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 (5/27) in North and Central CA local windswell was producing waves in the shoulder high range and trashed by northwest winds. Down in Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was producing waves in the chest high range on the rare sets and clean. In Southern California up north thigh high windswell was working it's way into many breaks and clean. Down south southern hemi swell was producing waves in the chest high range on the sets but heavily textured boarding on light chop. It was cleaner in Southern Orange County. Hawaii's North Shore was getting Japan swell with waves in the waist to chest high range and clean. The South Shore was getting some leftover southern hemi swell with waves thigh to waist high on the sets and clean. Exposed breaks on the East Shore was getting knee high windswell with modest easterly trades chopping it up.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
No swell producing fetch is occurring or forecast for the North Pacific other than local windswell. Down south another small gale developed under New Zealand on Sun (5/18) with 40 ft seas aimed east. Swell was starting to hit CA on Tues (5/27). Another very weak gale developed in the same area Tues (5/20) with 36 ft seas over a tiny area, but not real swell to result. The models suggest a weak gale forming in the Central South Pacific on Sat (5/31) with 31 ft seas aimed east. Maybe sideband background swell to result for CA up into HI.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (5/27) trades were at the 15 kt threshold east of Hawaii with perhaps the first bit of windswell trying to get a foothold in the Islands. Moderate to strong high pressure and north winds at 20 to 25 kts were off North and Central CA generating modest raw windswell for the Golden State north of Pt Conception. Over the next 72 hours high pressure is to build off Central California with north winds at 25 kts over a larger area and lifting slightly north into Thurs (5/29) producing more local north short period windswell at exposed breaks mainly north of Pt Conception. Then winds and windswell to fade a bit Friday. Trades to hold relative to Hawaii peaking Wed (5/28) at 15+ kts but continuing holding into at least Fri (5/30) at 15 kts generating minimal east windswell for exposed east facing shores. .
On Thursday (5/22) a small gale with 40 kt west winds developed just off the coast of Northern Japan producing a small area of 28 ft seas at 37N 150E aimed at Hawaii up the 302 degree path. Fetch faded from 35 kts in the evening with residual seas 26 ft at 37N 154E (303 degrees HI). Some background swell with period at 15 secs to result for the Hawaiian Islands starting Tues (5/27) at 1.8 ft @ 14-15 secs (2.5-3.0 ft).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On 12Z Sun (5/25) Super Hurricane Amanda, first of the 2014 season, had developed 950 nmiles south of Baja California. Winds were up to 135 kts (155 mph) with seas 35 ft at 11.7N 111.1W on the 160 degree path and 1400 nmiles from Dana Point. This storm turning due north and is to slowly fade over the next 48 hours with winds still 90 kts on Tues AM (5/27) 450 nmiles south of Cabo still on the 160 degree path. Assuming swell of 15 secs is being generated, swell arrival is expected starting Tues PM (5/27) if not earlier. A steadily degradation set in after that and by Tues AM (5/27) winds were down to 110 kts and seas 24 ft while tracking northwest from 14N 112W (1200 nmiles from Dana Point CA on the 162 degree path). Satellite imagery suggested that was an optimistic estimate. Perhaps some 13 sec period swell is being generated and will arrive in Dana Point Thurs PM (5/29). This system is to be below hurricane status by 18Z Wed (5/28). No additional swell production is expected at that time.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (5/27) high pressure at 1036 mbs was building in the Gulf of Alaska ridging towards Central and North CA with 20-25 kt north winds in control of outer waters off Point Arena down to Morro Bay, with a weak eddy flow over Southern CA. The gradient is to start building in coverage and speed early Wednesday with 25 kt winds covering all of North and Central CA late. SCal to remain protected. On Thursday (5/29) the gradient is to lift north focused near Cape Mendocino with 25 kt north winds and 20 kt north winds extending south to a point well off Pt Conception. More of the same expected Friday, then the gradient is to fade in coverage on Saturday (20 kt north winds) only to rebuild Sunday with winds to 20-25 kts hugging the coast and then refocusing again on Cape Mendocino on Monday (25 kts) with 20 kts northwest winds to continue south over all the Central CA coast. More of the same Tuesday (6/3).
