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 Saturday (5/5) North and Central CA had surf that was chest to shoulder high and almost clean but still real warbled from local winds just off the beach. In Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was producing surf occasionally to chest high with more dominant local windswell thigh high and clean. Southern California up north had surf at maybe 2 ft (knee to thigh high) and warbled early. Down south southern hemi swell was producing waves occasionally to chest high and clean early. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore had some thigh high sets from new swell starting to hit early. The East Shore was getting east tradewind generated windswell with waves near chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
The North Pacific is theoretically try to produce a gale in the West Gulf of Alaska on Monday (5/7) with 22-24 ft seas offering possible sideband swell for Hawaii and better energy for the US West Coast. Otherwise local north winds to continue generating windswell for the California coast for the next week. 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). A larger gale is developing under New Zealand expected to peak mid-day Sat (5/5) producing 40-42 ft seas with follow-on energy into Mon (5/7) with seas in the 32-34 ft range but all aimed pretty well to the east. Possible decent sideband swell radiating north. And another smaller system is forecast for the extreme Southeast Pacific on Tues (5/8) with 42 ft seas. So there's no shortage of potential for smaller to modest sized southern hemi swell for the next 2 weeks. Certainly better than nothing.
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 Saturday (5/5) weak low pressure was tracking through the Northern Gulf of Alaska providing no fetch of interest but 'priming the pump' a little. Otherwise high pressure at 1032 mbs was ridging into the Pacific Northwest generating the usual pressure gradient over North and Central CA producing north winds at 25 kts resulting in local north windswell. Another high at 1036 mbs was falling southeast from off Kamchatka. Over the next 72 hrs the low in the Gulf is to form a gradient with the high pushing east from Kamchatka resulting in a small fetch of 35 kt northwest winds in the Western Gulf of Alaska on Sunday AM (5/6) falling southeast then turning east on Monday and holding through the day resulting in a building area of seas at 20 ft Sunday evening at 47N 161W (356 degs HI) pushing 22 ft Monday AM at 47N 153W peaking in the evening at 24 ft at 48N 148W (306 degs NCal) then tracking northeast towards Central Canada Tuesday AM with seas still 24 ft and moving out of the CA swell window. Possible small northwest swell with period in the 13-14 sec range to result for Central CA northward up into the Pacific Northwest if one is to believe the models. Otherwise high pressure is to hold ridging into the Pacific Northwest forming the usual pressure gradient over North and Central CA producing 25 kt northwest winds along the coast strongest over Cape Mendocino producing northerly windswell for the entire Central CA coast and holding through the week.
The high is to also keeping trades steady over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts from Saturday into at least Wed (5/8) 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 Saturday (5/5) local high pressure was ridging into the Pacific Northwest generating the usual pressure gradient and northwest winds at 20-25 kts off all of Central and North CA coast with no end in sight. The core of the gradient is to lift north later Saturday over Cape Mendocino holding Sunday with some odds of an eddy flow developing over Central CA on Sunday. The gradient is to fade some on Monday (20-25 kt north winds) with an eddy flow continuing for Central CA then fading in coverage some more on Tuesday (5/8) but winds still up to 25 kt over Cape Mendo. 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 pushing 35 kts late. But fetch is to move closer to the Central CA coast with the odds of an eddy flow starting to fade. Fetch is to fade some on Thursday (5/10) to 30 kts with no real signs of an eddy flow forecast. By Friday (5/11) the gradient is to be collapsing with winds only 20 kts over Cape Mendocino down to a point off San Francisco with no real eddy suggested. Then the core of that remaining fetch is to move south approaching San Francisco on Saturday (5/12). Southern CA is to remain protected over the duration under the influence of a weak summer time eddy.
