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 (7/3) in North and Central CA local windswell was producing surf in the chest high range and a bit warbled from northwest winds at exposed breaks but a little cleaner and smaller at select protected breaks. Down in Santa Cruz southern hemi background swell was producing surf at knee high on the sets and clean. In Southern California up north windswell was producing waves in the thigh high range with clean conditions early. Down south southern hemi swell was producing waves in the thigh to maybe waist high range on the sets and clean early. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was small with waves in the knee to thigh high range and clean and lined up. Trade wind generated east windswell was producing waves at thigh 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. A tropical system is developing in the far West Pacific but has not reached tropical storm status yet. In the southern hemisphere a small gale developed in the Southeast Pacific on Wed-Thurs (6/26) generating 26-28 ft seas pushing well to the north. A small pulse of southerly angled swell is expected starting Fri (7/4) for California. Of more interest is strong Storm #2S that formed on the eastern most edge of the Southern CA swell window on Fri (6/27) building Saturday with 40 ft seas aimed northeast then peaking Sun (6/29) with 52 ft seas outside the CA swell window targeting mainly Chile and Peru. Theoretically a solid pulse of sideband energy is to radiate up into Southern CA and then North CA over the weekend from the earlier incarnations of this storm with luck. The models continue to suggest some form of small gale developing southeast of New Zealand late on Sun (7/6) pushing hard northeast with a building area 38-40 ft seas aimed northeast towards Tahiti, Hawaii and the US West Coast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (7/3) trades were blowing at 15 kts east of the Hawaiian Islands but not extended the whole way to California producing some minimally rideable easterly windswell along east facing shores there. High pressure was positioned in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska with low pressure behind it in the Western Gulf. The high was producing a pressure gradient along the California coast generating a small patch of 20-25 kt north winds near Cape Mendocino fading to just below 15 kts between California and Hawaii, then rebuilding to 15 kts east of Hawaii and pushing over the Islands. The net result is windswell was being generated for both North and Central CA and Hawaii.
Over the next 72 hours high pressure is to push east and fade off the Pacific Northwest with the gradient and north winds dissipating as low pressure moves into the Eastern Gulf (fairly unusual for the time of year). A new high pressure system is to set up over the dateline continuing a weak gradient and east winds over Hawaii at 15 kts but not extending far at all to the east. Minimal windswell the expected result. With low pressure moving into the Gulf, the usual North CA pressure gradient is to fade with windswell relative to California dropping out as a result on Sat (7/5).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Douglas is 150 nmiles west-northwest of the island of Clarion tracking northwest with sustained winds 40 kts. No strengthening is forecast with Douglas expected to dissipate on 7/7. No swell to result.
A stronger tropical system (Tropical Depression #8) was starting to develop in the far Western Pacific on Fri (10/3) expected to build and track towards Japan. The question is, will it hit there as modeled or will it recurve northeast and move towards the dateline? Given the time of year, recurvature would not be expected (until later July into early August).
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (7/3) high pressure at 1024 mbs ridging into Oregon generating 20-25 kt north winds over a limited area off the Central and North CA coasts. The gradient is to fade Friday over Cape Mendo as low pressure moves into the Gulf of Alaska with north winds barely 20 kts early fading to 15 kts and a little bit pulled away from the Central Coast. The gradient is to fade more on Saturday with north winds barely 15 kts over the North Coast then starting to rebuild Sunday with 20 kt north winds over a tiny area at Cape Mendocino but remaining away from nearshore Central CA waters. North winds are forecast up to 25 kts over Cape Mendocino on Monday and Tuesday with an eddy flow in play for Central CA. A broad area of 20-25 kt north winds to be in play on Wed (7/10) and Thursday with a well entrenched eddy flow (south wind) over Southern CA.
