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 (6/13) North and Central CA had local northwest windswell producing surf in 1 ft overhead range and a mess at exposed breaks but smaller and cleaner at protected breaks. Rideable but not much more. Down in Santa Cruz wrap around windswell was thigh high and relatively clean but totally whitecapped outside the kelp. Southern California up north was maybe thigh high on the sets and clean but weak, all from northerly windswell. Down south waves were waist high on the sets and fairly clean coming from the southern hemi with just a little texture on top with. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was thigh high and clean, typical summer time conditions. The East Shore was getting solid east-northeast windswell at 1 ft overhead and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
In the North Pacific no large scale swell producing weather systems of interest were occurring or forecast. Locally generated north windswell was occurring along the California coast. And Hawaii was getting local tradewind generated windswell of some size along east facing shores.
The models suggest no swell producing weather systems in the North Pacific for the next 7 days. Relative to California local north windswell to hold through Friday then falter as high pressure evaporates over the weekend. But by Wednesday (6/19) some return high pressure and north windswell is expected. For Hawaii easterly tradewind generated windswell produced by the Northeast Pacific High is to hold into Friday, then the fetch starts fading over the weekend. But by Wednesday (6/19) high pressure is to rebuild and windswell is to be on the upswing again for Eastern Shores.
Swell from two small gales that formed Tues-Wed (6/5), one under New Zealand and the second in the extreme Southeast Pacific, both with 34 ft seas for 24 hours aimed due east was hitting Hawaii and CA. But size was bare minimal. A tiny storm formed under New Zealand Sun (6/9) with up to 40 ft seas for 12 hrs aimed due east. Small swell possible for Hawaii and the US West Coast. And a larger gale again formed under New Zealand on Mon-Tues (6/11) with seas to 38 ft. Perhaps a little more size possible for the same regions, but nothing above impulse class. Beyond no respectable swell producing weather systems are charted.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (6/13) high pressure at 1032 mbs was located 900 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino ridging east and regenerating the standard pressure gradient over North and Central California generating a moderate sized area of 25 kt north winds pushing the whole way down the North and Central CA coast including nearshore locations resulting in moderate local short period north windswell impacting the North and Central CA coast. The south quadrant of the high was also generating a broad fetch of northeast to east winds extending from the California coast up to and over the Hawaiian Islands at 15+ kts generating larger than normal easterly windswell along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the models indicate this situation is to hold into Friday AM (6/14) then high pressure is to get eroded as low pressure from the Northern Gulf of Alaska tracks southeast. The pressure gradient along the California coast is to start fading with north winds dropping to barely 20 kts Saturday AM off North and Central CA and down to 15 kts on Sunday with windswell taking the commensurate downward fall in response.
This same high pressure system is to be driving 15+ kts trades extending from the California coast all the way over Hawaii in one continuous fetch through Friday AM (6/14), but then starting to fade late as the high erodes. By Saturday trades to be limited to the immediate Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts and holding into early Monday (6/17) with windswell dropping in both size and period.
Otherwise no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were occurring or forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (6/13) high pressure at 1034 mbs was centered 900 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino ridging towards the coast generating a fetch of 25 kt north winds extending from Cape Mendocino southward to Pt Conception, with a weak eddy flow barely protecting Southern CA. North winds are to hold their current configuration on Friday AM then start fading as the high gets eroded by low pressure moving in from the north, fading to barely 25 kts Friday evening and down to 20 kts Sat AM. Poor local conditions with fading local windswell expected. The gradient is to be fading Sunday with nearshore winds for North and Central CA 15 kts and falling south. Southern CA to remain protected through the weekend. By later Monday the gradient is to move over Pt Conception and the Channel Islands at 25 kts but with Southern CA remaining protected. The gradient is to build into Wednesday with north winds near Pt Conception to 30 kts before lifting north on Thursday (6/20) up to Pt Arena with winds down to 25 kts. In short, a limited break from north winds for Central CA early next week mainly from Monterey Bay northward, then the north winds pattern is to return. Much upwelling and cold water to remain the norm. Good for fish, bad for surf unless local windswell is your thing.
Jetstream - On Thursday (6/13) the jet remained fully split over the width of the South Pacific with the southern branch down at 60S and tracking flat west to east (zonal flow) with no winds greater than 110 kts and barely that in pockets. There were no troughs present offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the split jet pattern is to continue with no troughs forecast until perhaps Sunday (6/16) when 120 kts winds start building in a pocket under New Zealand with a weak trough forming ahead of it east of there. Beyond 72 hours a weak trough is to develop in the Central South Pacific but the wind feeding it are to be slackening into Tuesday (6/18) offering no real support for gale development. But additional wind energy at 130 kts is forecast pushing north under New Zealand Tuesday trying to form another trough there for 24 hours offering a glimmer of hope. But by Thursday it is to dissipate with the whole jet crashing south and the southern branch positioned back down at 63S (not good) offering no support for gale development at the oceans surface.
