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 Saturday (3/22) in North and Central CA surf was in the head high range and textured and fairly weak but sunny and rideable. Down in Santa Cruz surf was thigh to maybe waist high and clean but weak. In Southern California up north surf was thigh high and crumbled with some texture on it early. Down south waves were up to to waist high on the sets and weak but glassy. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more dateline swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and clean with a little sideshore warble running through it. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap around energy at 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 gale developed on the dateline Tues (3/18) lifting northeast with seas building to 30 ft Wednesday pushing modest swell into Hawaii that was slowly fading over the weekend and arriving for the US West Coast on Sunday 93/23). And yet a third small gale in the series developed west of the Northern Dateline Thurs (3/20) with a small area of barely 30 ft seas. Swell for the Islands on Sunday (3/23). 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 with 20 ft energy continuing to target the US West Coast north of Pt Conception into early Tues (3/25). Also a small gael developed off the Kuril Islands Friday (3/21) with 34 ft seas targeting Hawaii. Small swell there by Wed (3/26). And perhaps another small gale to form in the Gulf on Thurs (3/27) too. But after that things to get real quiet.
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 Saturday (3/22) the jetstream was pushing northeast off Japan with winds 150 kts then splitting about half way to the dateline with the northern branch tracking up and over the Western Aleutians before quickly reversing direction and falling southeast into the Gulf of Alaska forming a modest trough there with winds building to 130 kts and offering some support for gale development. Remnants of the jet then weakly tracked into and over Washington. The southern branch fell southeast from the split point then turned east on the dateline tracking over Hawaii and into Northern Baja. Over the next 72 hours the trough in the Gulf is to weaken but hold together while tracking east pushing up to the Northern CA coast later Tues (3/25) offering only bare minimal support for low pressure development. Back to the west the the split is to fade with the jet not quite cohesive but generally forming one broad stream running flat west to east between 23N and 47N with only the weakest hint of a trough near the dateline. But winds to be below 120 kts everywhere except the southern most edge of this broad area and offering no real support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the zonal (flat west to east) flow is to continue with a weak trough developing off the Kuril Islands and another in the Gulf of Alaska late on Fri (3/28) but with winds in the jet never exceeding barely 100 kts offering no real support for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (3/22) a gale that developed west of the dateline Tuesday (3/18) generating 28-30 ft seas has produced swell that has already hit Hawaii tracking towards 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 remnants of the Dateline Gale (below) to redevelop in the Gulf of Alaska on Sat PM (3/22) generating 35-40 kt northwest winds over a small area resulting in a tiny area of 22 ft seas at 43N 159W aimed east (355 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). Sunday AM (3/23) winds are to be fading from 30-35 kts over a tiny area with seas peaking at 26 ft at 41N 153W (292 degs NCal, 296 degs SCal). The gale to fade from there with 25-30 kt northwest winds in the evening and seas fading from 20 ft at 40N 147W (285 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Secondary fetch to build to 35 kts Mon AM with seas up to 22 ft at 42N 157W. 35 kt west winds to push towards the North CA coast Monday evening (3/24) with seas to 22 ft at 41N 140W (289 degs NCal, 299 degs SCal). The gale is to be pushing onshore over the NCal-Oregon border on Tues (3/25). Maybe some decent sized but raw swell for North and Central CA with luck with sideband energy into Southern CA.
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).
Swell fading in Hawaii on 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 (3/24) 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.
Small swell expected for the US West Coast arriving in Northern CA on Tues (3/25) building to 4 ft @ 15 secs (6.0 ft) then getting overrun by more local Gulf swell beyond. Swell Direction: 300 degrees.
Kuril Island Gale
One more tiny gale developed over the Kuril Islands on Fri AM (3/21) tracking northeast and almost landlocked with 45 kt northwest winds and seas to 34 ft over a tiny area at 41n 150E. The gale lifted northeast in the evening with 45 kt west winds resulting in 37 ft seas over a tiny area at 43N 157E targeting only Hawaii (311 degrees). The gale faded 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.
