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 Tuesday (4/8) in North and Central CA a mix of Japan and Dateline windswell was producing waves in the head high range and relatively clean but with some fog on it. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest waist to chest high and fairly lined up and lightly textured. In Southern California up north surf was thigh to maybe waist high and clean but foggy and generally weak. Down south waves were waist high with bigger sets and lined up and clean coming fro the northwest. Hawaii's North Shore was getting residual Japan swell with chest high and clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting northeast windswell at chest high and chopped from easterly trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Residual swell from a gale that developed off the Southern Kurils on Mon-Tues (4/1) with up to 37 ft seas is still hitting California. A weak gale developed off the Kurils Mon-Tues (4/8) with 26-28 ft seas targeting Hawaii well but making little eastward progress. Another weak gale is forecast off Northern Japan on Sat-Sun (4/13) with 26 ft seas again targeting primarily Hawaii. Down south a small gale formed in the far Southeast Pacific on Sun (4/6) with 36 ft seas over a tiny area targeting Chile, on the edge of the SCal swell window. A tiny gale is forecast under New Zealand on Wed-Thurs (4/10) with 24 ft seas but tracking flat east. Nothing else of interest is to follow behind.
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 no longer scheduled. Instead NOAA will focus on buoys at 140W and 170W in September.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (4/8) the jetstream was pushing flat off Japan with winds building to 160 kts half way to the dateline forming a very gentle trough there offering some weak support for gale development. As the jet hit the dateline it split with the northern branch tracking up into the Northern Gulf of Alaska then pushing inland over Vancouver Island while the southern branch peeled south under Hawaii then lifting northeast poised to move inland over Central Baja. Over the next 72 hours the pocket of wind energy west of the dateline and the associated trough are to move east and fade, with winds dropping to 120 kts on Fri (4/11) somewhat feeding the remnants of the trough now relocated 1200 nmiles north of Hawaii. minimal support for low pressure development possible. But a new pocket of a wind energy and an associated trough are to build just off Northern Japan with winds to 150 kts. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to ease east and fade out over the dateline Mon (4/14) with a consolidated flow tracking from Japan peaking over the dateline wit winds 140 kts while ridging slightly northeast reaching a point almost north of Hawaii before splitting. The same old split flow to continue over the East Pacific. No real troughs or support for gale development is indicated, but neither is the jet to be completely retired yet. It still looks like there's some life to be left in it.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (4/8) residuals well from a gale off Japan last week was hitting South and Central CA, but unremarkable. Also windswell from a fetch that developed on the northern dateline on Friday (4/4) producing a modest sized fetch of 30 kt north winds and 18 ft seas was hitting Hawaii. Otherwise a weak gale developed 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 44N 158E (312 degs HI). Fetch was fading from 35-40 kts Tues AM (4/8) with seas peaking at barely 28 ft at 43N 163E (313 degs HI). Residual 30-35 kt westerly fetch to hold into the evening with seas 26 ft at 40N 170E (312 degrees HI). Fetch to fade from 30 kts Wed AM (4/9) with 24 ft seas fading at 43N 174E (319 degs HI). Perhaps some small swell to result for Hawaii starting late Fri (4/11) with swell 4.8 ft @ 16-17 secs (7.5 ft). Swell peaking overnight then fading from 6 ft @ 14-15 secs (8.5 ft) Sat AM (4/12). Swell Direction: 312 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (4/8) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was ridging inland over Oregon with a weak north wind flow pushing down the North and Central CA coast. More of the same is forecast Wednesday as new high pressure ridges into Washington and a cutoff low develops well off the Southern CA coast. A weak gradient is to set up over extreme Northern CA Thursday with north winds 25 kts there, mainly north of Cape Mendocino,but weak winds to hold down the remaining portion of the CA coast. 25 kt north winds to hold over extreme NCal in the gradient Friday and Saturday. Sunday the gradient is to fade out then return in the evening and increasing in coverage down to Pt Reyes Monday AM with north winds 25 kts and 10-15 kts nearshore. 30 kt winds to build in the gradient in the evening holding through the day Tuesday (4/15) wit nearshore winds 15 kts early. Spring is building in.
