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 (5/11) North and Central CA had flat surf with nothing rideable and light winds with clean conditions and some fog. Down in Santa Cruz surf was flat and clean but totally fogged in. Southern California up north was flat and clean, looking just like stray wind waves. Down south waves were flat with maybe some knee high peaks and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was chest to head high on the sets but pretty wonky with a light onshore flow getting the better of it. The South Shore was getting some rare knee high plus sets coming from the Tasman Sea and clean. The East Shore was getting some wrap around northerly windswell at waist to maybe chest high and bumpy with a light northerly flow 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 low pressure systems were still circulating and tracking east, one just west of the dateline and the other in the Gulf of Alaska. The Gulf system has already produced 25-30 kt northwest winds and 13-15 ft seas over a small area Tues-Thurs (5/9) aimed at Hawaii, with that swell starting to hit the Islands now. It is now starting to take ai on the US West Coast with 20-25 kt northwest winds and 13-14 ft seas. Maybe some windswell down into Central CA late Monday (5/13). The second gale off Japan generated 25-30 kt northwest winds and 17 ft seas on Thur-Fri aimed reasonably well at Hawaii, fading Saturday with seas dropping from 14 ft but a long distance away. Maybe some windswell to result for Hawaii mid-week, but it will be tiny if even noticeable.
Relative to California a modest version of the local coastal gradient is to start developing over North and Central CA on Tues (5/14) resulting in rideable but raw local short period windswell expected to hold for the entire workweek and into the weekend (5/18).
In the southern hemisphere 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). But of more interest was a new gale that developed and tracked northeast from under New Zealand on Thurs (5/9) producing up to 38 ft seas while approaching French Polynesia, then faded early Sat (5/11) with seas dropping from 32 ft while moving to within 1500 nmiles of Tahiti. A small second pulse is forecast developing Sunday (5/12) with 34 ft seas with yet another pulse developing Tuesday with 42 ft seas tracking again well to the northeast. In all some nice modest sized swell should result for the US West Coast, possibly providing rideable surf for almost a week. More size likely for Hawaii and Tahiti doing better still assuming all goes as forecast. Details below...
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (5/11) no local gradients or weather capable of generating fetch was occurring in the vicinity of California. Windswell producing trades were not blowing over Hawaii but were displaced south of the Islands by low pressure over the greater North Pacific. But by Monday (5/13) low pressure is to start dissipating and a steady 15 kt east-northeast flow is to set up over the Islands producing limited easterly short period windswell. And high pressure is to nosing into the Central CA coast later Monday generating 15-20 kt north winds for Central CA and building Tuesday to the 20-25 kt range, offering increased odds for short period local windswell.
Low pressure developed in the Western Gulf on Tues AM (5/7) generating a small fetch of 30 kt northwest winds and held into 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 faded 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.
This fetch also produced 25 kt west winds 1300 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino CA late Friday evening (5/10) producing 13-14 ft seas near 40N 148W pushing east with additional 25 kt northwest fetch forecast in the Central Gulf Sat-Sun (5/12) resulting in 13 ft seas at 43N 144W by late Sunday. Windswell likely for exposed breaks in Oregon down to Central CA arriving in the San Francisco Bay area late on Mon (5/13) at 3.7 ft @ 11 secs (3.5 ft). Nothing remarkable though.
And another fetch developed just off Japan producing a short lived area of 30 kt northwest winds on Wednesday (5/8) holding if not building into Thursday (5/9) producing yet more 30 kt northwest fetch with seas to 17 ft Thurs PM at 36N 158E aimed at Hawaii. Fetch to faded 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 on Wednesday (5/15) at 2 ft @ 12 secs (2.5 ft) fading Thursday from 2.0 ft @ 11-12 secs (2.5 ft) coming from 300 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (5/11) a light northwest flow was pushing down the North and Central coasts with near calm winds nearshore but expected to build to 15 kts near Point Conception late. Broad weak low pressure was in the Gulf of Alaska with weak high pressure at 1020 mbs tucked along the US West Coast providing the slight northerly wind pattern mainly over outer waters. The same pattern expected Sunday (5/12) but with north winds starting to build by mid-afternoon to 15 kts covering all of Central CA and the Channel Islands. Monday as low pressure dissipates in the Gulf, high pressure is to build off the North and Central Coast with local north winds building to 25 kts late near Morro Bay 20 kts near San Francisco, and 15 kts up at Cape Mendocino. By Tuesday 20 kt north winds are to be over all of North and Central CA pushing 25 kts late and holding into Wednesday. Southern CA to remain protected. The gradient and north winds to fade Thursday but still 20 kts over most of the Central Coast continuing Friday if not building some late to 25 kts then back to 20 kts Saturday. In short, a windy week for the Central Coast.
