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 (6/17) in North and Central CA local windswell was producing waves in the chest high range and warbled but manageable at protected breaks. Down in Santa Cruz wrap around windswell was producing waves in the knee high range on the sets and clean but with modest whitecaps outside the kelp. In Southern California up north local north windswell was producing waves at knee to maybe thigh high on the sets with warbled conditions. Down south local north windswell was producing waves maybe to waist high on the sets and warbled and white capped by southwesterly wind. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was knee to thigh high on the sets and clean but weak with no southern hemi swell in the water. Trade wind generated east windswell was holding at chest 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. In the southern hemisphere a gale tracked just off the north edge of the Ross Ice Shelf Sun (6/14) producing a short burst of 38 ft seas over a small area aimed east then faded Mon AM with seas falling below 30 ft. A little swell energy is expected to radiate north towards our forecast area. Another gale is to form directly under New Zealand on Wed (6/18) tracking northeast with 36 ft seas aimed well to the north Thurs AM (6/19) then fading on Friday with seas dropping below 30 ft and starting to track east. Perhaps another better pulse of swell to result. Perhaps even a third little gale to produce 30 ft seas on Sat (6/21) aimed well to the northeast. Still, none of these systems are to be strong, broad or long lasting. Take what you can get. Nothing else is to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (6/17) trades were blowing at 15 kts in the direct vicinity of the Hawaii Islands producing small easterly windswell along east facing shores. These winds were being generated by modest high pressure at 1028 mbs that was retrograding west and centered in the northwestern Gulf of Alaska. This high was also generating a weak pressure gradient and north winds at 20 kts over waters along the North and Central CA coast centered near San Francisco generating modest short period north windswell at exposed breaks down to Pt Conception. Over the next 72 hours high pressure and the coastal pressure gradient is to dissipate as the high remains retrograded and low pressure starts tracking through the Northern Gulf. Winds near Cape Mendocino to be in the 15 kt range through mid-Friday (6/20), with windswell bare minimal if even rideable in Central CA. Likewise trades to be confined to only the immediate Hawaiian Islands on Wednesday (6/18) at 15 kts and moving westward with no decent fetch 15 kts or greater east of the Islands through Fri (6/20). No easterly windswell expected to be present.
Also weak low pressure was mid-way between Japan and the dateline, offering no swell producing fetch and with no development potential. Instead it is to lift north and fade into Thurs (6/19) with it's eastward path blocked by high pressure in the Western Gulf.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday AM (6/17) Tropical Depression 7W was 250 nmiles southwest of Southern Japan tracking east-northeast with winds 30 kts. This system is to hold through track and build some on Wed (6/18) with winds to 35 kts. No swell producing fetch of interest to result, but this is an interesting sign if it where to develop.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (6/17) high pressure at 1028 mbs was over the Central Gulf of Alaska ridging somewhat towards the coast but with weak low pressure tracking north of it through the Northern Gulf. This has reduced the local pressure gradient with north winds 20 to barely 25 kts over waters off Cape Mendocino down to Monterey Bay. 20 kt north winds to hold over Cape Mendocino with a eddy flow south of Pt Arena Wed (6/18), then the gradient dissipates Thursday as low pressure retrogrades to the Western Gulf. fading. North winds only 15 kts over Cape Mendocino. Friday the gradient tries to rebuild centered over Central CA with north winds 15-20 kts late and holding Saturday but with 25 kt north winds displaced south over Pt Conception as low pressure builds in the Central Gulf. More of the same through Wed (6/25) with 15-20 kt north winds over North CA and most of Central CA and up to 25 kts north winds isolated to Pt Conception.