Some background swell to result for Hawaii arriving on wed (3/26) and peaking at 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 308-313 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday AM (3/22) high pressure at 1026 mbs continued ridging into the Pacific Northwest generating a modest pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino producing 25 kt north winds with a weak eddy flow (south winds) developing along the Central Coast. The Gradient and north winds are to be gone by Sunday as low pressure builds in the Gulf. A light wind pattern is expected for Central CA on Monday as the front from the Gulf gale pushes up to the CA-Oregon border late (south winds there) and while high pressure ridges into Southern CA with north winds building to 15 kts near Pt Conception. The front from the low to generate south winds down to Monterey Bay later Tuesday with light rain moving south to Monterey Bay Tuesday evening too pushing to Pt Conception Wednesday AM and into Southern CA late before washing out. Maybe 10 inches of snow for high elevations in Tahoe Wednesday into Thurs AM. Thursday weak high pressure hold mainly for South California with northwest winds over Pt Conception 15 kts with a light northwest flow for North and Central CA. Another low is forecast falling towards the coast from the Gulf on Friday 93/28) with light winds everywhere but Pt Conception where north winds to be 15 kts. A front is to be approaching North CA on Sat (3/29) with south winds down to San Francisco.
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 Northwestern Gulf of Alaska late on Wed (3/26) with seas in the 20-22 ft range falling southeast through Thurs evening (3/27) to 45N 152W. Maybe some small 13 sec swell to result for the US West Coast the following weekend. After that no 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 Saturday (3/22) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was rising at 3.35. The 30 day average was down some to -13.34 and the 90 day average down slightly to -0.77. 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. With low pressure moving out of the Tahiti area, the SOI is expected to start rising. 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 continuing to the dateline then turning neutral just east of there and holding south of Hawaii and 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 (3/29) neutral anomalies are to hold over the Maritime Continent turning light westerly on the dateline. East of there light east anomalies are to develop extending to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies to extend from there to Central America. In all this suggests a very weak Active Phase MJO was in control of the West Pacific with equally weak east anomalies east of there, likely due to an eastward shift in the Walker Circulation and perhaps symptomatic of El Nino. But the previous setup (i.e. Westerly Wind bursts) appears to be rapidly degrading. A previous WWB 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 then a third weak d westerly wind burst developed (starting 3/12 and remains in play on 3/22 but is expected to be faded by 3/27). As of right now this series of events is significant and is certainly something to monitor, but does not mean El Nino is in play yet. 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 3/21 are in consensus. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was weakly over East Africa 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 holding edging towards the dateline 10 days out but not making it and not progressing any further east. The Inactive Phase is to start fading there (near 160E) 15 days out. In short, a weak to modest Inactive Phase is in-play and forecast to continue with west anomalies likely fading out. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Active Phase is to push east and fade over the Eastern Pacific through 4/1. A new very weak Inactive Phase tries to build over the West Pacific 3/27 easing east through 4/21. And even weaker Active Phase to develop in the West Pacific 4/28 tracking east. 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. Best guess is we're going to fall back into a weak MJO pattern. But the models really didn't have a handle on the three previous WWB events until they occurred, so there's no reason to suspect they will pick up on any new developing events before they occur either. But for now, the pattern appears to be retreating. It was a nice run while it lasted. If a new WWB event were to occur it might possibly signal 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 (as it appears to be doing at the moment). 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 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. Cooler than normal water (-2 deg C) that was 100m down at 110W (off Central America) has dissipated and is being overrun by warmer water migrating east from the large reservoir pooled up under the equator. This is good news in that there is no longer a hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the East Pacific. 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 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. 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 reinforced by a second WWB in Feb-Mar with yet a third burst in March 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 3/22 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 the models suggests 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 any form of El Nino or La Nina present or 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 a warm event. Still there remains 6 months ahead where any number of hazards could derail this event, the most recent being a collapse of the westerly winds in the West Pacific. 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