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 (5/9) North and Central CA had surf that was flat with nothing rideable and lightly chopped with a steady northwest fog wind in effect. Down in Santa Cruz surf was flat and textured inside the kelp, and fully chopped outside the kelp. Southern California up north was flat and heavily textured. Down south limited southern hemi swell was producing sets in the thigh high range and heavily textured. Unremarkable. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with some intermittent thigh high sets and clean as can be. The South Shore was getting minimal background southern hemi swell with waves thigh high on the sets and textured. The East Shore was getting knee to thigh high northeast tradewind swell and reasonably clean with light winds in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
In the North Pacific a pair of weak gales were circulating, one east of Japan and one in the Western Gulf. The Gulf system produced 25-30 kt northwest winds over small area Tuesday with seas to 15 ft late, with a decent sized fetch continuing generating 13-14 ft seas Wed-Thurs (5/9) aimed at Hawaii. The second gale off Japan is to generate 25-30 kt northwest winds and 17 ft seas on Thur-Fri aimed reasonably well at Hawaii, but a long distance away. Maybe some windswell to result for Hawaii from both systems. These systems are to continue circulating while tracking east, possibly offering minimal windswell potential for exposed breaks in California (from the Gulf system) and then Hawaii again (from the Japan system). Something to monitor but nothing of real interest. Relative to California no local windswell is forecast till Tues (5/14) and then just the usual short period stuff for North and Central coasts.
Looking into the southern hemi a small gale wrapped up just over the eastern coast of New Zealand late Saturday (5/3) generating 30-32 ft seas aimed north, good for minimal background swell for Hawaii for the weekend (5/11). On Thursday (5/9) a new gale was developing and supposed to track northeast from under New Zealand producing 34 ft seas while approaching Tahiti into Sat (5/11) getting within 1200 nmiles of there then fading. A small but strong second pulse is forecast developing early next week (5/13) with seas to 42 ft tracking again well to the northeast. In all some nice modest sized swell should result for the US West Coast, with more size for Hawaii and Tahiti doing better still assuming all goes as forecast. Still, it's a rather late start to the season. Details below...
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (5/9) no local gradients or weather capable of generating fetch was occurring in the vicinity of California. Windswell producing trades were not blowing over Hawaii and not expected to develop for the next 72 hours.
But low pressure developed in the Western Gulf on Tues AM (5/7) generating a small fetch of 30 kt northwest winds and held in the evening with seas to 14 ft at 45N 170W. By Wed (5/8) 25 kt northwest winds continued generating 13 ft seas near 44N 167W targeting Hawaii. Fetch built in coverage Thursday (5/9) still at 25 kts generating 14 ft seas at 44N 171W, then fading later and into Friday with seas 13-14 ft tracking southeast. Windswell expected for Hawaii by Saturday (5/11) at 5.0 ft @ 10-11 secs (5.0 ft) then holding Sunday at 5.1 ft @ 10-11 secs (5.0 ft). Windswell fading Monday.
And another fetch also developed just off Japan producing a short lived fetch on Wednesday (5/8) with 30 kt northwest winds holding if not building into Thursday (5/9) producing yet more 30 kt northwest fetch with seas forecast to 17 ft in the evening at 36N 158E aimed at Hawaii. Fetch to fade some Friday buy still at 25 kts producing 16 ft seas at 35N 164E (in the evening) again aimed at Hawaii while pushing east. Fetch fading from there. Small northwest windswell possible for Hawaii if all goes as forecast, but that's far from certain.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (5/9) a light northwest flow was pushing down the North and Central coasts building to 15-20 kts near Point Conception, then tracking at 15 kts over the Channel Islands. Broad weak low pressure was in the Gulf of Alaska with weak high pressure at 1022 mbs tucked along the US West Coast. Friday a northerly flow at 15 kts is forecast for the North and Central coasts pushing near 20 kts Pt Conception with broad low pressure starting to approach from the west. A front is to push very close to the SF Bay Area late Saturday but dissipate before reaching land with high pressure trying to nose in under it into Central CA with northwest winds 15 kts up to San Francisco. The same pattern expected Sunday too (5/12). Finally on Monday, as low pressure dissipates in the Gulf, high pressure to build off the North and Central Coast with local north winds building to 25 kts late near Morro Bay and 20 kts up to Cape Mendocino, then 25 kts over the whole North and Central Coast late on Tuesday, lifting slowly north towards Northern CA late Wednesday. the gradient and north winds to start fading Thursday but still 20 kts over most of the Central Coast.
