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 Tuesday (5/14) North and Central CA had surf coming up with head high local north windswell finally starting to show with chopped conditions and raw. Better than flat. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist high and fairly clean nearshore but weak with chop outside the kelp. Southern California up north was knee to thigh high and a blown out mess. Down south waves were waist high with some bigger sets and heavily textured and pretty sloppy but rideable. Hawaii's North Shore was waist high and clean but pretty weak. The South Shore was getting some small background southern hemi energy with waves thigh to maybe waist high and clean but unremarkable. The East Shore was getting some tradewind generated east windswell at waist high and chopped with trades on it.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
In the North Pacific very limited swell energy from a pair of weak low pressure systems previous north of Hawaii and over the dateline was continuing to produce limited windswell hitting Oahu's North Shore and the US West Coast. The second gale east of the dateline generated 17 ft seas on Thur-Fri (5/10) aimed reasonably well at Hawaii with some additional windswell expected for Hawaii mid-week, but tiny even noticeable. And additional 15 ft seas are forecast being generated late Tuesday into Wednesday AM (5/15) with yet another small pulse possible for the weekend.
Relative to California the local coastal gradient has started to produce north winds resulting in rideable but raw local short period windswell expected to hold for the entire workweek and into the weekend (5/18). If anything, the gradient is to surge late Mon (5/20) with 30+ kt north winds building and larger local windswell possible holding well into the workweek.
But the big story remains a 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 developed Sunday (5/12) with 34 ft seas aimed well north with yet another pulse developing Mon-Tues (5/14) with 34-36 ft seas tracking again well to the northeast but positioned well to the south. And yet one more pulse of 30-32 ft seas is forecast Tues-Wed (5/15) providing yet more swell energy radiating north and northeast. Tahiti has done quite well so far from this swell with 16-19 ft Hawaiian surf hitting on Mon-Tues (5/14). Decent size is expected for Hawaii. And moderate sized swell should result for the US West Coast, possibly providing rideable surf for almost a week. Most of this swell energy is already in the water, so it's just a waiting game now. Details below...
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (5/14) high pressure was nosing into the Central CA coast generating summer time pressure gradient and 20-25 kt north winds along the North and Central coasts resulting in rideable but raw short period local north windswell. More of the same is forecast Wednesday, with the gradient fading and falling south isolated to Pt Conception Thursday and remaining weak Friday with winds only 15-20 kts. limited windswell forecast (see QuikCASTs for details).
Limited northwest windswell originating from weak low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska last weekend to continue hitting the US West Coast in the 9-10 sec range but buried under the more locally generated and shorter period windswell.
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.
And yet one more pulse of energy is occurring near the dateline associated with this same low pressure center tracking east with seas 15 ft Tues (5/14) at 43N 175E. Limited northwest windswell possible for Oahu on Sat (5/18) at 2.4 ft @ 12-13 secs (3 ft) pushing 3 ft @ 11 secs (3.0-3.5 ft) Sun AM (5/19).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (5/14) steady northwest flow was pushing down the North and Central coasts at 15 kts nearshore courtesy of a local gradient generating choppy conditions at most exposed locations. Southern CA was protected. The gradient and north winds to hold Wednesday at 20 kts then fade Thursday while falling south isolated to Pt Conception at 20 kts but less north of there. Friday a generic 15 kt flow is forecast over the north and Central Coasts building some late then back to 20 kts Saturday. By Sunday the gradient start ramping up with north winds 20+ kts and 25 kts offshore all of North and Central CA. By Monday winds to build to 30 kts over North CA with a faint hint of an eddy flow over Central CA. But by Tuesday (5/21) 30 kt north winds to be pushing down the North coast with 25 kts winds nearshore for the Central Coast. Southern CA to remain protected.
Jetstream - On Tuesday (5/14) a broad trough was set up in the mid-South Pacific with the jet feeding modest 120 kt winds into it and providing limited support for gale development. A strong ridge was over the far East Pacific suppressing gale development there. Over the next 72 hours the trough is to dissipate while easing east and steadily loosing it's configuration, gone by late Wednesday. By Friday (5/17) the same old split zonal flow is to again take control with winds 120 kts in pockets but no troughs evident and offering no support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours no change is forecast with a split flow and no troughs forecast.
Surface - On Tuesday (5/14) all eyes were on the New Zealand gale and subsequent fetch generated by it (see New Zealand Gale below). Over the next 72 hours the third pulse of this system is to develop with a small fetch tracking from New Zealand northeast. It started Tuesday AM (5/14) with a small fetch of 45 kt southwest winds indicated producing 30 ft seas at 53S 176E (195 degs HI, 214 degs SCal shadowed, 213 degs NCal unshadowed by Tahiti). In the evening 40-45 kt southwest fetch is to race east generating a modest sized area of 32 ft seas at 48S 168W (187 degs HI, 211 degs SCal and shadowed, 209 degs NCal and shadowed). Fetch is to be rapidly fading Wed AM (5/15) with 40 kts fetch fading and seas 28-30 ft over a broad area at 45S 155W (179 degs HI, 205 degs SCal and partially shadowed, 203 degs NCal partially shadowed). One more pocket of 45 kts west winds are to be building again off new Zealand. By evening the last patch of seas are to be 32 ft at 47S 160W (182 degs HI, 207 degs SCal shadowed, 205 degs NCal and shadowed). No additional fetch is forecast. More modest swell is to be generated pushing northeast.
