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 (5/15) North and Central CA had small southern hemi swell producing some rideable surf at select breaks down south. But up north it's maybe thigh high and blown by northwest winds. In Santa Cruz surf was chest high and glassy on the sets and looking pretty fun. Southern California up north had surf that was maybe thigh high when the sets arrive and glassy. Down south sets were near head high and a bit crumbly though clean, but not too bad. Hawaii's North Shore had windswell in the waist high range and clean. The South Shore had more modest southern hemi swell at waist to maybe chest high and beautifully clean. The East Shore was knee high and clean with no real east tradewind generated windswell.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure is to return to the California coast late Thursday (5/17) with local north winds and windswell on the upswing into the early weekend, then fading. But trades and windswell over Hawaii to remain suppressed. The models are suggesting a weak gale pushing over the dateline Sat-Sun (5/20) producing 18 ft seas, but that is likely just a fantasy of the models. That low pressure system is forecast moving into the Northeast Pacific by the weekend suppressing high pressure and local windswell relative to CA. Down south a decent sized gale developed under New Zealand Sat (5/5) with 40 ft seas but all aimed pretty well to the east. Small but decent sideband swell has already peaked and is fading in Hawaii and is peaking now in California. Another smaller system developed in the extreme Southeast Pacific on Wed (5/9) with 38 ft seas but all aimed due east to southeast with next to no swell expected up into CA. Maybe dribbles for Southern CA at best on Fri-Sat (5/19). After that no swell producing storms developed and none are forecast for the next 7 days. Take what you can get.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (5/15) weak high pressure at 1032 mbs was trying to organize in the extreme North Gulf of Alaska ridging south down the US West Coast but producing no fetch of interest. Weak low pressure at 996 mbs was over the northern dateline producing no fetch of interest. Another weak and fading low was 900 nmiles north of Hawaii producing 15 kt northeast winds, pushing bare minimal short period windswell towards the Islands. But overall things were quiet. Over the next 72 hrs high pressure is to slowly fall out of the Northern Gulf and organize just 500 nmiles off Oregon by late Thursday (5/17) starting to generate 25 kt north winds directly along the entire US West Coast starting to produce local short period windswell, becoming more focused over Cape Mendocino on Friday 95/18) with winds to 30 kts there resulting in increasing north windswell for Central CA. But the high and associated fetch and windswell is to be in steep decline by Saturday AM (5/19) as low pressure starts moving over the dateline and towards the Gulf of Alaska (details in the Longterm Forecast). No fetch from the aforementioned high pressure system is expected to produce meaningful tradewind or east windswell for the Hawaiian Islands.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday (5/15) minimal Tropical Storm Aletta was tracking west from a point 800 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas Mexico with sustained winds at 35 kts expected to reach 40 kts this evening into Wed AM then start fading. No swell production is forecast relative to California or Hawaii.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (5/15) weak high pressure at 1032 mbs in the extreme Northern Gulf of Alaska ridging south down the US West Coast to a point mid-way between Hawaii and Pt Conception generating a modest northerly flow at 10 over coastal CA waters and up 20 kt near Pt Conception. High pressure is to get a marginally better hold on Wednesday with 15 kt north winds over the entire CA coast and up to 20 kts near Pt Conception and Cape Mendocino continuing to build Thursday pushing near 20 kt everywhere and up to 25 kts over Cape Mendocino. Southern CA is to remain mostly protected from this. By Friday a certified pressure gradient is to set up over Cape Mendocino extending down to San Francisco with 30 kt north winds in effect early, fading to 25 kts later in the day. Chop and local north windswell on the increase. maybe even north winds pushing into Southern CA early. By Saturday (5/19) the gradient is to be fading from 25 kts limited to Cape Mendocino with 20 kts winds down to the Channel Islands and in full retreat. By Sunday 15 kt north winds to be over the Central CA coast making for poor conditions, but offering no windswell generation potential. Weak low pressure is to move into Oregon on Monday (5/21) with the gradient retreating to just Pt Conception (20 kts ) and near calm from San Francisco northward. But by Tuesday low pressure is to be clearing out of the Gulf with a 1024 mbs high building off the coast and north winds on the increase over Pt Conception (25 kts) and building solidly northward by night fall.
