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 (5/1) in North and Central CA residual Gulf swell was producing fun little waves in the waist to chest high range and glassy and warm. Down in Santa Cruz residual southern hemi swell was producing waves in the waist to near chest high range and clean, but infrequent. In Southern California up north southern hemi swell wave producing surf in the thigh to waist high range and clean as a whistle. Down south surf was in the waist to chest high range and relatively clean with just a hint of north angle on the wind. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northwest windswell with waves waist high or so and clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting northeast windswell at maybe waist high and chopped from northeasterly trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A small cut-off gale is to form in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska on Fri producing 22 ft seas pushing east. Windswell for the weekend possibly to result for much of the US West Coast. Also an equal sized gale was forming on the dateline Thurs-Fri (5/2) with 22 ft seas possibly setting up windswell for the Islands late in the weekend. Nothing else to follow with the North Pacific going to sleep. Down south a gale is forecast in the deep Southeast Pacific on Fri (5/2) with up to 34 ft seas right on the eastern edge of the SCal swell window, but mainly focusing on Southern Chile. Nothing is forecast to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (5/1) the jetstream was generally a split and unorganized mess over the width of the North Pacific other than two small troughs , one over the dateline and the other in the Eastern Gulf with winds 100-110 kts offering some support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours both troughs are to become cut-off and fade by late Sat (5/3) with energy stream north off Japan up into the Bering Sea. No additional support for storm production is indicated. Beyond 72 hours the split flow is to settle down some, though limited weak energy is to still be peeling off the main flow off Japan tracking up in to the Bering Sea. But in all a decent flow is to be tracking east across the Central Pacific centered near 40N with pockets of wind energy to 130 kts. A trough is to be over the dateline later in the workweek (5/8) with another off the Kuril Islands. Ridges to be in between them. Maybe weak support for low pressure development is possible.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (4/29) two small gales were circulating, one in the Eastern Gulf and another over the dateline. Trades were fairly light over Hawaii at 15 kts. The dateline low was generating 30 kt northwest winds forecast to build to 35 kts in the evening with seas building to 22 ft at 40N 178W targeting Hawaii down the 320 deg path. Fetch is to fade from 35 kt Fri AM (5/2) with seas barely 24 ft at 38N 173W (321 degs HI). This system is to be gone by Friday evening. Limited 13 sec period northwest swell is expected for the lslands peaking later Sunday (5/4) afternoon at 5.6 ft @ 13 secs (7 ft faces).
Also a small gale was developing in the Eastern Gulf on Thurs AM (5/10) generating a small area of 30-35 kt northwest winds building to 40 kt in the evening with seas building to 22 ft at 42N 143W (295 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading from 35 kts Fri AM (5/2) with seas to 22 ft at 42N 141W (293 degs NCal). Residual westerly fetch to hold into Sat AM (5/2) at 30 kts with seas barely 18 ft at 44N 137W (303 degs NCal) then dissipating. Small windswell possible for Southern Oregon down into Pt Conception by the weekend if all goes as planned. For Northern CA swell arriving Sat afternoon (5/3) to 4 ft @ 13 secs (5 ft) holding Sun AM (5/4) at 5 ft @ 12-13 secs (6.0-6.5 ft) from 293 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
What was Tropical Depression Tapah located north-northeast of Guam has faded out. No other tropical systems of interest were being monitored or forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (5/1) a gale low was circulating in the Eastern Gulf and repelling high pressure, resulting in a light wind flow nearshore over the entire state. The low is to fade some later Friday and as a result, high pressure is to try and get a nose into the Central CA coast resulting in 15 kt north winds over Pt Conception late, but still being mostly held off by the low moving towards Oregon. More of the same Saturday as the low moves east with high pressure and north winds building at 15-20 kt for all of Central CA late. Sunday a modest 10 kt westerly to southwest flow is forecast for North CA as the low moves fully inland over Oregon with north winds holding over Pt Conception. Light rain starting early in NCal working its way down to maybe Point Arena but not tracking any further south and holding into Mon AM. By late Monday high pressure and northwest winds are to start developing in earnest for Central and South CA lifting north some on Tuesday and covering all of North and Central CA at 15 kts early and 20 kts late. 20+ kt north winds are forecast for all of North and Central CA on Wed (5/7) fading slightly Thurs, but not much.
