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 Saturday (6/30) North and Central CA had northwest windswell at thigh high on the sets, mushy and clean early. Down south in Santa Cruz bare minimal southern hemi background swell was occasionally producing waves in the thigh high range and clean. Southern California up north had a few thigh high mushburgers with wind texture already building early. Down south waves were thigh to waist high, a mixture of southern hemi and local wind swell. Hawaii's North Shore was effectively flat with some wrap around windswell at knee to thigh high. The South Shore was effectively flat with waves maybe thigh high and clean with trades in effect. The East Shore had tradewind produced east windswell at waist high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure was still retrograded away from California and Hawaii not offering any windswell relative to CA and was only generating typical trades over Hawaii resulting in small easterly windswell there. Otherwise no swell producing fetch was occurring. It's not till Monday (7/2) that high pressure finally tracks back east and ridges into the California coast generating north winds at 25 kts over Cape Mendocino resulting in building north windswell for Central and South CA holding into mid-week before faltering, then possibly regenerating over the weekend. Trades for Hawaii are to return a bit more firmly late Monday too and building into the 15-20 kts range by Thursday (7/5) holding through the weekend providing increased easterly windswell along east facing shores.
Down south a gale developed in the Tasman Sea Sun-Mon (6/25) with seas to barely 32 ft favoring Fiji with maybe some well filtered energy easing up into Hawaii by Mon (7/2). And of more interest, residual energy from that system organized east of New Zealand Tues-Thurs (6/28) with seas in the 33-39 ft range, but still over a tiny area. Some modest swell is expected for Tahiti, Hawaii and the US West coast. And another gale formed off Chile on Tues-Wed (6/27) producing up to 38 ft seas, but on the very edge of only the Southern CA swell window, possibly setting up very south angled swell hitting in sync with the New Zealand swell. But after that, nothing else of interest is projected. Feast while you can.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Saturday (6/30) high pressure at 1028 mbs had retrograding west positioned 400 nmiles east of the dateline. It was still forcing some degree of trades over Hawaii at 15 kts, but the fetch area was very shallow resulting in only limited short period easterly windswell along east facing shores. The high was well west of California offering no fetch or windswell of interest.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to track flat east late in the weekend and starting to ridge into the California coast on Monday resulting in 20-25 kts north winds building along much of the coast with the strongest of it centered near Cape Mendocino resulting in building shore period windswell. Nothing dramatic though. That is to hold into mid-Wednesday (7/4), then the fetch is collapse as the high retreats a bit. Windswell backing off at that time.
Likewise as the high pushes east trades to respond in kind over Hawaii by Monday (7/2) rebuilding to 15 kts over a decent sized fetch with east windswell increasing some and holding into Wednesday (7/4).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked, likely the result of the Inactive Phase of the MJO building over the West Pacific.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (6/30) weak low pressure was still lingering off North CA with high pressure retrograded well away from the coast. A light wind pattern was in play over North and much of Central CA with north winds at 15+ kts isolated to a small area near Pt Conception. Late Sunday high pressure is to finally start getting a toehold off California now that low pressure is out of the way, with north winds building to 15-20 kts along the entire coast other than protected locations in Southern CA. By Monday the usual north winds flow at 15-20 kts is forecast for all of North and Central CA with Southern CA barely in a eddy pattern with the fetch and gradient becoming more defined over Central CA pushing 25 kts, and holding on Tuesday but with southern CA in a clean eddy flow. Basically a chopped mess for everyone by Southern CA. The gradient is to start retreating on Wednesday into Thursday the starting to rebuild on Friday with 15-20 kt north winds building over all of North and Central CA and strengthening some on Saturday. Southern CA to remain protected.
Jet stream - On Saturday (6/30) a split jetstream pattern continued over the entire South Pacific with the exception of a few hundred miles west of the southern tip of South America where the streams almost merged forming a weak trough there. But winds were only 90 kts not offering much in terms of support for gale production, and well east of even the Southern CA swell window. Over the next 72 hours the exact same pattern is to continue offering nothing in terms of support for gale development in the lower levels of the atmosphere. Beyond 72 hours again no change is forecast, with the split becoming even more cleanly defined. No change expected in lower levels of the atmosphere.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (6/26) high pressure at 1032 mbs was locking down the far Southeast Pacific at 1032 mbs ridging south to 60S pretty much squashing any east bound weather systems moving into that area. Remnants of the New Zealand Gale (see below) were still circulating east of New Zealand generating 30 kt south winds and 24 ft seas aimed well at Tahiti, likely resulting in more follow on swell energy pushing there and even up into Hawaii with period in the 14 sec range. But it was not energetic enough to have any impact on California. No other swell producing system of interest were occurring. Also swell from a gale that was off Southern Chile is pushing north towards Southern CA (see details below).
Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast for our forecast area. A gale is forecast developing in the extreme Southeast Pacific, but it is to form east of even the Southern CA swell window tracking decidedly towards Chile resulting in only a small area of 32 ft seas aimed there.