Jetstream - On Tuesday (6/17) the jetstream was split with the influential southern branch displaced south and running east along the 60S latitude line in the Southwest Pacific with one pocket of winds to 130 kts, offering limited support for gale development between it and the Ross Ice Shelf. In the Southeast Pacific the jet was ridging hard south pushing into Antarctica proper offering no support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours the first trough is to push east and then fall south and dissipate by Thurs (6/19). But another trough is to develop under New Zealand on Wed (6/18) with 100 kt winds pushing up into it offering limited support for gale development into late Thursday. And yet another trough is to develop under New Zealand on Fri (6/20) with 120 kt winds pushing northeast continuing into Saturday, then fading. yet more support for gale development possible. Beyond 72 hours a zonal flow is to set up starting Sun (6/22) in the west building quickly east on the 61S latitude line with no troughs or support for gale development indicated.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (6/17) small swell from a storm that developed under New Zealand was in the water pushing northeast (see 1st New Zealand Storm below). Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast developing doe south of New Zealand Wednesday AM (6/18) with a decent sized area of 35-40 kt south winds developing with a tiny core to 45 kts. Seas 30 ft at 52S 160E and the 221 degree path to NCal and SCal and unshadowed. 45 kt south winds to build in areal coverage in the evening with seas building to 34 ft at 57S 165E (200 degs HI, 214 degs NCal and unshadowed, 215 degs SCal and shadowed). Thurs AM (6/19) a solid area of 40 kt southwest winds are to be pushing north with seas barely 36 ft at 51S 171E (200 degs HI, 215 degs NCal and unshadowed, 218 degs SCal and unshadowed). Fetch is to be fading in the evening from 40 kts with seas 32 ft at 49S 180W (195 degs HI, 214 degs NCal and unshadowed, 216 degs SCal and barely shadowed). Winds to be fading from 35-40 kts Fri AM (6/20) aimed almost due east with 32 ft seas fading at 47S 171W (190 degs HI, 211 degs NCal and barely shadowed, 213 degs SCal and shadowed). This system to fade thereafter. Assuming all goes as forecast perhaps some rideable swell to result for Hawaii and the US West Coast. At least it's something real to monitor.
1st New Zealand Storm
A tiny storm developed southwest of New Zealand on Sat PM (6/14) with 45 kt northwest winds building and tracking east, but with all fetch aimed southeast at Antarctica. By Sun AM (6/15) winds built to 55 kts just barely north of the Ross Ice Shelf and starting to get purchase on ice free waters with seas building from 34 ft over a tiny area at 61S 166E (197 degs HI, 210 degs NCal and clear of Tahiti, 211 degs SCal and shadowed). 50 kt west winds continued into the evening aimed more to the north with ice receded in that area with seas 36 ft at 61S 178W aimed due east (190 degs HI, 205 degs NCal and shadowed, 207 degs SCal and unshadowed). Winds faded from 40 kts on Mon AM (6/16) with seas 30 ft at 60S 163W (183 degs HI, 200 degs NCal and unshadowed, 202 degs SCal and unshadowed) and tracking east in ice free waters. This system faded after that. Some small sideband swell could result for locations northeast of the storm core with luck.
Hawaii: No swell is to reach Hawaii.
California: Expect swell arrival late Wed (6/25) with period 18 secs.
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 try and make a return late Friday into Sat AM (6/21) along the North and Central CA coast with north winds rebuilding to 20 kt nearshore reaching down to the Channel Islands and then becoming focused near Pt Conception on Sunday while a broad but weak low pressure system moves into the Gulf of Alaska. 20 kt north winds to remain near Pt Conception into Tues (6/24) offering limited windswell for exposed breaks in Southern CA. Theoretically the low in the Gulf is to generate 25 kt west winds on Tues (6/24) reaching to within 900 nmiles of the North and Central Coasts, perhaps offering a shot of windswell (if one is to believe the models). Trades to remain suppressed relative to Hawaii with no windswell expected there.
Another low (Tropical Depression 7W) is modeled developing off Southern Japan on Thurs (6/18) tracking slowly northeast into Saturday (6/21) dissipating on the dateline, with it's remnants getting absorbed into the Gulf low (see above) early next week. And yet another tropical low is modeled migrating off Southern Japan on Sun (6/22). This is an interesting pattern, but would be even more so if it was late July and warm waters were still on the increase over the Galapagos.
