets and clean but crumbled. Down south waves were thigh to waist high and weak and textured. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northerly windswell with waves chest high and clean and fun looking with some nice lines. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were waist high 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 with decayed energy from it hitting the US West Coast today (Thurs - 3/20). Another gale developed further south on the dateline Tues (3/18) lifting northeast with seas building to 30 ft 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 developed west of the Northern Dateline Thurs (3/20) with a small area of barely 30 ft seas. Remnants of that gale to track east and try and redevelop in the Gulf of Alaska Sun (3/23) possibly generating a small area of 25 ft seas targeting the US West Coast north of Pt Conception. Perhaps another small gale to form in the Gulf beyond. But the pattern is on the way down.
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 Thursday (3/20) the jetstream was pushing off Japan near 32N but splitting as soon as it pushed over the Pacific with the northern branch tracking up the Kuril Islands then turning east and fading while meandering eventually into the Pacific Northwest. The southern branch pushed flat east off Japan reaching over the dateline and just north of Hawaii before pushing into Northern Baja. Both streams had no real energy associated with them other than the northern branch having a weak trough just west of the dateline with 140 kts winds feeding it providing limited support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the same pattern is to but with the northern branch splitting strongly and tracking north up over the Western Aleutians by Fri PM (3/21) and then falling southeast forming a bit of a trough over the Western Gulf with 120 kts winds into the weekend (3/23) with that trough pushing east. Limited support for gale development possible there. Beyond 72 hours the split in the west is to dissipate with the northern branch weakly joining the southern branch on Tues (3/25) and pushing flat east, but diffuse and over a rather broad width (25N-45N) reaching into the US West Coast by Thurs (3/27). Winds to be about 100 kts in the strongest pockets and much less in most areas. No real troughs of interest are forecast with not real support for gale development indicated.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (3/20) swell from a gale that developed off Kamchatka Sat-Sun (3/16) was hitting the US West Coast (see North Dateline Gale below). Another gale was built over the dateline Tuesday (3/18) and was pushing towards Hawaii and the US West Coast (see Dateline Gale below). And a third gale developed well west of the dateline Wed-Thurs (3/20) targeting mainly Hawaii.
Over the next 72 hours yet one more tiny gale is forecast developing over the Kuril Islands on Fri AM (3/21) tracking northeast and almost landlocked. 45 kt northwest winds projected. Seas building. The gale is to lift northeast in the evening with 45 kt west winds forecast resulting in 36 ft seas over a tiny area at 43N 158E targeting only Hawaii (311 degrees). The gale is to fade Sat AM (3/22) with 40 kt west winds and seas fading from 30 ft seas over a tiny area at 45N 160E (314 degs HI). This system is to be gone after that. Maybe some background swell to result for the Islands.
And remnants of the 3rd Dateline Gale to possibly redevelop in the Gulf of Alaska on Sat PM (3/22) generating 35 kt northwest winds over a small area. That fetch is to push east Sun AM (3/23) getting some traction on the oceans surface resulting in a tiny area of 26 ft seas at 39N 157W aimed east (355 degs HI, 285 degs NCal, 292 degs SCal). Winds fading from 35 kts over a tiny area in the evening with seas fading from 22 ft at 37N 150W (275 degs NCal, 286 degs SCal). The gale to fade from there. Maybe swell for North and Central CA with luck.
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.
North CA: 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 built and lifted northeast slightly with 45 kt west winds building aimed more directly at the US West Coast and not so much at Hawaii. Seas built to 28 ft at 42N 180W (321 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds held into Wed AM (3/19) just east of the dateline targeting primarily the US West Coast with seas building to 30 ft at 44N 175W (296 degs NCal). The gale rapidly faded and was effectively gone by the evening with seas fading from 28 ft at 45N 170W (297 degs NCal).
Some decent 15 sec period swell to result for Hawaii on Fri (3/21) peaking late AM at 6 ft @ 14-15 secs (8.5 ft). Swell fading Sat AM (3/22) from 4.7 ft @ 13 secs (6 ft). Swell Direction: 315-321 degrees
Smaller swell is expected for Northern CA on Sun (3/23) at 4.8 ft @ 15-16 sec early (7.0-7.5 ft). Residuals Mon AM fading from 3.3 ft @ 13-14 secs (4.0-4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 294-297 degrees
Northwest Pacific Gale
Yet a third gale developed 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 26 ft at 42N 158E targeting Hawaii (309 degs). 40-45 kt northwest winds held while pushing east in the evening with 32 ft seas at 43N 166E (315 degs HI). On Thurs AM (3/20) 40 kt northwest winds held west of the dateline with seas fading from 28 ft at 45N 170E (319 degs HI, 301 degs NCal) aimed mainly due east. 35 kt west winds pushed east in the evening with seas near 28 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 on Sun (3/23) building to 4.5 ft @ 15 secs (7 ft) the fading Mon (3/24) from 6 ft @ 13 secs (7.5 ft). Swell Direction: 309-323 degrees.