Tasman Sea Gale
A gale was starting to build over Tasmania on Sun AM (6/24) with a small area of 45 kt southwest winds then building to 50 kts in the evening positioned mid-way between Tasmania and New Zealand aimed well up into the Tasman Sea resulting in a tiny area of 30 ft seas at 44S 153E aimed reasonably well to the north towards Fiji but with New Zealand being the prime target. A follow-on fetch of 45 kt southwest winds to build in the Tasman Sea on Mon AM (6/26) resulting in 32 ft seas at 49S 150E again targeting Fiji and holding into the evening with seas pushing northeast and holding at 32 ft at 43S 161E. Decent swell possibly pushing towards Fiji. Fetch fading from 35 kts Tuesday AM (6/26) just west of New Zealand still aimed north towards Fiji with seas fading from 30 ft at 43S 165E and becoming shadowed relative to Fiji by New Zealand.
Swell pushing into Fiji late Thurs early Fri (6/29) Fiji time with much smaller energy tracking northeast towards Hawaii arriving late on Sun (7/1) peaking Monday AM (7/2) at 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.7 ft with sets to 3.5 ft). Swell fading from 1.6 ft @ 15-16 secs (2.5 ft) on Tues (7/3). Swell Direction 213 degrees
New Zealand Gale
Residual wind energy from the Tasman Sea Gale above started redeveloping southeast of New Zealand on Tuesday AM (6/26) with winds 45 kts over a tiny area and seas building and continuing in the evening and seas up to 36 ft at 51S 170E (218 degs CA and unshadowed by Tahiti, 201 degs Hawaii). Additional wind energy moved into the area Wednesday AM (6/27) with a larger fetch of 45 kt southwest winds taking control with seas building to 38 ft (confirmed by the Jason-1 satellite) at 49S 177E (216 degs CA and unshadowed, 200 degs HI). A broader area of 40-45 kt southwest winds held into the evening with a respectable area of seas at 34 ft at 45S 178E (218 degs CA and unshadowed, 200 degs HI). This fetch lifted northeast on Thurs AM (6/28) with 40 kt southwest winds continuing and seas at 33 ft near 44S 180E (same heading as before) loosing coverage in the evening at the same location. Seas fading from 30 ft at 42S 176W (217 degs CA, 199 HI). Residual energy fading Friday AM (6/29) with winds dropping from 30-35 kts and seas fading from 26 ft at 39S 171W (216 degs CA,191 HI).
The big issue with this one was it was a long ways away from the US West Coast, had a very small fetch area and did not push decidedly north or northeast, but instead slowly migrated on those headings. The net result is some modest sized swell is expected with a decent duration heading up to Tahiti, Hawaii and the US West coast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Tuesday (7/3) with size building to 2 ft @ 19 secs late (3.8 ft with bigger sets) peaking on Wed (7/4) with swell 3 ft @ 17 secs (5 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). Swell to continue on Thursday with swell 3 ft @ 15-16 secs (4.8 ft with sets to 6 ft) fading slightly as the day progresses. 14-15 sec residuals on Friday (7/6). Swell Direction: 198-201 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Thurs AM (7/5) just before sunrise with period 20 secs and size tiny but building slowly through the day to 1 ft @ 20 secs (2 ft). Swell building on Fri (7/6) to 2.2 ft @ 18 secs (3.5-4.0 ft with 5 ft sets) with luck. Swell continues on Sat (7/7) at 2.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.0-4.5 ft sets to 5.5 ft). Lesser energy on Sunday (7/7). Swell Direction: 217-219 degrees
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on on Thurs AM (7/5) just after sunrise with period 20 secs and size tiny but building slowly through the day reaching 1 ft @ 20 secs (2 ft). Swell building on Fri (7/6) to 1.8-2.0 ft @ 18 secs (3.5 ft with 4.5 ft sets) with luck. Swell continues on Sat (7/7) at 2.3-2.5 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.7-4.3 ft with sets to 5.3 ft). Lesser energy on Sunday (7/7). Swell Direction: 216-218 degrees
Chilean Gale (S Cal)
On Tuesday (6/26) a gale started wrapping up in the extreme Southeastern Pacific off the tip off Southern Chile generating a fetch of 40 kt southwest winds building Wednesday AM (6/27) with southerly winds to 50 kts and barely in the Southern CA swell window. Seas were 30 ft at 64S 107W pushing well up the 175 degree path to SCal. That fetch pushed due north in the evening holding at 50 kts and expanding in coverage some resulting in building seas of 36 ft @ 59S 106W pushing up the 174 degree path to SCal. Thursday AM (6/28) the fetch races northeast winds winds still in the 45-50 kts range, but was pushing out of the CA swell window. Seas mostly from previous fetch were 39 ft at 54S 97W (168-171 degs SCal) and tracking well out of the US swell window, mostly bound for Chile and Peru now.
