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 (5/3) North and Central CA had surf maybe 2 ft and blown out with south winds in control. In Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was producing surf at knee to thigh high and clean and clean inside the kelp. Southern California up north had surf at maybe 2 ft (knee to thigh high) and clean. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and blown out with north winds in control. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore had a few waist high peak on the sets and clean. The East Shore was getting small 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
The North Pacific is dead for the summer. North winds to persist along the California coast for the next week producing local north windswell, but nothing more. Down south one of a pair of tiny gales produced 32 ft seas in the extreme Southeastern Pacific on Sat (4/28). Small south angled swell expected for Southern CA by late Sat (5/5) with maybe dribbles into exposed break in NCal on Sunday. A larger gale developed late Sunday (4/29) in the deep Southeast Pacific and barely in the California swell window with up to 37 ft seas. Some very south angled swell to result for CA by Tues (5/8). A storm, tracked through the Southern Tasman Sea on Fri-Sat (4/28) with 36-38 ft seas. Small swell for Hawaii filtered by Fiji arriving on Sun (5/6). Also a tiny system tracked north and just east of New Zealand on Tues (5/1) with 32 ft seas. Possible small swell for Hawaii by late Tues (5/8). The models continue to suggest a larger gale might track under New Zealand then develop on Sat (5/5) producing 40-42 ft seas with follow on energy into Mon (5/7) and seas to 38 ft. So no shortage of smaller to modest sized southern hemi swell is forecast. But nothing causing us to take real notice.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jet stream - Forecasts for this area will be posted on an exception basis through the summer.
Surface - On Thursday (5/3) low pressure was moving into Oregon with a front pushing down to San Francisco producing light rain along the coast down to almost Santa Cruz. Otherwise a double barrelled high pressure system was straddling the dateline at 1032 mbs and was effectively filling the entire North Pacific. Over the next 72 hrs that high is to start rebuilding to the east forming the usual pressure gradient over North and Central CA producing 25 kt northwest winds along the coast there then lifting north and centering itself over Cape Mendocino by Sat (5/5) with 25-30 kt north winds producing northerly windswell for the entire Central CA coast and holding well into next week.
The high is to also keeping trades steady over the Hawaiian Islands at 15+ kts into Fri (5/4) then down to 15 kts for the weekend, resulting in modest easterly short period windswell on east facing shores.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (5/2) a modest gale was moving up and into the Pacific Northwest with a weak front pushing down into Central CA with light rain along the coat down to almost Santa Cruz. This was driving a light south winds flow over the Central CA coast. Clearing high pressure and northwest winds are to rebuild for Friday (5/4) reaching 20-25 kts off all of Central and North CA late then migrating up to Cape Mendo later Saturday and building to 30 kts holding Sunday with some odds of an eddy flow developing over Central CA on Sunday. The gradient is to fade some on Monday (25 kt north winds) with and eddy flow continuing for Central CA then holding in that configuration on Tuesday (5/8). By Wednesday a new bout of high pressure is forecast pushing into the the Pacific Northwest with the gradient over Cape Mendocino on the upswing and north winds building to 30 kts there. But fetch is to move closer to the Central CA coast with the odds of an eddy flow starting to fade. More of the same on Thursday (5/10). regardless, Southern CA is to remain protected over the duration.