Less size expected for the US West Coast.
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 (3/20) high pressure at 1030 mbs was ridging into the Pacific Northwest re-generating the pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino producing 30 kt north winds later with north winds and windswell wrapping into Central CA on down over the Channel Islands. More of the same is continuing Friday with winds up to near 35 kts over Cape Mendo, then fading from 25 kts up north on Saturday (with light winds nearshore south of Pt Arena) and then gone by Sunday as low pressure builds in the Gulf. The front from the Gulf gale to push up to the CA-Oregon border late Monday while high pressure ridges into Southern CA with north winds 15 kts from Big Sur southward. Light rain moving south to Monterey Bay Tuesday evening holding into Wednesday evening. A light northwest flow from most of Central CA expected Tuesday into Wednesday. Maybe a few inches of snow for high elevations in Tahoe Wednesday. Thursday high pressure hold mainly for South California with northwest winds over Pt Conception 20 kts into nearshore Southern CA locations.
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 there's suggestions of another small gale trying to develop in the Western Gulf of Alaska on Wed (3/26) with seas in the 20-22 ft range pushing flat east, stalling in the Central Gulf on Thurs (3/27) with seas still in the 20 ft range. Maybe some small 13 sec swell for the US West Coast.
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 (3/20) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was falling at -28.34. The 30 day average was down some to -12.99 and the 90 day average down slightly to -0.72. 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. Most of this decline is due to a elongated trough of low pressure positioned directly over Tahiti, skewing the index low. Regardless, the SOI was the lowest it's been since the El Nino of '09/10. 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 on the dateline reaching moderate plus strength there then fading but still westerly almost to a point south of Hawaii. That remained the dividing line. Minimal east anomalies were east of there to 130W 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 (3/28) neutral anomalies are to hold over the Maritime Continent turning westerly peaking at moderate plus strength on the dateline and extending to 175W, with moderate 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 started 3/12 and remains in play on 3/20). If this holds 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 3/19 are coming into consensus. They both initially suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over East Africa and weak with a modest Inactive Phase trying to build from the Eastern Indian Ocean into the West Pacific. 5 days out the models suggests a moderate Inactive Phase moving into the West Pacific and getting stronger and reaching the dateline 10 days out. The dynamic model suggest the Inactive Phase holding back a bit further to the west. This would be the normal progression in a 'normal' year. 15 days out the Inactive phase is to be moderating some on the dateline per the statistic model but retrograded over the extreme West Pacific per the dynamic model. The dynamic model is the preferred outcome. 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 Active Phase of the MJO proper is to be working it's way across the Indian Ocean 15 days out per the statistic model and non-existent per the dynamic model. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Active Phase is to push east and be solid from the dateline moving 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. It is most interesting to see if westerly anomalies dissipate and we fall back into a neutral/weak MJO pattern by early April, or whether westerly anomalies will continue on the dateline. As of right now western anomalies are well pronounced and we could be our way to a warm event, possibly signaling a change in the global weather pattern for months to come. But this signal would have to hold into at least August before one could declare the development of El Nino. And there is much unknown as we enter the Spring 'Unpredictability Pattern" (mid-March through early June). The whole pattern could just as easily collapse and return to a neutral pattern. 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 (3/20) a cool water regime that had set up in the equatorial East Pacific (east of 155W) continues to fade. If anything neutral to 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. But a new small pocket of cooler water is starting to push off Peru and has reached the Galapagos if not pushing further west. Given increase in easterly winds in the East Equatorial Pacific, upwelling and cooler waters is not surprising in this small area. But this remains something to monitor, especially if it were to grow in coverage. 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 southern Chile pushing northwest almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by all the warm water from the Northern Hemisphere. All eyes are on the developing cool stream over the Galapagos.
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 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. And that cool pocket has shrunk even more as of 3/20. The hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the east Pacific is all but gone. If anything, more surface warming seem imminent. Of great interest is a large area of very warm +5.5 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 nearly +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 adding more fuel to it. 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 at +10 cm, (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 3/20 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 +1.5 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