Jetstream - On Thursday (7/3) the southern branch of the jet was in a zonal configuration running flat west to east and displaced south down on the 70S latitude line across the width of the South Pacific with no troughs in place offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours no real change is forecast until later Sat (7/5) when a break in the zonal flow is to develop south of New Zealand with 120 kts winds starting to feed northeast into open space pushing up east of New Zealand. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to build some more with north-northeast winds lifting up to 40S merging with the northern branch of the jet offering some decent support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. That configuration is to continue into later Tues (7/8) then getting cut off with a new ridge pushing east restoring the southward displaced flat zonal flow down at 70S and shutting off potential for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (7/1) swell from a weak gale previously in the Southeast Pacific was poised to impact California (see Weak Southeast Pacific Gale below). Stronger swell from a large and powerful storm on the edge of the California swell window (see Storm #2S below) was pushing north, hitting Peru today and bound for Central America, Mexico and possibly California.
Otherwise a gale started developing and tracking north-northeast through the Tasman Sea on Wed PM (7/2) with winds 40 kt aimed due north with seas building from 24 ft at 40S 163E targeting Fiji. On Thurs AM (7/3) a small area of 40 kt south winds continued positioned west of the northern tip of New Zealand with 29 ft seas at 37S 168E again targeting Fiji well. The gale is to loop around the northern tip of New Zealand in the evening with winds fading from 35 kts with seas dropping from 27 ft at 30S 175E again targeting Fiji. No additional fetch or seas to result.
Swell expected into Fiji on Fri (7/4) pushing 10 ft @ 14 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) if all goes as forecast from 200-210 degrees
Weak Southeast Pacific Gale
On Wed AM (6/25) a gale started circulating in the Southeast Pacific producing a fetch of mostly 35 kt southwest winds with one small core to nearly 45 kts. Seas were on the increase. In the evening it started lifting north with 40 kt winds aimed well north and positioned north of the core with 45 kt in the gale core also aimed north in the vicinity of 56S 121W. Seas were building from 26-28 ft in a diffuse are near 54S 130W. On Thurs AM (6/26) 35-40 kt south winds were still blowing with 26 ft seas at 46S 130W and a second area of 28 ft seas at 54S 120W both aimed north-northeast. 40 kt south winds continued into the evening barely in the CA swell window with 25 ft seas up at 38S 121W targeting California and points southward into Central America.
South CA: Swell to peak on Fri (7/4) at 2.4 ft @ 16 secs early (3.5-4.0 ft). Swell fading from 2.3 ft @ 14 secs (3 ft) Sat AM (7/5). Swell Direction: 187 degrees
North CA: Swell to peak on Fri (7/4) at 2.4 ft @ 16-17 secs later (4.0 ft). Swell fading from 2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3.5 ft) Sat AM (7/5). Swell Direction: 184 degrees
Southeast Pacific Storm #2S
On Fri PM (6/27) a new storm formed in the Southeast Pacific generating 50 kt south-southwest winds at 60S 140W (192 degs SCal, 189 degs NCal). Seas were on the increase. Sat AM (6/28) a broad area 45-50 kt southwest winds were positioned on the eastern edge of the CA swell window producing a moderate size area of 35 ft seas at 56S 127W (185 degs SCal, 183 degs NCal). This fetch built to 55 kts in the evening at 58S 118W (SCal 180 degs, NCal 178 degs) with seas building to 44 ft at 55S 116W, barely in the SCal swell window at 179 degrees and outside the NCal swell window at 177 degrees. By Sun AM (6/29) a solid area of 55 kt south winds were in control aimed due north with 52 ft seas building at 54S 109W targeting mainly Chile up into Peru with sideband energy targeting exposed break of South CA (175 degs) and North CA (171 degs). In the evening 55 kt due south winds continued with seas still a solid 50 ft lifting northeast at 50S 105 W targeting all of South America and with sideband energy at South and North California up the 173 and 169 deg paths respectively. A quick fade occurred Mon AM (6/30) with winds dropping from 45 kts still over a good sized area and seas fading from 43 ft at 48S 96W and of no use to California.