This system was of good intensity and pushing north but was so far east as to only push sideband energy up into the Southern CA swell window.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Wed (7/4) with pure swell to 1 ft @ 21 secs late (2 ft). Swell building through the day Thursday (7/5) to 2.3 ft @ 19 secs late (4.3 ft with sets to 5.5 ft). Swell to peak on Friday (7/6) at 2.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.1-4.4 ft with sets to 5.5 ft). Swell fading Saturday from 2.1 ft @ 15 secs(3.0-3.5 ft). Swell Direction: 170-175 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 the North Pacific high is to hold north and northwest of Hawaii on Thursday (7/5) still generating trades at 15 kts if not building some to near 20 kts and continuing at that velocity through the weekend as the high drifts east with the fetch area expanding some east of the Islands. Moderate east windswell resulting along East facing shores.
Likewise as the high start pushing east again, it is to start ridging into California on Friday (7/6) with north fetch building over the entire Central and North Coasts to 20 kts and continuing through the weekend. Modest local north windslop expected to result.
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, or 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 day, 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 Saturday (6/30) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was on the rise from extremely negative readings earlier in the week (-41.19, -49.35, -46.96 and -34.44) to 15.11. The 30 day average was up slightly to -10.20 with the 90 day average up to -5.99. The 30 day average has dropped from +24 in early January 2012 to -10 by the last day of June, a good trend.
Current wind analysis indicated a continuing small pocket of moderate to strong west anomalies over the far West Pacific (Maritime Continent) fading near the dateline and turning slightly easterly from there into Central America. In all it looked like the Inactive Phase of the MJO was in control of the Pacific disregarding the pocket of Westerly Anomalies in the far West Pacific, likely associated with some form of tropical system there. A week from now (7/8) light east anomalies are forecast building over the Maritime Continent and holding near the dateline turning moderate south of Hawaii. This suggests a return of the Inactive Phase of the MJO in the Pacific as has been forecast for some time. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 6/28 are in agreement indicating a moderate instance of the Inactive Phase of the MJO was currently over the West Pacific expected to build east for the next week (7/6) then starting to fade 2 weeks out. The dynamic model is more aggressive on the rate of fade than the dynamic model. 7/4 has been our stake in the ground in assessing the strength of this Inactive Phase and to determine what the trend will be over this coming Fall and Winter (more below), but were thinking of extending that out 1 more week. The preferred option is no or minimal Inactive Phase build-up the first 2 weeks in July with a quick return to a neutral if not Active pattern, which would suggest that as we move more into Summer that a weak El Nino or at least a pattern that supports warm water buildup in the East Pacific continues. The critical juncture in that determination is the first week or two in July. It's still to early to know what the outcome will be. Regardless, the statistical model suggests a strong build up of the Active Phase in the Indian Ocean 2 weeks out.
In monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which the existing weak MJO pattern is supporting, this becomes important because it possibly sets up a configuration in the ocean that is more conducive to storm development for the coming Fall of 2012. In fact warmer than normal water is already accumulating off Ecuador and that pool of warm water is growing in intensity and coverage on 6/25. A pocket of blocking cold water that had been under the equator south of California the bulk of the past Winter (2011-2012) evaporated in April allowing warmer water to slowly but steadily pushing east into the vacuum (Kelvin Wave). This activity was the result of the Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and a continued weak MJO signal, and it appears to be reinforcing itself. It will be interesting to see if the weak MJO pattern continues (a early sign of some flavor of El Nino) in late June (it did) and early July (still to be determined) or whether the Inactive Phase comes back to life and reestablishes some sort of blockade. We are out of the Spring unpredictability barrier relative to ENSO, and all is proceeding nicely towards a favorable pattern developing for the Fall (i.e. warmer than normal water on the equator in the East Pacific) providing this developing Inactive Phase doesn't shut things down. Regardless, the warm water pool off Central America has benefited greatly from the lack of strong trades over the equator, with warm water migrating solidly east and building up along the coast, a precursor to El Nino.
A weaker MJO signal is typical for this time of year, but does not normally appear as strong and as long-lasting as what is occurring now, suggesting that La Nina is gone. And the horseshoe cool water pattern that has dominated the entire Pacific for the past 2 years (typical of La Nina) is gone with a very El Nino like warm water pattern taking hold. So the next question is: Will the Active-like Phase pattern that is currently occurring continue, ultimately ushering in some flavor of El Nino, or will it stall in the next 2 weeks late-June to earl July and leave us in limbo with just a neutral pattern in play (normal)? Either option is better than where we've been for the past 2 years (under the influence of La Nina). Regardless - we'll know the answers by July 4th.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast. Two gales are forecast tracking flat east under New Zealand and basically straddling the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf late in the workweek into the weekend, but offering no swell energy pushing north (assuming they even form at all). We're in the depths of summer now.
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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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