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.
Next forecast update on Sun (7/27)
On Sunday (7/20) in North and Central CA local north windswell was producing surf in the waist high range and warbled from southerly winds. Down in Santa Cruz minimal southern hemi swell was still lapping in producing waves at thigh high on the sets and clean. In Southern California up north no rideable swell of interest was hitting. Conditions were textured early. Down south leftover southern hemi swell was producing waves in the thigh to waist high range and clean early. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean early. The South Shore was effectively flat with background energy occasionally producing some thigh high sets and clean. Trade wind generated east windswell was producing waves at head 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 and limited to North and Central CA and only starting Thurs (7/24). A tropical system is east of the Northern Philippines targeting Taiwan and mainland China (Matmo). In the southern hemisphere no swell producing fetch has occurred for the past week and no swell is in the water tracking towards our forecast area. Beyond things are looking bleak with no swell producing fetch of any kind forecast for the next 7 days.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Sunday (7/20) trades were 15-20 kts over a small area due of the Hawaiian Islands offering decent support for generation of easterly windswell along east facing shores there. Modest high pressure at 1028 mbs was in the Central Gulf of Alaska but pulled away from the US West Coast some offering with no real support for gradient production along the US West Coast with no real windswell occurring as a result. The high was providing some support for gradient production relative to Hawaii, and that was occurring with the remnants of tropical low pressure passing southeast of the Islands setting up the windswell above.
Over the next 72 hours a dead calm wind pattern is forecast relative to the US West Coast with no real windswell production forecast. High pressure is to be retrograded too far west of the US West Coast to produce a gradient.
Easterly trades relative to Hawaii to hold if not building coverage on Mon (7/21) east, north and south of the Islands (7/19) at 15+ kts continuing to support windswell production for east facing shores. This is to be the result of high pressure holding to the north and tropical low pressure passing south of the Islands. This pattern to continue through Wed (7/23).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Typhoon Matmo was positioned 300 nmiles east of the North Philippines on Sun (7/20) tracking north-northwest with winds 65 kts. Matmo is to continue on this track and slowly strengthening reaching 105 kts on Tues AM (7/22) then impacting the northern edge of Taiwan late in the evening. Current model data suggests Matmon to fully impact mainland China on Wed PM with no recurvature to the northeast expected.
The models suggest a string of tropical systems developing in the Central and West Pacific (west of Hawaii) a week out. Something to monitor.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday AM (7/20) high pressure was positioned in the Central Gulf with weak low pressure off Central CA producing a weak pressure gradient and north winds at 15 kts over a small area off Cape Mendocino, but mainly an eddy flow was the dominant feature off the CA coast. By Monday the gradient is to fade with a weak wind pattern taking control of the CA coast holding into Wed AM. But by the evening high pressure is to start pushing into the CA coast with north winds on the increase, forming a pressure gradient that is to be lifting north taking root over North CA by later Thursday with north winds there at 25 kts with 20 kt north winds reaching down to Pt Conception. 25 kt north winds to hold over North CA on Fri (7/25) with a eddy flow taking over all of Central CA. This situation is to hold into Saturday then start decaying. Still an eddy flow is to continue through the weekend (7/27).
Jetstream - On Sunday (7/20) the southern branch of the jet remained in a zonal configuration running flat to the east and displaced south some on the 63S latitude line. No troughs were indicated anywhere across the South Pacific with no support for gale development suggested. Over the next 72 hours the jet is to hold this same general position but with a pocket of wind energy tracking from west to east under New Zealand at 110 kts forming a weak trough and offering the slightest hope for low pressure development southeast of New Zealand Tues-Wed (7/23). In the east a big ridge is to set up pushing well into Antarctica offering no support for trough and therefore gale development there. Beyond 72 hours the trough pattern is to hold under and southeast of New Zealand into Sat (7/26) with more wind energy building there to 110 kts offering a little better support for gale development in the lower levels of the in the jet. Something to monitor.
