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 (5/10) North and Central CA had local windswell and Gulf swell combo producing surf at 2 ft overhead and kinda clean early but still real warbled and with winds coming up early. In Santa Cruz windswell was wrapping in at chest high or so and clean. Southern California up north had surf at thigh to waist high range and clean but pretty weak. Down south southern hemi swell was producing waves in the waist high range and chopped by eddy south winds. Hawaii's North Shore was getting sideband Gulf swell with sets to head high and clean. The South Shore had southern hemi background swell at waist high and clean. The East Shore was getting east tradewind generated windswell with north swell intermixed at chest to shoulder high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north swell from a gale with 22 ft seas in the Western Gulf of Alaska on Monday (5/7) was hitting Hawaii and California, but is expected to be fading out for the weekend. Otherwise local north winds were generating windswell for the California coast, but that too is to be dying by early in the weekend and not returning till mid-next week. Down south a decent sized gale developed under New Zealand peaking mid-day Sat (5/5) with 40 ft seas with follow-on energy into late Sunday (5/6) with seas in the 36 ft range, but tiny in coverage and all aimed pretty well to the east. Possible decent sideband swell radiating north pushing into Hawaii by Sun (5/13) and California 24 hrs later. Another smaller system developed in the extreme Southeast Pacific on Wed (5/9) with 38 ft seas but all aimed due east to southeast offering only bare minimal energy pushing northward. After that nothing is charted.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (5/10) swell from a gale that tracked through the Northern Gulf of Alaska earlier in the week was hitting California, buried under locally generated windswell. Otherwise high pressure at 1032 mbs was ridging into British Columbia generating the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino producing north winds at 30+ kts resulting is solid northerly windswell along the exposed Central CA coast. Weak low pressure was tracking over coastal Alaska but no fetch of interest was occurring. trades were suppressed over Hawaii with no solid high pressure in the immediate area. Over the next 72 hrs high pressure is to east slowly into the US mainland leaving a weak pressure pattern over the entirety of the Pacific Ocean with no swell producing fetch forecast. Relative calm conditions forecast east of the dateline.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (5/10) local high pressure was ridging hard into the Pacific Northwest generating the usual pressure gradient with northwest winds up to 35 kts off the North CA coast with 30 kt north winds extending south to a point off San Francisco resulting in larger and lumpy local windswell and north winds along exposed portions of the coast. By Friday (5/11) the gradient is to be collapsing with winds only 25 kts over Cape Mendocino down to a point off San Francisco early and fading, with an eddy flow in control. By Saturday (5/12) the fetch is to dissipate with a weak northerly flow forecast for the entire CA coast other than Southern CA holding through the weekend. Southern CA is to remain protected over the duration under the influence of a weak summer-time eddy. By Monday (5/14) weak high pressure is to start building into the coast with northwest winds 10 kts over the North and Central Coasts and on the increase focused on Cape Mendocino late Tuesday with north winds to 25 kts there and 15 kts down over the Channel Islands. Winds up north building to 30 kts on Wednesday holding Thursday with an eddy flow expected nearshore for Central and South CA.
Jet stream - On Thursday (5/10) the southern branch of the jetstream was lifting gently northeast over the Central and Southeast Pacific with winds to 140 kts at it's apex providing a weak trough and offering some support for gale development there. But big ridges were over the extreme West and East Pacific suppressing gale development there. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to push east tracking out of the California swell window by Sun (5/13) possibly only offering support for gale development for Chile. Behind it a weak ridge is to build over the West and Central Pacific offering no support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the ridge is to only build stronger over the Central Pacific with 120 kt winds pushing down to the northern edge of Antarctica by Tues (5/15) and being reinforced through the end of the week (Fri 5/18). there some suggestion for a weak trough building under New Zealand starting Tues (5/15) but with winds only 80-90 kts, offering no real support for gale development. Pretty quiet in the upper levels of the atmosphere.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (5/10) the remnants of the East Pacific Gale were fading in the extreme Southeast Pacific with 45 kt west winds and seas fading from 38 ft at 59S 117W (see details below) all heading towards Antarctica. Swell from a storm that traversed the West and Central Pacific Fri -Mon (5/14) was pushing towards Hawaii and the US West Coast. (see Broad New Zealand Storm below).
Over the next 72 hours another short lived and very west-to-east oriented gale is forecast forming Friday AM (5/11) with 40 kt southwest winds building in the Central Pacific. By evening 45 kt west winds are forecast taking hold racing east with seas 32 ft at 50S 135W (188 degs CA). 45 kt west winds to hold Saturday AM (5/12) with 32 ft seas at 50S 123W (181 degs CA) and racing out of the CA swell window. In the evening a small area of 50 kt west winds to continue pushing east with seas to 42 ft over a tiny area at 52S 109W targeting only Southern Chile and well outside the CA swell window. If all this comes to pass some tiny south angled swell is possible for mainly Southern CA down into Mexico and points south of there.
