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 (7/28) North and Central California was seeing northwest windswell at 1 ft overhead with southerly eddy winds on it and a crumbled mess at exposed breaks. At south facing breaks there were some waist high plus sets coming from the south and clean. Southern California was getting knee to thigh high northwest windswell and clean up north. Down south southern hemi swell was hitting occasionally pushing chest high and lightly textured with light onshores in effect. Hawaii's North Shore was effectively flat and clean with light trades in effect. The East Shore had thigh to waist high easterly tradewind generated windswell and chopped. The South Shore had some thigh to waist high sets at top breaks and glassy with light trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
The Northeast Pacific high pressure system was ridging east forming the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA resulting in northwest winds at 25-30 kts and modest northwest short period windswell. That is to starts slowly fading later Friday on into the weekend with not much left by Sunday (7/31). The high was also ridging south towards Hawaii producing trades at 15 kts there and bare minimal easterly windswell along east facing shores, but that too is expected to fade over the weekend. tropical Storm Muifa was turning north positioned well east of the Philippines. Down south swell from a small but decent gale that tracked east-northeast through the Southeast Pacific on Thurs (7/21) with seas to 38 ft was starting to hit the CA coast. Also another gale formed southeast of New Zealand Thurs-Fri (7/21-22) with 30-32 ft seas tracking northeast. Some small swell was starting to tickle the buoys along Hawaii's south shore possible building some by Friday (7/29) with tiny swell also for CA by Sun (7/31). Also a tiny gale developed alongside of New Zealand Mon AM (7/25) tracking east-northeast with 34 ft seas slowly fading into Wednesday AM. Small swell for Hawaii to result with minimal energy for the US West coast. And yet one more emerged under New Zealand on Wed (7/27) with 32 ft seas over a larger area lifting east-northeast, but fading 30 hrs later. More background swell for Hawaii and less for the US West coast. One more small system is forecast in the deep Central Pacific Sun-Mon (8/1) with 30-32 ft seas, then calmness to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface on Thursday (7/28) high pressure at 1032 mbs was 1200 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino CA ridging east forming the usual pressure gradient and north winds to 30 kts over a small area off North CA resulting in small but slightly longer period windswell pushing south into Central CA. It was also fueling slightly increased easterly tradewinds pushing over Hawaii at 15 kts with minimal short period east windswell there. Tropical Storm Muifa was trying to organize in the far West Pacific and of no real interest. Over the next 72 hours high pressure is to retreat back to the west a bit congealing back near the dateline by Sunday (7/31) with the requisite decrease in north winds off Cape Mendocino expected (down to 20 kts by Sun AM) resulting in a decrease in northerly windswell along the Central CA coast. Trades to decrease as well Sun-Mon (8/1) over Hawaii down to 10-15 kts offering decreased windswell generation potential along eastern shores. The models also suggest the tropical storm in the west is to build while tracking north but is to show no signs of turning east. This region has been very productive this year, attributable to persistent westerly anomalies and warmer than normal water there. Regardless, the storm track has not been favorable for the US West Coast in that none of these system recurve significantly to the northeast, and no change is forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Depression 11W was just east of the islands of Yap on Tuesday (7/26) with winds 30 kts. It tracked northwest and built to tropical storm status and was named Muifa with with winds to 45 kts and by Thursday AM was positioned about 1000 nmiles west of the Central Philippines. Continued slow intensification is forecast as it tracks more northerly if not due north reaching 70 kts (minimal Typhoon strength) on Sunday (7/31) and up to 80 kts Tuesday (8/2) positioned 900 nmiles south of Southern Japan. Current data suggest a turn to the northwest later in the day with the storm moving towards Vietnam by Thursday (8/4) and having no potential to produce swell for our forecast area.
