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 (4/17) in North and Central CA local north windswell was producing waves in the head high to 1 ft overhead range and blown out with chop and northwest winds in control. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to maybe chest high on the sets and clean but weak - just windswell. In Southern California up north surf was thigh high and clean but warbled, just windswell. Down south waves were chest high on the sets coming from the southern hemi and decently lined up. A little southerly warble was intermixed. Hawaii's North Shore was getting Japan swell with waves 1-2 ft overhead and reasonably clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting northeast windswell at chest high and chopped from east-northeast trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
At present swell from a small gale previously off Japan was hitting Hawaii with minimal background energy bound for California. A new weak low was tracking over the dateline and expected to bloom in the Eastern Gulf on Fri-Sat (4/19) with up to 41 ft seas. Something to monitor for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA. And yet another small gale is forecast over the dateline Sun PM (4/20) with 29 ft seas mainly targeting Hawaii. Down south a 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 by the weekend. And yet another large gale is forecast for the Southeast Pacific on Fri (4/18) generating up to 38 ft seas aimed best at Peru with sideband energy possible for Southern CA. This is an upgrade from previous projections.
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 (4/17) the jetstream was pushing generally flat off Japan at 40N tracking over the dateline then ridging slightly over the Western Gulf before falling into a weak trough off Vancouver Island and then pushing inland over Washington. Something that almost looked like a trough was also trying to organize in the Western Gulf. But over all neither of the 2 weak trough held much support for even low pressure development. Over the next 72 hours the same basic zonal/flat flow is to continue but with a weak trough building in the far West Pacific and another in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. The Gulf trough to have 140 kt wind pushing down into it offering decent support for gale development. Only 120 kt winds forecast for the West Pacific trough with lesser odds for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to move inland over Central CA on Tues (4/22) offering a shot of weather there while the West Pacific trough eases east, possibly building in the Eastern Gulf by Thurs (4/240 with 130+ kt winds starting to drop into the trough. Perhaps more support for another local gale setting up off the Pacific Northwest. And overall the jet is to be looking decent, with a singular flow pushing off Japan ridging northeast over the Western Gulf, then falling into the aforementioned trough off the Pacific Northwest. The Active Phase of the MJO is looking to be having the desired affect (enhancing the jet).
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (4/17) swell from a gale previously off Japan was hitting Hawaii (see Small Japan Gale below). Also a new gale was trying to organize while tracking east over the dateline Thurs AM (4/17) with 35 kt northwest winds building near 37N 173W. 20 ft seas were modeled back at 36N 176W (315 degs HI). By evening the fetch is to hold while tracking east with almost 40 kt northwest winds developing and seas still 20 ft at 39N 165W (345 degs HI) and starting to target the US Wes Coast better. The gale is to be building Fri AM (4/18) as it moves into the Gulf of Alaska with 45 kt northwest winds at 43N 153W and seas building from 24 ft at 42N 153W (294 degs NCal). 50 kt northwest winds are forecast in the Eastern Gulf over a solid area by evening with seas building to 32 ft at 44N 145W (300 degs NCal) with 30 ft seas down to 43N (296 degs NCal). Fetch is to fade some to 45 kts Sat AM (4/19) while lifting north off British Columbia aimed at Washington and Oregon with seas projected to 39 ft at 48N 140W (315 degs NCal). This system is to be fading while circulating off North Canada on Sat PM with seas fading from 32 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. Rough data suggest swell arrival in North CA mid-day Sun (4/20) but most energy very northerly and shadowed in the SF Bay Area.
Potential secondary fetch of 40 kt from the northwest is forecast Sun AM (4/20) and holding through the day, fading early Mon AM. Seas rebuilding Sun PM (4/20) to 26 ft up at 47N 147W (307 degs NCal) fading from 24 ft Mon AM (4/21) at 47N 143W (308 degs NCal) then dissipating. More north angled 14 sec period swell is possible for NCal with luck.
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.
Hawaii. Swell to peak Thurs AM (4/17) at 4 ft @ 14 secs at sunrise (5.5 ft faces) fading some later in the afternoon. Residuals on Friday fading from 3 ft @ 12 secs (3.5 ft faces). Swell Direction 303-322 degrees focused mainly on 309 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 (4/17) high pressure at 1024 mbs was northeast of Hawaii and trying to ridge into California with low pressure over British Columbia. The high was forming a pressure gradient over North CA generating 20 kt north winds there reaching well down into Central CA. A light wind pattern was in control of Southern CA. Friday 15-20 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. Low pressure moving into the Gulf is to hold high pressure at bay somewhat. Still 15-20 kt northwest winds to hold for all of North and Central CA Sunday, then fading Monday to 10-15 kts as more low pressure builds off British Columbia. Low pressure is to move inland over the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday with a front pushing into Central CA with rain possible down to Big Sur mid-day and snow starting at sunrise for Tahoe. A new batch of high pressure is to move into the California offshore region with 15+ kt northwest winds in control by Tues evening also reaching into Southern CA. Up to 7 inches of snow possible for Tahoe into Wednesday sunrise. Up to 25 kt northwest winds are forecast for Pt Conception Wednesday (4/23) with lesser winds up to Cape Mendocino. Maybe 1-2 inches of snow still for Tahoe. Northwest winds fading to 20 kts later Thursday.
