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 (4/5) in North and Central CA North Dateline swell was producing waves in the head high plus range and clean early at top breaks. Down in Santa Cruz surf was thigh to waist high and fairly lined up and clean. In Southern California up north surf was knee high or so and clean early, just barely rideable. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and lightly textured early looking a bit crumbled. Hawaii's North Shore was getting solid Japan swell with waves 10 ft and clean with light trades and glassy conditions. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting northeast windswell at chest high and lightly textured from southeasterly wind.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Residual swell from a gale that developed on the Northern Dateline Mon (3/31) with 28 ft seas aimed mainly east was hitting California. Another small system developed off the Southern Kurils on Mon-Tues (4/1) with up to 37 ft seas aimed east targeting primarily Hawaii. That swell is hitting now and is looking decent .A weak gale is forecast developing off the Kurils next Tues (4/8) with 26 ft seas targeting Hawaii well but making little eastward progress. After that things fade to quiet. There's suggestions of a small gale in the far Southeast Pacific on Sun (4/6) with 36 ft seas over a tiny area targeting Chile, but nothing behind. The Winter season is well over and Spring is not being particularly productive.
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 (4/5) the jetstream was ridging off Japan with winds about 140 kts pushing up off the Kurils midway to the dateline, then falling southeast over the dateline forming a trough 1100 nmiles northwest of Hawaii with winds only 110 kts at it's apex before before splitting just east of there. The northern branch then ridged northeast rebuilding to 120 kts before moving inland over southern British Columbia while the southern branch tracked flat east from the split point moving over Hawaii and then east to Southern Baja. In all only bare minimal support for gale development was suggested in the trough northwest of Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours a bit more energy is to build off Japan at near 150 kts forming a bit of a trough off the Kurils offering some support for gale development by early Tues (4/8). But by the time the jet reaches the dateline it is to split with the northern branch ridging northeast up to the Eastern Aleutians then falling south into another very pinched trough (the same trough previously northwest of Hawaii) then ridging again up into British Columbia. No real support for gale development suggested in this pinched trough. The southern branch is to track over Hawaii briefly touching the apex of the Gulf trough, then fall southeast towards the equator. Beyond 72 hours the pinched trough is to wash out by Wed (4/9) with a weak split flow remaining over the East Pacific. The pocket of winds off Japan is to build Fri (4/11) to 160 kts pushing over the dateline but flowing flat east, with no troughs suggested. Perhaps by Sat (4/12) a bit of a trough is to build just off the Kurils, but winds in the main energy pocket on the dateline are to be fading fast from 140 kts. Little support for gale development expected.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (4/5) North Dateline Gale swell was hitting Central CA, but with no remarkable size. Also swell from the Japan Gale (below) was hitting Hawaii with solid 10 ft sets early. Otherwise no swell producing weather system were in play. On Friday (4/4) remnants of the Japan gale regenerated slightly on the northern dateline producing a modest sized fetch of 30 kt north winds for 18 hours resulting in 18 ft seas at 42N 177W Fri PM good for windswell for the Islands. (See QuikCASTs for details). Over the next 72 hours a tiny gale was forecast forming well off Oregon in a trough there. But that has evaporated from the charts. Otherwise 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 22 ft in the evening at 44N 156E (312 degs HI). Fetch is to fade from 35 kts Tues AM (4/8) with seas building to 26 ft at 44N 162E (314 degs HI). Residual 30-35 kt westerly fetch to hold into the evening before fading out entirely with seas 25 ft at 41N 170E 9313 degrees HI). Perhaps some small swell to result for Hawaii.
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 (NCal 296 degs). 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.
Hawaii: Swell fading Sunday from 6 ft @ 14 secs (8.5 ft). Swell Direction: 304-310 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival Sunday afternoon pushing 4 ft @ 17 secs (6.5 ft) but very inconsistent. Swell to holding into Mon AM (4/7) with swell 4.2 ft @ 15-16 secs (6.5 ft) then dropping from there. Perhaps some residuals on Tues AM (4/8) fading from 3.6 ft @ 14 secs (5 ft). Swell Direction: 296 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 (4/5) high pressure and north winds were moving into the North and Central CA coasts at 15 kts and expected to continue Sunday (though calmer nearshore early) fading some Monday as another low moves up to the Pacific Northwest. Still 15 kt north winds forecast from Pt Reyes up to Pt Arena. Light winds expected Tuesday and Wednesday south of Pt Reyes (north winds 15 kts north of there building to 25 kts over Cape Mendo late Wed) with high pressure building off the coast and ridging into the Pacific Northwest Thurs (4/10). 25 kt north winds to hold over NCal with a very summer like pressure gradient developing but staying north of Pt Reyes. This pattern is to hold into the weekend with north winds 25 kts over North CA and light winds (likely an eddy flow) from Bodega Bay southward.
Surface - The models suggest some sort of modest gale developing in the Southeast Pacific on Sun (4/6) producing a small fetch of 45 kt southwest winds and seas on the increase near the edge of the Southern CA swell window. In the evening 45 kt south west winds are to hold with the gale lifting northeast some and seas building from 36 ft over a tiny area at 59S 123W (180 degs NCal, 182 degs SCal). Fetch is to be lifting further northeast on Mon AM (4/7) still barely at 45 kts but outside the SCal swell window. 34 ft seas are forecast at 53S 116W targeting primarily Chile up into Peru. Perhaps sideband energy for Southern CA with some semi real swell for Chile with luck. Something to monitor.
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 no swell producing weather systems of interest 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 (4/5) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding at 9.30. The 30 day average was up to -10.27 and the 90 day average holding at -0.58. 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 far western Maritime Continent turning neutral over the dateline and holding south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued towards Central America turning light easterly south of Mexico. A week from now (4/12) building west anomalies are now expected to take over the Maritime Continent in the moderate category turning neutral over the dateline. Weak east anomalies are forecast south of Hawaii then turning neutral 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. This is good news. Previously a pattern of multiple strong Westerly Wind Bursts occurring Jan-March, but then started moderating in late March, but as of this date had still not given way to a full scale Inactive Phase. A previous WWB 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 neutral to westerly anomalies are suspicious. The million dollar question is "Will a true Inactive Phase develop and shut down the warm water transport machine in April, or will another Active Phase develop in the weeks ahead and restart the transport mechanism?" The outcomes is starting to become clearer. 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 a Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and this 2014 WWB event has been posted here.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 4/4 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. 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 has peaked and 5 days out it is to be fading fast, and gone 10 days out with the Active Phase moving into the West Pacific and taking over 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 continues to show much increase in strength of the overall pattern, with the Active Phase building west of the dateline and strong, and is to hold while slowly moving east through 4/25. 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 weak Active Phase to develop. It will be most interesting to see if westerly anomalies persist over the West Pacific in the first two weeks 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 a week out, 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 was scheduled for repairs in April but that has since been removed from the schedule. Instead they are focusing on 140W and 170W in Sept. Suspect they are now more focused on understanding the decay of El Nino and transition to La Nina than monitoring it's evolution.
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. Some sites are reporting water temp in excess of 6.0 degrees C, but the location of those readings are not near active TOA array sensors and are projections from models rather than the ground truth. 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 4/5 remains unchanged. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in March 2014 (which did occur) building to +1.0 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs have it peaking at +1.65 deg C by Nov 2014. For reference, the big El Ninos of '82/83 and '97/98 were +2.0 degs). 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, a host of other promising signs have developed, 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 and possible increased warming as we move into summer. 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
See a 'Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and the 2014 WWB Event' Here (posted 4/5/2014)
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing weather systems of interest are 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