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 Sunday (4/22) North and Central CA had surf in the head high range at exposed breaks and totally socked in with eddy south wind adding some bump to it. In Santa Cruz surf was thigh to maybe waist high and clean with fog just off the beach. Southern California up north surf was thigh high and clean with light fog just off the beach. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore had wrap around easterly windswell at head high and warbled from northeasterly trades. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting east tradewind generated windswell with waves head high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
A small and weak gale fell southeast through the Western Gulf Friday (4/20) with 20 ft seas offering perhaps the bare faintest signs of swell for California on Monday (4/23). After that nothing of real interest is projected other than a gale off Washington on Wednesday (4/25) with maybe 18 ft seas providing some little hope for the Friday into the weekend for the US West Coast. Theoretically another small gale is forecast on the dateline Friday (4/27) with 20 ft seas targeting Hawaii. Odds low though. Down south a gale developed weaker than hoped for tracking under New Zealand on Friday (4/20) then rising slightly northeast producing 32 ft seas on Saturday (4/21) targeting sideband energy at HAwaii and more direct energy at the US West Coast down into Central America. Small swell possible.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jet stream - On Sunday (4/22) the jet was split over Asia but miraculously consolidated just off Japan falling into a small tight trough there with 130 kt winds feeding into it, then rose into a broad ridge over the dateline before falling into another small almost pinched trough off the US west coast, then ridging again before pushing into Northern British Columbia. Low odds to support gale development in both troughs. Over the next 72 hours both troughs are to become pinched and cut off from the main flow while easing east to the dateline and just off California on Tuesday (2/24) offering little odds to support gale development, then dissipating 24 hours later. The overall jet stream flow is to become a disorganized mess. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to be split over and off Japan on Friday (4/27) but then consolidating on the dateline and pushing east from there with 110 kt winds riding slightly then falling southeast into Central CA. Perhaps some limited support for gale development on the dateline into the Western Gulf into the early weekend, but then energy levels are to dissipate with a very summer-like pattern taking hold with winds 80 kts or less building over the North Pacific.
Surface - On Sunday (4/22) high pressure at 1028 mbs was north of Hawaii with a weaker one just off Japan at 1024 mbs. Weak low pressure was in the Bering Sea on the dateline. A dead neutral pressure pattern was off the US West Coast. In short, no swell producing fetch was apparent. Swell from a small gael in the Gulf was pushing towards Hawaii and California (see Weak Gulf Gale below). Over the next 72 hours a cutoff low is to develop on the dateline Tues-Wed (4/25) with 40 kt north to northeast winds producing up to 24 ft seas at 36N 170E, but all aimed due south and of no real interest to Hawaii much less the US West Coast. Weak low pressure is to build in the Northeastern Gulf on Wed (4/25) maybe generating 30 kt northwest winds and 19 ft seas in the evening at 45N 142W with luck, possibly setting up swell for the US West Coast for the weekend. Will believe it when it happens.
Weak Gulf Gale
Low pressure in the Western Gulf of Alaska Thursday evening (4/19) produced a fetch of 25-30 kt northwest winds building to 30 kts solid Friday AM (4/20) generating a tiny area of 20 ft seas at 43N 155W in the evening then quickly dissipating. Some limited windswell potential for the US West coast with luck with swell arriving in Central CA Wednesday near sunset at 4.8 ft @ 13 secs (6 ft) from 292 degrees, but even that might be on the high side. Sideband swell possible for Hawaii too starting late Sunday evening (4/22) peaking before sunrise Monday at 4.5 ft @ 12 secs (5.5 ft) from 355 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (4/22) a slack wind pattern was in control of the California coast with a dead neutral pressure pattern occurring. A light southerly flow is to develop on Monday along the Central Coast at 10-15 kts with a low developing just off Northern CA. Light showers possible along the North and Central Coast. That low is to fall south some on Tuesday with south winds still in play down to Pt Conception at 10 kts. Light rain possible along the Central Coast. That low is to move over Pt Conception Wednesday AM with light southwest winds in play everywhere at 5-10 kts but up to 15 kts in Southern CA and rain over the entire state (including Southern CA) while a new front tries to build off the Central Coast. Rain in Tahoe too but snow for the high country of Yosemite (1 ft+ possible). That front is to disintegrate Thursday AM off Central CA with high pressure trying to east into the coast behind. Still, rain is forecast over North and all of Central CA from it. Maybe 4-5 inches of snow for Tahoe. Northwest winds 10 kts everywhere late. Clearing high pressure is to be building on Friday at 15 kts over the entire coast except protected location in Southern CA easing into Southern CA. building to 25 kts over Pt Conception and 20 kts Central and North CA, through Southern CA to remain mostly protected. A north windblown mess expected for North and Central CA over the weekend with high pressure holding strong though Southern CA protected.