Surface - A gale developed in the Southeast Pacific on Fri-Sat (4/12), the same area as a previous gale, 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). And now a 4th gale is forecast for the same location.
2nd Southern Hemi Gale
A 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
4th Southern Hemi Gale
Another broader gale is forecast developing in the Southeast Pacific starting Fri PM (4/18) with 40 kt southwest winds over a decent sized area targeting Peru. Seas on the increase from 30 ft at 52S 140W (190 degs NCal, 194 degs SCal). 45 kt southwest winds to continue into Sat AM (4/19) aimed well to the north-northeast with seas building to 38 ft at 50S 133W (188 degs NCal, 191 degs SCal). Fetch is to be fading from 40-45 kts still aimed north northeast and tracking east in the evening with seas fading from 38 ft at 46S 125W (183 degs NCal, 185 degs SCal). By Sun AM (4/20) this system is to have only 30-35 kt southwest winds with seas fading from 30-32 ft on the edge of the SCal swell window (180 degrees). A secondary fetch of 40 kt southwest winds are forecast in the evening generating more 34 ft seas at 51S 125W (183 degs NCal, 185 degs SCal). This gale is to be east of the SCal swell window by Mon AM (4/21). Assuming all goes as forecast a decent pulse of southerly angled swell is likely for all of California. This is one worth monitoring.
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 just west of the dateline Sat Pm (4/19) with a small area of 35 kt northwest winds building. By Sun AM (4/20) a moderate sized area of 40-45 kt northwest winds are forecast west of the dateline with seas on the increase from barely 20 ft. By evening winds are to already be fading from 40 kts aimed to the east with seas peaking at 28 ft at 38N 174E (312 degs HI). Fetch is to be holding at 40 kts Mon AM (4/21) with the gale pushing easing up to the dateline with seas holding at 28 ft over a modest sized area at 43N 178E (322 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). 35 kt west winds to be fading in the evening and lifting north with 26 ft seas fading at 45N 178W (330 degs HI, 298 degs NCal). This system is to be all but gone after that. Assuming all goes as forecast, some decent 15-16 sec period swell could result for Hawaii with far lesser energy for the US West Coast.
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 (4/17) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at -4.62. The 30 day average was rising at -0.28 and the 90 day average was falling at -1.79. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of perhaps a weak version of the Active 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 west anomalies continuing to hold from the Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline. Neutral anomalies developed east of there holding south of Hawaii and on into Central America. A week from now (4/25) moderate west anomalies are expected to hold over the Maritime Continent (this is an upgrade) then fading on 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 is near it's peak in the West Pacific and is to hold but weaken slightly over the next week. This latest batch of West Wind anomalies started (4/7) and were likely strong enough to be considered a minimal Westerly Wind Burst, and are to hold through 4/19, 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 a fourth 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 4/16 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 on the dateline and respectable in coverage. The Active Phase is to continue holding over the far West Pacific over the next 15 days per both the statistic and dynamic models, though the statistic model is trending a little stronger. Still both models depict the Active Phase holding for 15 days and just as strong then as it is now. This is good news. 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 tracking over the dateline, and is forecast to more or less hold strength while slowly tracking east and into Central America through 5/2. A moderate Inactive Phase is to build over the West Pacific 4/27 tracking east while holding together pushing into Central America 5/17. Behind it a very weak Active Phase is to develop about 5/10 pushing towards the east reaching the East Pacific 5/27 with yet another Active Phase building behind it. As hoped for, westerly anomalies have persisted over the West Pacific the first two weeks of April and are forecast for 2 more weeks. 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 (4/17), 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. This pattern started in earnest on 3/29 and has been continuing and solidifying it's grasp every since. It would be best if it could creep 3-4 more degrees south, especially in the area bound by from 90-140W. 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. But overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific is impressive. The next big development, should it occur, will be the much breech 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 at anytime now.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator are of most interest and remain most impressive. Of great interest is a large area of warm +3-5 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 the core of the warm water pool 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 above it, 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 or at least continued westerly anomalies. Anything that suppresses trades will suffice to continue the transport mechanism. Note: Significant reductions in trade wind velocity (below normal) over the West Pacific is enough to set up a Kelvin Wave (i.e. westerly anomalies). Out-and-out west surface winds are not required.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 4/17 have stabilized. 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 +1.65 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). The el Nino of 09/10 was +1.4 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