Jetstream - On Thursday (5/1) the southern branch of the jetstream was ridging south to a point just north of Antarctica and the Ross Ice Shelf over the West Pacific actively suppressing gale formation in the West and Central Pacific then lifting northeast forming a bit of a trough over the extreme Southeast Pacific. That same basic pattern is to hold for the next 72 hours but with more energy reaching into the far East Pacific forming a better trough starting at 120W (eastern edge of the SCal swell window) helping to support low pressure development, best on Sat (5/3). Beyond 72 hours that pattern is to continue but with the jet lifting slightly north over the West Pacific and a trough forecast in the far Southeast Pacific on Tues (5/6) with 130 kt winds pushing well north. Decent support for gale development possible and tracking east.
Surface - On Thursday (5/1) high pressure at 1028 mbs was east of New Zealand ridging south to 62S suppressing storm development over the greater Southwest Pacific. But a gale was tracking east under the high with winds 45 kts but all that fetch was aimed at inland Antarctica. Over the next 72 hours that gale is to track east of the high and start getting traction Fri AM (5/2) with fetch pushing northeast generating increasing seas. By the evening that fetch is to be lifting unobstructed to the northeast at 45 kts with seas 34 ft 60S 122W or barely on the 182 degree path into Southern CA with most energy targeting Chile. 45 kt winds are to continue tracking northeast Sat AM (5/3) with seas to 36 ft at 50S 105W but all be east of the Southern CA swell window. Low odds for some background swell pushing up into SCal, but most energy to be directed towards Chile.
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 no swell producing weather systems are forecast.
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 (5/1) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up slightly at -2.20. The 30 day average was rising at 6.70 and the 90 day average was falling at -2.57. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a weak Inactive Phase of the MJO. The 30 day SOI continued 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 light west anomalies were over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline. Light west anomalies continued from the dateline extending south of Hawaii then turned neutral from there into Central America. A week from now (5/9) moderate east anomalies are expected to take hold over the Philippines and the Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline, turning neutral there then reversing and turning light westerly at a point south of Hawaii continuing over the Galapagos and into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is weakening in the West Pacific and is to fade while migrating east over the Eastern Pacific while the Inactive Phase builds over the far West Pacific. How strong and how long this Inactive Phase becomes presents a critical junction in the evolution of this potential 2014 warm event. With easterly anomalies forecast, transport of warm water to the east will cease. This would mark the first stoppage of warm water transport since the beginning of the year, potentially cutting the legs of the evolving warm water pool in the East Pacific.
