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 (4/15) in North and Central CA local north windswell was producing waves in the 1-2 ft overhead range and blown out with northwest winds in control. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high on the sets and clean but inconsistent. In Southern California up north surf was thigh to waist high and reasonably clean and fun looking. Down south waves were waist high on the sets and pretty bumped up from onshore wind. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northeast wrap around windswell in the waist high range and reasonably clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting northeast windswell at 1 ft overhead and chopped from northeasterly trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
At present no swell producing weather systems are occurring in the North Pacific. Swell from a small gale was pushing towards Hawaii arriving late Wed (4/16). The models suggest a small gale developing off British Columbia peaking Sat AM (4/19) with 32 ft seas targeting the Pacific Northwest. And a small gale is forecast over the dateline Sun PM (4/20) wit 28 ft seas targeting Hawaii. So the North Pacific isn't to fall asleep just yet. But it's close. 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. Small swell is hitting Southern CA now. Another tiny gale developed in the far Southeast Pacific on Fri-Sat (4/12) generating a small area of 34 ft seas aimed north. Possible small swell mainly for Mexico up into SCal. And yet another large gale is forecast for the Southeast Pacific on Fri (4/18) generating 32 ft seas aimed best at Peru with sideband energy possible for Southern CA.
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 (4/15) the jetstream was split pushing off Japan with most energy in the southern branch at 150 kts ridging slightly while the far weaker northern branch pushed due north up into Russia then fell southeast joining the southern branch on the dateline. The two flow joined for a small area then split again with most energy tracking flat east into Washington while the southern branch fell straight south then turned northeast and pushed into Southern CA. In all no troughs nor support for gale development was indicated. Over the next 72 hours all the parenthetic activity is to fade and the jet is to consolidate tracking flat west to east pushing from Japan to Oregon roughly on the 40N latitude line. Winds to not exceed 130 kts with no trough indicated and no support for gale development expected. Beyond 72 hours a weak trough is to develop in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska on Fri PM (4/18) with 140 kt winds feeding it perhaps offering some limited support for gale development. By Sun PM (4/20) two more troughs are to develop, one on the dateline but with no real winds feeding it and another in the Gulf with 140 kts winds feeding it. The Gulf trough is to deepen and almost pinch off as it moves onshore over North Ca on Monday evening (4/21) while the dateline trough starts getting support from 130 kt winds pushing southeast into it. That trough to reach a point 1200 nmiles north of Hawaii by late Tuesday . both to provide some support for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (4/15) swell from a gale previous off Japan was pushing towards Hawaii (see Small Japan Gale below). The models suggest a new gale forming in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska on Fri Am (4/18) building through the day producing a decent sized fetch of 40 kt northwest winds late with seas building from 18 ft at 46n 144W (302 degs NCal). Fetch is to build to 45 kts Sat AM (4/19) aimed at Oregon with seas projected to 32 ft at 48N 140W (315 degs NCal). This system is to be pushing into Central Canada on Sat PM with seas fading from 30 ft just off Northern British Columbia targeting mainly Vancouver Island down into Washington. No additional swell production is forecast. This systems is something worth monitoring, but seems optimistic given the time of year.
Small Japan Gale
A small gale developed just off Northern Japan on Sat AM (4/12) producing 35 kt west winds over a small area and 24 ft seas at 41N 156E targeting mainly Hawaii. 35 kt west winds pushed east-southeast through the day into the evening resulting in more 24 ft seas at 38N 162E (303 degs HI). Fetch faded from 30-35 kts Sun AM (4/13) approaching the dateline with 22 ft seas fading at 40N 168E. 30-35 kt west winds were fading in coverage in the evening with seas holding at 22 ft up at 42N 173E (317 degs HI). A small pulse of 35+ kt west winds developed into Mon AM (4/14) with seas building to 24 ft over a small area at 44N 177E (322 degs HI) then quickly faded out.
Some small swell to result for Hawaii. Expect swell arrival on Wed PM (4/16) at 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft faces). Swell to peak Thurs AM (4/17) at 4 ft @ 14 secs at sunrise (5.5 ft faces) fading some later in the afternoon. Swell Direction 303-322 degrees focused mainly on 309 degrees
No other swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
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 (4/15) high pressure at 1030 mbs was starting to ridge into Oregon forming a pressure gradient over North CA generating 30 kt north winds there, a typical summer-like pattern. A lighter northwest winds pattern was in control of the Central CA coast with light winds into Southern CA. North winds to remain in play for North CA at 25 kts, and 20 kts over Central CA and the Channel Islands Wednesday, then moderating Thursday, but still 20 kts over North and Central CA and moving into nearshore waters. Friday 15 kt north winds to continue for all of North and Central CA fading but still near 15 kts on Saturday (4/19) mainly around Pt Conception. 15 kt northwest winds to hold for all of North and Central CA Sunday, then rebuilding Monday as a new batch of high pressure moves into the California offshore region. 25+ kt northwest winds are forecast for all of California Tuesday (4/22) including Southern CA.
