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 (7/5) North and Central CA had northwest windswell at waist to shoulder high on the sets, mushy and raked by southwest wind. Down south in Santa Cruz it was near flat with waves knee to thigh high and clean. Southern California up north had northwest windswell at knee to thigh high and clean but mushy. Down south waves were coming from the southern hemi at chest high or better on the sets and lined up and textured by southwest local wind. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was still getting New Zealand swell with waves head high and sets at top spots 2-3 ft overhead and clean with moderate trades in effect. The East Shore had tradewind produced east windswell at shoulder high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure was locked north of Hawaii but pulled back a bit from Northern CA generating only 20 kts north winds over Cape Mendocino resulting in fading windswell along the Central CA coast. But that fetch is to return by the weekend at 20 kts generating more windswell and increasing to 25 kts mid-next-week with more windswell expected. Trades were blowing over Hawaii at 15-20 kts from the east and expected to hold through the weekend offering better odds for somewhat larger easterly windswell along east facing shores. Those winds to fade some early next week with remnants of a tropical system perhaps moving into Hawaii late in the work week.
Down south a gale organized east of New Zealand Tues-Thurs (6/28) with seas in the 33-39 ft range, but only over a tiny area. Swell has past it's prime in Hawaii, but was bigger than predicted (more below). It is expected to reach California Friday providing fun surf for the weekend. And a gale also 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, setting up very south angled swell hitting in-sync with the New Zealand swell relative to CA. A small system is developing under New Zealand on Thurs-Fri (7/6) expected to track flat east if not slightly southeast with seas to maybe 34 ft but with little energy radiating north. But nothing else of interest is projected beyond.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (7/5) high pressure at 1028 mbs was centered 900 nmiles north of Hawaii generating trades at 15-20 kts over the Hawaiian Islands resulting in modest easterly windswell along east facing shores. The high was a bit removed from the California Coast resulting in a northerly flow down the North and Central coasts at 10-15 kts, and not generating much in terms of local windswell. But windswell from fetch the previous day was still hitting.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to shift eastward slightly continuing trades into the 15-20 kts range relative to Hawaii through the weekend (7/8) and increasing the size of the fetch east of the Islands perhaps nudging easterly tradewind windswell up a little. The shift east in the core of the high is to tighten the typical pressure gradient near Cape Mendocino some late by Friday (7/6) with winds there building to 20 kts adding a little bit of height to the local northerly windswell along the Central CA coast though the weekend.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Daniel was located 500 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas with sustained winds 35 kts and moving just north of due west. Daniel is to continue on this track peaking Saturday at (7/7) 60 kts positioned 750 nmiles southwest of Cabo San Lucas. The GFS model depicts a slow decay after that with Daniel down to Tropical depression status on Tuesday (7/10) with remnants pushing over the Big Island late Thursday night (7/12), effectively just a rain storm. No real swell production is forecast except possibly for the east shore of the Big Island. Will monitor.
The models also suggest a second stronger system forecast forming 600 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas on Mon (7/9) tracking west and building to hurricane status, then turning northwest late Tuesday pushing energy up into the California swell window. At this time that remains just a fantasy of the model, but is still worth monitoring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (7/5) high pressure had retrograded away from Central and North CA leaving only a modest 10-15 kt north flow pushing down the coast. Southern CA remained in a clean eddy flow. The high is to start rebuilding east on Friday with north winds starting to rebuild to 15 kts over North and Central CA. North winds to be back up to 15-20 kts just off the coast of North and Central CA on Saturday (20 kts) but focused mostly off Cape Mendocino with a weak flow nearshore for Central CA and continuing Sunday. Southern CA to remain protected in an eddy flow. Same thing on Sunday and Monday but with the fetch expanding Monday building to 25 kts on Tuesday off Cape Mendo with Central CA in a weak eddy flow and continuing Wednesday. Windswell the result with no too bad of local conditions for Central CA.
Jet stream - On Thursday (7/5) a split jetstream pattern continued over the West and Central Pacific with the southern branch running generally flat east down at 60S and a big ridge pushing the northern branch down into the southern branch over the East Pacific and then into the southern tip of South America. A pocket of 130 kt winds were starting to push under New Zealand but not forming anything that looked like a northward tracking trough, offering only limited support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the winds under New Zealand are to continue pushing east into early Saturday but loosing velocity, down to 100 kts, but also starting to push northward slightly. A little reinforcing wind energy is to add into the mix, but not having much effect in the overall pattern. In all only weak support for gale development possible over the West Pacific. A large and strong ridge is to build in the extreme East Pacific pushing the jet into Antarctica under South America and suppressing gale potential there. Beyond 72 hours another pocket of energy is to push under New Zealand on Tues (7/10) with winds 130 kts but falling gently southeastward and continuing into the workweek effectively forming and ridge and suppressing gale development.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (7/5) high pressure at 1032 mbs was located just off Chile pushing right into Antarctica Ice locking thing down there. To the west a gale was tracking under New Zealand with west winds to 45 kts (see Small New Zealand Gale below). Otherwise no swell producing fetch was occurring.
Over the next 72 hours the Small New Zealand Gale is to be the only system of interest. Another low is to try and develop southeast of New Zealand on Sat (7/7) pushing east with south winds to 40 kt on Sunday, but it is to be pushing east so fast that fetch is to get little traction on the oceans surface with seas never exceeding 20 ft.