Surface - On Thursday (6/13) a gale was trying to develop in the Central South Pacific but was positioned mainly over the Ross Ice Shelf with what little exposed winds it was producing aimed southeast over Antarctica. High pressure at 1036 mbs was in control of the higher latitudes of the South Pacific. No swell producing weather systems of interest were occurring. Over the next 72 hours this gale is to track east and turning slightly northeast by Fri PM (6/14) producing 40+ kt west winds in the extreme Southeast Pacific and emerging from Antarctic Ice targeting extreme Southern Chile. seas to barely reach 30 ft on the eastern edge of the California swell window Fri PM at 60S 123W then quickly exiting to the east building to 32 ft and targeting only Southern Chile into Saturday. No swell of interest is forecast radiating up into the California swell window even if this system develops as forecast.
On Tuesday AM (6/4) a small gale developed off the Ross Ice Shelf in the far Southwest Pacific with 45 kt west winds. By evening it was tracking east with winds up to 50 kts and seas building to 30 ft over a tiny area at 61S 167E. This system started fading Wed AM (6/5) while tracking east with winds 40 kts and seas building to 35 ft at 60S 176E. By evening winds were down to 35 kts with seas 32 ft at 57S 173W. By Thurs AM (6/6) this system was gone. Low odds for small 17 sec period sideband swell radiating up into California on Sat AM (6/15) with swell 1.4 ft @ 17-18 secs (2 ft) from 208 degrees.
On Sunday AM (6/9) a small gale developed and quickly peaked under New Zealand and just off the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf with winds 50 kts out of the west over a small area. Seas were modeled at 40 ft over a tiny area at 61S 163E. The gale was fading fast by evening with winds barely 40 kts and falling into Antarctica with seas dropping from 36 ft at 62S 175E. By Monday AM this system was gone. Minimal small background swell is possible reaching Hawaii by Sun AM (6/16) from 198 degrees with period 19 secs and the US West Coast (CA) by late Tues (6/18) with period 20 secs from 211 degrees but likely not big enough to be rideable yet.
On Monday evening (6/10) a small gale developed south of New Zealand just off the Ross Ice Shelf producing 45 kts west winds and seas building to 36 ft over a moderate sized area at 58S 170E. Winds were fading to 40 kts by Tues AM (6/11) resulting in seas of 36 ft at 57S 178W. The fetch is to be disintegrating by evening fading from barely 40 kts with seas 34 ft at 58S 165W. Small swell possibly reaching Hawaii on Tues AM (6/18) at 1.3 ft @ 18 secs (2 ft) from 191 degrees. Even less size for California arriving on Thurs (6/20) midday with period 18 secs from 208 degrees.
Monitor QuikCAST's for swell details on all three of the above systems.
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 north of Hawaii and off the California coast is to try and make a bit of a comeback starting late Monday (6/17) at 1024 mbs. Only a small fetch of 20-25 kt north wind is forecast over Pt Conception but it is to be slowly building and lifting north. Winds to be up to near 30 kts there late Wednesday and extending north to San Francisco by Thursday, only to falter some to 20-25 kts while reaching up to Cape Mendocino by the evening. Improving odds for some windswell relative for all of Central CA at that time.
Relative to Hawaii tradewinds are to rebuild some Monday (6/17) as high pressure gets better footing north of the Islands, though still only 15 kts 9from the east-northeast) but almost connecting to the mainland creating one continuous 15 kt fetch. By Tuesday that fetch is to become better established and is expected to hold nicely through at least Thursday (6/20). Easterly winds at 15+ kts forecast with local easterly windswell increasing in size and period some.
No other swell producing fetch of interest is forecast for the North Pacific with high pressure effectively filling the entire North Pacific Basin by Sun (6/16). There's some suggestion of a low pressure system building over the Kuril Islands on Wed (6/19) tracking east- northeast and reaching the intersection of the Aleutians and the dateline later Thurs (6/20) but likely moving up into the Bering Sea and becoming landlocked. This is interesting only in that it might eventually pose some challenge to the strength on the Northeast Pacific high, but nothing 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 (6/13) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 23.13. The 30 day average was up to 13.46 with the 90 day average up to 5.58. Overall this is moving into La Nina territory and not indicative of El Nino and clearly illustrative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. But SOI values tend to be lagging indicators.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated easterly anomalies over the eastern Maritime Continent fading over the dateline region but still easterly with light east anomalies continuing on into Central America. looking at the imagery, it looks like a Easterly Wind Burst (if there is such a thing, it would be the opposite of a Westerly Wind Burst which is a sign of a strong Active Phase of the MJO and possible forerunner to El Nino). The Inactive Phase appeared to be building. A week from now (6/21) neutral anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent but turning moderately easterly over the dateline and holding that way to a point south of Hawaii then going neutral from there into Central America. This suggests a building of the Inactive Phase of the MJO.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 6/12 are in agreement with themselves, but not with the model above, suggesting weak Active Phase of the MJO was building in Indian Ocean and easing into the far West Pacific with no sign of the Inactive Phase. Go figure. Both models now have the Active Phase of the MJO easing east from the Indian Ocean tracking into the far West Pacific 4 and 8 days out, then faltering and dissipating 12-15 days out. Any hint of an Active Phase is better than where we are today.
