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 (4/3) in North and Central CA local windswell was producing waves in the waist to chest high range and a bit warbled and crumbled with light whitecaps. Down in Santa Cruz surf was thigh to maybe waist high and weak but relatively clean. In Southern California up north surf was maybe thigh high and weak and lightly textured. Uninspirational. Down south waves were chest to shoulder high and textured but looking pretty fun. Hawaii's North Shore was getting north dateline swell with waves 1-2 ft overhead and clean and looking decent. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap around energy at head high and chopped with easterly trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A gale developed on the Northern Dateline Mon (3/31) with 28 ft seas aimed mainly east. Small sideband swell is hitting Hawaii and expected reaching the US West Coast on Fri (4/4). Another small system developed off the Southern Kurils on Mon-Tues (4/1) with up to 37 ft seas aimed east targeting primarily Hawaii. Get what you can because after that, the North Pacific shuts down with only one weak gale forecast off the Kurils next Tues (4/8) with 22 ft seas, and nothing much of interest out of the Southern Hemisphere.
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 (4/3) the jetstream was ridging slightly off Japan with winds about 110 kts and nearly split, tracking east and then splitting near the dateline with the northern branch lifting gently northeast (but remaining south of the Eastern Aleutians) building to nearly 140 kts in one small pocket, pushing up to a point just west of British Columbia, then falling south and merging with the southern branch that tracked flat over the dateline just south of Hawaii eventually pushing into Baja. A weak trough was in the northern branch near the dateline, but very unremarkable. Over the next 72 hours a bit more energy is to build off Japan ridging northeast then falling into the trough pushing east from the dateline peaking late Friday (4/4) with near 140 kt winds in it's apex offering some support for gale development. That trough is to continue east into Sunday but weakening while approaching the Pacific northwest late with support for low pressure development fading. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to wash out before reaching inland with a more consolidated pattern taking hold over the West Pacific on Tues (4/8) with 150 kt winds building and the jet consolidating midway between Japan and the dateline. That pocket is to make some slow eastward progress but not much, while a weak and split pattern holds over the East Pacific into Thurs (4/10). Perhaps limited support for gale development near the dateline in association with that pocket of winds energy, but no clear cut trough are forecast immediately (assuming the pocket forms at all).
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (4/3) North Dateline Gale swell (see below) was hitting Hawaii and bound for the US West Coast. Also swell from the Japan Gale (below) was pushing towards Hawaii. Otherwise no swell producing weather system were in play. was e Another Gulf Gale Part 2 below). Over the next 72 hours a tiny gale is to possibly build well off Southern Oregon on Sun (4/6) with 35 kt west winds and seas 17 ft. 35-40 kt west winds to be lifting northeast Mon AM (4/7) off Oregon with 19 ft seas at 45N 140W (304 degs NCal) and racing northeast. Perhaps some small swell to result for Central CA up into NCal and Oregon.
North Dateline Gale
A broad gale started developing over the Northern Dateline region on Sun PM (3/30) with 35-40 kt northwest winds pushing south of the Western Aleutians and seas building from 24 ft just west of the dateline and south of the Aleutians (45N 172E). 40 kt west winds held over the dateline Mon AM (3/31) with 27 ft seas building at 46N 178E (329 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). Fetch faded in coverage from 35 kts in the evening with seas 28 ft at 48N 177W (335 degs HI, 303 degs NCal). The gale rapidly faded from there.
Another pulse of small 15 sec period swell is possible for Hawaii by Thurs (4/3) and 16 sec period energy for the US West Coast by Fri (4/3) with luck. Swell details can be found in the QuikCASTs.
Another small gale developed just off Northern Japan on Mon AM (3/31) with 45 kt west winds and seas to 36 ft over a small area at 38N 152E (304 degs HI). The gale lifted north overnight with 34 ft seas at 40N 157E (306 degs HI) then rebuilt Tues AM (4/1) with 50 kt west winds and seas building from 37 ft at 41N 158E (308 degs HI, 301 degs NCal). Winds were fading in the evening from 40 kts and making eastward progress with seas fading from 36 ft at 39N 162E targeting primarily Hawaii down the 309 degree path. The gale is to start making better eastward progress on Wed AM (4/2) but fading with winds 35 kts and seas dropping from 32 ft at 40N 170E (312 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). This system was gone by evening.
Best odds for Hawaii receiving swell from this gale. Only minimal energy for the US West Coast (see QuikCASTs for details).
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Friday pushing 4.5 ft @ 16-17 secs late (7.5 ft) from the first pulse of the storm. Swell to build some overnight as the second pulse arrives pushing 6.9 ft @ 16-17 secs (11 ft) on Sat AM (4/5). Swell fading Sunday from 6 ft @ 14 secs (8.5 ft). Swell Direction: 304-310 degrees
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 (4/3) a weak southerly winds flow was developing from Monterey bay northward in association with a trough of low pressure approaching the Northern Coast. It is to move inland late Thursday evening with light precipitation following behind through the day Friday with a light wind pattern expected during the day. But high pressure is to be right behind. High pressure and north winds to move into the North and Central CA coasts on Sat (15 kts) continuing Sunday fading some Monday as another low moves up to the Pacific Northwest. Light winds expected Tuesday and Wednesday with high pressure building off the coast and ridging into the Pacific Northwest Thurs (4/10) with 20-25 kt north winds building over NCal and a very summer like pressure gradient developing but staying north of Pt Reyes.