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 faded from 40-45 kts in the evening and racing east with seas fading from 38 ft at 58S 152W (178 degs HI and 197 degs CA and only partially shadowed by Tahiti). The fetch held in the East Pacific Sun AM (5/6) with winds 45 kts over a small area aimed mostly east with seas from previous fetch fading from 36 ft at 56S 140W (191 degs CA and unshadowed). In the evening 40 kt winds pushed mostly east with a secondary fetch producing 40 kt southwest fetch northwest of it resulting in seas in the Southeast Pacific at 32 ft up at 53S 138W (189 degs CA). Fetch was fading Monday AM (5/7) with seas 30 ft at 53S 128W then expected to migrate east and fade away Tuesday AM (5/8).
Some modest sideband swell is possible for Hawaii with more direct but partially shadowed swell for California.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Sat (5/12) with pure swell building to 2 ft @ 18 secs late (3.5-4.0 ft) holding Sunday (5/13) at 2 ft @ 16 secs early (3 ft) then dropping Monday from 1.5 ft @ 14-15 secs (2 ft). Swell Direction 185 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Sun (5/13) late pushing 1.6 ft @ 20 secs (3 ft). Swell building Monday (5/14) to 2.6 ft @ 18 secs (4.5 ft with sets to near 6 ft). Swell Direction: 194-205 degrees focused on 197 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Mon (5/14) early at 2 ft @ 19 secs (3.5 ft) pushing 2.3 ft @ 18 secs late (4.0 ft with sets to 5 ft). Swell Direction: 191-202 degrees focused on 194 degrees
East Pacific Gale
Another small gale formed in the Central Pacific on Tuesday PM (5/8) with 45 kt west winds developing over a tiny area and seas building. The gale built to storm status and was racing fast to the east if not almost starting to fall southeast on Wed AM (5/9) with west winds 55 kts and seas building to 34 ft at 57S 140W (188 degs CA and east of the HI swell window), getting good traction on an already well agitated ocean surface but offering only sideband energy pushing up towards the US mainland and well east of any great circle path to Hawaii. 45-50 kt west winds held into the evening with seas up to 38 ft at 57S 128W (183 degs CA), and starting to actually track southeast offering less energy pushing north. By Thurs AM (5/10) this system was effectively east of the California swell window and crashing south while dissipating with seas fading from 36 ft at 59S 117W offering best swell potential for Chile up into Peru.
Limited small sideband swell is expected arriving in Southern CA on Fri AM (5/18) with period 17 secs from ~ 182 degs.
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 a weak cutoff low pressure system is forecast trying to organize north of Hawaii Sun-Tues (5/15) producing maybe some 20 kt north winds generating weak windswell for north facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands, but that's it. No fetch to result for the US West Coast from it, and then it's to fade away. The effect of the low is to suppress formation of high pressure in the Eastern Pacific through that time period. By Wed (5/16) high pressure is to start building back in the Northern Gulf of Alaska at 1036 mbs ridging south setting up a pressure gradient along the Pacific Northwest Coast down to Cape Mendocino CA with north winds building to 30 kts in pockets and holding through the work week resulting in increasing north windswell for the coast there down into Central CA. But the pressure pattern is to remain weak in the vicinity of Hawaii with light trades and no easterly windswell expected.
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 (5/10) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was falling some from 18.94. The 30 day average was rising at 3.92 (neutral) with the 90 day average up some at -0.24.
Current wind analysis indicated moderate easterly anomalies over the equator in the vicinity of the dateline with dead neutral anomalies elsewhere across the East Pacific extending into Central America. Westerly anomalies were over Indonesia. This indicates that a weak Inactive Phase of the MJO was occurring in the West Pacific with perhaps the Active Phase trying to build int he Eastern Indian Ocean. A week from now (5/18) one pocket of weak easterly anomalies are forecast over the Philippines with dead neutral if not westerly anomalies in the Eastern Pacific indicative of a mostly neutral MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/9 are polar opposites of each other with the statistical model (more reliable) depicting a weak Inactive Phase building over the dateline 2 weeks out while the dynamic model (less reliable) suggesting the Active Phase is on the dateline and is to hold while a strong Inactive Phase builds in the Indian Ocean. In the end, it will probably be more of the same with a weak pattern in control. Regardless, none of this suggests any real benefit to the North Pacific storm track given that summer is now moving in.
But if one is monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which is what the existing pattern is supporting, this become important 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 is forecast with high pressure taking control of the deep Central Pacific by Tues (5/15) building to 1036 mbs by Fri (5/18) and slowly but steadily easing east.
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