Jet stream - On Thursday (5/2) the southern branch of the jetstream was ridging firmly south under New Zealand pushing flat east to the Central Pacific then finally fading some a lifting slightly north in the far Southeast Pacific. This was not offering any support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the jet is to start slowly lifting northeast over the West Pacific with energy starting to build-in with winds pushing 160 kts by Saturday (5/5) forming a mild trough in the Central Pacific supporting gale development. The trough is to hold into Sunday then starting to loose energy by Monday (5/7) and flattening out offering less support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to be reinvigorated by Tues (5/8) with winds 130 kts and pushing further to the northeast while tracking east, with full south winds by Thursday (5/10) at 130 kts offering more energy to the trough and providing better support for gale development.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (5/1) weak high pressure at 1032 mbs was over new Zealand with a second in the upper reaches of the Central South Pacific. Generic westerly fetch in the 25-30 kts range was pushing across the South Pacific, but was not generating any swell of interest. . Swell from a micro gale in the Southeast Pacific was pushing towards California, Mexico and Central America (see Micro Gale below). Also small swell was pushing through the Tasman Sea window en route to Hawaii (see Tasman Sea storm below). And yet another swell from a storm south of California is pushing towards Southern CA (see Southeast Pacific Storm below). And swell from a brief storm that was east of new Zealand on Mon -Tues (5/1) was pushing towards Hawaii (see New Zealand Storm below) .
Over the next 72 hours a gale is forecast developing under New Zealand on Friday AM (5/4) with 40 kt west-southwest winds over a good sized area building in coverage with seas modeled to 26 ft. In the evening winds to build to 45-50 kts with seas building to 32 ft at 62S 175W (188 degs HI, 203 degs NCal and on the eastern edge of the Tahiti swell shadow). Fetch is to hold at 50 kts still over a good sized area Saturday AM (5/5) just southeast of New Zealand with seas 40 ft at 60S 164W (182 degs HI, 199 degs NCal and only partially shadowed). Fetch is to fade from 40 kts in the evening with seas fading from 39 ft at 56S 155W (178 degs HI and 199 degs CA). The fetch is to hold in the Central Pacific Sun AM (5/6) with winds 35-40 kts aimed mostly east with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 54S 142W. In the evening 45 kt winds to rebuild pushing mostly east with seas rebuild in the Southeast Pacific from 34 ft at 54S 138W (189 degs CA). Fetch is to be fading Monday AM (5/7) and diving southeast with seas 38 ft at 54S 126W then migrating east and fading Tuesday AM (5/8). When it;s all said and done some decent sideband swell is possible for Hawaii with more direct but partially shadowed swell for California. But it's still a little bit from really getting organizes just yet.
A small push of small background swell is expected radiating up into Southern CA arriving on Sat (5/5) with pure swell 1.6 ft @ 17 secs late (2.5 ft) pushing to 2.0-2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3 ft faces) on Sun (5/6). But don't expect much size though given this systems extremely small footprint. Swell Direction 180-185 degrees
The second in a pair of micro gales tracked through the extreme Southeast Pacific on Friday AM (4/27) with 45 kt south winds building into the evening to 50 kts with 28 ft seas developing over a tiny area at 48S 130W. The gale faded some but tracked northeast Sat AM (4/28) with 45 kt south winds and seas to 32 ft at 44S 122W holding at 32 ft in the evening and pushing to 42S 116W, then dissipated.
Tasman Sea Storm
A broad storm with 45-50 kt south winds winds was pushing up into the Southern Tasman Sea on Fri PM (4/27) with 38 ft seas starting to push under Tasmania. Saturday AM (4/28) the system was fading in the Southern Tasman Sea with winds dropping from 45 kts and seas 36 ft seas reaching to 45S 152E targeting Fiji well, then faded in the evening from 34 ft at 44S 154E with perhaps some filtered energy eventually reaching up into Hawaii.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Sunday (5/6) with pure swell to 1.6 ft @ 16 secs late (2.5 ft) maybe pushing 2 ft @ 15 secs Monday AM (3.0 ft). Swell fading from there. Swell Direction: 215 degrees
Southeast Pacific Storm
On Sunday AM (4/29) a new storm started building in the deep Central Pacific with 55 kt southwest winds and seas 34 ft at 66S 135W and on the increase. By evening this system had southwest winds fading from 45 kts with the core of the system starting to track more northeast rather than flat east. Seas peaked at 37 ft at 64S 124W, on the eastern edge of the California swell window. Fetch was fading from 40 kts Monday AM at 59S 120W with seas fading from 34 ft at 59S 119W effectively out of all but the extreme Southern CA swell window, but lifting better to the northeast. This system is to be fading while lifting northeast and outside the CA swell window by the evening, merging with a developing complex storm poised just off the extreme southern coast of Chile.
