New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 (7/23) North and Central California had junky chest high local northwest windswell at exposed breaks with small southwest background southern hemi swell underneath (thigh high) and northwest wind on it. Southern California had the usual thigh high short period northwest windswell up north with northwest winds on it. Down south it was cleaner with the new southern hemi swell #4S starting to show at waist to maybe chest high and lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The East Shore had waist high plus easterly windswell with onshore winds. The South Shore was getting a decent dose of Swell #4S with waves head high or maybe a foot or so overhead on the sets at the better breaks and clean with light trades.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for more short period north windswell to be hitting Friday, reinforced by swell from the Gulf of Alaska on Saturday into Sunday at near head high. But of far more interest is Swell #4S, expected in by Friday AM pushing 2 ft overhead or better at exposed breaks and doing well through the entire weekend. Southern CA is expected to see fragments of the local north windswell into early Friday. But of far more interest is to be Swell #4S again doing 2 ft overhead or more at exposed breaks on Friday and Saturday then slowly settling down from there. The North Shore of Hawaii is to remain flat. The East Shore to see thigh high easterly tradewind generated east windswell Friday, then dissipating Saturday and beyond. The South Shore has seen the best of Swell #4S with shoulder to head high residuals on Friday fading to waist high on Saturday.
Beyond another pulse of follow-on background swell is expected for Hawaii on Sunday from a new gale that formed east just of New Zealand last weekend with 25-27 ft seas. Waves at chest to shoulder high expected then slowly fading into Monday and Tuesday (7/28). On the charts another gale is forecast southwest of New Zealand on Fri/Sat (7/25) with up to 36 ft seas, but aimed a bit east of the paths up to Hawaii and the US West Coast. Still, some rideable background swell could be expected. Will monitor. After that things to simmer down.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface today weak high pressure at 1024 mbs was centered 600 nmiles west of South Oregon ridging northeast up into British Columbia and forming a pressure gradient over the North and Central CA coast generating 20-25 kt north winds and limited short period windswell for exposed breaks. Weaker low pressure extended west1200 nmiles north of Hawaii almost to the dateline resulting in 10 kt easterly trades over the Hawaiian Islands, offering nothing in terms of even windswell production there. This ridge of high pressure connected to another larger high at 1024 mbs off Japan. Weak low pressure at 994 mbs was over the Eastern Aleutian Islands but not generating any swell producing fetch. Over the next 72 hours this same pattern is to hold but with a new low pressure core building south of the Aleutians in the Western Gulf of Alaska Sunday lifting north into the Bering Sea on Monday (7/27) generating up to 30 kt south winds, but all targeted at only Alaska. The High off Oregon is to lift north more continuing to generate north winds focused more on the Pacific Northwest and less for California, affording a modicum of north windswell potential up north.
Trades over the Hawaiian Islands to remain weak till Sunday (7/26), and then start picking to the 15 kt range as the Pacific Northwest high surges with windswell development potential increasing slightly.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (7/22) weak high pressure was ridging into British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest generating the usual area of north winds at 15-20 kts over both North and Central CA with a core to 25 kts off Cape Mendocino. This was generating small short period windswell and local warble if not chop into Central CA. SCal remain protected as usual, mainly south of LA. High pressure is forecast to hold off of Oregon through the weekend with more north winds at 15-20 kts blanketing the entire US West Coast, but perhaps making a subtle shift northward by early Saturday and Sunday, perhaps sparing the areas from Pt Reyes southward of any significant north winds and holding well into next week. But that is far from certain.
On Thursday (7/23) no tropical systems of interest were being tracked, typical of the Inactive Phase of the MJO's control of the East Pacific for the moment.
On Thursday (7/23) a ridge in the southern branch of the jetstream remained in control, pushing firmly to the south reaching well over the Ross Ice Shelf and extending east from under New Zealand to South America. There was no support for gale development over the South Pacific. Over the next 72 hrs a bit of a trough is to try and build under New Zealand but winds feeding into it are to be light offering only minimal support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours another big push of southward moving winds are to set up another building ridge under New Zealand on Mon (7/27) and pushing east, totally shutting things down through late next workweek.
At the surface on Thursday (7/23) high pressure had the Southeast Pacific totally locked down from well south of Tahiti on east, pushing all eastward traveling weather system over the Ross Ice Shelf. A broad but diffuse area of low pressure was trying to organize just southeast of New Zealand, but winds were only up to 30 kts. Over the next 72 hours that low pressure system is to get better organized reaching gale status Thurs PM (7/23) generating a small area of 45 kt south winds at 52S 177W with seas building. By Friday AM a building fetch of 45-50 kt south-southwest winds are forecast at 50S 173W aimed 15 degrees west of the 209 degree path to CA and just barely in the Tahitian swell shadow and right up the 190 degree path to Hawaii. 30 ft seas are forecast building at 54S 175W. In the evening more 45-50 kt southwest winds are forecast at 50S 169W aimed right up the 208 degree path to CA and totally shadowed and 30 degrees east of the 187 degree path to Hawaii generating 32 ft seas at 50S 170W. Saturday AM (7/25) residual 40-45 kt winds are to be blowing from the southwest to almost west at 48S 160W and 35 degrees east of any route to CA and perpendicular to any route to Hawaii and fading fast. 36 ft seas are forecast at 48S 163W pushing energy towards both Hawaii and CA. 36 ft seas from previous fetch are to still be in-play Saturday evening at 48S 154W but focusing more to the east, targeting Central and South America and fading. If all this occurs, some degree of swell is forecast pushing northeast towards Tahiti and Hawaii, with some energy possibly for the US West Coast, though filtered by French Polynesia. Will see what really develops.