Jetstream - On Thursday (5/9) the jet remained split and fragmented flowing flat east, from either end of New Zealand then merging while pushing into extreme Southern Chile. Winds were generally light over the width of the South Pacific (120 kts or less). But a trough was building well south of New Zealand 180 kt southeast winds feeding into it. Some support for gale development was indicated. By Thurs PM the trough is to rapidly build with 190 kt winds feeding up into it and building northward, then moderating while pushing hard north Friday, dissipating late. Improved support for gale development. Additional energy to move in from the west and push up into the remnants of the trough on Sat (5/11) at 150 kts with the trough really opening up by Sunday mid-day and increasing in coverage providing good support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to remain but slowly fade into Tues (5/14), with winds speeds and coverage steadily dropping. Still decent support for gale development possible. Something to monitor. Beyond Tuesday it's back to the same old split zonal (flat) flow with winds less than 120 kts offering no support for gale development.
Surface - On Thursday (5/9) tiny swell from a gale previously off New Zealand was moving towards Hawaii (see QuikCAST's for details). Of more interest was a gale building southeast of New Zealand (see New Zealand Gale below). over the next 72 hours the New Zealand Gale is to be the only swell producing weather system of interest.
New Zealand Gale
On Thursday AM (5/9) a modest gale was starting to develop while tracking under New Zealand moving into and upper level trough producing an area of 45 kt southwest winds down at the surface and seas building from 28 ft at 58S 172E. Thurs PM the gale is to track northeast with fetch building to the north pushing up into the South Pacific with winds holding at 45 kts southeast of New Zealand targeting Hawaii and seas to 34 ft at 54S 178E. Additional 45-50 kt pure southerly winds are to be holding and lifting north Fri AM (5/10) generating more 34 ft seas at 50S 174W. A broad fetch of 40 kt southerly winds are expected holding in the evening with 36 ft seas lifting north at 48S 168W. A small area of 45 kt south winds to build Sat AM (5/11) with seas 34 ft at 44S 164W. Southerly fetch fading from 40-45 kts in the evening with seas fading from 34 ft at 40S 156W with secondary fetch building to 45 kts south around the core of the gale. On Sun AM (5/12) a small fetch of 40-45 kt south winds are forecast wrapping around the core of the gale with seas building to 36 ft at 46S 149W. By evening winds are to be fading from 40 kts as the core of the low retrogrades fast to the south with seas fading from 32 ft over a tiny area at 36S 150W.
Assuming all this comes to pass some degree of decent sized 17 sec period swell could radiate northeast targeting Tahiti with secondary swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast. The early part of this fetch to be unshadowed for California by Tahiti, then moving well into the shadow and remaining there. Something to monitor.
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 the normal summertime local windswell producing gradient is forecast re-developing along the North and Central California coast on Tues (5/14) with northwest winds 25 kts holding into Wednesday, then fading. Maybe a short pulse of northerly windswell possible for nearshore Central CA locations.
There's some suggestion of trades in developing in the 15 kt range east of and over Hawaii starting Mon (5/13) courtesy of developing high pressure north of the Islands and holding through the work week. Some degree of limited easterly windswell possibly along east facing shores.
The gale previously in the Western Gulf is to east east possibly redeveloping off the Pacific Northwest Coast on Sat-Sun (5/12) producing 25 kt west winds and seas to 14 ft Sat PM (5/11) at 44N 156W. Maybe some background windswell to result for the US West Coast with luck. Fetch fading before reaching the coast.
