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 (7/19) North and Central CA had surf at waist to maybe shoulder high and clean with a light wisp of west wind. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was shoulder high on the sets at top spots with most in the waist high range and getting textured later. Southern California up north had some small northwest windswell at thigh high and pretty chopped mid-day. Down south small hurricane swell was still producing waves at waist to chest high with light texture on it. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with trades in effect and sideshore chop over outer waters. The South Shore was flat with windswell wrapping into exposed breaks at knee to thigh high and clean. The East Shore had windswell at chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure was stationary in the Western Gulf of Alaska with low pressure off Canada forming a gradient producing 30 kt northwest winds and 15 ft seas targeting the Pacific Northwest (windswell possible 1-2 days out). Otherwise light trades at 15 kts were pushing into Hawaii. By Saturday high pressure is to start ridging east with the usual pressure gradient forming over Cape Mendocino CA producing modest north local short period windswell pushing down the Central CA coast through Wed (7/26). The models are also depicting some hope for tropical activity longer term. Hawaii to see a shorterm failure of trades, but by Monday (7/23) they are to return in the 15 kt range offering ver limited east windswell for eastern shores.
Down south a storm 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 to modest swell for California for the weekend (7/21) into early next week. Another system is pushing under New Zealand on Tues (7/17) again tracking flat east with seas to 33 ft, maybe good for more tiny background swell targeting Hawaii and the mainland. And another small system is forecast under New Zealand Sun (7/22) with 34 ft seas with a stronger one on Monday with seas to 40 ft but both pushing flat east. Nothing else to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (7/19) high pressure at 1032 mbs was positioned 1700 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino CA in the Western Gulf of Alaska and stationary, not doing anything to generate even windswell. Low pressure at 1008 mbs was off northern Canada falling southeast forming a weak pressure gradient with high pressure system and generating a quick fetch of 30 kt northwest winds with seas to 15 ft. Maybe some 10 sec period windswell to result pushing down the Pacific Northwest coast into Central CA late Saturday (7/21) but very small. The high was also generating limited 15 kt east winds pushing into the Hawaiian Islands resulting in minimal east windswell along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the low off Canada is to dissolve as the 1032 mbs high in the Gulf starts moving back east setting up the usual weak pressure gradient and north winds over Cape Mendocino by Saturday at 20 kts building to 25 kts Sunday resulting in increasing but not exceeding modest local north windswell over North and Central CA. In Hawaii east trades to dissipate on Friday and not return till Monday (7/23), then at 15 kts. East windswell dissipating and then starting to rebuild early next week.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thursday (7/19) the models depict a tropical system developing 300 nmiles south of Puerto Escondido Mexico on Mon (7/23) building some while tracking northwest positioned 450 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas Mex late on Wed (7/25) and peaking out.
Also a small system is forecast forming 900 nmiles west of the extreme Southern Philippines on Mon (7/23) tracking west-northwest.
Neither of these system looks to be impressive or offering any real swell potential. But it remains nice to see an tropical activity, especially in the East Pacific.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (7/19) weak high pressure was off the immediate California coast with a weak wind pattern in play through westerly winds were building in Southern CA. The model suggest high pressure is on the move, heading east. By Friday north winds building over the entire coast through the day to 15 kts as the high starts impacting it. Wind to fade some Saturday as the high consolidates over Cape Mendocino with an eddy flow moves into Southern CA, and then to Central CA for a bit early Sunday up to Pt Reyes. Finally by Monday it is to become more pronounced and extending up to Pt Arena on Tuesday and holding through the rest of the workweek.
Jet stream - On Thursday (7/19) a split jetstream pattern remained locked over the entire South Pacific with the southern branch pushing hard south into Antarctica under New Zealand forming a ridge and not offering any support for gale development. The southern branch rebounded northward over the far East Pacific but even then was just barely clear of Antarctic Ice and not offering much if any support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the strong ridge in the West is to quickly moderate and lift north, giving way to a flat west to east flow on Sunday (7/22) with winds speeds less than 100 kts and offering no support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours a pocket of 130 kt winds is to track flat east from under New Zealand on Mon (7/23) perhaps offering a tiny bit of fuel to support gale development there and pushing east into Wed (7/25), then fading out.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (7/19) high pressure at 1032 mbs was over New Zealand ridging south and pushing over the Ross Ice Shelf and into Antarctica, totally locking things down there. And wind in the area was blowing due south (the wrong direction). A fetch of 30 kt southwest winds was over the Southeast Pacific, but not doing anything of interest at the oceans surface. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
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
Small New Zealand Gale
On Tuesday AM (7/17) south of New Zealand a gale was trying to get some footing with flat west winds 40-45 kts. Seas were building from 29-30 ft at 58S 170E. In the evening the gale held with 40 kt west winds hanging on and seas holding at 34 ft at 59S 172E. These seas were already mostly in the Tahitian swell shadowed at 210 degrees relative to California and pushing well east of the 193 degrees great circle path to Hawaii. By Wednesday AM (7/18) fetch was fading from 35 kts and seas dropping from 32 ft at 59S 176W and still shadowed.