Surface - Swell from a small gale that was in the far Southeastern Pacific on Sun-Mon (4/7) is fading in Southern CA (see 1st Southern Hemi Gale below). Another gale developed in the same general area on Fri-Sat (4/12) but tracked better to the north (see 2nd Southern Hemi Gale below). Yet at third pulse of swell developed behind that (See 3rd Southern Hemi Pulse below) . Otherwise over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
1st Southern Hemi Gale
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: 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
2nd Southern Hemi Gale
Another small fetch of 40-45 kt south to almost southwest winds developed in the far Southeast Pacific on Fri PM (4/11) producing a small area of 28 ft seas at 50S 128W aimed due north at Southern CA (185 degs). The Jason-2 satellite passed over the fetch at 18Z and confirmed seas at 26.5 ft with one reading to 29.6 ft where the model projected 26 ft seas. The model was on track. The fetch built to 45 kt Sat AM (4/12) but still small in areal coverage aimed due north with seas building to 34 ft at 50S 121W (183 degs SCal). Fetch was fading from barely 40 kts in the evening with seas fading from 32 ft over a tiny area at 44S 120W (182 degs SCal). This system was gone by Sun AM (4/13). Some small southern hemi swell to result for Mexico and Southern CA.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Sat AM (4/19) with period 18 secs and size on the increase pushing 2.1 ft @ 17 secs late (3.5 ft with sets to 4.5 ft at top breaks). Swell holding at 2.5 ft @ 15-16 secs (3.5-4.0 ft).on Sun (4/20). Swell fading Mon (4/21) from 2.4 ft @ 14 secs (3.0-3.5 ft). Swell DIrection: 185 degrees
3rd Southern Hemi Pulse
A modest fetch of 40 kt southwest winds developed in the far Southeast Pacific on Sun PM (4/13) resulting in 30 ft seas at 57S 123W for 6 hours (183 degrees).
Southern CA: Perhaps a small pulse of swell to arrive starting late Mon (4/21) with period 19 secs. Swell to peak starting Tues AM (4/22) at 2.3 ft @ 17 secs (3.5-4.0 ft faces). Swell fading Wed AM (4/23) from 2.1 ft @ 16 secs early (3 ft). Swell Direction: 183 degs
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 gale is to develop on the dateline Sun AM (4/20) with a tiny area of 45 kt northwest winds forecast there. Seas on the increase. By evening winds are to already be fading from 40 kt aimed to the east with seas peaking at 28 ft at 39N 174E (313 degs HI). Fetch is to be fading from 35 kts Mon AM (4/21) with seas fading from 24 ft at 40N 180W (319 degs HI). 30-35 kt northwest winds to hold into the evening with 22 ft seas holding at 40N 172W (330 degs HI). Perhaps some additional development to follow. This is interesting but not believable at this early date.
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 (4/15) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -6.85. The 30 day average was rising at -1.39 and the 90 day average was falling at -1.11. 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 rising from the lowest point it's been since the El Nino of '09/10 and suggesting whatever occurred during the Jan-March timeframe to push it negative was over. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated moderate plus west anomalies continuing to hold from the Maritime Continent reaching to nearly the dateline. Neutral anomalies developed east of there holding south of Hawaii and on into Central America. A week from now (4/23) weak west anomalies are expected to hold over the Maritime Continent but fading before reaching the dateline. Neutral anomalies are forecast from there to south of Hawaii turning to weak easterly anomalies from there to the Galapagos. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was near it's peak in the West Pacific and is to hold but weaken for the next week. This latest batch of West Wind anomalies started (4/7) and were likely just enough to be considered a minimal Westerly Wind Burst, and are to hold through 4/18, likely minimally 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 never give way to a fully Inactive Phase with any hint of easterly anomalies developing west of the dateline. 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 weak 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 4/14 are in general consensus. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was in control over the West Pacific. The core of the Active Phase was over the Eastern Maritime Continent with it's leading edge seeping towards the dateline and respectable in coverage. The Active Phase is to continue moving into the West Pacific over the next 15 days per the statistic model and still be in play west of the dateline 15 days out. The dynamic model is now generally in line with the statistic model, though not as strong. Still it depicts the Active Phase holding for 15 days and just as strong then as it is now. The ultra long range upper level model continues to show solid strength of the overall pattern as compared to months previous, with the Active Phase now peaking west of the dateline, and is to more or less hold strength while slowly tracking east through 4/27. A weaker Inactive Phase is to build over the West Pacific 4/30 tracking east while holding together pushing into Central America 5/12. Behind it a weak Active Phase is to develop about 5/10 pushing towards the east reaching the East Pacific 5/25 with another Active Phase developing behind it. As hoped for, westerly anomalies have persisted over the West Pacific the first two weeks of April. For now we will wait to see what happens next, but all data suggests a change in the Tropical Pacific weather pattern, a required prerequisite to the formation of El Nino. Longterm this signal (suppressed trades in the far equatorial West Pacific) will have to hold into at least August with warm water building greater than 0.5 deg C over the tropical East and Central Pacific (120W to 170W) 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 (4/14) 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 all but gone. 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 as would be expected for this time of year. 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.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator are of most interest and remain most impressive. Of great interest is a large area of warm +4.0 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 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 (one small pocket at + 15 cm just west of the Galapagos on 4/8), suggesting warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards. But surface heights are falling on the dateline to 150W, suggesting all the warm water is now migrating into the East Pacific. When and if this large 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 in the West Pacific 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.What is needed is another Westerly Wind burst of some magnitude, but right now only a weak event is occurring. Still, anything that suppresses trades will suffice to continue the transport mechanism, including just neutral trades.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 4/15 have backed off. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in March 2014 (which did occur). It now suggests water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early June peaking at +1.6 deg C by Nov 2014. For reference, the big El Nino of '82/83 was at +2.0 degs and '97/98 was +2.2 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