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 (6/12) in North and Central CA local windswell was producing waves in the waist to maybe chest high range and chopped by northwest winds. Down in Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was producing waves in the waist high range on the bigger sets and heavily textured with whitecaps in control outside of the kelp. In Southern California up north local north windswell was producing waves at knee to thigh high on the sets with clean conditions. Down south a mixture of small leftover southern hemi swell and local north windswell was producing waves in the waist to maybe chest high range and nearly chopped by westerly winds. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was getting leftover southern hemi swell with waves waist to chest high and clean. Trade wind generated east windswell was holding at waist high and chopped at exposed breaks on the East Shore.
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. For the southern hemisphere a gale is forecast tracking just off the north edge of the Ross Ice Shelf Sun-Mon (6/15) producing up to 42 ft seas, but aimed more southeast at Antarctica than northeast with little if any energy radiating north towards our forecast area. Nothing else is to follow but the pattern is to turn somewhat more favorable.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (6/12) trades were still blowing at 15 kts extending from west of the California coast over Hawaii producing small easterly windswell along east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands. It was generated by modest high pressure at 1028 mbs positioned in the Gulf of Alaska. This high was also generating a weak pressure gradient and north winds at 15 kts along outer waters of the Central CA coast centered near San Francisco generating minimal short period north windswell for Central CA down to Pt Conception. But low pressure was pushing inland over Oregon taking the edge off the gradient. Over the next 72 hours high pressure and the coastal pressure gradient is to regenerate as the Oregon low moves inland and out of the way, starting late Friday (6/13) with north winds building to 25 kts centered near San Francisco lifting north to near Cape Mendocino on Saturday and continuing Sunday (6/15) generating local short period north windswell relative to North and Central CA. Trades to hold between Hawaii and California at 15 kts over the same time frame with minimal short period east windswell expected for exposed east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands, but then starting to fade some in terms of areal coverage on Sun (6/15).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thurs AM (6/12) Hurricane Cristina was positioned 420 nmiles southeast of Cabo San Lucas with winds 125 kts and centered at 16.4N 106.8W and NOT in the swell window for even Pt Dume. By evening Christina is to peak with winds 130 kts at 17.1N 108.3W and still not in the Pt Dume swell window. A quick fade is to follow Fri AM (6/13) with winds rapidly dropping from 115 kts and Christina still not in the Pt Dume swell window. No swell of interest is expected to result for Southern CA.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (6/12) high pressure at 1030 mbs was over the Central Gulf of Alaska off Oregon ridging towards the coast but with weak low pressure pushing inland over the Pacific Northwest. This has reduced the local pressure gradient with north winds down to 15 kts over waters off Cape Mendocino, with the eddy flow (south winds) gone over Southern CA up into Central CA. North winds to build to 20 kts Friday and 25 kt later over all of North and Central CA then starting to reconsolidate in the form of a gradient over Cape Mendocino Saturday (6/14) with north winds there to 25 kts. Perhaps a weak eddy flow developing up into San Francisco with the situation holding into early Sunday. The gradient is to fade some Monday with north winds 25 kts as more low pressure ripples over the Northern Gulf with 25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino and an eddy flow building over Central CA and getting more traction on Tuesday while the gradient fades more. 20 kt north winds to hold over Cape Mendocino with a eddy flow south of Pt Arena Wed-Thurs (6/19).
Jetstream - On Thursday (6/12) the jetstream was split with the two streams running parallel to each other across the South Pacific. The influential southern branch was displaced south running east along the 65S latitude line the width of the South Pacific and pushing along the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at 130 kts. No troughs were present to support gale development until the jet reached nearly east of the Southern CA swell window. There a weak trough was present with 110 kt winds flowing up into it, but disintegrating east of there, offering nothing really in terms of support for low pressure development in lower levels of the atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours the same basic pattern is to hold but with the trough in the far Southeast Pacific building some on Friday with 110 kt winds pushing up into it but effectively east of even the SCal swell window, offering only support for gale development relative to Chile. And by Sunday the trough is to collapse with the jet running flat west to east over Antarctic Ice offering no support for gale development anywhere in the South Pacific. Beyond 72 hours there's some suggestions that a trough might start to develop under New Zealand on Tues (6/17) with 100 kt winds pushing up into it, but collapsing fairly quickly. A second proto-trough is to try and organize right behind on Thurs-Fri (6/20). No clear support for gale development is yet suggested, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (6/12) no southern hemi swell was in the water between Antarctica and US interests and no swell producing fetch was blowing over exposed waters. Over the next 72 hours a gale is forecast developing in the far Southeast Pacific on Fri (6/13) producing 40 kt southwest winds with 28 ft seas at 56S 120W barely in the SCal swell window aimed more at Chile than to the north. In the evening that fetch is to fade some reducing it's areal coverage with a tiny area of 30 ft seas projected at 52S 110w targeting Chile but outside the CA swell window. A quick fade to follow. No swell of interest is expected to result for California. Chile might get a rideable pulse of 15-16 sec period swell though.
