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 Sunday (7/15) North and Central CA had surf thigh to waist high on the sets and reasonably clean, but pretty weak, all coming from locally generated windswell. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was flat with sets to knee high at top spots and clean. Southern California up north had some minimal northwest windswell at knee high with sets occasionally in the thigh to waist high range and fairly clean even late. Down south small hurricane swell was producing waves at around waist high and a bit textured in the afternoon. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with trades in effect and clean. The South Shore still had some minimal background swell with waves at thigh to waist high and clean at top spots with trades in effect. The East Shore had 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 is to be retrograding west awa y from the California coast and fading, meaning decreasing windswell early in the workweek with no signs of retuning until later next weekend. Hurricane Fabio is to be making a turn to the north, possibly setting up more modest south swell for Southern CA in the days ahead. And trades to remain in the 15 kt range through Wednesday for Hawaii offering more very modest east windswell along east facing shores.
Down south a small system developed well east of New Zealand on Sun (7/8) with a tiny area of 30 ft seas. Maybe a little pulse of swell for Southern CA on Wed (7/18). A stronger system formed south of New Zealand falling to the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf Thurs/Fri (7/13) with seas to 44 ft then moving into the Southeast Pacific on Sat (7/14) and fading with seas moving below 30 ft. Nothing for Hawaii and only small swell for California for the weekend (7/21). Another system is forecast pushing under New Zealand on Tues (7/17) again tracking flat east with seas to 34 ft, but it's too early to count on even that.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Sunday (7/15) high pressure at 1036 mbs was isolated 1100 nmiles west of Oregon generating a modest pressure gradient along the Pacific Northwest and North California coast producing 20-25 kt north winds there resulting in modest short period northerly windswell for Central CA. The high was also generating a limited fetch of 15 kt east winds pushing into the Hawaiian Islands resulting in minimal east windswell along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to stat retrograding west and moving away from the US mainland later Monday (7/16) with fetch pulling away from the coast. Still 20-25 kt north winds to continue then off the Pacific Northwest, then fading some Tuesday to 20 kts and down to 15 kts by Wednesday and well west of the US West Coast. The net result is steadily decreasing local north short period windswell. In Hawaii east trades to build to 15-20 kts on Monday and nearly steady 20 kts on Tuesday as the remnants from Emily pass south of the Islands, then fading from 15 kts Wednesday as high pressure weakens north of the Islands. East windswell to make a little bump upwards on Tuesday, then fading.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Emily - Hurricane Emily organized 670 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas on Mon (7/9) AM tracking west-northwest and building quickly from there, peaking late that evening with winds 115 kts at 13.4N 112.5W heading west-northwest at 10 kts. Seas estimated at 38 ft. Emily held that strength and heading Tuesday AM (7/10) with seas to 40 ft at 13.6N 113.3W or at 700 nmiles south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas Mexico or 2700 nmiles from the Big Island on the 92 degree track or 1200 nmiles from Dana Point CA on the 168 degree track. Emily starting to fade slightly on Wednesday AM (7/11) with winds 100 kts and dropping off from there while heading on a west-northwest course. By Thursday AM (7/12) sustained winds were 90 kts with Emily still heading on a west-northwest course and seas estimated at 32 ft. A slow turn to west is forecast by the weekend but by then Emily is to be a tropical storm (Friday AM) with winds down to 60 kts and fading mid-way between Baja and Hawaii. The models suggest remnants weaker than Daniels passing south of the Big Island on Wed (7/18).
Possible small swell peaking for Hawaii on Monday AM (7/16) at 2 ft @ 13-14 secs (2.5 ft). Not much.
Fabio - And yet a third tropical system developed 550 nmiles south-southeast of Cabo San Lucas Mexico on Thursday (7/12) with winds 35 kts heading northwest. Seas were 12 ft. Winds built stronger than forecast peaking at 90 kts on Saturday PM into Sunday AM (7/15) and positioned 500 nmiles southwest of Cabo San Lucas or 1200 nmiles south of Southern CA on the 172-178 degree path and heading west-northwest at 8 kts. Seas estimated at 34 ft. Fabio is to turn more northwest on Monday AM (7/16) but with winds down to 70 kts, then turning hard north in 24 hrs but fading fast with winds down to 40 kts as Fabio moves over cooler water. The heading and position of this system is to be better than the previous two systems. Maybe some more small swell to result for Southern CA. Using Sunday AM as a starting point, small swell with period at 14 secs possibly pushing into Southern CA on Tuesday AM peaking on Wednesday AM at 1.6 ft @ 12-13 secs (2 ft). But this remain just a guess as no real turn to the north has occurred just yet.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (7/15) high pressure was still ridging into the North CA coast generating the usual pressure gradient off Cape Mendocino producing north winds at 20-25 kts and lesser winds pushing down the outer Central Coast, but with a weak eddy flow nearshore. Southern CA remained in a clean eddy flow. By Monday the eddy flow is to start building off the entire California coast becoming more pronounced Tuesday and Wednesday as high pressure retrogrades west. Light local winds (10 kts or less) and diminishing northerly local windswell forecast through the end of the workweek (7/20). By Friday perhaps light northerly winds to try and build in but then quickly consolidating off Cape Mendocino on Saturday with and eddy flow in control up to Pt Arena and holding into at least Sunday (7/22). The core of summer is here.