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. As of now (6/13) a La Nina like pattern continues in the East Pacific over the equator with much cooler water pushing off the South American Coast extending over the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there almost half way to a point south of Hawaii. But it continues to not look as forceful as previous updates, with the cold pool steadily shrinking over the past 22 days. It's too early to tell whether this is a sign of a trend or just a pause until the next inactive Phase invigorates it yet again. This cold pool had eroded warm water that previously building up north of the equator off Central America. But that warm water appears to have made some headway as of late. Looking back just a few weeks it's almost as if this cold pool developed before any anomalous east winds started blowing over the West Pacific. The question now is: "Will these cold waters moderate and disperse or will they stay in-place?". It's too early to know but they appear to be fading - a good thing. But another ominous sign is the same thing is occurred off West Africa, with cold water radiating off the coast there on the equator and building while pushing towards the Caribbean. This was a direct reflection of what is occurring in the Pacific, a global teleconnection. But with the cold pool seemingly eroding some, maybe all hope is not lost. A plume of slightly cooler than normal water that has been radiating southeast off California for 2 years closed off mid-May, but has returned, initially only weakly but is growing. The teleconnection suggests this cold water pattern (driven by high pressure aloft) has a global component and will not easily be dislodged. Another interesting tidbit is last year at this time an almost El Nino like pattern developed, only to collapse late summer. So it is possible this La Nina teaser could fade as well. Something to monitor. Subsurface waters temps on the equator continue indicating a pool of cooler water (-2.0 deg C) in place at 140W and down 150 meters. But warmer water from the West Pacific has migrate east over top of the cold pool - reducing it's impact. Temperatures on the surface appear to be warming some, and the subsurface blocking pattern appears to be loosing legs. Still of concern is the fact the Atlantic responded to the cold push in May, in what could be a building global pattern. Of concern too is that the SOI is on the rise again. But the models suggest the MJO is to start turning more towards the Active Phase and less Inactive. Maybe we will return to a pattern biased neutral, but at this time it sure seems like were in some flavor of weak La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 6/13 remain oblivious to the cold water building occurring in the Southeast equatorial Pacific. The model indicates water temps bottomed out (in May) near normal (+0.0 degs C). A gradual rebound to the +0.2 degree C level is possible by July building into October at +0.7 and holding there into the +0.6 degree mark through Jan 2014. A consensus of other ENSO models suggest a wide spread of outcomes ranging from La Nina to neutral to just a bit warmer than neutral into Summer and early Fall 2013. We are in the Spring Unpredictability Barrier where accuracy of all the ENSO models is historically low. But by mid-June (another 4 days) we'll be clear of that barrier and will have a better handle on the long term outlook. The outlook now is uncertain, but certainly not trending towards anything that would be considered warm (regardless what the CFSv2 indicates). Historically, if a warm water buildup indicative of any significant El Nino pattern were to occur, it would be starting to happen by now (normally would start building in Feb-Mar). That is clearly not the case for this year. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014 if not bordering weakly on La Nina.
We are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than previous years (2010-2011 and 2011-2012) under the direct influence of La Nina. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell for the 2012-2013 winter season, but that did not materialize with the pattern looking more like La Nina than anything. This past season was more of a 3 rating than the 5 that was predicted. That said, there was good consistency, with the west dateline area very productive and almost machine-like. But the storms were very small in areal coverage and rarely made enough eastern headway to reach over the dateline. The result was very westerly but reasonably sized utility class swells for the Islands with far smaller and more inconsistent swell energy for the US West Coast. Longer term the expectation there will be at least one year of neutral to slightly warmer temps (2013-2014) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Last Updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours a small gale is to develop under New Zealand on Tuesday (6/18) courtesy of a trough in the upper atmosphere there with winds in the gale building to 45 kts but racing east and quickly dissipating while moving over Antarctic Ice. Seas to briefly hit 30 ft at 59S 175E Tuesday AM, then fade.
The real issue is we are approaching the height of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, with Antarctic Ice nearing it's peak coverage, extending north up to nearly 60S over the entire Southwestern Pacific. This significantly reduces the area of ice free waters, reducing the area eastward tracking storms have to get traction on the oceans surface and generate swell.
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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'CBS This Morning' with the Mavericks Invitational Surf Contest - See a nice morning TV show piece on the Mavericks Contest held Sun 1/20/13. The show aired Wed 1/23. Interviews with Colin Dwyer, Jeff Clark, Mark Sponsler and Grant Washburn: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50139546n
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Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
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