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 (4/24) North and Central CA had surf at waist to chest high and clean with light wind and fairly lined up. In Santa Cruz surf was thigh high and clean with clear skies. Southern California up north had surf at knee high and clean. Down south waves were knee to thigh high and chopped with northwest winds in control. Hawaii's North Shore had sideband Gulf swell at waist high and clean. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting east tradewind generated windswell with waves chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
A gale is projected off Washington on Wednesday (4/25) with maybe 20 ft seas providing some hope for the Pacific Northwest late Thursday and down into California on Friday into the weekend. Theoretically another small gale is forecast in the Western Gulf Friday (4/27) with up to 24 ft seas targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast but a long ways away from both. Low odds for any semi real swell to result. 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. But for the next week no real gale formation is expected, though bits and pieces of energy are to be occasionally flaring up in the South Pacific.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jet stream - On Tuesday (4/24) the jet was split just east of Japan pushing east into the Pacific in split mode and holding that way all the way to the US West Coast. The northern branch did have a pocket of 150 kt winds pushing through the Gulf of Alaska almost forming a trough and holding a little potential to support gale development there. And a cut off trough was off the Southern CA coast with 120 kts winds flowing under it, but so pinched as to offering no gale support. Over the next 72 hours the Gulf trough is to become more defined but also pushing east and starting to encroach upon the extreme North CA coast on Thursday AM (4/26) with winds to 140 kts offering only potential for low pressure development down at the surface and moving onshore quickly. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to remain split off Japan ridging hard north then falling into something that almost looks like a trough on the dateline on Fri (4/27) but then ridging east of there with 140 kt winds eventually pushing into British Columbia. 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 offering no support for gale development.
Surface - On Tuesday (4/24) weak low pressure was in the Gulf of Alaska with a stronger but cutoff low over the dateline. High pressure at 1028 mbs was north of Hawaii generating trades at 15-20 kts and modest easterly windswell there. Weak low pressure was off the Central CA coast pushing southeast generating a modest southerly flow nearshore. Over the next 72 hours the cutoff low on the dateline is to build some into Tues PM (4/24) with 35-40 kt north to northeast winds producing up to 24 ft seas at 36N 174E, but all aimed due south and of no real interest. Low odds of even sideband swell for Hawaii and nothing for the US West Coast. Weak low pressure is to build in the Northeastern Gulf on Wed AM (4/25) generating 30-35 kt northwest winds holding into the evening with 20 ft seas forecast at 44N 141W (in the evening), setting up swell for the US West Coast for the weekend. But high pressure and north winds to be in control when that swell theoretically arrives.
Also a modest gale gale is forecast developing in the Western Gulf on Thursday AM (4/26) with 35 kt northwest winds building to near 40 kts in the evening resulting in 24 ft seas by 11 PM at 45N 170W. Fetch is to be gone by Fri AM (4/27) with seas fading from 22 ft at 45N 167W. Maybe some small swell to result for Hawaii and the US West Coast with luck.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (4/24) a very weak southerly flow was in control of the California coast driven by weak low pressure circulating 700 nmiles west of Southern CA. That low is to fall southeast on Wednesday AM disintegrating off Southern CA with light southerly winds in-play everywhere at 5-10 kts with light rain building over the entire state (including Southern CA) late evening. A new front is to try and build off the North and Central Coasts at the same time. Rain in Tahoe too but maybe some snow for the high country of Yosemite (5 inches). The new front is to be disintegrating Thursday AM while pushing into Central CA with high pressure trying to ease into the coast behind it. Still, rain is forecast over North and all of Central CA from it. Maybe 4 inches of snow for Tahoe through 5 PM. Northwest winds 5-10 kts everywhere late and up to 15 kts in Southern CA. Clearing high pressure is to be building on Friday at 15 kts over the entire coast except protected location in Southern CA. Those winds are to build 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 the core lifting north to Cape Mendo late Sunday, with Southern CA becoming steadily more protected. A summer like gradient is to set up on Monday (4/30) with north winds 20-25 kts over Cape Menodcino and an eddy flow likely for all of Central and South CA (south winds 5-10 kts) continuing Tuesday, starting to fade late.
At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (4/24) low pressure was circulating in the deep Southeast Pacific generating 45 kts west winds and 28 ft seas all aimed at Southern Chile and of no interest to our forecast area. High pressure had a lock on the New Zealand area. 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 a gale is forecast developing in the Southeast Pacific producing 55 kt south winds over a tiny area on Wed (4/25) and all pushing due east if not southeast resulting in 34 ft seas in the evening and up to 36 kts seas Thursday AM (4/26) but again all pushing southeast and offering nothing for the US West Coast targeting only Southern Chile. A pair of micro gales are forecast tracking through the same area Thurs PM (4/26) with 32 ft seas at 49S 130W pushing better to the northeast for 12 hrs with another Fri PM (4/27) with 32 ft sea at at 46S 130W possibly setting up tiny background swell for Peru up into maybe Southern CA with luck. But don't expect much if anything.
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 hrs virtually no swell producing fetch is forecast. 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 Tuesday (4/24) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was stabilizing at 4.54. The 30 day average was up slightly at -5.82 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to 0.5. The transition from Active to Inactive Phase of the MJO was having some effects on the SOI.
Current wind analysis indicated light easterly anomalies over the equator extending from just east of the dateline to 130E. Neutral winds were east of there extending into Central America. This indicates the Active Phase of the MJO was gone and a very weak Inactive Phase was in control. A week from now (5/2) dead neutral anomalies are to take hold of the entire West Pacific extending eastward into Ecuador indicative of perhaps a very weak Inactive Phase of the MJO at worst if not a dead neutral phase. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 4/23 suggest the Inactive Phase is weakly in control of the dateline region and fading. A weak version of the Active Phase is pushing east from Indonesia and is starting to make progress into the West Pacific 5 days from now (4/28) peaking near the dateline 2 weeks out. But it is to be very weak with no real benefit to the North Pacific storm track anticipated. Of interest, 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 was the result of the last pulse of the Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and 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 a broad storm with 50 kts winds is to be tracking under the Tasman Sea on Fri-Sat (4/28) with up to 50 kts southwest winds and 38-40 ft seas making limited progress northeast. 38 ft seas to reach 47S 153E targeting Fiji well, with perhaps some filtered energy eventually reaching up into Hawaii if this were to develop as forecast. Something to monitor.
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: 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