Some small background swell is radiating northeast towards California and is expected to pass Hawaii unnoticed with swell less than 1 ft @ 17-18 secs on Wed (7/25).
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 800 nmiles off Oregon on Monday (7/23) at 1036 mbs generating the typical pressure gradient and north winds at 25-30 kts over Cape Mendocino resulting in steady north windswell for North and Central CA into early Wed (7/25), then fading to 20 kts and on the verge of dissipating 24 hrs later. Windswell dissipating as the wind drops off.
Trades to rebuild slightly for Hawaii by Monday (7/23) at 15 kts as the high start rebuilding to the north and holding at that speed through Thurs (7/26) with modest easterly short period windswell resulting along east shores.
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 (7/19) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 7.69 (the 12th consecutive positive daily reading). The 30 day average was responding likewise up some at -4.47 with the 90 day average down to -3.63. This general upward trend is the result of the current Inactive Phase of the MJO weakly in control of the Pacific.
Current wind analysis indicated completely neutral wind anomalies were over the entirety of the equatorial Pacific. Perhaps the Inactive Phase was just about done, and a short one at that. A week from now (7/27) perhaps faint east anomalies are forecast over a small Area in the extreme West Pacific (2 barbs) but neutral anomalies elsewhere. This would suggest perhaps a weak version of the Inactive Phase of the MJO, or just no phase at all. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/18 are in agreement suggesting that the Inactive Phase is tracking east out of the Pacific over Central America with a very weak version of the Active Phase starting to build over the Maritime Continent (West Pacific). The statistical model is a bit more aggressive in the evolving strength of the Active Phase, but even it suggests only a mild event 2 weeks out.
7/4 had been our 'stake in the ground' in assessing the state of the MJO and ENSO to determine what the trend will be over this coming Fall and Winter (more below). Were about at a point to make a long term determination, especially with the models effectively declaring the Inactive Phase dead (after only 12 days), but we'd like to see the SOI falling back to negative territory first. 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 development of a weak El Nino or at least a pattern that supports warm water buildup in the East Pacific as summer continues. Current data continues coalescing around that prognosis.
In monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which the previously existing weak Active 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 (and has not returned) allowing warmer water to slowly but steadily pushing east into the vacuum (Kelvin Wave). This activity was the result of an Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and a continued weak MJO signal beyond, and appeared to be reinforcing itself. If one inspects the water temperature anomaly chart through 7/2 an unmistakable El Nino-like pattern has developed extending from south of Hawaii into Ecuador and extending north to Cabo San Lucas and south well into Chile. Updates through 7/19 indicated the slightest decrease in the warmest anomalies occurring off Columbia mainly attributable to the recent weak Inactive Phase. But the coverage has increased, mainly pushing 50% of the way up Baja (in just the past 17 days). This is a good sign in that warm water is finally making inroads at displacing unusually cold water that's been locked off the CA coast for 2 years. Otherwise the coverage and temps appear 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 suspicion is it will have only a minimal impact if it wraps up as expected in the next few day. The desire is for a weak MJO pattern to continue (a early sign of some flavor of El Nino, and preferably a weak multi-year event).
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. 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 a new gale is forecast flaring up south of New Zealand and just off the Ross Ice Shelf Sunday AM (7/22) with a small area of 45 kt west winds generating 34 ft seas at 60S 175E. In the evening fetch is to already be down to 40 kts and fading fast with seas dropping from 30 ft at 56S 175W. Maybe some small swell to be pushing northeast with luck, assuming this system even forms.
A second stronger system is forecast forming under New Zealand on Mon AM (7/23) with 50 kt southwest winds building and seas at 34 ft at 60S 173E. 50 kt southwest winds to hold into the evening with seas building to 40 ft at 59S 172W. By Tues AM (7/24) all fetch is to be gone with seas fading from 32 ft at 55S 159W. Will believe it when it happens.
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