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 (5/26) North and Central CA had local north windswell up from previous days with waves at 2 ft overhead and warbled but not a complete mess early. Down south in Santa Cruz wrap around windswell was knee to thigh high and uneven yet clean early. Southern California up north was also getting the north windswell with surf at maybe thigh high and clean but warbled early. Down south sets were waist to chest high on occasion and a bit warbled and in San Diego it was shoulder to near head high and a mess. Hawaii's North Shore was knee to thigh high and reasonably clean early - but just windswell. The South Shore was small again at knee high at the better spots. The East Shore had improved east windswell at shoulder high from east tradewind generated windswell and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure remained in control over the Northeast Pacific with north winds and raw local windswell pushing into California and easterly trades and windswell for Hawaii. Winds to start fading by Saturday evening over outer waters for California through Memorial Day weekend but easterly trades to continue non-stop for the Islands. A modest gale continues on the charts tracking over the dateline and through the Western Gulf on Monday (5/28) with 35 kt west winds and up to 22 ft seas late pushing east into Tuesday (5/29) then fading late. Possible small swell for Hawaii and maybe even something for the US West Coast with luck. Down south the quiet pattern that has taken root over the past week shows no signs of abating. No swell is pushing northwards towards Hawaii or California. And the chart continue to indicate no real signs of hope for the next 7 days. This is setting up to be the longest flat spell we've seen in a few years, especially considering we should be near the peak of the season.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Saturday (5/26) weak low pressure was in the extreme northern Gulf of Alaska with a second one approaching the northern dateline from the west. No fetch of interest was resulting. High pressure at 1032 mbs had retrograded west and was centered 1200 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii ridging southeast and generating a fetch of 15-20 kt north winds along the California coast producing windswell there and then turning southwest to west and pushing over Hawaii resulting in 20 kt trades and more easterly windswell there. Windswell in California on Saturday was up some, the result of stronger north winds on Friday evening. A tropical system continued in the far West Pacific (see Tropics below). Over the next 72 hrs fetch from the high pressure system is to fade along the Central California coast with winds falling below 15 kts by Sunday and windswell dropping out. This is to be caused by the building of low pressure over the dateline pushing into the Western Gulf. A shallow pool of local north wind to regenerate over North and Central CA by Tuesday (5/29) at 15-20 kts focused near Monterey Bay continuing through Wednesday only making for short period junky windchop.
Of more interest: The models remain stable suggesting that by Monday (5/28) a new gale is forecast developing over the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutian Islands with a decent fetch of northwest winds at 35 kts are to be tracking east-southeast holding into Tuesday AM then fading from 30 kts in the evening. 22 ft seas forecast late Monday near 46N 177W falling southeast and building in coverage (still at 22 ft) Tuesday AM (5/29) at 45N 168W. 22 ft seas to hold in the evening at 43N 163W then dissipating fast. Possible modest 13 sec period sideband swell for Hawaii starting in the middle of the night holding into Friday AM (6/1) if one is to believe the models (4 ft @ 13 secs - 5 ft faces). But it's to be 1800 nmiles away from CA at it's closest point resulting in swell of 4.5 ft @ 13 secs (5.5 ft faces) late Friday night (6/1) with good residuals left for Saturday. And all this assuming the models are correct (a long shot).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
The remnants of Hurricane Bud faded near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on Saturday AM (5/26) falling below tropical depression status. No further updates to be posted.
Typhoon Sanvu was 600 nmiles south-southeast of Central Japan Saturday AM (5/26) tracking northeast with winds minimal typhoon strength at 65 kts and was on the decline. In 24 hours winds to be down to 50 kts and fading fast from there, getting sheared and becoming absorbed into a building low pressure system near the dateline. No direct swell expected from this system for anywhere other than Japan.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (5/26) high pressure at 1032 mbs continued ridging into the coast while low pressure was exiting east over Nevada resulting in a fading pressure gradient and north winds at 20 kts over all of California waters (including Southern CA). This fetch is to steadily dissipate through the day on into Sunday with north winds only 10-15 kts with only one pocket to 20 kts over Pt Conception. The gradient is to start rebuilding slightly over the Central CA coast to 15 kts late Monday pushing near 20 kts in pockets on Tuesday (5/29) and holding for 24 hours. By Thursday (5/31) 20+ kt north winds to become more centered over Cape Mendocino then starting to fall south again late Friday into Saturday. Southern CA to return to an eddy flow by Monday AM (5/28) but that to become less defined Wed-Thurs (5/31) then back to a pure eddy by Friday holding into next weekend (supposedly).