Jetstream - On Saturday (5/11) the jet was almost joined into a single flow with a trough pushing north from the deep Southwest Pacific driving the southern branch of the jet up into the northern branch east of New Zealand. 150 kts winds were starting to feed up into the trough providing decent support for gale development. This pattern is expected to continue with the trough really opening up by Sunday nd increasing its coverage providing good support for gale development, but wind speeds are to start dropping off, down to 110 kts by Monday. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to remain intact with additional 120-130 kt winds feeding up into it Tues-Thurs (5/16) but the trough easing east and steadily loosing it's configuration. By Friday (5/17) it's too all collapse with a split zonal flow again taking control with winds less than 120 kts offering no support for gale development.
Surface - On Saturday (5/11) tiny swell from a gale previously off New Zealand was starting to hit Hawaii with period in the 17-18 sec range early, but size only 1 ft (see QuikCAST's for details). Of more interest was the gale that's been tracking northeast from New Zealand (see New Zealand Gale below). Over the next 72 hours the New Zealand Gale and it's secondary spawn are to be the only swell producing weather systems of interest.
New Zealand Gale
On Thursday AM (5/9) a modest gale started to develop while tracking under New Zealand moving into an upper level trough producing an area of 45 kt southwest winds down at the surface and seas building from 28 ft at 58S 172E. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the southern flank of this gale at 18Z and confirmed seas at 31.1 ft with one readying to 37.4 ft where the model suggested 30 ft seas. The model was under calling it some. Thurs PM the gale tracked northeast with fetch building to the north pushing up into the South Pacific with winds 45-50 kts southeast of New Zealand targeting Hawaii and seas to 37 ft at 54S 177E (39 ft at 06Z at 51S 179W - 189 degs HI, 212 degs NCal, 213 SCal and shadowed by Tahiti).
Additional 45 kt pure southerly winds held while lifting north Fri AM (5/10) generating more 36 ft seas at 51S 175W. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the northern side of the fetch and reported seas 31.5 ft with one reading to 36.7 ft where the model indicated 34-36 ft seas. Looks like the model was over hyping it some. Also the model reported 38 ft seas at 18Z at 51S 173W (189 degs HI, 209 degs NCal and shadowed, 212 SCal and shadowed). A broad fetch of 35-40 kt southerly winds held in the evening with 36 ft seas lifting north at 48S 168W (187 degs HI, 209 degs NCal and shadowed, 211 SCal and shadowed).
A small area of 45 kt south wind was building Sat AM (5/11) with seas 32 ft over a good sized area at 44S 164W (184 degs HI, 209 NCal shadowed, 211 SCal shadowed). Southerly fetch fading from 40-45 kts in the evening wrapped around the gales core with seas fading from 30 ft at 40S 160W (181 degs HI, 208 NCal shadowed, 211 SCal shadowed) with secondary fetch building to 40 kts south around the core of the gale and another off of New Zealand.
On Sun AM (5/12) a modest fetch of 45 kt southwest winds are forecast wrapping around the core of the gale and also tracking northeast off New Zealand with seas building to 33 ft at 43S 160W (181 degs HI, 207 NCal shadowed, 210 SCal shadowed). By evening winds are to be fading from 40 kts as the core of the low retrogrades to the south with seas fading from 33 ft over a moderate area at 36S 152W (east of the Hi swell window, 205 degs NCal shadowed, 208 SCal unshadowed).
At this point it's safe to assume some degree of decent sized 17+ sec period swell will radiate northeast targeting Tahiti with secondary swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast. The early part of this fetch to be unshadowed for North California by Tahiti but fully shadowed for Southern CA, then moving well into the shadow and remaining there barely becoming exposed for Southern CA late in it's life.