Jet stream - On Tuesday (5/15) the southern branch of the jetstream had developed a weak trough pushing up over New Zealand, but winds were only 100 kts there and not offering much if any support for gale development. East of there the jet then ridged solidly south over the Central Pacific holding near 62S and tracking to a point just off the Coast of Chile, where another trough was building with up to 160 kt winds at it's apex supporting gale development relative to Chile, but east of the swell window for the US. Over the next 72 hours the trough under New Zealand is to fade out with the ridge over the Central Pacific building into Antarctica then turning hard north off Chile. Only the trough off Chile to support gale development but again, it is to be east of the US Swell window. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to be very split by Saturday (5/19) with the southern branch tracking flat west to east down at 70S from under New Zealand to just west of Chile through Mon (5/21) offering no support for gale development. Some weakness in that pattern is forecast by Tuesday (5/22) but no particular outcome is possible to determine just yet.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (5/15) weak high pressure at 1016 mbs locked over the Central Pacific at 50S pretty much driving the jet and all east migrating weather system well to the south under it. A broad low was just southeast of New Zealand but generating no fetch of interest. An equally broad and unorganized gale was southeast of Southern Chile with no swell production support indicated. Swell from a storm that traversed the West and Central Pacific Fri-Mon (5/14) was pushing into the US West Coast. (see Broad New Zealand Storm below) and another swell was right behind for Southern CA but expected to be exceedingly small (see East Pacific Gale below). And maybe one more tiny pulse to follow that for Southern CA (see Tiny East Pacific Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours virtually no swell producing weather systems are forecast to occur in our forecast window in the South Pacific. A small gale is forecast trying to wrap up just off the coast of Southern Chile, but the models are very inconsistent from one run to the next in defining the strength of this system.
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.
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 (187 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 pure swell up to 1.8 ft @ 16 secs midmorning (2.9 ft faces) and inconsistent from 187 degs. Residuals to hold into Sat AM (5/19) at 2 ft @ 14-15 secs (2.5 ft) then fading out.
Tiny East Pacific Gale
Another very west-to-east oriented gale developed late Friday AM (5/11) with 40-45 kt southwest winds building in the Southeast Pacific. It was racing east with seas 28 ft at 50S 130W (188 degs SCal). 45 kt west winds held Saturday AM (5/12) with 32 ft seas at 51S 120W (181 degs CA) and racing out of the CA swell window. In the evening a small area of up to 50 kt west winds evolved pushing east with seas to 36 ft over a tiny area at 51S 103W targeting only Southern Chile and well outside the CA swell window. This system was fading Sunday at with 34 ft seas at 50S 94W targeting only Southern Chile. Some tiny south angled swell is possible for mainly Southern CA down into Mexico but mainly for points south of even there.
Expect swell arrival in Southern CA on Sunday AM (5/20) at 1.8 ft @ 16 secs (2.5 ft) from 181 degrees.
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 starting Sat (5/19) high pressure is to start fading along the California coast as theoretically a broad ill defined low starts moving from the dateline towards the Gulf of Alaska. The low is to produce near 30 kt west winds over a small area Saturday evening (5/19) holding for 24 hrs while moving east on Sunday resulting in 18 ft seas at 43N 172W for 6 hrs on Sunday evening (5/20). Maybe some minimal windswell may result pushing towards Hawaii in the most optimistic of situations. Otherwise, the low will only serve to dampen high pressure formation in the North Pacific resulting in decreased odds for local windswell development in Hawaii and California.
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 Tuesday (5/15) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 2.62. The 30 day average was rising at 5.34 (neutral) with the 90 day average up some at 0.52.
Current wind analysis indicated weak easterly anomalies over the equator just east of Indonesia with dead neutral anomalies on the dateline and extending east into Central America. Weak westerly anomalies were over Indonesia. This indicates that there was no discernible Phase of the MJO in play though perhaps the Active Phase was trying to build in the extreme Eastern Indian Ocean. A week from now (5/23) easterly anomalies are expected over the West Pacific indicative of a building Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/14 are in agreement depicting a weak Inactive Phase building over Indonesia and expected to push east over the dateline 2 weeks out. 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 an area of low pressure is to start circulating just east of New Zealand on Fri (5/18) producing 30-35 kt south winds with seas building to 26 ft Saturday midday (5/19) at 39S 171W aimed well at Hawaii but only covering an infinitesimal area. Maybe some tiny 14-15 sec period background swell to result for the Islands with luck.
Also there are low odds of a gale winding up just off the southern tip of Chile on Thurs PM (5/17) with maybe 32 ft seas 24 hrs later and of no interest to anyone but Chile.
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