Jet stream - On Saturday (5/26) a split jetstream continued over the South Pacific with both branches tracking semi-parallel with each other but with the important southern branch slowly falling east-southeast from 50S in the west pushing directly over mainland Antarctica as it moved east. A pocket of wind to 150 kts was building southeast of New Zealand but was falling southeast offering no trough to support gale formation in the lower levels of the atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours those winds are to crash into the Ross Ice Shelf while some energy peels off racing north, but cut-off from the main flow. A trough is to form over the extreme East Pacific on Sunday (5/27) from this cut-ff wind holding for several days into Wed (5/30), but nothing is expected to come from it gale wise. Of more influence is to be a stream of stronger wind energy pushing east-southeast under New Zealand Mon AM (5/28) with wind 130 kts forming a ridge tracking again into mainland Antarctica and offering no support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours that same track is to only be reinforced with all energy sweeping southeast over the Ross Ice Shelf through Sat (6/2) with no signs of a trough or even any wind energy trying to push northward. No support for gale development projected.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Saturday (5/26) strong high pressure at 1032 mbs was locked east of New Zealand pushing all low pressure emerging from the Indian Ocean southward towards if not over the Ross Ice Shelf and Antarctica. Regardless, there was no fetch stronger than 35 kts in the South Pacific. Over the next 72 hours the high is to weaken some but the same general flow, with all weather tracking southeast, is to continue. No swell producing fetch is forecast.
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 weak high pressure at 1024 mbs is to ridge closer to the Pacific Northwest and CA coasts after low pressure passes through the Gulf of Alaska on Thursday (5/31). A limited area of 20 kt north winds is to build along the immediate North and Central CA coast focused over Cape Mendocino and holding into Friday, generating limited windswell mainly for Central California. The fetch is to start falling south by Saturday (6/2) centered off Monterey Bay and then starting to become fragmented with even junky weak windswell dropping out for even Central CA.
East trades over Hawaii to hold Mon-Tues (5/29) at near 20 kts but steadily loosing coverage then down to 15 kts Wednesday and holding through the weekend but not strong enough to produce significant east windswell for east facing shores.
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 Saturday (5/26) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down hard -27.48. The 30 day average was falling at -1.39 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to -0.62. Our working philosophy is that a SOI that holds near neutral does little to enhance swell production, and that an SOI on either of the extreme ends is better than being in the middle (where we are today). The good news is that we are hoping we are in a transition mode, moving from one opposite (La Nina) to the other, though that is mostly just wishful thinking. But this neutral position is likely influencing the lack of storm production in the Southern Hemisphere. We are in a transition phase that will likely last for the summer season.
Current wind analysis indicates weak easterly anomalies were over the dateline and dead neutral anomalies elsewhere east and west of there. This indicates a weak MJO signal was present (neither Active nor Inactive). A week from now (6/2) much the same is forecast with weak east anomalies forecast over the dateline perhaps starting to get some momentum, indicative of a neutral phase of the MJO trending towards the Inactive Phase. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/25 are starting to pull into agreement depicting a very weak Active Phase fading over the dateline with the Inactive Phase building into that area over the next 2 weeks. But the strength of that Inactive Phase is to be bare minimal. The statistical model also depicts a large Active Phase of the MJO building anew under India easing east but not making any headway into the West Pacific 2 weeks out. None of this suggests any real benefit to the North Pacific storm track given that summer is now moving in. But there are long tern implications (see below).
In monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which the existing weak MJO pattern is supporting, this become important because it 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 had been 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 a continued weak MJO signal, appears to be reinforcing itself. It will be interesting to see if the weak MJO pattern continues (a early sign of some flavor of El Nino) or whether the Inactive Phase comes back to life. We are still in the Spring unpredictability barrier relative to ENSO (continues into early June), so it's difficult to predict any particular outcome until that time has passed. But it does warrant some interest. Note: As of Saturday May 26, there was some indications that the cool water pocket was starting to re-emerge, but only barely.
A weaker MJO signal is typical for this time of year, but does not normally appear as strong and as long-lasting as what appears to be occurring now, suggesting that La Nina is disintegrating. 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 starting Friday (6/1) no swell producing fetch is forecast with any potential wind energy trying to emerge under New Zealand getting shunted due east with no northward movement suggested. But this is better than the hard southeast track that is currently in control. Still, all fetch is to be aligned west to east with not a hint of any fetch aimed to the north.
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 has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
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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