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 (4/10) in North and Central CA residual Dateline windswell was producing waves in the chest to shoulder high range and clean but soft. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to maybe chest high on the peaks and soft and lightly textured. In Southern California up north surf was knee to thigh high and clean and weak. Down south waves were waist high and clean but foggy. Hawaii's North Shore was settling down with surf in the chest high range and clean but mostly weak. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were maybe knee high from easterly trades and chopped from those easterly trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A weak gale developed off the Kurils Mon-Tues (4/8) with 26-28 ft seas targeting Hawaii well but making little eastward progress. Swell for the Islands by Friday (4/11). Another weak gale is forecast off Northern Japan on Sat-Sun (4/13) with 22 ft seas again targeting primarily Hawaii. And a gale is forecast for the Gulf of Alaska later in the work week next week with 26 ft seas. Hardly believable. 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. Another tiny gale is forecast in the far Southeast Pacific on Fri-Sat (4/12) producing a small area of 32 ft seas aimed north. Possible small swell mainly for Mexico up into SCal. 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 Thursday (4/10) the jetstream was pushing more or less flat off Japan with winds building to 150 kts on the dateline forming a weak trough there offering some support for gale development. Moving east from there the jet split with the northern branch tracking up into the Northern Gulf of Alaska and pushing inland over Central Canada while the southern branch tracked over Hawaii then lifted northeast moving inland over Southern CA. Over the next 72 hours the pocket of wind energy on the dateline is to dissipate while the associated trough moves into the Western Gulf and then the Central Gulf, but generally pinched with no enough wind energy associated with it to support gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. But a new trough and pocket of wind energy is to build off Northern Japan Friday (4/11) at 160 kts with the winds pushing to the dateline while the trough holds west of there. Limited support for gale development possible. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to fall southeast pushing into Northern CA on Tuesday (4/15) perhaps supporting low pressure development. Otherwise winds at 150 kts to continue streaming from the dateline northeast up into the Gulf of Alaska perhaps forming a new weak trough in the Western Gulf on Wed (4/16) and tracking east from there into Thurs (4/17). At that time the split flow in the east is to fade with a flat zonal flow setting up tracking west to east up at 40N. This is actually somewhat interesting and could lead to more gale development if the MJO turns active (as scheduled).
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (4/10) swell from a gale previous off Japan was pushing towards Hawaii (see Japan Gale below). Otherwise no swell producing fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours another small gale is to try and develop just off Northern Japan on Sat AM (4/12) producing 35 kt west winds over a small area and 22 ft seas at 40N 155E targeting mainly Hawaii. 35 kt west winds to push east through the day into the evening resulting in more 22 ft seas at 37N 160E (303 degs HI). Fetch is to fade from 30-35 kts Sun AM (4/13) approaching the dateline with 22 ft seas fading at 41N 167E. 30 kt west winds are to be fading in the evening with seas fading from 21 ft up at 43N 173E (319 degs HI). This system to fade after that and gone before reaching the dateline. Maybe some small swell to result for Hawaii.
The models also suggest a tiny fetch of 30 kt northwest winds building off Southern Oregon on Mon AM (4/14) generating 18 ft seas at 42N 138W targeting North and Central CA (294 degs), then fading in the evening from 25 kts with seas fading from 17 ft at 40N 134W (287 degs NCal). Maybe 11 secs windswell to result for Northern CA.
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.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival 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 Thursday AM (4/10) high pressure at 1026 mbs was ridging inland over Oregon with a weak cutoff low circulating 1000 nmiles west-southwest of Southern CA. This was setting up a light local winds flow for the entire state except north winds over extreme north Cape Mendocino. 25 kt north winds to hold over extreme NCal in a local gradient there Friday and Saturday as the low off Southern CA collapses. A light local winds flow to persist for most of CA. Sunday the gradient is to fade but high pressure is to start building along the coast, the leading edge of a high at 1032 mbs north of Hawaii. Monday a local low is to develop along the leading edge of this high off Cape Mendocino with a 10 kt northerly flow expected along the North and Central Coasts through the day building late. By Tues AM the weak front associated with that low is to be inland with high pressure building strong into the coast and north winds 20 kts for all of North and Central CA pushing into nearshore Southern CA in the afternoon. North winds to remain in play for all locations Wednesday then moderating from north to south on Thursday, but never falling below 15 kts except for protected spots in Southern CA.