Possible longer period but modest sized very southerly angled swell for California.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival starting Tues (5/8) building to 2.6 ft @ 17 secs late (4.5 ft with sets to 5.5 ft) and building some. Swell holding on Wed (5/9) at 2.6 ft @ 16 secs early (4 ft with some 5 ft sets) then fading through the day Thurs (5/10). Swell Direction: 180 degrees
Northern CA: Swell possible only at the most exposed breaks to 1.6 ft @ 18 secs (2.5 ft) late Tues (5/8) peaking Wed (5/9) at 2.3 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.5 ft with 4.5 ft sets). Swell fading on Thurs (5/10) from 2.3 ft @ 14-15 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 175 degrees
New Zealand Storm
Another gale formed just southeast of New Zealand on Monday (4/30) with 45 kt south winds building while tracking due north. In the evening a small area of 55 kt south winds were pushing north with seas building from 30 ft at 53S 178W. The fetch started to evaporate on Tuesday AM (5/1) with south winds fading from 40 kts and seas peaking at 32 ft at 50S 176W. By evening fetch was down to 35 kts and seas were dissipating from 30 ft at 47S 173W.
Small but decently organized swell is expected to radiate north towards Hawaii. No swell expected to reach the US West coast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival late on Tuesday (5/8) with swell to 1.5 ft @ 15-16 secs (2.5 ft) peaking early on Wed (5/9) at 2 ft @ 14-15 secs (3 ft) then fading. Swell Direction: 194 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 high pressure is to be ridging into the Pacific Northwest on Mon-Tues (5/8) with a north winds gradient holding over Cape Mendocino producing 25+ kt northwest winds resulting in northwest windswell pushing down the Central CA coast and reaching into exposed breaks in Southern CA. Some strengthening of the gradient is expected by late week (Thurs 5/10) and holding, with windswell on the up tick some then.
The high is to also hold north and east of Hawaii keeping trades steady over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts next week thru Thursday (5/10) resulting in modest easterly short period windswell on east facing shores.
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 (5/3) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was rising some -4.12. The 30 day average was rising at -5.11 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to -1.19.
Current wind analysis indicated light westerly anomalies over the equator north of Australia and weak east anomalies just east of there. Neutral winds were east of there extending into Central America. This indicates that neither the Active nor Inactive Phase of the MJO was occurring, but the net effect was that of an Active Phase of the MJO. A week from now (5/11) very weak easterly are to take hold of the West Pacific extending eastward into Ecuador indicative of a neutral MJO or maybe a slight tendency towards the Inactive Phase. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/2 suggest a weak Inactive Phase was over Indonesia and expected to hold or ease just slightly east. None of this suggests any real benefit to the North Pacific storm track given that summer is now moving in. But it becomes important if one is monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which is what the existing pattern is supporting, because this possibly sets up a configuration in the ocean that is more conducive to storm development for the coming Fall of 2012. In fact warmer than normal water is already starting to accumulate off Ecuador. A pocket of blocking cold water that was under the equator south of California the bulk of the past Winter (2011-2012) has evaporated and warmer water is pushing east into the vacuum (Kelvin Wave). This activity was the result of the last pulse of the Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and appears to be reinforcing itself.
This activity is typical for this time of year, but not as strong and as long-lasting as what is occurring now, suggesting that La Nina is disintegrate. And the horseshoe cool water pattern that has dominated the entire Pacific for the past 2 years (typical of La Nina) appears to be in steep decline (a good thing). So the next question is: Will the Active-like Phase pattern that is currently occurring continue, ultimately ushering in some flavor of El Nino, or will it stall over the next month and leave us in limbo with just a neutral pattern in play? Either option is better than where we've been for the past 2 years (under the influence of La Nina).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing 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: 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