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 (5/29) in North and Central CA local windswell was producing waves in the shoulder to head high range and lightly chopped by northwest winds. Down in Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was producing waves in the chest to shoulder high range on the sets and heavily textured with chop outside the kelp. In Southern California up north local north windswell was producing waves in the waist to maybe chest high range with textured conditions. Down south southern hemi swell was producing waves in the head high range on the sets and very lined up with textured conditions. Hawaii's North Shore was getting wrap around windswell at waist high and clean. The South Shore was getting minimal leftover southern hemi swell with waves thigh to maybe waist high on the sets and clean. Exposed breaks on the East Shore was getting thigh 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. Relative to the southern hemisphere swell from a small gale that developed under New Zealand on Sun (5/18) with 40 ft seas aimed east was fading along the CA coast. Another very small gale developed in the same area Tues (5/20) with 36 ft seas over a tiny area, but no real swell to result. A gale developed on the very eastern edge of the SCal swell window on Wed (5/28) with 38 ft seas pushing east, targeting mainly Chile. Low odds of sideband swell for SCal. The models suggest a weak gale forming in the Central South Pacific on Sat-Sun (6/1) with 32 ft seas aimed east. Maybe sideband background swell to result for CA up into HI. Another small gale to follow in the same area Wed (6/4) with 34 ft seas. Maybe some tiny swell to result for HI and CA.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (5/29) trades at the 15 kts were blowing from east of Hawaii over the Islands generating minimal east windswell there. Moderate high pressure at 1032 mbs was off Oregon generating a pressure gradient and north winds at 25 kts along the North and Central CA coasts generating modest raw windswell down to Pt Conception. Over the next 72 hours high pressure is to fade some off North California with north winds still 25 kts centered near Cape Mendocino but with less areal coverage into Sat (5/31) producing more but smaller local north short period windswell at exposed breaks mainly north of Pt Conception. Then high pressure, winds and windswell to rebuild some starting Sun (6/1). Trades to hold relative to Hawaii at 15+ kts through Sun (6/1) generating minimal east windswell for exposed east facing shores.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are forecast or being tracked at that time.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (5/29) high pressure at 1032 mbs was locked in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska ridging towards Central and North CA with 20-25 kt north winds in control of outer waters off Cape Mendocino down to Morro Bay, with a weak eddy flow over Southern CA. More of the same expected Friday, then the gradient is to fade in coverage some on Saturday (still 25 kt north winds) only to rebuild in coverage Sunday continuing into Tuesday, the building to 30 kts on Wednesday (6/4) and holding into Thursday.
Jetstream - On Thursday (5/29) the jetstream was split with the two streams running mostly parallel to each other across the South Pacific, merging just off Southern Chile much like how it's been configured for 2 weeks now. A modest trough was positioned off Chile in association with this area of merged jetstream flow offering some support for gale development there. Otherwise a ridge was pushing up to Antarctica from the Central Pacific suppressing gale development there. No troughs of interest were occurring. Over the next 72 hours the trough off Chile is to slowly push east and start fading, gone by Sun (6/1). Some new wind energy is to start building under New Zealand late Fri (5/30) to 140 kts easing east-northeast forming a weak trough east of there possibly supporting gale development into the Central South Pacific. Beyond 72 hours this trough is to continue holding in some fashion over the Central Pacific into Thurs (6/5) offering limited support for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (5/29) swell from a final semi-real system that developed under New Zealand over a week ago was fading along the US West Coast. A smaller system developed under New Zealand on Tues (5/20) but was small with fetch pushing mainly east rather than northeast (see Last New Zealand Gale below). Another gale developed in the far Southeast Pacific (see Southeast Pacific Gale below) on Wed (5/28) but held only minimal hope for swell for the most exposed breaks in Southern CA.
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 starting Sun (6/1) at 1.6 ft @ 16 secs (2.5 ft) fading Mon (6/2) from 1.6 ft @ 14-15 secs (2.0-2.5 ft). Swell Direction: 205 degrees.
Over the next 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 small area. By Sat AM (5/31) 35-40 kt southwest winds are forecast over a broader area with 26 ft seas developing at 55S 180W. 45 kt west-southwest winds to develop in the evening with seas building to 32 ft at 54S 169W (186 degs HI, 202 degs SCal and 204 degs NCal and shadowed by Tahiti). This system is to falter after that on Sun AM (6/1) with winds dropping from 40 kts and seas 32 ft at 51S 155W (202 degs SCal and 200 degs NCal and unshadowed for both). A quick fade to follow. Limited southern hemi swell possible for all locations.
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
Southeast Pacific Gale
A gale developed 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 built into Wed AM (5/28) targeting Chile and about ready to move out of the CA swell window with 38 ft seas at 60S 120W and on the 180 degree path to SCal. 40+ kt southwest winds held into the evening again targeting South Chile with 38 ft seas at 58S 111W, outside the CA swell window. By Thurs AM (5/29) southwest winds were fading from 40 kts with 36 ft seas over a decent area at 47S 106W 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 starting Thurs AM (6/5) with swell 1.6 ft @ 19 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 175-180 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 hold off Oregon Mon-Thurs (6/5) with north winds 25 kts over Cape Mendocino building to 30 kts on Wed (6/4) with windswell up some. Trades relative to Hawaii are to start fading Sun (6/1) having a less continuous coverage between California and Hawaii but still in the 15 kt range with limited small east windswell possibly for east facing shores of the Islands. That fetch to fade even more by Tues (6/3) with windswell fading yet more.