The GFS model also suggests another system forming well east of Muifa late on Saturday (7/30) and building while holding stationary, eventually starting to drift north later next week. but that's all fantasy at this early date.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (7/28) high pressure at 1032 mbs was riding east generating northwest winds at 30 kts along the North CA coast. But those winds were pulled away from the Central CA coast allowing the formation of a return eddy flow, with south winds blowing 5-10 kts over all of Central CA waters up to at least Pt Arena if not nearly Cape Mendocino. And this configuration holding through Friday. Windswell to result for Central CA with cleaner conditions nearshore. The gradient is to hold Saturday at 25 kts with the eddy flow nearshore, then down to 20 kts Sunday before collapsing Monday with fading windswell with the eddy dissipating then. The core of the gradient is to start falling south on Tuesday (8/2) with winds near 20 kts and pushing into the entirety of the Central CA coast in the afternoon, building to 20 kt solid later Wednesday and near 25 kts on Thursday (8/4) impacting all of Central CA and making a mess of local conditions.
On Thursday (7/28) a split jetstream pattern continued across the width of the South Pacific with the two streams in close proximity in the west and then wildly divergent in the east with a large ridge pushing the southern branch hard to the south over the Central and Eastern Pacific reaching well down into Antarctica and suppressing gale development there. A very mild trough continued to be present in the West Pacific under New Zealand, but was nearly obscured by the Ross Ice Shelf offering bare minimal support for gale development over exposed waters there. Over the next 72 hours the ridge in the east is to continue pushing south into Antarctica then slowly dissipating while moving entirely inland over Antarctica through Sun (7/31). Maybe limited support for gale development opening up in the Central Pacific then, but winds speeds in the jet are to be exceedingly weak. Beyond 72 hrs that trough is forecast to get better organized and holding it's position by Wed (7/3) actually making some northern headway on Thursday but with only 90 kts winds feeding up into the trough. Very limited support for gale development possible down at the oceans surface.
At the surface virtually no fetch of interest was occurring through a large unorganized pool of low pressure appeared to be developing in the southern Central Pacific. Small swell from 4 previous systems (details below) was in the water heading north towards Hawaii and California. Over the next 72 hours that pool is to slowly get better organized with a reinforcing pulse of low pressure moving into the region on Sunday (7/31) with a small fetch of 45 kt southwest winds developing early then fading to 40 kts later in the day. 34 ft seas forecast in the morning at 53S 170W fading to 30 ft in the evening at 50S 160W and totally shadowed relative to CA by Tahiti. 35-40 kt southwest fetch to hold Monday PM (8/1) with 30 ft seas at 55S 158W continuing Tuesday AM (8/2) with 32 ft seas at 53S 158W and then dissipating. Background swell possible for Hawaii with less for the US mainland well filtered by Tahiti.
Tiny New Zealand Gale
A tiny gale formed just off the Central New Zealand coast on Mon (7/25) with 45 kt southwest winds tracking northeast. A tiny area of 32 ft seas resulted Mon PM at 41S 176W building to 34 ft Tuesday AM at 38S 169W and holding at 34 ft in the evening at 36S 164W. Renewed fetch tried to build Wed AM (7/27) to 40 kts aimed pretty well to the north resulting in 30 ft seas at 33S 160W and moving out of the Hawaiian swell window. New fetch build south of there lifting northeast in the evening at 40 kts and seas to 29 ft at 35S 151W pushing east of the Tahitian swell shadow relative to CA (203 degs NCal/205 SCal). The gale was fading Thursday AM with seas from previous fetch at 29-30 ft at 34S 147W. Possible utility class swell to result for Hawaii initially and then California. Of note: Though this system was very small but positioned very far to the north, reducing swell travel distance significantly for both the Islands (3527 nmiles) and US interests (4994 nmiles), and only 1100 nmiles from Tahiti.
Possible modest utility class swell to result for Hawaii on Monday (8/1) and for CA on Wed (8/3) with more size for Tahiti well before sunrise Fri (7/29).