Jetstream - On Tuesday (5/27) the jetstream was split with the two streams running mostly parallel to each other across the South Pacific, merging just off Southern Chile. A steep trough was positioned off Chile in association with this area of merged jetstream flow offering minimal support for gale development there. Otherwise no troughs or ridges of interest were occurring, just a flat west to east zonal flow. Over the next 72 hours new wind energy is to start building just east of New Zealand pushing southeast towards Antarctica forming a ridge reaching Antarctic Ice over the Southeast Pacific Thurs (5/29) suppressing gale development there, but also pushing up into the trough just off Chile and continuing into Fri (5/30). Some support for gale development is possible there. Beyond 72 hours another pocket of 140 kt winds to build under New Zealand on Sat (5/31) pushing northeast forming a bit of a trough there for 24 hours perhaps supporting gale development, but then fading. Still remnants of that trough to track east over the Central South Pacific into Tues (6/3) perhaps supporting low pressure development. After that the jet is to fall south under New Zealand suppressing gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere there.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (5/27) swell from a third and final real system that developed under New Zealand (see 3rd New Zealand Storm below) was limping into the US West Coast. A smaller system developed under New Zealand on Tues (5/20). The issue with both these systems is that they were generally small with fetch pushing mainly east rather than northeast.
Otherwise a low pressure system developed just east of New Zealand on Sun (5/25) with south winds to 45 kts, but it faded in 12 hours later with only 27 ft seas resulting 00Z Mon (5/26) at 46S 175E, then quickly faded. Maybe a minimal pulse of 15 sec swell is possible for Hawaii with luck.
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast developing Tues PM (5/29) in the far Southeast Pacific with 45 kt west winds and 32 ft seas developing at 61S 130W pushing east. 45 kt southwest winds to build into Wed AM (5/28) targeting Chile and about ready to move out of the CA swell window with 38 ft seas at 60S 119W and on the 180 degree path to SCal. 40+ kt southwest winds to hold into the evening again targeting South Chile with 38 ft seas at 58S 110W, outside the CA swell window. By Thurs AM (5/29) southwest winds are to be fading from barely 40 kts with 35 ft seas over a decent area at 47S 105W targeting only Chile. The gale is to be gone after that. Maybe some solid swell to result for Chile with only the barest minimum of sideband swell for Southern CA.
3rd New Zealand Storm
Another small storm tracked under the southern tip of New Zealand on Sat PM (5/17) with west winds 55 kt over a small area aimed slightly northeasterly with seas building to 40 ft at 52S 168E (HI - shadowed by New Zealand, 218 degs SCal and unshadowed, 217 degs NCal and unshadowed). 50 kt southwest winds held into Sun AM (5/18) with 40 ft seas at 54S 178E (HI 196 degs, SCal 213 degs, NCal 212 degs and not shadowed). 45 kt southwest winds held into the evening with 40 ft seas holding at 54S 172W and aimed decently northeastward (190 degs HI, 208 degs SCal and 207 degs NCal and becoming shadowed). 35-40 kt southwest winds were fading into Mon AM (5/19) with seas fading from 36 ft at 53S 163W (HI 182 degs, 205 degs SCal, 204 degs NCal and shadowed). This system dissipated quickly in the evening with winds barely 35 kts.
A decent pulse of swell is possible for Hawaii arriving late Sat (5/24) with period 19 secs and the US West Coast arriving Mon PM (5/26) with period 20 secs.
South CA: Swell holding Wed AM (5/28) at 2.5 ft @ 16-17 secs (4 ft with sets to 5 ft) then fading later. Residuals fading Thurs (5/29) from 2.3 ft @ 14 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 206-218 degrees
North CA: Swell holding Wed AM (5/28) at 2.4 ft @ 16-17 secs (4 ft with sets to 5 ft) then fading later. Residuals fading Thurs (5/29) from 2.1 ft @ 14 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 205-217 degrees
Last New Zealand Gale
Another small gale developed just south of New Zealand on Mon PM (5/19) with 40 kt west winds over a small area and seas building from 30 ft at 57S 170E. On Tues AM (5/20) 45 kt west winds were blowing with seas peaking at 36 ft over a small area at 59S 180W. Fetch was fading from 40 kts over a tiny area in the evening with seas fading from 36 ft at 59S 172W. A quick fade to follow.