Swell #4S - Southeast Pacific Storm
A new storm organized on Thursday (7/16) with pressure 960 mbs and a small fetch of 50 kt southwest winds confirmed at 50S 150W aimed 20 degrees east of the 198 degree path to California and partially shadowed by the east end of French Polynesia. 35 ft seas were building at 50S 151W, already mostly outside the Hawaiian swell window (179 degrees). That fetch started withering in size in the evening with 45-50 kts winds at 48S 149W aimed more to the east producing barely 40 ft seas at 48S 145W as a new fetch built to the northwest at 40S 160W with barely 45-50 kt winds trying to develop.
By Friday AM (7/17) the two fetches were joining forces forming a broad area of 40-45 kts winds confirmed at 33S 144W with seas quickly building to 32 ft at 35S 150W aimed almost directly up the 203 degree path to California and on the eastern edge of the core of the Tahitian swell shadow, only partially obstructed. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the western edge of the fetch and reported seas of 28 ft, exactly as the model projected. In the evening 50 kt south winds were confirmed at 35S 140W aimed directly up the 194 degree path to California and completely unobstructed. A broad area of seas were modeled building to 35 ft at 35S 140W, outside of the Tahitian swell shadow for CA.
A small area of 50-55 kt south winds were confirmed building over the same area early Saturday AM (7/18) at 31S 133W aimed right up the 191 degree path northward towards CA with 42 ft seas modeled at 31S 135W. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the eastern edge of the fetch reporting seas of 37.6 ft with one peak reading to 41.3 ft where the modeled suggested seas should be 38-39 ft. The model was right on track with reality, a good thing. In the evening a quick fade of fetch occurred with winds confirmed dropping from 40 kts but still aimed due north at 33S 130W with seas 37 ft at 29S 130W. This system dissipated after that fast with residual 32 ft seas at 30S 127W and aimed 40 degrees east of the 181 degree path to NCal (183 SCal).
This system was on the charts for a week before it formed and ultimately developed a fair bit weaker and smaller than originally modeled, but still not too bad, Confirmed data indicates is was the best fetch so far this summer relative to California, mainly attributable to it's very north position (reducing travel distance and therefore swell decay), the complete lack of any obstruction from Tahiti/French Polynesia thereby allowing the full effects of the swell to radiate north with no degradation, and the fetch angle, aimed directly up the great circle paths to the US West Coast at it's peak strength. On top of that respectable wind speeds (45-50 kts) were reported. 55-60 kts would be better, but you have to take what you can get. The fetch area was not large from any historical perspective, just what one would classify as normal. So this all looks good for the US West Coast down into Mexico and Central America (those locations not shadowed by the Galapagos Islands). Hawaii has already received the bulk of their sideband energy, with wave heights coming in about as expected. So all remains on-track at this time.
Hawaii: By Friday (7/24) swell to be fading from 3.3 ft @ 13-14 secs early (4.0-.4.5 ft faces). Swell Direction 170-178 degrees
South California: Expect swell arrival starting Thursday late morning with period 21 secs and size on the increase, pushing 2.6 ft @ 20 secs at sunset (head high with top spots 2 ft overhead or better on the rare sets). By Friday AM (7/24) the swell to be getting quite solid with swell 4.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (7.5 ft faces with sets 4-5 ft overhead and better at top spots).Saturday AM (7/25) expect swell to hold at 4.3 ft @ 15-16 secs (7 ft faces with top spots 3-4 ft overhead or better at top spots). Still solid swell of 3.6 ft @ 14-15 secs is expected on Monday (5 ft faces or slightly better). Swell Direction: 200 degrees
North California: Expect swell arrival starting Thursday evening with swell pushing 2.0 ft @ 21 secs at sunset (shoulder to head high with top spots 1 ft overhead on the rare sets). By Friday AM (7/24) the swell to be getting quite solid with swell 4.0 ft @ 19 secs (7.5 ft faces with sets 4-5 ft overhead and better at top spots) pushing 4.6 ft @ 18 secs at sunset (8 ft faces with double overhead sets or more). Saturday AM (7/25) expect swell to hold at 4.3-4.6 ft @ 16 secs (7 ft faces with top spots 3-4 ft overhead or better at top spots) and holding through the day. Still solid swell of 4.0 ft @ 14-15 secs is expected on Monday (6 ft faces or slightly better). Swell Direction: 187-195 degrees focused on 192 degrees
Follow-On New Zealand Gale
On Sat PM/Sun (7/19) a massive 936 low pressure system was well southeast of New Zealand over the Ross Ice Shelf and ice locked with a broad area of 30-35 kt southwest winds off New Zealand pushing up to the northeast producing a broad area of 22-28 ft seas at 43S 180W and holding into Monday AM (7/20) producing more 26-27 ft seas at 50S 170W all aimed well to the north and northeast. It was up to 4270 nmiles from the Islands. Generic 14-15 sec period swell is likely already pushing up towards Hawaii and Tahiti.