Broader New Zealand Gale
Another gale also tracked under New Zealand on Wed AM (7/27) with 35-40 kt west-southwest winds and 32 ft seas at 48S 176E. This gale was already fading by evening with winds still 35-40 kts but shrinking in coverage with seas still 32 ft at 48S 178W (214 degs and unshadowed NCal). Fetch was effectively gone Thurs AM (7/28) with seas fading from 30 ft at 46S 170W (210 degs NCal and shadowed). Another decent pulse of swell is expected to result for Hawaii with far less size for the US West Coast even though it is not be shadowed by Tahiti initially (216-218 degs relative to NCal and SCal respectively) mainly because of the rather extreme travel distance (6134 nmiles NCal).
Southeast Pacific Gale
A new fetch build on Tuesday evening (7/19) with a tiny area of 45-50 kt southwest winds peaking Wed AM (7/20) with 50 kts south-southwest winds holding and seas building to 29 ft at 49S 148W. This fetch held while pushing east in the evening with seas building to 32 ft at 48S 138W. By Thursday AM (7/21) fetch was fading from 45 kts with seas up to 36 ft at 45S 130W. Fetch was nearly gone in the evening at 40 kts with seas peaking (from previous fetch) at 38 ft at 43S 125W. A quick fade occurred in the evening with seas dropping from 35 ft at 39S 115W, east and outside even the Southern CA swell window targeting primarily Northern Chile and Peru. This system was very small and positioned in the Southeast Pacific, outside the swell window for Hawaii. Most energy was aimed towards Chile and Peru with decent energy pushing northwards to Central America.
Sideband utility class energy seems likely to result for California up the 182-185 degree paths (unshadowed by Tahiti), peaking in SCal on Thurs 7 PM (7/28) at 2.7 ft @ 17 secs (4.5 ft ) from 187 degrees and NCal on Fri AM (7/29) at 2.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.0-4.5 ft) from 185 degrees.
Weak Southwest Pacific Gale
On Wednesday (7/20) a broad fetch of 35-40 kt southwest winds pushed under New Zealand building in coverage even more in the evening. 29 ft seas were modeled building at 54S 180W (Wed PM). On Thursday the fetch continued tracking slightly northeast still at 35-40 kts aimed a mix of east and northeast and covering a good sized with seas building to 30 ft at 52S 178W (191 degs HI, 211 degs NCal and 213 degs SCal and shadowed by Tahiti). The fetch actually became better focused in the evening wrapping around the core of the low at 952 mbs with seas still 30 ft at 50S 170W (186 degs HI, 209 degs NCal and 211 degs SCal and still well shadowed). The fetch started fading Friday AM (7/22) from 35-40 kts and taking aim all aimed west to east with a moderate area of 32 ft seas at 49S 160W (181 degs HI, 204 degs NCal and 206 SCal) and becoming unshadowed but aimed less up to the north. By evening all remaining fetch was aimed due east if not southeast, offering no swell potential for US interests. Some degree of swell is likely to push up into the Islands and the US mainland, favoring the mainland regardless of the Tahitian swell shadow mainly due to the wind vector angle.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Thurs (7/28) with pure swell reaching 2 ft @ 17 secs mid-day (3.5 ft faces with sets to 4 ft) then fading on Friday from 2 ft @ 15 secs (3 ft faces). Swell Direction 190 degrees Minimal energy to move into California on Sunday (7/31) at 1.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (2.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 204-211 NCal/206-213 SCal.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs the Northeast Pacific high pressure system is to again start ridging east slowly with pressure to 1024 mbs impacting the Central CA coast on Tuesday (8/2) resulting in a poorly organized fetch of 15-20 kt north winds blowing over nearshore waters from Pt Conception northward, and making a mess of things there. That configuration is to hold at least into Thursday but with winds slowly building to near 25 kts as pressure builds to 1028 mbs and moving yet closer to the coast. Raw windswell the likely result. Likewise trades just east of Hawaii are to start building by Wed (8/3) at 15 kts pushing 20 kts over open waters 24 hrs later with the requisite increase in easterly windswell likely there too.