Surface - A modest sized gale developing in the Southeast Pacific on Sun AM (4/6) producing a tiny fetch of 45 kt southwest winds and seas on the increase from 28 ft near the edge of the Southern CA swell window. The Jason-2 satellite passed directly over the fetch at 18Z and confirmed seas at 27.8 ft wit one reading to 30.3 ft where the model suggested 32 ft seas should be. The model was over hyping this fetch some. In the evening a small area of 45-50 kt southwest winds were tracking due northeast with seas building to 36 ft over a tiny area at 57S 124W (182 degs NCal, 185 degs SCal). Fetch was lifting further northeast on Mon AM (4/7) but fading from 40 kts due south of SCal with 34 ft seas at 53S 117W (180 degs SCal) targeting primarily Chile up into Peru. The Jason-2 satellite again passed right over the fetch confirming seas at 31.8 ft with one reading to 35.2 ft where the model indicated 34 ft seas. The model was right on track. Perhaps sideband energy for Southern CA with some small early season swell for Chile.
SCal: Whatever swell was generated to arrive starting Mon PM (4/14) just before sunset with pure swell pushing 2 ft @ 17-18 secs ( 3 ft faces). Tues AM (4/15) swell to peak at 2.2 ft @ 17 secs (3.5 ft faces with sets to 4 ft). Low wave count per set with sets rare. Swell Direction: 185 degrees
Another fetch of 45 kt southwest winds is to track east under New Zealand Wed PM (4/9) producing a small area of 32 ft seas at 60S 180W. The fetch is to be fading in areal coverage Thurs AM (4/10) with 31 ft seas at 59S 163W. Maybe some tiny sideband swell to result for Tahiti and Hawaii. Something to monitor for fun.
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 another small gale is to try and develop just off Northern Japan on Sat AM (4/12) producing 35-40 kt west winds over a small area and 24 ft seas at 40N 152E targeting mainly Hawaii. Barely 40 kt west winds to push east through the day resulting in 26 ft seas at 37N 160E (303 degs HI). Fetch is to fade from 30-35 kts Sun AM (4/13) approaching the dateline with 24 ft seas fading at 40N 168E. A surge of 35 kt west winds are forecast in the evening with seas building to 26 ft at 42N 171E (314 degs HI). This system to fade after that and gone before reaching the dateline. Maybe 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 Tuesday (4/8) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at 13.27. The 30 day average was up to -7.21 and the 90 day average holding at -0.25. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The 30 day SOI was on the rise from 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 building moderate west anomalies over the far western Maritime Continent turning neutral just west of the dateline and turning easterly south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued from there towards Central America turning light westerly south of Mexico to the Galapagos. A week from now (4/16) building west anomalies are now expected to take over the Maritime Continent in the moderate category reaching the dateline then fading. Neutral anomalies are forecast from there south of Hawaii continuing 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, and actually getting good traction by Thurs (4/10). This remains 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 still had not given way to a fully 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 outcome should become clear in the next 2-3 days. 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 4/6 are in general consensus. They both suggest the Inactive Phase of the MJO was barely in control of the dateline and had already lost ground over the Maritime Continent as suggested by positive Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) anomalies. The Active Phase of the MJO was in the Indian Ocean seeping into the far West Pacific and solid in coverage. But is interesting how neutral to near westerly anomalies continued where the Inactive Phase was supposed to be in control (over the Maritime Continent). Regardless, the models indicate that the Inactive Phase is fading fast, and is to be gone 6 days out with the Active Phase moving into the West Pacific and taking over, holding through the 15 day run of the model. The dynamic model is more aggressive regarding the eventual downfall of this developing Active Phase, depicting it nearly gone beyond 15 days. 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 4/23 easing east while holding together well 5/13. Behind it another modest Active Phase to develop about 5/18. 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 (4/7) a thin but distinct warm water regime has taken over the entire equatorial Pacific west of the Galapagos ranging less than +0.5 deg C. A cool upwelling flow east of the Galapagos is fading and making no real westward progress. Elsewhere 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. There is some weak signs of possible high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California, but very minor. 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 +5.0 deg C above normal water in-place and tracking east with it's core 150 meters somewhere between 160W and 100W. 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 (+5 deg C) and is tracking east and right on the cusp of erupt on western shores of the Galapagos. 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 4/3), 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 4/8 have upgraded again. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in March 2014 (which did occur) building to +1.0 deg C by early June (an upgrade) peaking at +1.95 deg C by Nov 2014 (another upgrade). 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 June 2014, assuming one is to believe the models and the subsurface water configuration. 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 warming developing by May in the equatorial Pacific and possibly increasing summer, intensifying into Fall . 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