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 (6/17) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -7.45. The 30 day average was down some at 8.77 and the 90 day average was up some at 3.89. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of a weak Inactive phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO trending Inactive. 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 over the Maritime Continent fading to weak over the dateline and staying weak while extending to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued from there into the Galapagos. A week from now (6/24) neutral anomalies are forecast over the equatorial Maritime Continent turning light westerly near the dateline and dead neutral south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are forecast continuing midway from Hawaii to almost the Galapagos, then dying to neutral continuing over the Galapagos into Ecuador. As of 6/13 east anomalies had reached down to the surface with the TOA array indicating very light easterly anomalies confirmed from midway between Hawaii and the dateline extending west. Those anomalies continued building to the moderate plus category by 6/16 . This remains troubling news. The GFS model is predicting neutral anomalies at the 850 mb level by Wed AM (6/18). If that is what materializes at the surface, that would not be so bad, lasting only 6 days and potentially not turning off the warm water flow to the east. Will continue to monitor. But as of right now, the data suggests a pulse (perhaps fleeting) 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 6/12. 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. Still, east anomalies are now in play. The next question is whether they will be strong enough to shut off the flow of warm water to the equatorial East Pacific. If they do, and assuming no Westerly Wind Burst develops soon after, then our developing El Nino will be put in jeopardy. We'll be monitoring this 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. And weak westerly anomalies continued through the month of May. 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. Those WWBs served to push massive amounts of warm water east in the form of multiple Kelvin Waves. which started erupting along the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos and Peru in early May and has continued unabated since then.
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 6/16 are initially in sync. They both suggest a moderate Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the Maritime Continent and seeping into the far West Pacific with reduced OLR anomalies there. 5 days out a weak to moderate Active Phase of the MJO is to be moving east and further into the West Pacific per the statistic model while the dynamic has it holding in the far West Pacific. The dynamic (GEFS) model has it holding in the same spot for 15 days and if anything withering, while the statistic model suggests a full on push to the dateline and beyond. The ultra long range upper level model now suggests a weak but coherent Active Phase of the MJO is developing over the West Pacific and is to push east through 7/7. A new modest Inactive Phase is to develop in the West Pacific 7/2 pushing east through at least 7/27. 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. If that occurs it provides some hope that 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. But the second Inactive Phase is occurring 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. And if in-fact a strengthening MJO signal were to develop, that would actual provide fuel to the belief that El Nino is decaying. But it's too early to know that with any certainty yet. 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 (6/16), 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 suggests a building coherent pocket to +4 degrees off North Peru. So from this perspective things look very 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 pattern developed in both the '97 and '09 El Ninos too. So we're not so concerned about it at the moment. Still, 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 and unchanged. A large area of warm +3-5 deg C above normal water is in-place and tracking east with it's core 100 meters down somewhere near 105W. As best as can be identified this Kelvin Wave covers the area from 150W to Ecuador with the core between 120 and 90W. The leading edge is impacting Ecuador and the Galapagos. 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 (6/7), with +0-5 cm anomalies extending west to the dateline. This suggests warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards but that most of it is not in the far East Pacific. 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. But, with no more westerly anomalies in play over the the dateline region and west of there, the flow is possible on the verge of being cut off. Another legit WWB is required, and soon.
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). And this 'hole' is growing every day. 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 Waves, 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 6/17 have stabilized. It suggests water temps building and peaking at +1.0 deg C by early October and holding well into at least March 2015. (down from a peak previously forecast at +1.75 in Nov 2014). 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). 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. Then on June 13 an unexpected Inactive Phase developed generating easterly anomalies on the dateline and east of there at the surface. Longterm the signal of suppressed trades in the far equatorial West Pacific would 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. The big issue right now is the apparent collapse of the previous westerly anomaly pattern, putting the future of El Nino in jeopardy. 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 form southwest of New Zealand on Fri AM (6/20) with 40 kt south winds building. By evening a small area of 45 kt south winds are to be in-play with seas building to 30 ft at 52S 167E aimed north-northeast. This system is to be fading Sat AM (6/21) with winds dropping from 35 kts and seas 28 ft at 48S 173E. This is another one worth watching, though small in areal coverage.
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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