Winds were confirmed by the WindSat satellite and most impressive, with 36 hours of 55+ kt winds aimed well towards South America and up towards California. No direct passes of the Jason-2 satellite occurred over the core, but the best pass occurred on Sun PM 0z with a 15 reading average of 42.2 ft with a peak reading of 47.5 ft reported southeast of the core where seas were modeled at 44-45 ft. Analysis of other passes suggested the model was fairly close on track with actuals.
This is to be a solid swell producing system for Central and South America with a combination of limited sideband and more direct swell from early in the storms life hitting California.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Sat AM (7/5) with swell 2.3 ft @ 22-23 secs early building to 3.0 ft @ 22 secs late (6.6 ft with sets to 8.3 ft). Swell to peak Sun AM (7/6) with pure swell 3.6 ft @ 21 secs (7.5 ft with sets to 9.5 ft). Period down to 19 secs late. Swell continues Mon AM (7/7) at 3.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (5.8 ft with sets to 7.2 ft). Swell on Tuesday (7/8) to be 3.3 ft @ 16 secs (5.3 ft with sets to 6.4 ft). Much water moving around during sets. Long lulls. Swell Direction: 173-185 degs with most energy east of 176 degrees. There is some uncertainty regarding the swell size forecast given the extreme south-southeast swell angle.
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Sat AM (7/5) with period 23 sec early and swell building to 2.3 ft @ 22 secs late (5.0 ft with sets to 6.3 ft). Swell to peak Sun (7/6) with pure swell 3.3 ft @ 20 secs later (6.6 ft with sets to 8.3 ft). Swell continues Mon AM (7/7) at 3.3 ft @ 19 secs (6.2 ft with sets to 7.8 ft). Swell on Tuesday (7/8) to be 3.3 ft @ 16-17 secs (5.5 ft with sets to 6.8 ft). Much water moving around during sets. Long lulls. Swell Direction: 169-183 degs with most energy east of 172 degrees. There is some uncertainty regarding the swell size forecast given the extreme south-southeast swell angle.
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 start making a comeback on Monday (7/7) off North CA again starting to generate a tiny area of 25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino building in coverage still at 25 kts on Tuesday and holding at least into Thursday (7/10). Modest north short period windswell possible for North and Central CA with an eddy flow (south winds) developing nearshore Tuesday and beyond for Central CA.
Relative to Hawaii trades to start building in coverage on Tues (7/8) extending from California to the Islands at 15 kts in patches and becoming more continuous on Thursday. Small to modest rideable easterly windswell developing.
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 (7/3) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down at -12.68. The 30 day average was down at -5.04 and the 90 day average was down some at 2.51. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of an Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO turning Active. Another low pressure system is tracking south of Tahiti on Tues-Wed (7/2) likely holding the SOI negative, but will then fade back to a neutral if not slightly positive pressure pattern beyond. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated moderate to strong west anomalies over a small area in the Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline. Neutral anomalies continued from the dateline to a point south of Hawaii and from there into the Galapagos. These westerly anomalies continue and are good news. A week from now (7/11) light easterly anomalies are forecast over the far equatorial Maritime Continent turning weak westerly just west of and over the dateline. Weak east anomalies are forecast building south of Hawaii to the modest range continuing into the Galapagos. The GFS model continues to indicate trades have collapsed in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area but are to build slightly on Saturday (7/5) then collapsing on Tuesday. The TOA array continues to indicate westerly anomalies developed 6/25 west of the dateline (at the surface - the ground truth) and are holding into 7/3 in the moderate range. Previously an Easterly Wind event occurred in the West Pacific 6/13-6/19 building to the moderate plus category and it appears it turned off the warm water flow to the east (more below).
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here.
