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 (5/23) North and Central CA had local windswell dominating with waves head high to 1 ft overhead at exposed breaks and still blown out and chopped with northwest wind in control. Down in Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was still chest high but pretty warbled courtesy of local windswell and fully white capped conditions outside the kelp. Southern California up north was waist to maybe chest high and warbled and weak dominated by local north windswell. Down south waves were chest high or so and lined up coming from the south-southwest, but inconsistent with texture on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting swell from Japan with waves 2 ft overhead and clean and well lined up. The South Shore was still getting energy from Swell #1S with waves head high to 1 ft overhead and clean and well lined up. The East Shore was getting mixed swell with waves thigh high and lightly chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
From the North Pacific local north windswell relative to North and Central California remained the prime swell source. It was being generated by high pressure west of California setting up north winds at 25 kts along the coast.S well from a late season gale that wrapped up off Japan on Saturday (5/18) with 40-45 kt west winds and 32 ft seas was hitting the Islands, down from it's peak. This same swell is to reach the mainland by Fri (5/24) but smaller than what was occurring in Hawaii. No tradewind generated windswell was occurring for Hawaii's Eastern Shores.
The local California coastal gradient is to fade through the weekend into the middle of next week, providing just barely rideable short period energy at best for exposed breaks. There's some suggestions of small tradewind generated east windswell for the Islands starting later Fri (5/24), and then slowly building and holding through the weekend into next week.
And the last of the Swell #1S is to be fading for Hawaii through Fri (5/24) and the US West Coast through Tues (5/28).
The models suggest a fetch of 30 kt northwest winds building in the Gulf of Alaska Wed (5/29) producing 18 ft seas, maybe good for windswell for the US West Coast if it develops. But down south no believable swell producing fetch is forecast for the next week. So it will be at least 2 weeks till anything decently rideable should be expected arriving originating from the Southern Hemi.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (5/23) modest high pressure at 1028 mbs was holding 800 nmiles west of North CA generating a pressure gradient along the US West Coast generating north winds at 20-25 kts over Central CA and less elsewhere resulting in moderate but fading local north windswell at exposed breaks. Trades remained were suppressed over the Hawaiian Islands for now with no tradewind swell of interest occurring. Swell from a gale previously off Japan was hitting Hawaiian North Shores, but fading.
Over the next 72 hours high pressure to remain off California falling just slightly south then holding with pressure 1028 mbs generating a local fetch of 20-25 kt north winds over North and Central CA producing more modest short period northerly windswell for exposed breaks of mainly North and Central CA (see QuikCAST's for details).
Trades relative to Oahu are to start building later Friday (5/24) to 15 kts as the same high pressure systems sinks far enough south off California and local low pressure relative to Hawaii dissipates. Small east windswell possible late and holding through the weekend into early next week.
Otherwise no fetch of interest is forecast.
Of far more interest is a gale that developed off Japan late Friday (5/17) and was tracking slowly northeast. By Sat AM (5/18) it had a small area of 45 kt west winds with 40 kt west winds over a modest sized area and seas building from 28 ft at 40N 160E, a long ways from even Hawaii. 40 kt west winds held into the early evening with seas building to 32 ft at 40N 164E (308 degs Hawaii). Fetch was fading from 30 kts Sun AM (5/19) with seas fading from 25 ft at 41N 168E. The remnants of the gale started lifting northeast in the evening with seas from previous fetch fading from 20 ft at 42N 172E.
Limited energy expected to arrive along the Central CA coast starting Thurs PM (5/23) at 1.5 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft) building Friday to 2.7 ft @ 15 secs (4 ft). Swell fading Saturday from 3 ft @ 13-14 secs (4 ft). Inconsistent. Swell Direction: 300 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (5/23) modest high pressure at 1030 mbs was 800 nmiles west of Northern CA and ridging into the entire US West Coast generating 20-25 kts north winds over North and Central CA. Local short period north windswell and chop were still the rule. Southern CA remained was protected. Winds down some for North and Central CA on Friday at 20 kts and up to 25 kts off NCal late, but Southern CA to remain protected. The gradient is to finally start collapsing Saturday with north winds fading to 15-20 kts finally falling to 15 kts or less Sunday for all locations except Point Conception (20 kts). More of the same is forecast Mon-Wed (5/29) with north winds 15 kts with a core of 20 kt winds near Pt Conception. Winds slightly weaker again Thursday. Mon-Thurs (5/30) there is to be increasing odds for northwest winds working their way through the Channel Islands and reaching the Southern CA coast in the afternoons.