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 (5/9) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 7.14. The 30 day average was holding at -3.68 with the 90 day average up slightly at 3.75. Overall this is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino, but the downward trend is encouraging.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated moderate east anomalies over the Maritime Continent fading to light east over the dateline and then modestly out of the east on into Central America. A Inactive MJO pattern was building. A week from now (5/17) moderate east anomalies remain forecast over the Maritime Continent extending over the dateline and fading east of there to a point south of California, turning neutral along the equator into Central America. This suggests a fading moderate episode of the Inactive Phase of the MJO is likely, the strongest in a very long while.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/8 are in general agreement. Both suggest a moderate Inactive MJO pattern was already fading in the far West Pacific. It is forecast to continue moderating 5 days out, then almost gone 10 days out and gone 15 days from now. Both models suggest the Active Phase of the MJO is building in the Western Indian Ocean and is moving east. The Dynamic model has it moving cleanly into the West Pacific 15 days out but weak while the Statistic model is more conservative with it moving into the West Pacific not as quickly but stronger. So assuming all this comes to pass, it would suggest a return to a stronger MJO cycle with an Active Phase possible 2 weeks out.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). As of now (5/9) a faint pool of slightly warmer water covers the entire north side of the equator from Ecuador to a point south of Hawaii but retreating northward. On the south side of the equator much cooler water is building and covering increasing area. A broader current of markedly cold water continues tracking north up along the South American Coast turning west at Ecuador extending to the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there. It's sure looking like a real La Nina cold pool at this time, but that could just be a pulse from the Inactive Phase of the MJO (let's hope that's all it is). A plume of slightly cooler than normal water continues radiating off the California coast tracking just southeast of Hawaii and barely making it to the equatorial dateline, typical of the effects of a somewhat stronger than normal East Pacific high pressure system. It looks like it's lost some ground as of today update. Subsurface waters temps on the equator continue indicating a pool of cooler water (-3 deg C) in place at 150W and down 150 meters, blocking the transport path. A small pocket of slight warmer water appears to be backing up in the West Pacific, typical of La Nina. In short, temperatures on the surface are not warming and if anything are cooling, while the subsurface path is blocked by cooler water, not doing anything to transport warm water eastward, even if there was warm water to transport. And the coastal pattern off the US mainland suggests somewhat higher pressure and cooler water temps, all signs of a weak La Nina-like pattern. Interestingly the falling SOI (both daily and 30 day average) suggests something else is in play. It's still a very mixed pattern with no clear long term signal suggesting either El Nino or La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/9 seem to be in denial of the current situation. They indicate water temps peaked at Nino 3.4 in early April at (+0.6 degs C) and are to bottom out in May near normal (+0.0 degs C). A gradual rebound to the +0.25 degree C level is possible over the summer holding through Fall to Jan 2014. A consensus of all the other ENSO models suggest near normal water temps into Summer and early Fall 2013 with no warming indicated. We are in the Spring Unpredictability Barrier where accuracy of all the ENSO models is historically low. But By June we'll be clear of that barrier and will have a better handle on the long term outlook. So for now the outcome is uncertain, but not trending towards anything that would be considered warm. Historically, if a warm water buildup indicative of any significant El Nino pattern were to occur, it would be starting to happen by now (normally would start building in Feb-Mar). That is clearly not the case for this year. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014.
We are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than previous years (2010-2011 and 2011-2012) under the direct influence of La Nina. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell for the 2012-2013 winter season, but that did not materialize with the pattern looking more like La Nina than anything. This past season was more of a 3 rating than the 5 that was predicted. That said, there was good consistency, with the west dateline area very productive and almost machine-like. But the storms were very small in areal coverage and rarely made enough eastern headway to reach over the dateline. The result was very westerly but reasonably sized utility class swells for the Islands with far smaller and more inconsistent swell energy for the US West Coast. Longer term the expectation there will be at least one year of neutral to slightly warmer temps (2013-2014) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Last Updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours a second fetch associated with the New Zealand gale is forecast development late Sun-early Mon (5/24) resulting in a small fetch of up to 55 kt southwest winds and a small area of 41 ft seas near 51S 169W but short lived.
A series of small weather system to develop beyond mainly tracking flat west to east with no seas in excess of 30 ft charted.
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