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 (4/26) North and Central CA had surf that was flat and onshore and unrideable. In Santa Cruz surf was 1 ft on the sets and clean. Southern California up north had surf at knee high or less and clean. Down south waves were knee to thigh high and nearly chopped and weak. Hawaii's North Shore had no real swell with waves to maybe 2 ft and clean. The South Shore was waist high and clean. The East Shore was getting east tradewind generated windswell with waves knee high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
A gale developed off Washington on Wednesday (4/25) with seas to barely 20 ft providing limited swell for the Pacific Northwest late Thursday and down into California on Friday into the early weekend. Another small gale is forecast in the Western Gulf Friday (4/27) with 22 ft seas over a tiny area targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast but a long ways away from both. Minimally rideable swell possible for both locations. 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 small sideband energy at Hawaii for Sat (4/28) and more direct energy at the US West Coast by Mon (4/30). But for the next week no real gale formation is expected in the North Pacific. Down south a pair of tiny gales are forecast in the extreme Southeastern Pacific Fri-Sat (4/28) with 32 ft seas with a larger one barely in the Southern CA swell window on Monday (4/30) with nearly 40 ft seas. Maybe some swell for Southern CA down into Central America to result.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jet stream - On Thursday (4/26) the jet was heavily split just over Japan with the northern branch retrograding northwest over Siberia then tracking southeast through the Bering Sea eventually joining the main flow in the Western Gulf and forming a weak trough there. It pushed east and then southeast pushing inland over Central CA. Winds were up to 120 kts in the West Gulf trough offering some odds for gale development there. Also the trough pushing into Central CA previously held some support for gale development, but that was quickly fading as the trough was moving inland. Over the next 72 hours the West Gulf trough is to try and push east, but is to make little headway and instead becomes pinched late Saturday offering no real support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the split flow over Japan is to ease east and weaken, with the whole jet lifting northward. By Thursday (5/3) a very summer-like pattern is to be taking hold with winds 80 kts or less over the entire North Pacific with no troughs of interest forecast, offering no support for gale development.
Surface - On Thursday (4/26) a new gale was building in the Western Gulf of Alaska (see West Gulf Gale below) while remains of a previous gale were fading off Oregon (see Oregon Gale below) and high pressure at 1020 mbs was off the Southern CA coast. Mini-swell from a previous cutoff low on the dateline was pushing towards Hawaii 9see Dateline Cutoff Low below). Over the next 72 hrs the West Gulf Gale is to have come and gone. High pressure northeast of Hawaii and off the Southern CA coast is to build to 1028 mbs starting to generate easterly trades at 15-20 kts pushing into the Hawaiian Islands by Saturday (4/28) resulting in modest easterly windswell there and holding into the following week. The high is to also start generating a pressure gradient over the Central CA coast by Friday building into Sun 94/29) with 25+ kt north winds building up to Cape Mendo resulting in summer-like north windswell.
Dateline Cutoff Low
A cutoff low on the dateline built 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. There's some low odds of sideband swell radiating towards Hawaii on Saturday (4/28) at 2 ft @ 12 secs (2.5 ft) from 305 degrees, but that's it. Nothing for the US West Coast.
Weak low pressure built in the Northeastern Gulf on Wed AM (4/25) generating 30-35 kt northwest winds holding into the evening with 20 ft seas modeled at 44N 141W (in the evening). This to produce swell for the US West Coast for the weekend. But high pressure and north winds to be in control when that swell theoretically arrives.
Central CA: Expect swell arrival at 11 AM Friday with pure swell 7 ft @ 12-13 secs (8 ft) coming from 302 degrees and shadowed in the SF Bay Area.
West Gulf Gale
A modest gale gale was developing in the Western Gulf on Thursday AM (4/26) with 30 kt northwest winds building to 40 kts in the evening resulting in 24 ft seas by 11 PM at 46N 169W (340 degs HI and 297 degs NCal). Fetch is to be nearly gone by Fri AM (4/27) fading from 30 kts with seas fading from 20 ft at 46N 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 Thursday (4/26) a front was passing over California moving inland with light rain early even down in Southern CA. But high pressure and northwest winds were on the increase along the coast late as the front moved further inland. Clearing high pressure is to be building on Friday with northwest winds at 15 kts over the entire coast except protected locations in Southern CA. Those winds are to build to 25 kts over Pt Conception and 20 kts Central and North CA, though Southern CA to remain mostly protected. A north windblown mess expected for North and Central CA over the weekend with high pressure holding strong and the core lifting north to Cape Mendo Sunday with winds to near 30 kts there, with Southern CA becoming steadily more protected. The gradient is to be fading on Monday (4/30) with north winds fading from 20 kts over Cape Mendocino and an eddy flow likely for all of Central and South CA (south winds 5-10 kts). By Tuesday high pressure is to fall back south with northwest winds 15 kts for the entire North and Central Coast continuing Wednesday then fading Thursday AM as a weak front fades over north CA, then northwest winds rebuilding for Friday (5/4) as a summer like high pressure regime takes control.
At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (4/24) a storm was circulating in the deep Southeast Pacific generating 55 kts west winds and 32 ft seas all aimed at Southern Chile and of no interest to our forecast area. High pressure had a lock on the area just east of 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 the storm in the extreme Southeast Pacific is to be fading producing 45 kt east to southeast winds over a moderate area on Thursday evening (4/26) into Friday AM and all pushing due east if not southeast resulting in 36-3/8 ft seas but again all pushing southeast and offering nothing for the US West Coast targeting only Southern Chile and Antarctica.
A pair of micro gales are forecast tracking through the same area Thurs PM (4/26) with 30 ft seas at 49S 129W pushing better to the northeast for 12 hrs with up to 32 ft seas Friday AM at 47N 120W then fading quickly. Another gale to follow directly with 55 kt south winds Friday AM (4/27) holding into the evening with 34 ft sea at at 48S 130W tracking Sat AM (4/28) to 44S 124W then dissipating. A run of small background swell is possible pushing up into maybe Southern CA with luck. But don't expect much size.
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
Swell to push into Northern CA on Monday afternoon at 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft) pushing 2 ft @ 16 secs early Tuesday (3 ft). Swell Direction 200 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 Thursday (4/26) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) had dropped to -14.42. The 30 day average was holding at -5.84 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to -0.26.
Current wind analysis indicated light easterly anomalies over the equator with one pocket of embedded moderate easterly anomalies extending from just east of the dateline to 150E. 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 if not dead neutral Phase was in control. A week from now (5/4) 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 has evaporated 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 kt south winds winds is to be pushing up into the Tasman Sea on Fri (4/27) with 40 ft seas pushing under Tasmania. Saturday the system is to be fading in the Southern Tasman Sea with winds dropping from 45 kts and seas 38 ft seas reaching to 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.
Beyond a new storm is forecast building in the deep Central Pacific with 55 kt south winds Sunday AM (4/29) with seas on the increase. By afternoon this system is to have southwest winds down to 50 kts but the core of the system is to be tracking flat to the east. Seas building from 36 ft at 64S 123W, on the eastern edge of the California swell window. Fetch is to be fading from 40 kts Monday AM at 60S 120W with seas peaking at 38 ft at 59S 119W effectively out of all but the extreme Southern CA swell window. This system is to be fading and outside the CA swell window by the evening. Possible modest very southerly angled swell for Southern CA if all this comes to pass.
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