New Zealand Gale - Swell #1S
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 33 ft over a good sized area at 44S 164W (184 degs HI, 209 NCal shadowed, 211 SCal shadowed). Southerly fetch was fading from 40-45 kts in the evening wrapped around the gales core with seas fading from 32 ft at 40S 155W (181 degs HI, 205 NCal shadowed, 209 SCal and barely 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 were wrapping around the core of the gale and also tracking northeast off New Zealand with seas building to 32 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 retrograded to the south with seas fading from 33 ft over a moderate area well to the north at 36S 152W (east of the HI swell window, 205 degs NCal shadowed, 208 SCal unshadowed).
Some solid degree of decent sized 17+ sec period swell is radiating northeast having already hit Tahiti (with 17+ ft Hawaiian surf) with secondary swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast. The early part of this fetch was 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 4.0 ft @ 17 secs early (6.5 ft with sets to 8.0 ft or more). Additional new energy hitting Sat AM (5/18) at 3.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (5.5 ft with sets to 7.0 ft) with residual energy from the previous pulse still 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Combined swell fading Sunday at 3.6 ft @ 15 secs early (5.5. ft with bigger sets) with the second pulse pulse (see below) building underneath to 2.6 ft @ 18 secs late (4.5 ft with sets to 6.0 ft). 1st and 2nd pulse of the swell fading Monday (5/20) from 3 ft @ 16-17 secs (5 ft with sets to 6.0 ft). Swell fading Tuesday from 2.6 ft @ 14 secs (3.5-4.0 ft). 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) and 2 ft @ 19 secs late (3.5 ft with sets to 4.5 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 3.0 ft @ 17-18 secs (5.0 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). Swell fading but still decent on Monday at 3.0 ft @ 16-17 secs (5.0 ft with sets to 6.0 ft). Swell 3.0 ft @ 16 secs on Tuesday (4.5 ft) More energy to follow. Swell Direction: 210-213 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 pushing 2.0 ft @ 19 secs late (3.5 ft with sets to 4.5 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 2.9 ft @ 17-18 secs (5.0 ft with sets to 6.0 ft). Swell fading but still decent on Monday at 2.8 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 5.0 ft). Swell 2.3 ft @ 15-16 secs on Tuesday (3.5 ft) More energy to follow. Swell Direction: 208-211 degrees
New Zealand Gale (Part 2)
A tiny secondary fetch of 55 kt southwest winds built south-southeast of New Zealand Sunday evening (5/12) producing 34 ft seas over a tiny area at 59S 175E. 45 kt southwest winds raced northeast Mon AM (5/13) producing up to 36 ft seas over a tiny area at 53S 171W. The fetch raced northeast in the evening fading from 40 kts with seas 34 ft at 47S 160W. This system was gone by Tuesday AM.
Another small pulse of 17 sec period swell will develop radiating northeast providing sideband swell for Tahiti then arriving in Hawaii (on Monday 5/20 with period 17 secs - see forecast above) with more direct but highly decayed and shadowed energy for California (arriving Wed AM 5/22) down into Central America. It will likely just look like a continuation of the existing 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 hours the normal summertime local windswell producing gradient is forecast building along the North and Central California coast Saturday (5/19) as high pressure builds just offshore with northwest winds 20-25 kts, then building Sunday to 30 kts late and building in coverage on Monday. Wind to near 35 kts Tuesday (5/21) with additional 30 kt fetch building off British Columbia. Windswell is expected to be on the increase for all nearshore California 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 Thurs-Fri (5/17) becoming better developed and more continuous in the 15 kt range then faltering over the weekend as low pressure builds just north of the Islands. Possible 25-30 kt fetch aimed at the Islands from the low briefly Sunday. Some degree of limited easterly windswell expected along east facing shores followed by north windswell. A much larger and more developed fetch of easterly trades is possible the middle of next week coming off strong high pressure off the US West Coast. .
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 Tuesday (5/14) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 20.16. The 30 day average was down to -2.05 with the 90 day average up at 4.71. 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 weakening on the dateline and holding half way to Central America before fading to neutral. The Inactive Phase of the MJO was over. A week from now (5/22) light east to near neutral 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 should be over. This is the most activity we've seen from the MJO in a while.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/13 are in general agreement. Both suggest a weak Active Phase of the MJO pattern was already in control over the far West Pacific. It is forecast to hold for 5 days per both models. Then the Dynamic model has it fading and turning Inactive 8 days out and building 15 days from now. The Statistic model has the Active Phase holding for 15 days. So assuming all this comes to pass, it would suggest a return to a stronger MJO cycle with an Active Phase building for the next 2 weeks with luck.
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 (5/13) a very La Nina looking pattern has emerged in the East Pacific over the equator with much cooler water tracking north up along the South American Coast turning west at Ecuador extending to the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there. This looks like a real La Nina cold pool at this time, or maybe just a precursor to what has developed into a strong Inactive Phase of the MJO. Interestingly the plume of slightly cooler than normal water that has been radiating off the California coast tracking just southeast of Hawaii and barely making it to the equatorial dateline for 2 years has finally closed off. Warm water is filling the entire Northeast Pacific basin. This is a reflection of the collapse of high pressure that has dominated the East Pacific. But that is likely to be short lived with high pressure expected to return with a vengeance by next week (5/20). Subsurface waters temps on the equator continue indicating a pool of cooler water (-2.0 deg C) in place at 150W and down 150 meters, blocking the transport path. A building 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. The only good news is the coastal pattern off the US mainland suggests somewhat lower 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 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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'CBS This Morning' with the Mavericks Invitational Surf Contest - See a nice morning TV show piece on the Mavericks Contest held Sun 1/20/13. The show aired Wed 1/23. Interviews with Colin Dwyer, Jeff Clark, Mark Sponsler and Grant Washburn: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50139546n
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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