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 North CA with north winds at 25 kts focused over Cape Mendocino into Mon AM (6/16) but loosing areal coverage with windswell fading some down into Central CA. The fetch is to fade to 20 kts on Tuesday as the high retrogrades to the west moving to the Western Gulf of Alaska with north winds holding Wednesday at 20 kts with windswell dropping even more relative to Central CA. Trades relative to Hawaii are to progressively degrade in areal coverage and drop below the threshold to generate windswell by late Sunday (6/15) at 15 kts and be effectively gone by Mon AM (6/16) with windswell from them gone. No return is forecast immediately. Of some interest is a low modeled developing off Japan on Tues (6/17) tracking slowly northeast into Thursday with 30 kt west winds possible. This is something to monitor.
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 (6/12) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 30.01. Low pressure had moved out of the Tahiti area. The 30 day average was up some at 8.10 and the 90 day average was up some at 1.82. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of an 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 modest east anomalies were building over the Maritime Continent reaching over the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii. Light east anomalies continued from there in to the Galapagos. A week from now (6/20) very weak easterly anomalies are forecast over the equatorial Maritime Continent extending over the dateline and south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are forecast continuing midway from Hawaii to the Galapagos dying to neutral at the Galapagos. As of 6/11 these anomalies had not yet reached down to the surface with the TOA array indicating neutral anomalies, but we suspect it's only a mater of time. This remains not good news with a solid 5 day run of easterly anomalies forecast on the dateline (at the 850 mb level). And the GFS surface model (10m winds) is predicting 15 kt east winds in control of the same area through Mon (6/16). In all this suggests a pulse of the Inactive Phase of the MJO is now in control. Looking back in time starting 5/19 the TOA array suggested that solid westerly anomalies were in play near 160E, then faded to light westerly anomalies later in the period (5/27-5/30) then faded to neutral by 6/3 and were back to light westerly anomalies through 6/7 turning neutral on 6/10 and holding through 6/11. This is much better than what the GFS 850 mb data (which is actually 4,500 ft above surface level) suggested. 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, but we suspect we're grasping at straws. It will be interesting to see if the 850 mb easterly anomalies modeled actually materialize down at the surface. We'll be monitoring the situation very closely.
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.
An article presenting a Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and this 2014 WWB event has been posted here.
A second analysis from 5/28 is posted here.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 6/11 are in sync. They both suggest a weak Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the West Pacific with reduced OLR anomalies there. 5 days out the weak Active Phase of the MJO is to be moving slightly east and further into the West Pacific per both the dynamic (GEFS) model and the statistic model and holding there 15 days out with a neutral pattern over all the remaining equatorial Pacific other than the area near the Galapagos. The statistic model is slightly more aggressive than the dynamic model. The ultra long range upper level model now suggests a weak but semi-coherent Active Phase of the MJO is developing over the West Pacific and is to push east through 7/12. A new Inactive Phase is to develop in the West Pacific 7/7 pushing east through at least 7/22. But given this models mercurial nature, we hold little confidence in any single days output. Stepping back from the details, it seems likely a very weak MJO pattern is likely with no signs of strengthening. 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. The development of a weak to non-existent MJO pattern would be right on-time and expected. Perhaps the warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some impact on the atmosphere above. For the first 6 months of 2014, there has been only one Inactive Phase, and based on TAO array data, no east anomalies of interest ever developed in the prime Kelvin Wave generation area from it. But the second Inactive Phase is starting to occur now (even though there's no clear reason for it to be occurring). We're at the point where development of weak westerly anomalies in the West Pacific should occur, attributable to warming waters temps over the width of the equatorial Pacific. Unfortunately that is not happening. 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 (6/12), a warm water regime continues building from Ecuador west over the Galapagos (even since the last update 3 days ago) and drifting west from there peaking at 3.0 degs C above normal with a more modest warm pool ranging at +1.0 deg C range extending west from there to the dateline with +0.5 deg anomalies 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 forming the the signature warm El Nino triangle (it started being obvious on 5/1). This pattern became pronounced as of the 5/19 update and has been building every since. Hi-res SST monitoring site depicts +3.0 deg anomalies embedded in the triangle between the Galapagos and Ecuador and trailing off of Peru in small pockets and recent data suggest even two small pockets to +4 degrees. So from this perspective things look encouraging.This is the 'breech point' of a large Kelvin Wave that was built by consecutive Westerly Wind bursts Jan-April and is now erupting on the surface in the East Pacific. 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 this years event to the '97 El Nino event, water temps still are not approaching the warmth or coverage of the '97 event. So this will not reach to proportions of that event, regardless of hype produced in early May.