Jet stream - On Saturday (5/5) the southern branch of the jetstream was lifting gently northeast under New Zealand with winds 150 kts suggesting some form of trough was trying to form in the deep Southwest Pacific offering support for gale development there. A weak flow was in-play east of there. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to persist through Sunday (5/6) then start loosing energy (winds down to 130-140 kts) but pushing well to the east increasing support in the upper levels of the atmosphere for gale development in the Central and West Pacific. Additional wind energy is to move into the trough southeast of New Zealand on Mon (5/7) with winds back up 160 kts then fading while pushing east for 24 hours. Continued support for gale development there. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to be hold if not become much better defined, but with wind energy down to the 120-130 kt range into Thurs (5/10) with the wind vector starting to take aim almost due east if not southeast towards Southern Chile, and becoming less effective as a gale producer relative to the Hawaiian Islands into the US West Coast. By late week into the weekend the trough is to move into the Southeast Pacific and of interest only to Chile.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Saturday (5/5) high pressure at 1032 mbs was over New Zealand with a second weaker high in the upper reaches of the East South Pacific. A storm was brewing south of New Zealand (see Broad New Zealand Storm below) with lesser westerly fetch in the 30-35 kt range extending east from that storm the whole way to a point off Southern Chile. Fall was in full swing in the South Pacific. A series of small swells were pushing north from various points in the South Pacific starting with a swell from a micro gale in the Southeast Pacific 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 the Broad New Zealand Storm is to be of the most interest. A secondary storm is forecast forming right behind it from it's remnants with southwest winds building to 50 kts Monday AM (5/7) with seas building from 28 ft southeast of New Zealand. By evening 55 kt southwest winds are to be in play racing east with 34 ft seas building at 56S 140W. The storm is to be tracking fast east if not almost starting to fall southeast on Tues AM (5/8) with west winds 50 kts and seas building to 42 ft at 58S 130W, getting good traction on an already well agitated ocean surface (184 degs CA) but offering only sideband energy pushing up towards the US mainland and well east of any great circle path to Hawaii. 45 kt west winds to hold into the evening with seas still 42 ft at 59S 120W, and starting to actually track southeast offering less energy pushing north. By Wed AM (5/9) this system is to be east of the California swell window with west winds fading from 40 kts and seas fading from 38 ft at 59S 114W offering best swell potential for Chile up into Peru. Will monitor.
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.
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
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
Broad New Zealand Storm
A gale started 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 built to 45-50 kts with seas building to 34 ft at 62S 178W (188 degs HI, 203 degs NCal and on the eastern edge of the Tahiti swell shadow). Fetch was holding at 50 kts still over a good sized area Saturday AM (5/5) just southeast of New Zealand with seas 40 ft at 61S 168W (187 degs HI, 202 degs NCal and only partially shadowed). Fetch is to fade from 40-45 kts in the evening and racing east with seas fading from 39 ft at 58S 155W (179 degs HI and 198 degs CA and only partially shadowed by Tahiti). The fetch is to hold if not build in the East Pacific Sun AM (5/6) with winds 45 kts aimed mostly east with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 57S 140W (191 degs CA and unshadowed). In the evening 45 kt winds to hold pushing mostly east with a secondary fetch producing 40-45 kt southwest fetch northwest of it resulting in seas in the Southeast Pacific at 32 ft up at 54S 138W (189 degs CA). Fetch is to be fading Monday AM (5/7) with seas 32 ft at 54S 128W then migrating east and fading away Tuesday AM (5/8) as a new fetch builds right behind it. When it's all said and done some decent sideband swell is possible for Hawaii with more direct but partially shadowed swell for California. At this time though this al seems reasonable and likely to produce more swell.
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 continue ridging into the Pacific Northwest through Thurs (5/10) with the usual north wind gradient holding over Cape Mendocino producing 25 kt northwest winds resulting in northwest windswell pushing down the Central CA coast with remnant energy reaching into exposed breaks in Southern CA. Some weakening of high pressure and the gradient is expected by late week (Fri 5/11) and holding with winds down to 20 kts and windswell on the downswing some for the weekend.
The high is to also fade in the vicinity of Hawaii with local trades steady over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts but fading east of the Islands by Fri (5/11) and continuing to atrophy through the weekend resulting in decreasing easterly short period windswell on east facing shores.
There's almost a hint of low pressure starting to move over the dateline towards the Southern Gulf, but that seems awfully far fetched.
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 Saturday (5/5) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was rising to 10.90. The 30 day average was rising at -2.44 (neutral) with the 90 day average up to -0.76.
Current wind analysis indicated light easterly anomalies over the equator in the vicinity of the dateline with dead neutral anomalies elsewhere across the rest of the Pacific 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 (5/12) pockets of very weak easterly anomalies are to persist over the West Pacific with dead neutral conditions 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 5/3 suggest a weak Inactive Phase was currently over Indonesia and the statistical model expects it to hold or ease just slightly east perhaps reaching the dateline 2 weeks out while the dynamic model has it holding and the Active Phase weakly redeveloping on the dateline. 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 slowly but steadily 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.
A weaker Inactive Phase MJO signal is typical for this time of year, but does not manifest as strong and as long-lasting as what appears to be 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 in mid-June and leave us in limbo with just a neutral pattern in play (normal)? 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table