Surface - A modest sized gale developed 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). Swell to be fading Wed AM (4/16) from 2 ft @ 15 secs (3 ft faces). Low wave count per set with sets rare. Swell Direction: 185 degrees
Another small fetch of 40-45 kt south winds is to develop in the far Southeast Pacific on Fri PM (4/11) producing a small area of 29 ft seas at 50S 125W aimed due north at Southern CA (184 degs). The fetch is to build to 45 kt Sat AM (4/12) but still small in areal coverage aimed due north with seas building to 32 ft at 44S 123W (184 degs SCal). Fetch is to be fading from 40 kts in the evening with seas peaking at 35 ft over a tiny area at 42S 119W (180 degs SCal). This system is to be gone by evening. Maybe some small southern hemi swell to result for Mexico and Southern CA with luck.
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 high pressure is to be set up off Central CA with low pressure pushing into the Gulf of Alaska setting up a pressure gradient and generating 40 kt northwest winds Wed PM (4/16). Seas on the increase. Fetch is to hold into Thurs AM (4/17) with seas building to 26 ft at 45n 160W targeting the US West Coast. Fetch is to be fading in the evening from 35 to barely 40 kts with seas fading from 26 ft at 46N 155W. It is way too early for this to be believable, but it is a nice tease.
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 (4/10) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -7.50. The 30 day average was holing at -6.72 and the 90 day average was falling at -0.55. 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 slightly 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 plus west anomalies over the far Western Pacific north of Australia turning neutral west of the dateline and holding that way south of Hawaii. Modest easterly anomalies developed south of California on the equator and continued that way over the Galapagos. A week from now (4/18) modest west anomalies are expected to take over the Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline then fading. Neutral anomalies are forecast from there south of Hawaii continuing into Central America. In all this suggests a building Active Phase of the MJO was developing in the West Pacific and is to hold for the next week. This remains good news. Wind anomalies might just be enough now (4/10) to be considered a minimal Westerly Wind Burst and are to hold for at last the next week, likely restarting the warm water transport mechanism feeding a pre-existing subsurface warm pool. Previously a pattern of multiple strong Westerly Wind Bursts occurred Jan-March, but then started moderating in late March, but did not ever give way to a fully Inactive Phase or easterly anomalies in the West Pacific. 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. And now with yet another westerly wind anomaly event in-play, the pattern is becoming more than coincidental and suggests some degree of pattern change for the tropics. 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 4/9 are in general consensus. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was taking over the West Pacific with weak positive OLR anomalies fading just east of the dateline. The core of the Active Phase was over the Maritime Continent wit it's leading edge seeping into the far West Pacific and solid in coverage. The Active Phase is to continue moving into the West Pacific over the next 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 where the statistic model shows the Active Phase still viable 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model continues to show much increase in strength of the overall pattern as compared to months previous, with the Active Phase building west of the dateline and strong, and is to hold while slowly moving east through 4/25. A equally strong Inactive Phase is to build over the West Pacific 4/23 tracking east while holding together pushing into Central America 5/10. Behind it a weak Active Phase is to develop about 5/5 pushing towards the east. As hoped for, it appears westerly anomalies will persist over the West Pacific the first two weeks of April. For now we will wait to see if or how strong this WWB event turns out to be. But this scenario does strongly suggest a change in the Tropical Pacific weather pattern, a required prerequisite to the formation of El Nino. But this signal will have to hold into at least August before one could declare the development of El Nino. And there is much unknown as we traverse 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 (4/10) a thin but distinct warm water regime has taken over the entire equatorial Pacific west of the Galapagos ranging in the +0.5-1.0 deg C range. A small isolated cool upwelling flow east of the Galapagos is fading and making no 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 are no real signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California either. The only cool water present is streaming off Southern Chile pushing northwest almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by the warm water falling south from the Northern Hemisphere. The next big development, should it occur, will be the much anticipated upwelling of warm water along the western coast of the Galapagos announcing the arrival of a massive Kelvin Wave currently positioned under the Central Equatorial Pacific. This should occur anytime in the next 2 weeks.
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 down somewhere between 160W and 100W. Some sites are reporting water temps 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 passing the east most line of buoys in the TOA array (95W) and right on the cusp of erupting on western shores of the Galapagos (at 90W). Given the lack of sensors between 155W and 110W, exact details concerning the core 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 4/10 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 +2.0 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 on the rise in fit's-and-starts. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are in a neutral ENSO atmospheric 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 during the 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