Hawaii: Expect a few sets to arrival on Wed (5/15) at sunset with perhaps swell of 1.4 ft @ 22 secs (3 ft). Swell building through the day Thurs (5/16) pushing 3.3 ft @ 18 secs late (6 ft with sets to 7.5 ft). Swell to hold nicely on Fri (5/17) at 3.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (6 ft with sets to 7.5 ft or more). More swell to follow. Swell Direction: 180-189 degrees
Southern CA: Expect the first small signs of this swell arriving Friday (5/17) near 11 PM with swell 1 ft @ 21-22 secs (2 ft) and size barely noticeable. Period dropping to 20 secs near 8 AM Saturday (5/18) with swell becoming rideable at 1.5 ft @ 20 secs (3 ft with sets to 4 ft). Swell starting to peak near noon Sunday as period hits 18 secs and holding through the evening with period 17-18 secs. Pure swell possibly 2.6 ft @ 17-18 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 6 ft) but that's likely on the high side. More energy to follow Swell Direction: 208-210 degrees
Northern CA: Expect the first small signs of this swell arriving Friday (5/17) near 11 PM with swell 1 ft @ 21 secs (2 ft) and size barely noticeable. Period dropping to 20 secs near 10 AM Saturday (5/18) with swell becoming rideable at 1.6 ft @ 20 secs (3 ft with sets to 4 ft). Swell starting to peak near noon Sunday as period hits 18 secs and holding through the evening with period 17-18 secs. Pure swell possibly 2.6 ft @ 17-18 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 6 ft) but that's likely on the high side. More energy to follow. Swell Direction: 208-210 degrees
New Zealand Gale (Part 2)
A tiny secondary fetch of 55 kt southwest winds are to build south-southeast of New Zealand Sunday evening (5/12) producing 34 ft seas over a tiny area at 58S 177E. 50 kt southwest winds to race northeast Mon AM (5/13) producing up to 42 ft seas over a tiny area at 53S 170W. The fetch is to race northeast in the evening fading from 45 kts with seas barely 40 ft at 48S 160W. This system to be gone by Tuesday AM.
Assuming all goes a forecast another small pulse of 18-19 sec period swell could develop radiating northeast providing sideband swell for Tahiti up into Hawaii with more direct but highly decayed energy for California down into Central America.
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 holding along the North and Central California coast Wednesday (5/15) as high pressure builds just off the coast with northwest winds 20-25 kts, then fading down to 20 kts for Thurs-Fri (5/17) only to regenerate early Saturday to 25 kts, then fading late. Some limited short period northerly windswell likely for nearshore Central CA locations.
For Hawaii's east shores, trades are forecast re-developing in the 15 kt range east of and over Hawaii Tues (5/14) courtesy of the same high pressure system that is expected to affect California. These trades to hold through Thursday then become better developed and more continuous by Friday (5/17) again in the 15 kt range and holding through the weekend. Some degree of limited easterly windswell expected along east facing shores.
No other swell producing fetch forecast with a pure summer pattern taking hold.
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 Saturday (5/11) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 10.05. The 30 day average was down to -3.88 with the 90 day average up at 4.20. 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 strongest on the dateline and holding half way to Central America before fading to neutral. The Inactive Phase of the MJO was peaking. A week from now (5/19) fading east anomalies are to barely be hanging on over the Maritime Continent and down to neutral over the dateline and holding that way along the equator into Central America. This suggests a quickly fading moderate episode of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. This is the most activity we've seen from the MJO in a 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 (-2.5 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 5/11 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 +0.20 degree C level is possible over the summer holding through Fall to Jan 2014 with little change over the duration. 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 tertiary fetch associated with the New Zealand gale is forecast developing Tuesday AM (5/14) southeast of New Zealand with up to 55 kt southwest winds building tracking fast northeast. By the evening 50 kt southwest winds to continue with seas to 42 ft at 52S 170W. By Wed AM (5/15) 40 kt southwest winds to be fading fast with seas dropping from 36 ft at 47S 160W. 40 kt west fetch to hold in the evening with 34 ft seas near 50S 150W. A short burst of additional 45 kt fetch to build in behind Thurs AM (5/16) resulting in 37 ft seas at 50S 142W but aimed mostly due east. Maybe more swell to result for all targets.
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