Previously a series of WWBs occurred 1/8-4/20 creating a large Kelvin Wave that is now impacting Ecuador, the Galapagos and Peru. And weak westerly anomalies continued through the month of May. This was very similar situation that led up to the big El Nino's of '82/32 and '97/98. But in those instances the WWBs and Kelvin Wave generation 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 Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/2 remain a bit out of sync. They both suggest a dead neutral MJO signal is in effect in the extreme West Pacific. 5 days out the statistic model suggests an Inactive Phase is to start building over the western Maritime Continent drifting east and moving weakly into the West Pacific 15 day out. The dynamic model is 180 degree opposite indicating the Active Phase is to build over the West Pacific 10-15 days out moving well towards the dateline. This is exactly what is needed. The ultra long range upper level model for weeks has been suggesting a building Inactive Phase of the MJO taking over the equatorial Pacific over the month of July. But as of today's run, that has totally collapsed with a dead neutral MJO signal forecast for the next 40 days, with just a hint of inactivity July 18-28th, but nothing of concern. This is a major upgrade and good news. We have been skeptical regarding this model and this seals the deal. A very weak MJO pattern is what one would expect if an El Nino were to develop. If a neutral pattern actually prevails in July it provides hope that the warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some impact on the atmosphere above and the model is just not adept and picking up on these clues. We're at the point where weak westerly anomalies should be standard in the West Pacific if El Nino where developing, attributable to warming waters temps over the width of the equatorial Pacific. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
Surface Water Temps: 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 (7/3), a warm water regime remains in control from Ecuador west over the Galapagos and drifting west from there with warm anomalies extending on to the dateline. Hi-res SST monitoring site depicts +2.25-3.0 deg anomalies embedded in the triangle. But there are suggestions that water temps are starting to decrease with a small and building pocket of neutral to -0.5 anomalies developing directly off the coast of Northern Peru (or it could just be attributable to winds and local upwelling. Small pockets of +4 degree anomalies in the triangle have vanished. The NOAA OSPO imagery actually suggests warm water filing in more in the triangle. So a little bit of mixed messages occurring. Regardless, we suspect the bulk of the warm water produced by the massive Kelvin Wave generated by Westerly Wind Bursts in Jan-April has reached the surface in the east (3 months later) and is on the verge of starting to disperse. Those waters are advecting west, tracking into the Nino 3.4 region. But that is the tail of the proverbial dog, while Westerly Wind Bursts are the nose. The issue remains getting more warm water into the pipe to eventually erupt near the Galapagos.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water as is the West Pacific (north and south). Even the weakest signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California is fading, as would be expected if El nino was inplay. This is significant in that is suggests high pressure induced north winds are less than normal off California for this time of year. 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.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator are fading. Residual warm subsurface water from the previous Kelvin Wave have dropped 1 degree in the past week and are currently +4 deg C above normal, and fading fast. The core is 50 meters down at 110W. Temps previously were up to +6 degs C above normal on 6/21. As best as can be identified this Kelvin Wave covers a smaller area now, starting at 150W building into Ecuador with the core between 120W and 100W. Satellite data as of 6/27 continues to downgraded the areal coverage of the Kelvin Wave again with increased surface water heights only 0 to +5 cms limited to 125W into Ecuador. This is a significant downgrade in the past 5 days. And subsurface models as of 6/27 depicted the flow from the West Pacific to the east was still open, but with no significant warm water in it. But, the pipe was not closed. That said, a small pocket of +0.5-1.0 anomalies are in place under the dateline, perhaps suggestive of a new Kelvin Wave trying to take shape. And with a week or two of westerly anomalies forecast, perhaps more warm water will start pushing east.