Minimal sideband energy is possible mainly for the US West Coast, and even that is in doubt given this storms tiny fetch area. Swell arrival in CA roughly Thurs PM (5/29) with swell 1 ft @ 18 secs (2 ft). Swell to peak Sat (5/31) at maybe 1.4 ft @ 14-15 secs (2 ft), then fade after that. Swell Direction: 207 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 hours high pressure is to fade some off North and Central CA into Saturday (5/31) with north winds fading to 20 kts only to rebuild later Sunday over Cape Mendocino back to 25 kts holding into Tues (6/3) with windswell up some. Trades are to hold influenced by this same high relative to Hawaii extending from California the whole way over the Islands Sat-Tues (6/3) at 15 kts. Then high pressure and trades to back off some. Easterly windswell possible on east facing shores through early next week.
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 (5/27) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at 7.60. The 30 day average was down some at 1.64 and the 90 day average was rising slightly at -1.58. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak easterly anomalies the Eastern Maritime Continent turning neutral and then light westerly as it reached to the dateline. Weak westerly anomalies continued east of there extending to a point south of Hawaii, almost reaching the Galapagos Islands. A week from now (6/4) weak easterly anomalies are forecast north of Australia with neutral anomalies between there and the dateline, continuing neutral south of Hawaii and on into the Galapagos and Central America. In all this suggests the Inactive Phase of the MJO was effectively gone over the dateline with a neutral pattern in control. There was some concern this past weak Inactive Phase in May and weak easterly anomalies shut down the warm water transport mechanism over the West Pacific. And this would be the first supposed stoppage of warm water transport since the beginning of the year, which in and of itself is remarkable (4 solid months of westerly anomalies). The concern is that this break in westerly anomalies cut the legs off the evolving warm water pool in the East Pacific. Westerly anomalies need to redevelop in the West Pacific. Interestingly, the most recent TAO array data (from 5/19 into 5/27) suggests that in-fact solid westerly anomalies were in play near 160E, then faded to light westerly anomalies later in the period, much better than what the GFS 850 mb data (which is actually 4500 ft above surface level) would suggest. The sensors on the TOA buoys are 'hard data' literally on the oceans surface. And the buoys in this region are in good health. So no east winds have yet been experienced on the oceans surface. This is a good sign.
A previous WWB created a large Kelvin Wave tracking towards South America in January (starting 1/8, peaking 1/28 then fading the first week of Feb) followed by a second strong WWB in Feb-Mar (as strong as the first one starting 2/15 and peaking 2/20-3/2 then fading 3/10) setting up and offering yet more reinforcing transport warm water east. And then a third weak westerly wind burst developed (starting 3/12 and faded out by 3/28). And a fourth weaker one started 4/7 and held through 4/20, and was strong enough to be considered a minimal Westerly Wind Burst WWB. As of right now all this does not mean El Nino is in-play. Still the pattern is something more than coincidental and strongly suggests some degree of pattern change has developed for the tropics. Of historical note: The big El Nino's of '82/32 and '97/98 both started forming in the February timeframe and progressed non-stop through the Summer and Fall months. A article presenting a Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and this 2014 WWB event has been posted here.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/26 are fairly well in sync. They both suggest a weak Inactive Phase of the MJO was present north of New Guinea and stronger than previous forecast. Looking forward the statistic model suggests a dead neutral pattern is to set up for the next 2 weeks while the dynamic model suggests the Inactive Phase getting a little better foothold over the next 10 days, then fade. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Inactive Phase to get better traction over the West Pacific and is to push east into the East Pacific 6/16. Beyond a weak Active pattern is to take over starting 6/14 in the West Pacific and pushing east over the equator into July 4. In all, the pattern is now forecast a bit stronger than previous suggested. A very weak MJO pattern is what one would expect if an El Nino were to develop - namely that the MJO would all but disappear. That is the hallmark of El Nino. Seeing how by early June (5 days from now) we'll be moving out of the Spring Unpredictability Barrier, the development of a weak to non-existent MJO pattern would be right on-time and expected. So as of right now there is to be effectively only one Inactive Phase for the whole first 6 months of 2014, before we push out of the Spring Unpredictability Barrier and into a weak summer time MJO pattern. Interesting. Still, the fact that the model suggest the MJO signal is to start building, might suggest an El Nino biased weather pattern is not yet in control. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of the most recent imagery (5/26), a markedly warm water regime is building from Ecuador west over the Galapagos and drifting west from there peaking at 2.6-2.8 deg C above normal with a more modest warm pool ranging in the +0.5-1.0 deg C range extending west from there to the dateline and reaching 5 degrees north and south of the equator. There are embedded warmer pockets in the +1.5 deg C range. Of notice is markedly warmer water building down into Peru and up into Southern Central America with its core between the Galapagos and Ecuador. The signature warm triangle bound by Peru, Costa Rica and the Galapagos is developing. This pattern only became more pronounced as of the 5/19 update. Still, no waters reaching 3 deg above normal are reported, and it's becoming much less likely they will develop anytime soon. This warm area first appeared about 5/1 and is the 'breech point' of a large Kelvin Wave that has been lurking just below the surface for a month now and built by consecutive Westerly Wind burst Jan-April. The larger equatorial warming pattern started in earnest on 3/29 and has been solidifying it's grasp every since, and is being fed by the Galapagos warm pool. Comparing water temp anomalies for this event to the '97 El Nino event, Galapagos waters reached a similar state on 4/25/97 or about 10 days earlier than water temps on 5/5/14. And by 5/10/97 the footprint was marked with +3.5 deg C anomalies. So by 5/22/14 this 2014 event still has not deepened enough to be considered similar to the '97 event (+3.5 deg C anomalies required, or another +0.7 deg C warmer). And it does not look like it will. Since the Galapagos warm pool has not reach that critical 3.5 deg C anomaly point, it is becoming more certain this event will not develop as strong as the so called 'Super El Nino' '97 event. But that was the strongest El Nino in recorded history.
We did another more detailed analysis (on May 27) of water term anomolies from May 20 to May 25 to all other El Nino's from '82 to present. Only the '82 and '97 El Ninos even had a footprint in this timeframe, with the exception of the long running '90-'95 event. So to have any warmer than normal water in the Nino 3.4 region in May (the Spring preceding when El Nino is declared) puts this event is an outlier category, presumably meaning some degree of a significant event is developing. There is much variability between El Nino events, and not all are configured identical.That becomes apparent just inspecting the May '82 and '97 data. Two Super El Ninos, resulted, but with 2 different signatures early on. The theory being the earlier the signature warm pool develops, the stronger it will become, because the more latent heat energy there is stored in the ocean. This is a theory that will be put to the test over the next 5 months. But even if it doesn't reach 'super' status, a solid El Nino still looks likely. What's even more interseting is the configuration of this 2014 event is very similar to that of the 97 event.
May 20-25 1982 SST Anomalies
May 20-25 1997 SST Anomalies
May 20-25 2009 SST Anomalies
May 20-25 2014 SST Anomalies
Elsewhere the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water as is the West Pacific (north and south). There is only the weakest signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California, as would be expected for this time of year. This is significant. And the only cool water present is streaming off Southern Chile pushing west almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by the warm water on the equator. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific is impressive. And a sympathetic warm pool is developing off equatorial west Africa. All eyes remain on the developing breech of warm water along the western coast of Ecuador as a gauge of what's to come atmospherically.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator remain solid. Of great interest is a large area of warm +3-5 deg C above normal water in-place and tracking east with it's core 150 meters down somewhere near 115W. As best as can be identified this Kelvin Wave covers the area from 180W to Ecuador with the core between 140 and 90W. The leading edge is impacting Ecuador and the Galapagos. We've been expecting surface water temps to rise quicker and over a larger area than is currently the case (5/27). But that has not occurred. Given the lack of sensors between 155W and 110W, exact details concerning the core of the Kelvin Wave remain sketchy, but the leading edge waters temps are not in doubt. The Kelvin Wave has also been confirmed via satellite in the form of increased surface water heights at +10 cm from the Galapagos to Ecuador (5/23), with +5 cm anomalies extending west to the dateline. This suggests warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards. Also data from the TOA array suggests warm water has be assimilated into the warm pool from a 4th WWB in April. So for now the warm pool has received some more energy. And some weak westerly anomalies continue being reported by the TOA array west of the dateline (see above). Still, another legit WWB is required.
