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 Saturday (7/21) North and Central CA had surf that was effectively flat with maybe knee to thigh high rare sets and clean with light wind out of the west and clean. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was knee high and clean with maybe a thigh high set every now and then but fogged in early. Southern California up north was flat with knee high sets and clean early. Down south it was flat with rare thigh high sets lapping through and clean early. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with light trades and glassy conditions. The South Shore was thigh high with maybe some bigger sets and clean with no trades. The East Shore had windswell at waist high and clean early.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure was building off the North CA coast forming a pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino and producing 20 kt north winds and minimal north windswell at exposed breaks in Central CA. Trades had effectively collapsed over the Hawaiian Islands offering no new windswell generation, through background energy from previous hurricanes in the East Pacific was still limping in. By Sunday high pressure is to have better footing with the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA producing modest north local short period windswell pushing down the Central CA coast and holding in some form through Thurs (7/26). Tropical activity previously modeled has faded from the charts. For Hawaii short term failure of trades is to dissipate by Monday (7/23) when they return in the 15 kt range offering very limited east windswell for eastern shores holding through the week.
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 with only small to modest swell for California for the weekend (7/21) into early next week. Another system pushed 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. Another small system is forecast under New Zealand Sun (7/22) with 32 ft seas with an equally weak one late Monday with seas to 34 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 Saturday (7/21) high pressure at 1024 mbs was taking it's time reorganizing off the North CA coast, generating only a tiny area of 20 kts north winds off Cape Mendocino producing minimal north short period windswell at exposed breaks in Central CA. Previously (on Thursday 7/19) low pressure at 1008 mbs was off Northern Canada falling southeast forming a weak pressure gradient with high pressure further west generating a quick fetch of 30 kt northwest winds with seas to 15 ft. Some 10 sec period windswell to result pushing down the Pacific Northwest coast into Central CA late Saturday (7/21) into Sunday but very small. The high had collapsed relative to Hawaii with no trades of interest in play and no windswell occurring.
Over the next 72 hours the low off North California is to build to 1032 mbs late Sunday setting up the usual pressure gradient and north winds over Cape Mendocino at 25 kts resulting in increasing but not exceeding modest local north windswell over North and Central CA. This winds to build to 30 kts on Monday as pressure builds to 1036 mbs with windswell getting a little more solid then, but fading Tuesday into Wednesday as fetch drops to 20 kts. In Hawaii east trades to return on Monday (7/23) as the high expands southward, pushing 15 kts with east windswell starting to rebuild and holding through the week.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Saturday (7/21) a tropical depression was developing west of the Northern Philippines heading towards Vietnam. It is to reach tropical storm status in the evening with winds eventually reaching 50 kts Monday AM (7/23) before making landfall. No swell expected relative to our forecast area.
Elsewhere no tropical storm development seem likely.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (7/21) modest high pressure was west of the immediate California coast with a weak gradient building over Cape Mendocino and north winds at 15 kts pushing down the outer Central CA coast onward into Baja. The models suggest high pressure is on the move, heading east with north winds to be on the increase offshore on Sunday, but remaining fairly light nearshore for Central CA. Southern CA to remain in an eddy flow. Finally by Monday the eddy flow is to become more pronounced and extending up to Pt Arena and holding through Thursday (7/26). North winds to continue, moving a bit closer to the Central coast on Friday and moving into nearshore waters Saturday at 15 kts with chop setting up. Hopefully it won't hold allowing local waters temps to remain up.
Jet stream - On Saturday (7/21) the same old split jetstream pattern remained locked over the entire South Pacific with the southern branch pushing flat east from a very southerly position down at 68S, effectively over Antarctic Ice and offering no support for gale development down in lower levels of the atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours a new pulse of winds energy is to push east from under New Zealand starting Sunday evening (7/22) with winds near 130 kts, holding together decently into Tuesday AM (7/24) and almost forming some sort of trough. Some odds for gale development under New Zealand. Beyond 72 hours winds speeds to drop way off, then returning with speeds to 140 kts on Friday under New Zealand but pushing southeast into the Ross Ice Shelf and holding offering no support for gale development. Basically just a big ridge locking down the Southwest Pacific.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Saturday (7/21) high pressure at 1028 mbs was just east of New Zealand ridging south some but not far enough to cut off emerging energy passing south of there. But not swell producing fetch was in play in the West Pacific. 40 kt west winds were in the East Pacific arching northeast towards Chile producing a tiny area of 30 ft seas east of any great circle path to California. Swell for Chile is likely though.
Over the next 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 30 ft seas at 59S 163E. In the evening fetch is to already be down to 40 kts and fading fast with seas dropping from 30 ft at 56S 180W. 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 a larger area of 40 kt southwest winds building and seas on the increase. 40-45 kt southwest winds to build in coverage in the evening with seas building to 30 ft at 60S 180W. By Tues AM (7/24) fetch is to be fading from 40 kts with seas from previous fetch peaking at 34 ft at 58S 172W. Will believe it when it happens.
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). Residuals on Tuesday at 2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3.5-4.0 ft). 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. Residuals on Tuesday at 2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3.5-4.0 ft). 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 (2 ft) on Wed (7/25). Swell Direction: 190-193 degrees
Swell to arrive in California on Friday (7/27) at 1.3 ft @ 18 secs (2.5 ft) dropping on Saturday at 1.4 ft @ 16-17 secs (2.0-2.5 ft). Swell Direction: 207-210 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 retrograde again by Thursday (7/26) into the Western Gulf with fetch off Cape Mendocino dropping to 20 kts, but not dissipating entirely, but the size of the fetch is to get progressively smaller into next weekend (7/29). Windswell on the decline and nearly gone by then.
Trades to hold in the 15 kt range even as the high retrogrades west continuing to generate some modest east windswell on east shores through next weekend (7/28).
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 Saturday (7/21) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 2.83 (the 14th consecutive positive daily reading). The 30 day average was responding likewise up some at -3.37 with the 90 day average down to -3.89. 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 light east anomalies over the dateline and weak west anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac). This suggests the Inactive Phase was moving east and fading and the Active Phase was moving into the far West Pacific. A week from now (7/29) perhaps dead neutral anomalies are forecast over the entire equatorial Pacific This would suggest a neutral Phase of the MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/20 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). Both now suggest the Active Phase is to take control 2 weeks out but not strongly. Regardless, this should restart the warm water pump.
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 14 days), but we'd like to see the daily 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 no swell producing fetch is 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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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