Surface Analysis - On Sunday (7/20) a generic area of low pressure was in play east of New Zealand but no real fetch was associated with it. An additional low is to build within the generic low pool Southeast of New Zealand on Tues (7/22) with a small area of 40 kt south winds, but quickly is to dissipate. No seas of interest to result.
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 moving east on Thurs (7/24) relative to Northern CA generating the typical pressure gradient over North CA with winds building to 25 kts late there with windswell on the upswing some. The gradient is to build in coverage some into Friday (7/25) over Cape Mendocino still holding at 25 kts with an eddy in play over Central CA. By Saturday the gradient is to start fading with windswell on the decrease, though the local eddy is to hold. The gradient is to be all but gone by Sunday (7/27).
Relative to Hawaii, high pressure north of the state is to continue but pushing further south with the gradient and easterly trades falling south of the Islands on Thurs (7/24) with windswell on the way down. No change is forecast through the end of the week with windswell suppressed along east facing 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 Sunday (7/20) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 3.02. The 30 day average was up some to -5.76 and the 90 day average was holding at 1.45. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weak Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The recent falling SOI numbers are a result of low pressure previous near Tahiti. Looking at the models no strong high pressure is forecast near Tahiti, but neither is any solid low pressure. Basically a generic pressure pattern is to continue. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated a neutral wind anomaly pattern over the Maritime Continent trending westerly reaching to 160E then turning neutral east of there over the dateline and on to a point south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies were east of there turning neutral over the Galapagos and Ecuador. A week from now (7/28) neutral anomalies are forecast over the entire equatorial Maritime Continent then turning westerly over the dateline and holding to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies are projected east of there to the Galapagos. The GFS model indicates trades are nearly collapse over the Central Kelvin Wave Generation Area on Tues (7/22) ) then trades are to try and make a comeback on Thurs-Fri (7/25) only to totally collapse by the weekend. The reality is that there has hardly been a extended period of trades so far this year, and were over 190 days into the year. Previously an Easterly Wind event occurred in the West Pacific 6/13-6/19 building to the moderate plus category but did not appear to have turned off the warm water flow to the east (more below), though it was close. And this is really the only easterly winds event of the year. The TOA array indicated westerly anomalies developed 6/25 west of the dateline (at the surface - the ground truth) and held through 7/6 in the moderate range, then turned neutral on 7/7 but were trending light westerly on 7/11 through today (7/20). So though there are not strong west anomalies, there are certainly no easterly anomalies, which is pretty good. If one was counting on a Super El Nino, that does not appear to be in the cards. But compared to La Nina, where enhanced trades (20+ kts) would be blowing non-stop, we're in great shape.
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 7/19 are in sync. They both suggest a weak Active MJO signal is in effect in the West Pacific reaching to the dateline. 5 days out it is to nearly hold then start fading 8 days out and gone 12-15 day out. In short, a neutral pattern biased slightly active. The ultra long range upper level model indicates a weak Active Phase is currently over the Pacific and tracking slowly east through 8/9. A robust Inactive Phase was previous forecast to follow, but has since downgraded to a very weak Inactive Phase pushing over the West Pacific mid-August and is to push east into South America perhaps late August. A very weak MJO pattern biased Active is what one would expect if an El Nino were to develop. If a neutral pattern actually prevails in July (as it looks like it will), it provides hope that the warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some impact on the atmosphere above. As said before, we're at the point where weak westerly anomalies should be standard in the West Pacific if a moderate El Nino where developing, attributable to warming waters temps over the width of the equatorial Pacific. Based on active sensors from the TOA wind data from the Kelvin Wave generation area, which we consider to be the best objective evidence, that appears to be the case. 