Previously a pattern of multiple strong Westerly Wind Bursts occurred Jan-March, but then moderated in late March, but never gave way to a fully Inactive Phase (with no hint of easterly anomalies west of the dateline since at least Jan 1). This is great news with westerly anomalies in play for 4 full months. 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 collapse and return to a neutral pattern like last year. It's just too early to know. But the further into the unpredictability barrier we get, and with west anomalies continuing, the lower the likelihood of a total collapse becomes. 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). And a fourth weaker one started 4/7 and held through 4/20, and was strong enough to be considered a minimal Westerly Wind Burst WWB. 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. Still the pattern is something more than coincidental and strongly suggests some degree of pattern change has developed 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 4/30 have converged, but not in the intended direction. They both suggest a very weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was trying to hold on over the West Pacific with it's core over the Western Dateline Region but steadily loosing coverage. The Active Phase is to hold over the far West Pacific 5 days out and is then to dissipate 10 days out with the Inactive Phase taking over. The statistic mode has a weak Inactive Phase taking hold 15 days out and the dynamic model depicts a moderate Inactive Phase developing near the dateline 10 days out and building 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the current Active Phase is fading while tracking into Central America . A moderate Inactive Phase is building over the West Pacific and is to track east, pushing into Central America 5/26. Behind it a weak version of the Active Phase is to develop about 5/21 pushing towards the east reaching the East Pacific 6/10. A moderate Inactive Phase to build behind it. So per this model there is to be effectively only this one Inactive Phase before we push out of the Spring Unpredictability Barrier. The weaker it is the better. 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 (5/1), a thin but building warm water regime has taken over the entire equatorial Pacific extending from Ecuador east over the Galapagos and ranging in the +0.5-1.0 deg C range with warmer pockets (3) in the +1.5 deg C range. Of most interest now is the development of a smaller warm pool between the Galapagos and Ecuador, building within the existing broader warm pool between the dateline and Ecuador, rising from +1.5 to +2.01 degs C over the past week. The most recent image from NOAA OSPO defines this area well and suggest the large Kelvin Wave that has been lurking just below the surface is starting to breech, between the Galapagos and Ecuador. Still a few more days of data are required to confirm this. The general warming pattern started in earnest on 3/29 and has been solidifying it's grasp every since. It would be best if it could increase its areal coverage 3-4 more degrees further south, especially in the area bound by from 90-140W, but as of now the trend is positive. We have been expecting the arrival of a large Kelvin Wave in the East Pacific with a pronounced increase in surface anomalies over a short time span (which appears to be happening as of 5/1). We'll continue monitoring daily values to identify the exact arrival date. Elsewhere the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water as is the West Pacific (north and south). There are no 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 west almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by the warm water developing on the equator. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific is impressive. But all eyes remain on a potentially developing breech of warm water along the western coast of Ecuador that would announce the arrival of a massive Kelvin Wave currently positioned under the Central Equatorial Pacific.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator remain 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. Current data suggests it's leading edge is just off the Ecuador coast at 80W (+6 deg C confirmed) and beyond the east most line of buoys in the TOA array (95W), right on the cusp of if not already erupting to the surface. Given the lack of sensors between 155W and 110W, exact details concerning the core further back remain sketchy, but the leading edge waters temps are not in doubt. 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. And yet a 4th but weaker WWB developed in April. The hope is the Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific will fuel to what is 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 4/23), suggesting warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards. Surface heights have rebounded some on the dateline but are falling between 170W to 150W, suggesting the core of the warm water pool is now migrating into the East Pacific.
Based on previous history the evolution pattern would follow this general pattern: This large Kelvin Wave will erupt along the South American coast, and the increase in water temps should reduce trades above it (by reducing surface air pressure), which in turn could support yet more warm water building (heated by the sun and through reduced upwelling). 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 reduces or suppresses trades in the equatorial West Pacific will suffice to continue the transport mechanism. So out-and-out west surface winds are not required. Anything that reduced trades in the east (like increasing water temps) will continue to stabilize the warm pool that is hopefully evolving there.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/1 have increased some. The model had been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in March 2014 (which did occur) with temps reaching +0.5 in the Nino 3.4 zone by April 1 (also occurred). It now suggests water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early July peaking now at +1.75 deg C by Nov 2014. Our guess is that some form of El Nino warning could be declared in the late May/early June timeframe if all stays on track. For reference, the big El Nino of '82/83 was at +2.0 degs and '97/98 was +2.2 degs at their respective peaks). The El Nino of 09/10 was +1.4 degs.
Overall the immediate outlook remains unchanged, but potentially trending towards something that would be considered warm by June-July 2014, assuming one is to believe the models and the subsurface water configuration. At a minimum the ocean is in recharge 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. Given all current signs, warming could start developing by May in earnest over the equatorial Pacific 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. 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 the models suggest a gale forming in the far Southeast Pacific in the Wed-Thurs (5/8) timefarme. There's some hints of fetch and seas barely in the Southern CA swell window, but most energy is to be targeting Chile. It's something to monitor but nothing more.
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