Jet stream - On Sunday (7/15) a split jetstream pattern remained locked over the West and Central Pacific with the southern branch pushing southward and tracking east down at 70S at 90 kts, forming a ridge pushing well into the Ross Ice Shelf and offering no support for gale development. A weak trough was ahead of it in the far East Pacific, but too weak to support even low pressure development. Over the next 72 hours that ridge is to hold it's position but steadily weaken as a pocket of wind tracks east further north just under the southern tip of New Zealand with winds 120 kts late Monday (7/16). This winds pocket to track flat east with winds building to 130 kts at times on Tuesday, supporting gale development down at lower levels of the atmosphere, then fading fast as a new ridge builds west of it at 130 kts pushing hard south crashing well into and over the Ross Ice Shelf late Wednesday (7/18). Beyond 72 hours that ridge is moderate some while tracking east but still locking down the West and Central Pacific into the weekend (7/21) offering no support for gale development. Early the following week (7/25) a new blast of winds energy is to pushing under New Zealand at 140 kts possibly lifting north some and offering a tease of trough development. But that is hard to believe at this early date.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Sunday (7/15) high pressure at 1036 mbs was east of New Zealand pushing all fetch west of there south towards Antarctica with no gale development indicated. That said, a gale was forming just south of Tasmania with west-southwest winds 45 kts and seas 34 ft, tracking mostly east and not offering any direct energy pushing up towards Fiji. Over the next 72 hours that gale is quickly dissipate then reorganizing south-southwest of New Zealand Monday night (7/16) with a fetch of west winds building at 40 kts holding and pushing east some Tuesday AM (7/17) with seas building to 30 ft at 58S 170E. The fetch is to fade fast in the evening with seas holding at 30 ft at 59S 180W. By Wednesday AM (7/18) no fetch or seas of interest are to be left. Minimal odds for small swell radiating northeast towards Hawaii or California. Will monitor.
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 held while pushing east-southeast with seas building to 30 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 was fading with fetch dropping over a shrinking area and aimed flat east and the core falling east-southeast. No additional seas of interest were indicated.
No swell is expected for Hawaii and nothing for California either.
Central Pacific Gale
A tiny gale started to develop east of New Zealand on Sunday AM (7/8) with south winds to 45 kts over a tiny area generating seas to 30 ft at 52S 152W in the evening but falling southeast. It was gone 12 hours later. This system was positioned only in the CA swell window.
Small swell of 1.6 ft @ 15 secs (2.5 ft) to possibly reach Southern CA on Wed (7/18) then fading Thursday as period drop to 14 or less second. Swell Direction: 202 degrees
New Zealand Storm
On Thursday AM (7/12) the start of what looked like a gale was forming south of New Zealand. Winds were 40 kts over a tiny area. In the evening a storm formed well southeast of New Zealand Thursday PM with 55 kt southwest winds over a small area and seas building from 40 ft at 58S 179E. On Friday AM (7/13) 50 kt west winds continued at 61S 161W just barely exposed off the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. 44 ft seas were building at 61S 167W but tracking east-southeast with no northward momentum. The storm raced east with 45 kt west winds continuing in the evening with seas to 42 ft at 60S 153W. Residual 40 kt west winds held Sat AM (7/14) with seas fading from 36 ft at 62S 138W.
Given the fast eastward track of this system and it's small fetch area, it seems unlikely anything more than background swell energy will actually radiate north into the California swell window, with virtually nothing forecast pushing into the Hawaiian swell window.
South California: Expect swell arrival on Friday (7/20) night with tiny energy at 22 secs and not rideable. Possible small energy with period at 20 secs to arrive near noon on Sat (7/21) at 1.6 ft @ 20 secs (3 ft) and slowly building. Finally on Sunday (7/22) near 8 AM period to drop to 18 secs with swell building to 2 ft @ 18 secs (3.5 ft) with a few sets to maybe 2.5 ft @ 18 secs (4.5 ft). Period dropping to 17 secs near 4 AM Monday (7/23) with swell 2.0-2.5 ft @ 17 secs (3.5-4.0 ft with sets to 4.5 ft) then fading from there. Swell Direction: 195-200 degrees
North California: expect swell arrival on Friday (7/20) night with tiny energy at 22 secs and not rideable. Possible small energy with period at 20 secs to arrive near noon on Sat (7/21) and still below rideable levels. Finally on Sunday (7/22) near 10 AM period to drop to 18 secs with swell building to 2 ft @ 18 secs (3.5 ft) with a few sets to maybe 2.5 ft @ 18 secs (4.5 ft). Period dropping to 17 secs near 7 AM Monday (7/23) with swell 2.0-2.5 ft @ 17 secs (3.5-4.0 ft with sets to 4.5 ft) then fading from there. Swell Direction: 193-198 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 dissolve on Thurs (7/19) with no local fetch forecast for the US West Coast and no windswell production occurring. Finally on Saturday (7/21) a small fragment of high pressure is to redevelop just off Cape Mendocino generating north winds there at 20 kts holding into Monday AM (7/23). Bare minimal short period north windswell possible for exposed breaks in North and Central CA on Sunday and beyond with luck.