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 low res imagery (7/17), a warm water regime remains in control from Ecuador west over the Galapagos and drifting west from there with warm anomalies extending on a point south of Hawaii, but no longer to the dateline. And at that, most of it is confined east of 120W (in the Nino 1 & 2 regions) at +1.0-1.5 deg above normal. Temps are near normal south of Hawaii ito the dateline, then rebuilding to +0.5 degs C over the dateline, likely the start of a new Kelvin Wave. Clearly pockets of cooler waters are starting to develop on the equator south of Hawaii extending to almost to the dateline. Hi-res SST data depicts the extent of +2.25-4.0 deg anomalies embedded in the Galapagos triangle stable, and if anything rebuilding some. Temps in the +2.5-4.0 range have built some with one pocket to +4.0 degs. The patch of cooler anomalies at -0.5 that were building off the entire coast of Peru has dissipated and warmer water is back in control. This is good news. The previous thought that a steady decline in temps in the Nino -1 & 2 regions might have been premature. There's always some risk in mis-analyzing data when using the micro-view. We still believe the bulk of the massive Kelvin Wave generated by Westerly Wind Bursts in Jan-April has erupted at the surface and is dispersing, but might have better staying power than previously thought. And perhaps some form of small short lived cool upwelling event cause the previous decline. Those warmed waters are advecting west, tracking barely into the Nino 3.4 region, but not getting any reinforcements and are having only a slightly impact on the overall water temps in the equatorial Pacific. This is not unexpected. This remains 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). Signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California has become a little more pronounced, but not bad, especially given the time of year. And this is expected if El Nino was in play. 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 reaching up to the equator just south of Hawaii, but getting shunted south by the warm water on the equator east of there. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific remains impressive.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator are in a slow decline. Residual warm subsurface water from the previous Kelvin Wave are dropping. They are currently are +3.0 deg C above normal, and fading. 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 the residuals of the Kelvin Wave covers a smaller area now, starting at 150W building into Ecuador with the core between 120W and 100W. Satellite data as of 7/12 depicts no elevated surface water heights in the Galapagos region. This is a significant downgrade in the past 14 days indicating the Kelvin Wave has dissipated. Subsurface models as of 7/14 depict the flow from the West Pacific to the east was still open, but with no significant warm water in it and the Kelvin Wave itself in steep decline. But, the pipe was not closed. A small pocket of +0.5-1.0 anomalies are theoretically in place under the dateline and building (though the nearest sensors are at 165E - so it's modeled data), suggestive of a new Kelvin Wave trying to take shape. But even if it is real, at this point in time it's a bare minimal Kelvin Wave and would not even warm waters above what they already are in the Galapagos region. A far stronger Kelvin wave is required. And even at that it would take 2-3 months before it would arrive at the Galapagos (~Sept 30).
The Pacific Equatorial Surface Counter-Current (from 2N to 2S from the Philippines to the Galapagos) as of 7/12 continued tracking actually and 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. But it appears the actual current and anomalies are tracking less strong and over a smaller area east to west than data from 7/2, and 7/7 and late June. This is somewhat encouraging news. This west moving current started 6/17. In the far West Pacific the current continues flowing west to east, holding since 7/2, suggestive of a new Kelvin Wave taking shape, but flowing less strong than a week ago. The assumption is the change in direction in the current was attributable to development of easterly winds in the same area in mid-June, that have not been reversed due to lack of any real Westerly Wind Burst.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 7/17 have stabilized, suggesting water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early Oct peaking at + 1.2 deg C (down from the +1.55 deg C predicted in early July and +1.75 in May) holding into Jan 2015, then fading. Interestingly this model actually depicts warm waters dissipating in the Nino1+2 regions in August then redeveloping in the Nino 3.4 regions in Sept and gaining momentum and areal coverage while building back into Nino1.2 into Jan 2015 link.
Analysis: As of right now hopes for a strong El Nino in the Fall/Winter of 2014-2015 are in rapid decline. The massive Kelvin Wave that was generated by successive Westerly Wind Bursts in Jan-April has erupted in the Galapagos region and is now dispersing. The WWB ended on 5/1 with all warm water from it arriving 3 months later over the Galapagos, or by 8/1 (if not sooner) with neutral water temps taking over the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle at that time forward unless something develops to reinforce it. All evidence clearly suggest the warm pool is in rapid decline exactly as projected. A new, very weak WWB appears to be developing in the West Pacific (starting 6/28). But 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 between 8/1 and 9/28. This will likely cause water temps to decease in the Nino1+2 regions, likely to near neutral. That means that even if another weak Kelvin Wave were to arrive in the Galapagos, it will have to warm water temps from dead neutral, rather than acting as reinforcements to already warmed waters. And if no additional Westerly Wind Bursts occur, warm water in all Nino region will dissipate completely. If one is to believe the models, there's ample evidence to suggest the pattern of suppressed trades in the far West Pacific is also decaying, with a more normal trades trying to take root. This is exactly what occurred during the 2012 False-Start El Nino.