Jetstream - On Thursday (5/23) the jet was split over New Zealand and effectively holding that way over the width of the South Pacific. Wind speeds were very light in the southern branch (barely 80 kts) with no troughs and offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the southern branch of the jet is to start ridging steadily southward pushing into Antarctica on Fri (5/24) and then being reinforced on Monday (5/27) basically shutting down the potential for gale development over the entire Central and East Pacific. Beyond 72 hours there's some suggestion of building wind energy in the southern branch south of New Zealand on Sun (5/26) with a trough trying to develop with 100-110 kts winds pushing up into it building to 120 kts late Monday (5/27). Some limited support for gale development possible but that trough is to quickly collapse. By Wed (5/29) the entire southern branch of the jet is to be over Antarctic Ice if not inland over Antarctica proper. no hope for gale development.
Surface - On Tuesday (5/21) swell from the New Zealand Gale (see New Zealand Gale below) was still hitting Hawaii and the US West Coast. Otherwise no swell producing weather system were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
New Zealand Gale (Part 4)
The final pulse of the storm developed on Tues AM (5/14) producing 45 kts southwest winds over a small area generating seas to 30 ft at 53S 176E (196 degs HI, 215 degs SCal and shadowed, 213 degs NCal and unshadowed). The fetch pulsed some Tuesday PM still at 45 kts and covering a broader area with seas to 32 ft at 48S 168W (187 degs HI, 212 degs SCal and shadowed, 209 degs NCal and moving into the Tahiti Swell shadow). Fetch was fading Wed AM (5/15) from 40 kts and aiming more flat east with seas 32 ft at 48S 157W (181 degs HI, 207 degs SCal and unshadowed, 203 degs NCal and moving east of the Tahiti swell shadow). By evening all fetch was gone except a small new fetch of 45-50 kt mostly west winds. Seas were fading from 29-30 ft at 48S 150W and of no real interest.
Yet another small pulse of 17 sec period swell energy is to be radiating northeast targeting Hawaii on Tues AM (5/21) with 17+ sec period energy. Swell to start moving into California Thurs PM (5/23) peaking Fri AM (5/24) with period 17 secs (see details below). It will likely just look like a continuation of the existing swell.
New Zealand Gale - Residual Fetch
The remnants of this system redeveloped some on Thurs AM (5/16) generating a small area of 45 kt southwest fetch and seas to 36 ft at 58S 145W (193 degs NCal, 195 degs SCal and unshadowed by Tahiti, east of the HI swell window) but all energy was pushing flat east. Background energy was radiating northeast towards the US West Coast, but did not qualify as a 5th Pulse. That fetch pushed east and dissipated by Thurs PM (5/16) with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 58S 137W (190 degs SCal, 188 degs NCal). More background sideband energy was tracking northeast, but most energy was targeting Chile, but too far east for significant class swell even there. Additional 35-40 kt fetch moved over the Southeast Pacific Fri AM (5/17) generating barely 30 ft seas at 51S 132W (189 degs SCal, 187 degs NCal) targeting mainly Chile with sideband energy heading north towards the US West Coast. 30-35 kt west winds held into the evening with 28 ft seas moving to the eastern edge of the California swell window at 52S 124W and racing east and out of even the CA swell window by Sat AM (5/18).
On Friday AM (5/17) yet another fetch developed southeast of New Zealand tracking flat east with west winds 45 kts and seas building to 32 ft at 57S 172W. In the evening a tiny area of 45-50 kt west winds built tracking flat east generating seas at 33 ft at 58S 160W. A tiny fetch of 45 kt west wind were pushing east Sat AM (5/18) with seas rebuilding to 36 ft at 59S 146W pushing flat east. In the evening seas were fading fast from 32 ft over a tiny area at 57S 131W. This fetch was gone by Sun AM (5/19). Yet more sideband background swell is possible for the US West Coast (204 degs initially and barely shadowed by Tahiti then becoming unshadowed and moving on to 180 degrees) with even some small energy pushing towards Hawaii (181-187 degs).