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 a weak gale is to develop off the Southern Kuril Islands on Mon (4/7) with 35-40 kt west winds and seas building to 26 ft in the evening at 45N 161E (314 degs HI). Fetch is to fade from 35 kts Tues AM (4/8) with seas fading from 25 ft at 44N 164E (315 degs HI). Perhaps some small swell to result for Hawaii.
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 (4/3) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 9.88. The 30 day average was flat at -11.25 and the 90 day average holding at -0.76. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of fading Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The 30 day SOI was holding near the lowest point 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 over the Maritime Continent turning neutral over the dateline and holding south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued the rest of the way into Central America. A week from now (4/11) building west anomalies are to expected over the Western Maritime Continent in the moderate to strong category turning neutral over the dateline. Weak east anomalies are forecast south of Hawaii. Modest east anomalies are forecast continuing from there into Central America. In all this suggests a neutral phase of the MJO was still in control of the West Pacific but is to return to a building Active Phase a week out. The previous setup (a pattern of multiple Westerly Wind Bursts) appears to be moderating but has not yet given into a full scale Inactive Phase as was previously forecast (which is good news). 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 westerly wind burst developed (starting 3/12 and faded out by 3/28). 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. Still lingering westerly anomalies are suspicious though. The million dollar question is "Will a true Inactive Phase develop and shut down the warm water transport machine, or will another Active Phase develop in the weeks ahead and restart the transport mechanism?" 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. A article presenting the graphic comparison is being built now and the teaser is that the similarities are notable.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 4/2 are in general consensus. They both suggest the Inactive Phase of the MJO was in control of the Maritime Continent and Dateline regions as suggested by positive Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) anomalies in control over these regions. The Active Phase of the MJO was in the Indian Ocean and solid in coverage. But it remains interesting how neutral to near westerly anomalies are managing to persist where the Inactive Phase is supposed to be in control (over the Maritime Continent). Regardless, the models indicate that the Inactive Phase is peaking and 5 days out it is to be fading some, and nearly if not completely gone 10 days out.with the Active Phase moving into the West Pacific 15 days out, but weak. The dynamic model is more aggressive regarding the strength and eastern headway of the pattern. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Active Phase has rebuilt west of the dateline and is strong, and is to hold while slowly moving east through 4/30. This remains a major change of plan. A modest Inactive Phase is to build over the West Pacific 4/25 easing east while fading through 5/13. Behind it a another building Active Phase to develop. It will be most interesting to see if westerly anomalies persist over the West Pacific in the first week or two of April. We'll withhold judgment and speculation for now. Note: The models didn't have a handle on the three previous WWB events until they occurred, so there's no reason to suspect the models will pick up on any new developing events before they actually occur either (and there's now evidence that is what is occurring now). For now we will wait to see if a new WWB event develops or at least trades remain suppressed. If this scenario were to develop, it might suggest a change in the global weather pattern. 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 like last year. It's just too early to know. 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 the most recent imagery (4/3) a cool water regime that had previously set up over the equatorial East Pacific (east of 155W) is gone. Warm water from the north has shifted southward over the equator shunting off the cool upwelling flow tracking east to west from the Galapagos. Water temps over the entire equatorial Pacific (+/- 2 deg N & S) are continuously 0.0-0.5 degree above normal. One small pocket of cooler water started pushing off Peru on 3/16 and reached the Galapagos, but as of now is retreating back to the east and loosing it's cold core, becoming less of interest. 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. There are no signs of a sympathetic cool pool developing off Africa. No high pressure induced cool water is streaming southwest off California. The only cool water present is streaming off Southern Chile pushing northwest almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by all the warm water falling south from the Northern Hemisphere. The next big development, should it occur, will be the upwelling of warm water along Ecuador announcing the arrival of a massive Kelvin Wave currently positioned under the Central Equatorial Pacific.
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.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator are of most interest and remain most impressive. 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. Current data suggests it's leading edge is at least at 95W (+3 deg C) and is tracking east and poised to erupt along the coast of Ecuador (80W) shortly. Given the lack of sensors between 150W and 120W exact details concerning the core and 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 in March with trades suppressed since then. 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 +15 cm (over one small pocket, up from +10 cm on 3/20), suggesting warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards. When and if the Kelvin Wave erupts along the South American coast, the increase in water temps should reduce trades in the area, which in turn could support yet more warm water building (heated by the sun). Aided by yet another WWB and more eastward moving warm subsurface water, a feedback loop could develop, reinforcing the warm water flow and buildup off Central America into the Fall. But we're a long ways from that occurring just yet.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 4/3 remains 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 +1.6 deg C by Nov 2014. For reference, the big El Ninos of '82/83 and '97/98 were +2.0 degs). For the immediate future (this Spring) a warm pattern is expected to develop shortly with temps rising above +0.5 deg C by April 1 (but that has not happened yet). From then on 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 and if the Kelvin Wave arrives along the equatorial 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 the models suggest some sort of modest gale developing in the Southeast Pacific Sun-Mon (4/7) producing 45 kt southwest winds and 30 ft seas at 53S 121W Mon AM (3/7) targeting primarily Chile up into Peru with perhaps sideband energy for Souther CA. Something to monitor.
A stronger gale is forecast in the same general area on Tues AM (4/8) with 50-55 kt southwest winds and 38 ft seas at 60S 125W again targeting primarily Chile. This system is to be out of the swell window for Southern CA in the evening but 40 ft seas are to be over a tiny area at 58S 112W targeting Chile. Something to monitor.
Longer term a small system is forecast tracking under New Zealand on Thurs (4/10) with 36 ft seas.
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