Of course the other option 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. And for that to be true, the upwelling Phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle would be facilitated by a lack of westerly winds in the West Pacific (as is currently occurring). The long range (2 week) experimental hi-res GFS model continues to suggests an almost total collapse of trades on the equator in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area starting Sun (7/20), and building eastward to a point south of Hawaii and holding through at least 7/29. And it is also typical for trades to start falling into decline in the later half of summer. Many an El Nino has not developed till the Fall. And only a few (namely the '97 Super El Nino) developed and survived strong through the summer and over the span of an entire year. A more 'normal' development life cycle would favor the alternating 'downwelling/upwelling' Kelvin Wave cycle. Perhaps we've put too much focus on the '97 El Nino lifecycle model (attributed to the impressive WWB/Kelvin Wave that started this years event off, making it easy to think this years event would be a semi-duplicate of the '97 event), when instead we should have defaulted to considering a more normal lifecycle approach.
And of yet more interest, the CFSv2 model depicts exactly this scenario playing out, with water temps in Nino1.2 fading in August then redeveloping in September, exactly filling the 'hole' scenario described above. If a sudden redevelopment of westerly winds occurred in late July, and a new Kelvin Wave were to develop starting early August, the 'upwelling Kelvin Wave' theory would have credence towards explaining the current pause in WWB activity.
But without another WWB building on the dateline in late July/August to set up another downwelling Kelvin Wave event, then the developing El Nino pattern would dissipate. Monitoring surface wind anomalies in the West Pacific remains critical to determining the future of this years potential El Nino pattern. And believing model projections weeks if not months in advance is a proven risky proposition. Therefore, we will continue to believe the above explanation is more of a last grasp than a certainty.
And finally, there's the 'feedback loop' consideration. We're currently waiting for a feedback loop to develop, reinforcing the warm water flow and buildup of warm water off Central America into the Fall. There are signs of that trying to happen now, mainly in the form of sporadic but not steadily negative SOI numbers, and tropical low pressure systems recurving northeast off Japan and significantly reduced high pressure induced north winds along the CA coast resulting in warming waters locally. The big arguments against a feedback loop being in place 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, and continued hints of trades building in the West Pacific. All these could be attributable to the macro level influence of the upwelling Phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle. Though the change in the counter current remains a bit beyond even that explanation. Or just as easily it could be attributable to the fact that the East Pacific warm pool has NOT been in place long enough to develop a coupling with the atmosphere above it, so we end up with a bunch of mixed signals. 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 can result. 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 3 weeks before anything is guaranteed, at exactly the same time the warm pool is projected 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 to be generated in the West Pacific, then all will remain on-track. The next 3 weeks are critical.
Speculating some: What if it does falter completely, like the 2012 False Start El Nino?. What does this say about the atmosphere, especially considering the voracity of the Jan-March WWBs? Two false starts in a 2 year time span is not unheard of, but not common, especially considering the size of this years failure (if it were to fail). Perhaps the decadal bias towards La Nina is stronger than we suspected, leading credence to the theory of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Or better yet, maybe we'll just muddle along for the next 2+ years in a weak warm pattern, not quite tripping into El Nino territory, but not falling back into La Nina either, slowly feeding the jetstream all along. The environment is not binary organism, being either one way or the other at any point in time. Sometimes it progresses at it's own rate and defies categorization, often to our benefit. We'll just have to wait and see.
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 1 month 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 broad but disorganized low pressure area southeast of New Zealand is to continue through Sun (7/27). Still no real organized swell producing fetch is to coalesce out of it. But, this area remains something worth monitoring.
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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