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 (5/29) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at 16.64. The 30 day average was up some at 2.83 and the 90 day average was rising slightly at -1.03. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of an neutral trending Inactive 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 to near neutral anomalies over the Eastern Maritime Continent turning neutral and then light westerly as it reached to the dateline. Very weak westerly anomalies continued east of there extending to a point south of Hawaii, almost reaching the Galapagos Islands. A week from now (6/6) very 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 faint signs of a revived Inactive Phase of the MJO was trying to get a toe hold over the Philippines, but neutral over the dateline and in control for the balance of the equatorial Pacific. Interestingly, TAO array data (from 5/19) suggested that solid westerly anomalies were in play near 160E, then faded to light westerly anomalies later in the period 95/27-5/29), much better than what the GFS 850 mb data (which is actually 4,500 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 wind anomalies 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 5/28 are back in sync. They both suggest a weak Inactive Phase of the MJO was present north of New Guinea. Looking forward both models suggest the Inactive Phase is to fade 5-8 days out with a dead neutral pattern setting up 10-15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Inactive Phase to get better traction over the West Pacific into 6/3, then is to push east into the East Pacific 6/13 and be gone. Beyond a weak Active pattern is to take over starting 6/14 in the West Pacific and pushing east over the equator into July 8. Another weak inactive Phase to follow. In all, the pattern is now forecast a bit stronger than suggested last week. 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 the weekend (3 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 (5/29), a warm water regime continues building from Ecuador west over the Galapagos and drifting west from there peaking at 3.0 degs 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. We've recently uncovered a new hi-res SST monitoring site (5/28) that in fact clearly depicts +3.0 deg anomalies between the Galapagos and Ecuador and trailing off of Peru in small pockets. 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 5/28/14 this 2014 event still has not deepened enough to be considered similar to the '97 event (+3.5 deg C anomalies required, or another +0.5 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.
On 5/28 we performed a more detailed analysis of water term anomalies in the May 20 to May 25 timeframe comparing water temp anomalies of all other El Nino's from 1951 to present. 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. Surprisingly we actually found reanalysis date going back to 1951. One should view data prior to about '75 with much skepticism. We compared total areal coverage of warmer than normal waters on the equatorial Pacific and down the Ecuador and Peruvian coasts, and the coverage of warmers water in the direct vicinity of the Galapagos. Here's the results: the '97, '57 and '72 El Nino's beat the 2014 data, and ultimately ended up producing a 5 month running mean sea surface temp anomaly of +2.2, +1.8 and +1.6 degs C respectively. This 2014 event beat the next contending El Nino, the one of '65, which resulted in +1.6 degs anomalies. So from a statistical/historical perspective, this developing 2014 event should result in a SST anomaly of about +1.6 degs or the 4th strongest in the past 61 years. This is a theory that will be put to the test over the next 5 months. Data from the '82 El Nino is provided even though it had no contending footprint in the May timeframe because it ultimately resulted in SST anomalies of 2.0 degs above normal (5 month running mean). Also data from the '2009 El Nino is provided just because it was recent and likely still in most folks memories. 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 2014 event is an outlier category, presumably meaning some degree of a significant El Nino 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. What's interesting is the configuration of this 2014 event is very similar to that of the 3 El Ninos ranked higher than it, all which produced significant results in the Fall and Winter months.
Strongest El Nino's
May 20-25 1997 SST Anomalies
(Greaterst ever - Ranked #1 for this time of year - +2.2 deg C final)
May 20-25 1957 SST Anomalies
(Greater than 2014 - Ranked #2 for this time of year - +1.8 deg C final)
May 20-25 1972 SST Anomalies
(Greater than 2014 - Ranked #3 for this time of year - +1.6 deg C final)
May 20-25 2014 SST Anomalies
(Ranked #4 for this time of year - ?? deg C final)
Lesser El Ninos
May 20-25 1965 SST Anomalies
(less than 2014 - Ranked #5 for this time of year - +1.6 deg C final)
May 20-25 1982 SST Anomalies
(far less than 2014 for this time of year-+2.0 deg C final )
May 20-25 2009 SST Anomalies
(provided only for reference - Unranked - most recent El Nino - +1.4 deg C final )
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. A sympathetic warm pool that was developing off equatorial West Africa is showing signs of weakness with the most recent update. But 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 120 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 (5/29), but still a respectable warm pool is resulting. 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.
Ocean surface currents from 5N to 2S from the Philippines to the Galapagos as of 5/22 are strongly anomalously tracking west to east, typical of an El Nino configuration.
Based on previous history, an evolving El Nino would follow this general pattern: A large Kelvin Wave will erupt along the South American coast in May-June, and the increase in water temps in that area 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). As a result, another series of WWB's should develop in the West Pacific in late Summer/early Fall fueled by warm water tracking west from the initial eruption site over the Galapagos further reducing trades in the West Pacific and resulting in more eastward moving warm subsurface water(i.e. Kelvin Waves). 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 5/29 have retrograded some. 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 +1.55 deg C by Nov 2014. Our guess is that some form of El Nino warning could be declared in the early June timeframe if all stays on track.
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. A neutral pattern developed May 5 and held through the end of May. This is great news with westerly anomalies in play for 4 full months and then only turning neutral in May. 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) for 3 consequtive months before one could declare the development of El Nino, though that already appears to be the case. Seeing how we're effectively through the Spring Unpredictability Barrier and no total collapse of the pattern has occurred, it looks like things are stabilizing in favor of El Nino. But nothing is certain until we hit August and see some redevelopment of WWBs over the dateline.
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 well past 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. But given all current signs, atmospheric transition should begin in June over the equatorial Pacific possibly increasing during the summer, intensifying into Fall. Still there remains 3 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 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 we'll remain cautious and not say to much yet, 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 another small gale is to try and organize southeast of new Zealand on Wed (6/4) with 50 kt west winds developing over a modest sized area and seas building to 36 ft by 18Z at 61S 175W and shadowed relative to California. 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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