Hawaii: Expect small utility class swell to arrive in the Islands on Sunday AM (7/26) with swell pushing 2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3.5 ft faces with sets at top breaks to 4.5 ft) from 190-200 degrees slowly fading into Monday and Tuesday (7/28) at 2.3 ft @ 13 secs (3 ft faces).
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 no swell producing weather systems are forecast. High pressure that was off the Pacific northwest is to retrograde west while high pressure that was off Japan pushes east, resulting in a big pool of developing high pressure north of Hawaii by Wednesday (7/29) resulting in increased trades for the Islands late week. More low pressure is forecast pushing off the Kuril Islands Thursday (7/31) pushing to the intersection oft the dateline and the Aleutians. But no obvious swell development potential is indicated.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (7/23) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was trying to move into a weak Active Phase, the first since the 6/23 when the last of consecutive Active pulses took control on April 20th. But it's been a struggle. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained neutral. The Daily SOI index was at 0.8. The 30 day average was down some to 9.8 and the 90 day average was down to -2.08. The SOI index remained effectively neutral but had lost all of the ground it has gained since mid-April, the highest it's been since then. Wind anomalies at the surface and the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated a fading weak easterly flow still trying to push up to and over Central America, consistent with the end of the Inactive Phase. A weak area of westerly anomalies, the signal of a newly building Active Phase were developing over the Indian Ocean.. The models suggest the final bits of the Inactive Phase are to push into Central America by 7/30 with the Active Phase starting to reach into the far West Pacific by 7/25, easing east slowly about mid-way to the dateline and holding there through 8/4, then dissipating and never even making it to the dateline. This is a bit disappointing with what appears to be neutral conditions taking root. As of right now all the momentum associated with consecutive instances of the Active Phase of the MJO in the Spring and early Summer of 2009 have dissipated, and with it the mechanism that has been pushing warm water from the West to the East Pacific. Latest Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (7/23) indicates that a solid area of warmer than normal water extends over the equator from at least the dateline east getting solid under Hawaii and building into Central/South America with temps to 2.5 deg C above normal. This is highly suggestive of a moderate El Nino. These warmer waters are pushing north up the coast to Baja Mexico and Southern CA too. Interestingly, cooler than normal waters are in the same location streaming off Africa, likely completely suppressing Atlantic hurricane actively. But just today in this new image there are two tiny pockets of cooler water starting to show embedded in the core of the warm pool off Central America, likely there result of the weakening of the overall MJO pattern. Below the surface on the equator a steady flow of slightly warmer than normal subsurface water was tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface to be exact) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America with warmer water just below the surface there at 2 deg C. Previous episodes of the Active Phase had primed the warm water pump and were feeding the warm regime in the equatorial Eastern Pacific. Previous Westerly Wind Bursts (WWB) associated with the Active Phase of the MJO had generated Kelvin Waves resulting in the movement of warm subsurface water to the east, and just now stating to break the surface near Central America. Another Westerly Wind Burst appeared to be developing on 7/6, but faded by 7/12. No Kelvin Wave activity looks to have resulted. So all looks good at a glance, but the lack of any clear symptoms of the Active Phase of the MJO has become a problem. The next 2 weeks remains critical for the formation of a legitimate El Nino. If a real El Nino were to occur one would expect to see the SOI tending back towards the negative and perhaps a Westerly Wind Burst and a new Kelvin Wave developing. There is some suggestions of stronger Westerly Wind anomalies building in the far West Pacific, but we've been teased by this recently, only to have nothing mature. The hope is that this developing El Nino will not completely loose it's legs and falter as it did last year at this time. At this point we're in 'wait and see' mode, and getting more conservative by the day. If this Active Phase isn't productive, and the next one 40 or so days from now also is non-productive, then this will result in an early end to the Fall/Winter storm pattern, much like what occurred last season. Regardless, where we are right now is still miles better than anything the Pacific has seen in at least the last 3 years.
Beyond 72 hours a cutoff low is forecast forming off the Northeastern tip of New Zealand on Sunday (7/26) producing a short duration of 28 ft seas at 34S 177W, but fading fast and sinking southeast.Maybe some small background swell to result for Hawaii. No other 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table