The Pacific Equatorial Surface Counter-Current (from 2N to 2S from the Philippines to the Galapagos) as of 7/2 continued tracking anomalously east to west from the Galapagos to the dateline (through the heart of the Nino 3.4 region), the exact opposite direction it should be to build warm waters in the East Pacific. And the actual current was tracking fairly strong east to west over the same area too. But the strength of this flow was down from previous data. This pattern started 6/17. And better, the current is flowing west to east in the far West Pacific, and if anything is building over the past 7 days. The assumption is the change in direction in the current was attributable to development of easterly winds in the same area in mid-June, and could possibly change if westerly winds continue to hold in the West Pacific.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 7/1 have stabilized suggesting water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early Sept building to +1.55 deg C by Nov (up +0.45 deg over the last week or so) holding into Jan 2015, then fading. Previous forecast peaked at +1.75 in Nov 2014, so we're 0.25 degs off that mark.
Analysis: Assuming it will take 2-3 months for the tail end of the big Kelvin Wave generated by the WWB that ended effectively on 5/1 to erupt over the Galapagos and Ecuador, the existing warm pool should start completely dissipating by 8/1 with neutral water temps taking over the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle, unless something develops to reinforce it. A new WWB appears to be developing in the West Pacific (starting 6/28), and even if it were to continue, it would not reach the Galapagos till 9/28. So there's a 8 week 'hole' with no significant warm water to resupply the Ecuador triangle (8/1-9/28). This will likely cause water temps to decease some in the Nino1+2 regions. If no additional Westerly Wind Bursts occur, warm water in all Nino region will dissipate. This is what occurred in the 2012 False-Start El Nino. Of course the other consideration is that the June easterly wind burst was the start of the 'upwelling' Phase of the Kelvin Wave. It's normal after a downwelling Kevin Wave impacts the Ecuador coast, that some period of upwelling (cooling) occurs. But without another WWB building on the dateline to set up another downwelling Kelvin Wave event, then the developing El Nino pattern could dissipate. So monitoring surface wind anomalies in the West Pacific are critical to determining the future of this years potential El Nino pattern.
As of right now we're waiting for a feedback loop to develop, reinforcing the warm water flow and buildup of warm water off Central America into the Fall. The big concerns are the easterly wind event of the week of 6/17, the development of a west moving Pacific Counter Current, a dissipating Kelvin Wave and the degradation of peak water temps in the Ecuador triangle. What is needed is another Westerly Wind Burst or at least continued westerly anomalies, and no hint of Easterly anomalies. That appears to be trying to happen at the moment. 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. The macro level concern is that the East Pacific warm pool has NOT been in place long enough to develop a coupling with the atmosphere above it, though there are some signs that a coupling is starting to develop (low pressure tracking over the dateline and into the Gulf resulting in northwest swell for the US West Coast, reduced high pressure induced north winds along the CA coast). 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 month before anything is guaranteed, and exactly the same time the warm pool is to be dispersed. But if we're just in the 'Upwelling Phase' of the Kelvin Wave Cycle, and more west anomalies and a new Kelvin Wave are being generated in the West Pacific, then all will remain on-track. The next 2 -3 week are critical.
Overall the immediate outlook remains unchanged, but potentially trending towards something that would be considered warm by Aug-Sept 2014. 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. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are still 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 appears to be underway, and hopefully intensifying into Fall. There remains 2 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
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest a gale is to start developing south of New Zealand on Sun PM (7/6) with southwest winds building from 45 kts over a small area and seas to 30 ft at 60S 174E. A decent fetch of 45 kt southwest winds are to build Mon AM (7/7) pushing well to the northeast with seas building to 35 ft at 56S 169W. In the evening a smaller area of 45 kt southwest winds to hold with seas still 36 ft over a tiny area at 50S 161W. A small area of 50 kt south winds to building Tues AM (7/8Z) resulting in 40 ft seas over a tiny area at 46S 156W (203 degs SCal and unshadowed, 202 Ncal and unshadowed, 180 degrees Hawaii). South winds to be dissipating from 45 kts in the evening with 38 ft seas at 40S 153W. On Wed AM (7/9) 40 kt south winds are to be fading over a thin area with seas fading from 34 ft at 38S 150W and positioned well to the north. This system to dissipate after that. If one is to believe the models, this is one worth watching,
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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