Trades to fade for Hawaii by Friday (7/20) as the high dissolves with no sign of returning in earnest until maybe early the following week. No east windswell of interest forecast.
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 Sunday (7/15) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) had settled in positive territory at 20.50. The 30 day average was up some at -6.65 with the 90 day average up to -3.23. This trend is the result of the current Inactive Phase of the MJO weakly in control of the Pacific.
Current wind analysis indicated bare minimal east anomalies on the dateline building to the modest range pushing through the Maritime Continent (WPac). Neutral winds were everywhere east of the dateline. This was looking like a very weak version of the Inactive Phase of the MJO easing east from the Maritime Continent. And there continued indication that the Active Phase of the MJO was over Africa. A week from now (7/23) faint east to dead neutral anomalies are forecast to slowly take root on the dateline with weak east anomalies holding steady over a small area of the Maritime Continent while in the far East Pacific neutral anomalies are forecast. This would suggest we are in the peak of the Inactive Phase of the MJO, with a fade but not quite an outright demise of it a week out. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/14 are finally starting to come into sync regarding the medium and long term outlooks. They suggest were are in a mild to modest Inactive Phase right now but that a week out the statistical model suggests a weak Active Phase starting to build over the West Pacific becoming more entrenched 2 weeks out. The dynamic model has the current Active Phase fading about 7-8 days out, then going totally neutral 2 weeks out. 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 we're extending that out till this current ambiguity regarding the MJO becomes further defined. The expectation is that will be resolved in 8-10 days (~7/24). we've been stating that the preferred pattern is no or minimal Inactive Phase build-up through mid-July with a quick return to a neutral if not Active pattern, which would support as we move more into Summer development of a weak El Nino or at least a pattern that supports warm water buildup in the East Pacific continues. Current data, is now starting to coalesce around that prognosis.
In monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which the previously existing weak MJO pattern supported (thru 7/10), 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. More warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). In fact warmer than normal water has already accumulated off Ecuador and that pool of warm water was growing in intensity and coverage through 7/2 (part of a continuous pattern that started in Jan 2012). And 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 appeared to be reinforcing itself. If one inspects the water temperature anomaly charta through 7/2 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. Updates through 7/12 indicated the slightest decrease in the warmest anomalies occurring off Columbia. But otherwise the coverage and temps appears similar. It will be interesting to see what setback if any this current Inactive Phase has on the warm water pattern in the tropical East Pacific. The desire is for a weak MJO pattern to continue (a early sign of some flavor of El Nino). As of now we are out of the Spring time unpredictability barrier relative to ENSO, so the true nature of this years pattern should start manifesting itself with this MJO cycle.
That said, only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern is in-play right now. Remnants of La Nina are still affecting the atmosphere and will likely continue for several months if not into the middle of Fall. One such indicator is the continued presence of high pressure over the Eastern Pacific. It has been locked in place for 2 years now and is not going to be easily dislodged. It continues to generate stronger than normal north winds pushing down the California coast (the reason for non-stop windswell in Central CA) and stronger than normal trades over Hawaii. This is evidenced by a large pool of cooler than normal water radiating southeast off California and over Hawaii reaching the equator at the dateline, the result of enhanced upwelling. Cooler than normal nearshore water remains an issue for much of the CA coast per the imagery, though a steady decline in nearshore north winds has occurred with some eddy flow working its way up into Central CA with water temps on the rise. Actually, it appears there is some problem with the nearshore CA imagery. The presence of 3 hurricanes in the East Pacific is certainly attributable to the warmer waters temps building near the equator. So in reality, we're in a hybrid atmospheric state. The longer the MJO remains biased towards a neutral or Active state, the more the atmosphere will respond in kind and turn more towards an El Nino like configuration. We remain at a critical juncture as of this date. Historical Note: It is very unusual for El Nino (of any magnitude) to develop directly following 2 years of La Nina.
As of right now the question remains: Will an Active-like Phase pattern begin to dominate, ultimately ushering in some flavor of El Nino, or will it stall in 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).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours high pressure at 1032 mbs is to be developing solid east of New Zealand on Thursday (7/19) ridging south into Antarctica and effectively locking down the greater Southwest Pacific eliminating odds for gale development. It is to finally dissolve by Sun (7/22) with a small gale forecast forming south of New Zealand with west winds 40 kts and building, generating an increasing fetch of 45 kt south winds on Mon (7/23) and seas building from 30 ft at 55S 159W. Will see if this holds for a few runs of the model before believing anything.
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".
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