At the surface in the South Pacific on Sunday (4/22) pockets of 30-35 kt west winds were in-play, but none was forecast to have enough duration to produce any real swell relative to Hawaii or the mainland. Swell from a gale that developed southeast of New Zealand was pushing northeast towards Hawaii and California (see New Zealand Gale below). Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast with seas 28 ft or less and all pushing flat west to east.
New Zealand Gale
A gale pushed under New Zealand Thursday evening (4/19) with 40 kt west-southwest winds over a small sized area and building, with 45 kt winds aiming more to the northeast on Friday AM (4/20) and seas building from 26 ft at 56S 167E. In the evening 40+ kt southwest winds were building in coverage while pushing east with barely 30 ft seas building at 56S 177E (211 degs CA and moving into the Tahiti swell shadow, 194 degs HI). On Saturday AM (4/21) fetch was becoming diffuse fading from 40 kts with seas 30 ft at 55S 168W (205 degs CA and in the core of the Tahiti shadow, 187 degs HI and aimed mostly east of the great circle path there). The fetch pulsed a little in the evening aimed almost due north with winds 40 kts and seas 32 ft at 49S 157W (203 degs CA and still in the core of the Tahiti swell shadow but pushing better up the 179 degree path to Hawaii). Fetch was gone Sunday AM (4/22) with seas fading from 32 ft at 45S 148W.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Saturday AM (4/28) with pure swell 2.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.0-4.5 ft). Swell Direction 179 degrees
Expect swell arrival in Southern CA on Monday AM (4/30) near 3 AM with pure swell peaking during the day no larger than 2.7 ft @ 17 secs (4.5 ft faces) and inconsistent with few waves per set. Swell Direction: 205 degrees
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 another modest gale gale is forecast developing in the Western Gulf on Friday (4/27) with 35 kt northwest winds and 22 ft seas. But that is unlikely to become reality. Nothing else to follow. Summer is here.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather event that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized by either enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is on control of or 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 day, 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 forecast for MJO activity.
As of Sunday (4/22) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was backing off at 6.27. The 30 day average was up slightly at -6.36 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to 1.33. The transition from Active to Inactive Phase of the MJO was having effects on the SOI.
Current wind analysis indicates light to modest easterly anomalies over the equator extending from just east of the dateline to 130E. Weak westerly anomalies were from 130W and moving eastward. This indicates the Active Phase of the MJO was fading in the extreme Eastern Pacific while traveling east into the Atlantic with the Inactive Phase in control of the West Pacific. A week from now (4/29) dead neutral anomalies are to take hold of the entire West Pacific extending effectively to Ecuador indicative of perhaps a very weak Inactive Phase of the MJO at worst. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 4/21 suggest the Inactive Phase is weakly in control of the dateline region and is to peak about 4/26, then start fading. The Active Phase is building under India and is to push east starting to make progress into the West Pacific 2 weeks from now (early May). And warmer than normal water is starting to accumulate off Ecuador and a pocket of blocking cold water under the equator south of California is evaporating with warmer water trying to push east into it (possible Kelvin Wave). This activity is normal for this time of year, but also suggests that La Nina is continuing to disintegrate. .
Remnants of what was a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) are still evident and momentum from this La Nina event are expected to hold well into early Summer of 2012. But after that, a slow but steady return to a more normal pattern is expected to take hold, offering better chances for decent surf for the Fall and Winter of 2012-2013. We're almost there - it's been a long 2 years.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no fetch of interest is 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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Chasing the Swell has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table