Based on previous history the evolution pattern would follow this general pattern: A large Kelvin Wave will erupt along the South American coast, and the increase in water temps should reduce trades above it (by reducing surface air pressure), which in turn could support yet more warm water build-up (heated by the sun and through reduced upwelling). Aided by yet another WWB in the West Pacific fueled by warm water tracking west from the initial eruption site over the Galapagos) and more eastward moving warm subsurface water, a feedback loop could develop, reinforcing the warm water flow and buildup off Central America into the Fall. But we're a long ways from that occurring just yet. What is needed is another Westerly Wind burst or at least continued westerly anomalies. Anything that reduces or suppresses trades in the equatorial West Pacific will suffice to continue the transport mechanism. So out-and-out west surface winds are not required. Anything that reduced trades in the east (like increasing water temps) will continue to stabilize the warm pool that is hopefully evolving there.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/27 remain stable. The model had been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in March 2014 (which did occur) with temps reaching +0.5 in the Nino 3.4 zone by April 1 (also occurred). It now suggests water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early August peaking at +1.75 deg C by Nov 2014 (up from previous highs near +1.45 week of May 14). Our guess is that some form of El Nino warning could be declared in the early June timeframe if all stays on track. For reference, the big El Nino of '82/83 was at +2.0 degs and '97/98 was +2.2 degs at their respective peaks). The El Nino of 09/10 was +1.4 degs.
Previously a pattern of multiple strong Westerly Wind Bursts occurred Jan-March 2014, but then moderated in late March, but never gave way to a fully Inactive Phase (with no hint of easterly anomalies west of the dateline) till early May. Then weak eastern anomalies developed May 5 and are to hold through May 15th, then returning to a neutral if not weak westerly flow. This is great news with westerly anomalies in play for 4 full months and forecast to give way for only 10 day for the first 6 months of 2014. Longterm this signal (suppressed trades in the far equatorial West Pacific) will have to hold into at least August with warm water building greater than 0.5 deg C over the tropical East and Central Pacific (120W to 170W) before one could declare the development of El Nino, though that already appears to be the case. There remains much unknown as we traverse the Spring 'Unpredictability Pattern" (mid-March through early June), though any sort of a total collapse is looking much less likely. But the further into the unpredictability barrier we get with west anomalies continuing, and then into Summer, the lower the likelihood of a total collapse becomes.
Overall the immediate outlook remains unchanged, but potentially trending towards something that would be considered warm by June-July 2014, assuming one is to believe the models and the subsurface water configuration. At a minimum the ocean is in recharge mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures on the rise in fit's-and-starts. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern at this time with neither any form of El Nino or La Nina present or imminent. Given all current signs, warming could start developing by May in earnest over the equatorial Pacific possibly increasing during the summer, intensifying into Fall. Monitoring the affects when and if the Kelvin Wave arrives along the equatorial East Pacific will be key to the potential evolution of a warm event. Still there remains 6 months ahead where any number of hazards could derail this event. But this is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. And it seems apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. In a normal situation one would expect there to be at least one or two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). Historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms). We've turned the corner, but it is still unknown what impact it will have on the atmosphere especially in light of what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
See a 'Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and the 2014 WWB Event' Here (posted 4/5/2014)
Beyond 72 hours a gale is to try and organize southeast of new Zealand on Fri PM (5/30) with 35-40 kt southwest winds developing over a decent sized area. By Sat AM (5/31) 40 kt southwest winds are forecast with 30 ft seas barely taking hold at 60S 180W. 40 kt west-southwest winds to be fading in the evening with seas fading from 30 ft at 57S 170W. This system is to falter after that. It isn't much, but it's something to monitor.
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