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 gone now with a cool pool starting to develop instead. This is ominous too. Previous cool bursts here have been early indicators of cool water developing in the East Pacific. But all eyes remain on the evolving 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. A large area of warm +3-5 deg C above normal water was 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. 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 extending from Peru over the Galapagos and tracking east from there (6/5), 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 in June (see above). Still, another legit WWB is required.
The Pacific equatorial surface counter-current (from 5N to 2S from the Philippines to the Galapagos) as of 5/28 was strongly anomalously tracking west to east, typical of an El Nino configuration. But by June 2 data looked less impressive with the current loosing some velocity and reacting to the previous reduction in westerly anomalies west of the dateline. The latest update (6/7) had a small pocket of strong easterly anomalies building in the current centered at 155W and extending from 120W to 170W, in the heart of the Nino3.4 region. The actual current is still pushing east, but there is one small pocket of westward pushing anomalies. Being conservative we'll continue suggesting this is not good news and, coupled with the developing easterly wind burst in that same area, and a developing cool pocket off equatorial West Africa, could be a harbinger of things to come. We've used all these data points in the past as early lead indicators and they have been trustworthy, no matter how much we didn't want to accept what they told us. Said another way: We've used a west bound counter current and the Africa sympathetic cool pool as early indicators in the past, and Pacific equatorial winds have normally responded in kind with a delay of about two weeks, normally to the demise of whatever warm event was trying to take root. A glimmer of hope is that the current itself is still actually tracking west to east, and only anomalies are westward, and limited to one small pocket. And the West African cool pool is hardly what one would call 'defined'. But in a worst case scenario, the situation could play out like this: No WWB class wind events have occurred 5/1 to present. And assuming 3 months of travel time for the tail end of the resulting Kelvin Wave to erupt over the Galapagos and Ecuador, the existing warm pool should start dissipating on 8/1, unless something develops to reinforce it. And even at that, if a WWB were to develop today, it would not reach the Galapagos till 9/12. So there's a 6 week 'hole' where the warm pool will start loosing energy (8/1-9/12) even if reinforcements develop immediately (unless some unknown process is occurring continuing to push warm water eastward). This is what occurred in the 2012 False-Start El Nino, only this years situation is on a much larger scale. The CFSv2 model likely senses this, and is projecting accordingly. We'll continue monitoring this situation closely.
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 evolving there. Conversely anything the puts the continued eastward flow of warm water in jeopardy could trigger a demise of this evolving ENSO event, especially considering that the East Pacific warm pool has not been in place long enough to develop a coupling with the atmosphere above it. Regardless of the WWBs in early 2014 or the resulting massive Kelvin Wave, only once the ocean and atmosphere are coupled on a global level (that is the ocean has imparted enough heat into the atmosphere to start changing the global jetstream pattern) can one begin to have confidence that a feedback loop is developing and a fully matured El Nino is in-play. About 3 months of undisturbed heating is required for the atmosphere to start responding on a global level where the point of 'no return' could be achieved. The warm pool starting forming in earnest on 5/1, and so the atmosphere would not trip over the 'no-return' point till 8/1. From a skeptics perspective, that's another 1.5 months before anything is guaranteed.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 6/112 have backtracked yet again. It suggests water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early October peaking at +1.15 to degs C by Nov 2014 (down from a peak previously forecast at +1.75). We're thinking that a El Nino warning is not in the cards in the next month.
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 consecutive 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 a broad low is forecast forming in the Central Pacific on Sun-Mon (6/16) with 35 kt southwest winds briefly. But the systems is to be falling southeast moving towards Antarctica. No seas of interest are to be produced. Until the jetstream lifts north, no change is expected.
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