As of Thursday (7/28) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some. The daily SOI was down to -1.17. The 30 day average was up to 7.58 with the 90 day average down some to 3.69. This continues to look like a neutral long-term pattern.
Current wind anomalies indicate easterly anomalies were over both the Eastern and West Pacific, wiping out previous Westerly anomalies near the Philippines. This suggests that what was the Active Phase of the MJO that was trying to develop in the West Pacific has been capped. The models indicate that weak easterly anomalies are to persist in the West, suggesting the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to remain in control.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (7/28) remains unchanged and continues to indicate that cooler waters (-1 C degs) had a grip on the equator covering from a point south of Hawaii to the dateline and holding steady. The larger issue was cooler than normal waters present in feeder bands originating off the US West Coast and Chile sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, serving to continue the existing La Nina pattern. This is typically what is referred to as a horseshoe pattern. Warmer than normal waters continue slowly building over the Galapagos Islands and over a very narrow band west of there almost to the dateline and continue slowly increasing in coverage in fits and spurts. And tongues of warmer water are positioned in the both the Northwest and Southwest Hemispheres trying to make inroads to the east but not very effectively. Interestingly is the new emergence of a cold tongue of water in the tropical Atlantic, tracking west from Africa on the equator to nearly South America (the exact opposite of what's occurring in the tropical Pacific). For now the big picture still looks like a La Nina, though slowly fading and trying to turn neutral if not something more.
Below the surface on the equator things remain improved. Colder than normal water that had been locked all winter (2010-2011) southeast of Hawaii under the equator evaporated in late February 2011, but then returned starting in early July. An impenetrable wall of colder than normal water (-3 degs C) developed in mid-July locked at 140W separating warm anomalies in the east and west, blocking any eastward progress of warmer subsurface water. But then on 7/21 it vaporized, with a clear subsurface path no present allowing warmer subsurface water to flow eastward. No change is indicated on 7/26. The down side is there is no exceptional warm water in the west or east and nothing to force formation of the Kelvin Wave.
Over the entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to the Philippines and beyond. From a historical perspective these easterly winds were about normal and just slightly above normal in the West.
We did some analysis on ocean currents on the Pacific equator this year an found anomalies developed flowing from west to east starting in February and were continuing through June 2011 (a little weaker towards mid-June than earlier in the month). Westerly anomalies continued in July to (thru 7/22) Easterly anomalies were isolated to a small area on the equator at 120W. We oft look at such symptoms as an El Nino indicator, but that does not seem likely given all the other data. But that coupled with a falling SOI at least it depicts a tendency towards normal conditions. Will monitor. Historically it is very unlikely if not impossible to have an El Nino form directly behind a La Nina. More typical is several years of a slow buildup before an actual El Nino event occurs. This suggest the warm waters currently pooling up off Ecuador will likely dissipate as summer progresses but at the same time, the cooler than normal horseshoe pattern over the North and South Pacific will dissipate too.
Remnants of what was a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) are still evident and momentum from this La Nina event are expected to hold well into the Fall of 2011 (and likely to early 2012) in the upper atmosphere regardless of how quickly La Nina's demise occurs in the ocean. In short, it's going to be tough for surfers on west facing shores in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, though east facing shores of the West Pacific and Atlantic might do well from the Inactive Phase's dominance, especially in summer months. That is not to say there will be no storms, in fact, there could be short periods of intense activity when the Active Phase gets an opportunity to come to fruition, but that will be the exception rather than the rule, with the Inactive Phase trying to keep a cap on storm activity. Best bet's at this time are for an enhanced tropical season in the Atlantic (2011).
See more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast though a broad pool of weak low pressure is to remain circulating in the Central Pacific moving east. Fetch generally 30 kts in this area not reaching to 40 kts.
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: 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