Hawaii: Small swell to arrive starting late on Fri (5/24) at 1.2 ft @ 17-18 secs (2 ft). Swell holding Sat AM (5/25) at 1.2 ft @ 15-16 secs (2 ft) and then fading out. Swell Direction: 188 degrees
Southern CA: Swell fading Thurs AM (5/23) but new energy building underneath from the 4th pulse late afternoon, peaking near 5 AM Friday (5/24) at 2.2-2.4 ft @ 17 secs (3.7-4.1 ft with sets to 5.1 ft). Residual energy fading Sat (5/25) from 2.1 ft @ 16 secs (3.5 ft). New Swell from the follow-on pulses to arrive Sun (5/26) at 2 ft @ 17-18 secs (3.5 ft) fading Mon (5/27) at 2.3 ft @ 16 secs (3.5 ft). Residuals dropping Tues (5/28) at 2 ft @ 15 secs early (3 ft). Swell Direction: 4th Pulse 206-215 degs. Follow-On pulse: 200 degs.
Northern CA: Swell fading Thurs AM (5/23) but new energy building underneath from the 4th pulse late afternoon, peaking near 5 AM Friday (5/24) at 2.2-2.4 ft @ 17 secs (3.7-4.1 ft with sets to 5.1 ft). Residual energy fading Sat (5/25) from 2.0 ft @ 16 secs (3.0 ft). New swell from the follow-on pulses to arrive Sun (5/26) at 1.6 ft @ 18-19 secs (3.0 ft) fading Mon (5/27) at 2.0 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.0 ft). Residuals dropping Tues (5/28) at 2 ft @ 15 secs early (3 ft). Swell Direction: 4th Pulse 203-213 degs, Follow-On pulse: 200 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 hours local windswell is to fade for California by Monday as high pressure degrades. But by Tuesday (5/28) a slight resurgence of the local gradient is possible mixed with a new fetch forecast building in the Gulf of Alaska courtesy of low pressure there. By Tuesday winds in the Gulf to start building to 25-30 kts over a small area falling southeast into Wednesday and getting better footing generating 17-18 ft seas near 47N 148W mid-day. Possible windswell reaching the coast for later in the week into the weekend if one is to believe the models.
Relative to Hawaii tradewinds are to hold at 15 kts during the workweek till Thurs (5/30) producing enough easterly fetch to generate east windswell along east facing shores. After that the high is to fade some and windswell fading with it.
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 (5/23) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued solid at 19.40. The 30 day average was up to 4.83 with the 90 day average up at 6.09. Overall this is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino, with the upward trend a likely lagging indicator of the Inactive Phase of the MJO that is already fading.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent and dateline regions continuing into Central America. The Inactive Phase of the MJO appeared to be over. A week from now (5/31) neutral anomalies are to be in control over the Maritime Continent turning slightly easterly over the dateline then turning slight west south of Hawaii on into Central America. This suggests a strengthening of the neutral phase of the MJO.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/22 remain in agreement initially, suggesting a neutral Phase of the MJO was in control over the far West Pacific. This is consistent with observations (other than the strong Inactive signal being displayed by the SOI - but the SOI tends to be more of a lagging indicator). The Dynamic model has the neutral phase slowly starting to give way to an Inactive Phase 8 days from now building some 15 days out. The Statistic model conversely has a neutral pattern holding for the next 15 days. So the best we can hope for per the models is a neutral pattern with a modest shot at another Inactive Phase building. That's not good.
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 (5/23) a very La Nina looking pattern continues developing 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. This cold pool was also eroding warm water that previously built up north of the equator off Central America. Looking back just a few weeks it's almost as if this cold pool developed before anomalous east winds started blowing over the West Pacific. The question now is: "Will those cold waters moderate and disperse or will they stay in-place?". It's too early to know. But another ominous sign is the same thing is occurring off West Africa, with cold water radiating off the coast there on the equator and building while pushing towards the Caribbean . A direct reflection of what is occurring in the Pacific, a global teleconnection. And the plume of slightly cooler than normal water that has been radiating southeast off California for 2 years and finally closed off about a week ago, has started to return. This is a reflection of the collapse and now rebuilding of high pressure over the East Pacific. 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 is 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 Atlantic is starting to respond to what appears to be a building global pattern. And the SOI is doing nothing but moving steadily in to positive territory. Sure looks likes La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/23 remain oblivious to the cold water building occurring in the Southeast equatorial Pacific. The model indicates water temps bottomed out (in May) near normal (+0.0 degs C). A gradual rebound to the +0.30 degree C level is possible by July building into November at +0.7 holding near +0.6 through 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 mid-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 (regardless what the CFSv2 indicates). 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 until Thurs (5/30) when a gale with 45-50 kts southwest winds and seas to 40 ft are forecast building well south of New Zealand and tracking east. But that is a week out and there is zero confidence that system will be on the models even 24 hours from now. So in effect, there is no signs of swell anytime soon.
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