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: Swell to peak on Wed (7/4) with swell 3 ft @ 17 secs (5 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). This is what we published, but had actually calculated swell at 3.7-4.1 ft @ 17 secs choosing to take the conservative estimate of 3 ft @ 17 secs due to fetch area concerns. We were wrong. The Lanai buoy reported swell at 4.0 ft @ 17 secs on Wed with occasional bigger spikes. We have factored this increase into the California forecasts now. 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). Based on what happened in Hawaii, a more liberal estimate suggests swell of 2.8-3.0 ft @ 17-18 secs (4.8-5.4 ft with sets to 7 ft). Swell continues on Sat (7/7) at 2.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.0-4.5 ft sets to 5.5 ft). The more liberal estimate is 2.5-2.8 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.0-4.8 ft with sets to 6 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) Based on what happened in Hawaii, a more liberal estimate suggests swell of 2.6-2.9 ft @ 17-18 secs (4.5-5.1 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). 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). The more liberal estimate is 2.5-2.8 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.0-4.8 ft with sets to 6 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
Small New Zealand Gale
A gale made an entrance into the far West Pacific under New Zealand Thurs (7/5) with 45 kt west winds over a small area just clear of the Ross Ice Shelf with seas on the increase from 28 ft at 58S 163E. By evening fetch is to hold while pushing east-southeast with seas building to 32 ft over an infinitesimal area at 60S 180W but all tracking flat east with no energy radiating northward. By Friday AM (7/6) the gale is to hold with winds still 45 kts over a shrinking area and aimed flat east and the core falling east-southeast. 34 ft seas forecast at 62S 172W and starting to move into Antarctic Ice. No other fetch is forecast from this system. There's low odds of maybe some background sideband energy radiating northward towards Tahiti, Hawaii and California assuming this system develops as forecast.
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 retreat from California on Monday (7/9) as low pressure builds weakly in the Gulf of Alaska moving towards the Canadian coast. But the low is to quickly dissipate by Tues (7/10) with high pressure again rebuilding and north winds regenerating at 25-30 kts over Cape Mendocino with local north windswell on the increase pushing down into Central CA through Wed (7/11) then fading some. Easterly trades to hold at 15-20 kts for Hawaii through Sunday (7/8) then start fading dropping to the 15 kts range and holding there as the low to the north takes it's toll and then tropical low pressure starts moving into the Islands weather range by Wednesday (7/11). East windswell backing off some as trades fade.
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 Thursday (7/5) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained slightly negative at -3.20 after being very negative last week (-41.19, -49.35, -46.96 and -34.44) then rebounding for 2 days into the positive range. The 30 day average was up slightly at -12.14 with the 90 day average up to -4.75. The 30 day average has been on a near continuous drop from +24 in early January 2012 to -10 by the last day of June, and now -12. This is a good trend and marginally in El Nino territory.
Current wind analysis indicated weak east anomalies over the West Pacific (Maritime Continent) peaking just west of the dateline, then fading some from there to a point south of Hawaii, then going dead neutral. This continued looking like a very weak version of the Inactive Phase of the MJO in the Pacific and easing east from the dateline. A week from now (7/13) weak west anomalies are forecast over small portion of the equatorial West and East Pacific with dead air in between, signaling the end of the Inactive Phase of the MJO (if one is to believe the models). If true that would be an incredibly short and weak Inactive Phase, exactly what we have been looking for. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/4 are in agreement indicating a moderate instance of the Inactive Phase of the MJO is currently over the West Pacific expected to be gone by (7/11). The dynamic model suggest the Inactive Phase is to not dissipate, but is to return 2 weeks out, and that the predicted pause on 7/11 is to be just a lull in the cycle while the statistical model suggests a weak version of the Active Phase is to track from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific. But both models continue to show some small pocket of west anomalies on the equatorial dateline through the next 2 weeks. 7/4 had 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 extending that out 1 more week (7/11). Still, barring the return of a strong Inactive Phase, we think the die is already cast. We'll withhold publishing our suspicions for a week or so while we try and develop some confirming evidence. Regardless, the preferred pattern 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.
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 7/5 (part of a continuous pattern that started in Jan 2012). 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. If one inspects the water temperature anomaly chart as of 7/3 an unmistakable El Nino pattern has developed extending from south of Hawaii into Ecuador and extending north to Cabo San Lucas and south well into Chile. It will be interesting to see if the weak MJO pattern continues (a early sign of some flavor of El Nino) into early July (still to be determined) or whether the Inactive Phase comes back to life and reestablishes some sort of blockade. But as of now 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 if not the start of a weak El Nino.
A weaker MJO signal is typical for the June timeframe but does not normally appear as strong and as long-lasting as what is currently occurring, suggesting that La Nina is gone and something better is replacing it. 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 an Active-like Phase pattern take hold, ultimately ushering in some flavor of El Nino, or will it stall in the first 2 weeks of 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 answer somewhere between July 4th and the 11th.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours more small gale energy is to track under New Zealand with winds to 40 kts on Tues (7/10) and seas to 30 ft for 12-24 hrs before crashing into the Ross Ice Shelf. Maybe another to follow on Wednesday too. But given the southeast trajectory and minimal fetch area, no swell to result even if these systems form as forecast.
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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Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
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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