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 (7/30) North and Central California had fallen into the barely rideable zone with minimal weak background southern hemi swell at thigh high and waist high locally generated short period north windswell on top. Calm winds and nearly glassy conditions were the consolation prize. Southern California has a few knee to thigh high north windswell sets up north with clean conditions. Down south southern hemi background swell was in the waist high range and textured mid-day. Hawaii's North Shore was effectively flat. The East Shore had waist high plus east windswell with onshore winds. The South Shore still had some waist high background southern hemi swell originating east of New Zealand with clean conditions.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for very limited north local windswell in the waist high range Friday and settling down to thigh high on Saturday and Sunday, then fading out altogether early next week. Small southern hemi background swell from a gale southeast of New Zealand is expected in on late Monday (8/3) pushing waist high or so for Tuesday into Wed (8/5). Southern California is to see the same pattern with next to no northwest windswell for the coming days and no southern hemi background swell either through the weekend. New southern hemi background swell from that gale southeast of New Zealand is expected in on Monday to thigh high building to waist high on Tuesday, then fading Wednesday (8/5). Pretty quiet for the Golden State. The North Shore of Hawaii is to be flat for the next week. The East Shore is to provide decent short period east windswell pushing near chest high for late in the the weekend slowly settling down into next week but not out. The South Shore is to be the standout spot in the days ahead with new swell from a storm that was southeast of New Zealand arriving on Friday peaking Saturday (8/1) at shoulder to head high with sets 1 ft overhead then slowly settling down into Tuesday (8/3).
The pulse of utility class swell that is expected into Hawaii by Friday (7/31) from gale that formed just southeast of New Zealand on Fri/Sat (7/25) generating up to 35 ft seas aimed reasonably well to the, is to produce a smaller version of that same swell eventually reaching CA for Mon-Wed (8/5). After that things to really settle down with only a quick fetch of gale force winds aimed north and positioned northeast of New Zealand having occurred late Sunday (7/26) but gone by late Monday maybe sending some energy towards Hawaii but small. Nothing else has occurred and northing of real interest is on the charts for the next week. The Tasman Sea remains forecast to be active though, making Fiji a good possible alternative.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface today a weak but broad pool of high pressure at 1020 mbs was filling the North Pacific from the dateline east to nearly Southern CA and arching north up into the northern Gulf of Alaska. It was generating trades at 15+ kts pushing well over the Hawaiian Islands generating small east windswell there. But otherwise no swell producing fetch was occurring. A cutoff low was trying to organize off Central CA, but not quite there yet. Over the next 72 hours this same pattern is to hold but with weak low pressure getting a foothold in the Western Gulf of Alaska taking a chunk out of high pressure there. High pressure is to get a little better footing in the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska, but not even enough to generate windswell for the Pacific Northwest. Trades to continue over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts with small to moderate easterly windswell likely on east facing shores. In short, it almost looks like we're starting to enter the seasonal transition from Summer to Fall in the North Pacific, with the Fall-like low pressure systems still weak and ineffective, but Summer-time high pressure loosing it's edge and not generating much windswell anymore. And with the coming Active Phase of the MJO, that will tilt the odds in favor of the Fall pattern even more. The next few weeks will be interesting, even if nothing results in that it will help us get a sense of the storm track for the coming months. The jetstream has been holding it's own throughout the summer.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (7/30) high pressure at 1024 mbs was circulating in the central Gulf of Alaska but not ridging into the US West Coast, being held at bay by a cutoff upper level low trying to develop just southeast of the state. A generally light northwest windflow was occurring over nearshore waters. This same pattern is forecast to hold through the weekend into the bulk of next week. The only exception is to be a little ridge trying to push into Southern CA resulting in north winds over Pt Conception pushing 20 kts, through the weekend into next week resulting in chopped conditions there down into the Channel Islands. Nearshore California waters should be mostly unaffected.
On Thursday (7/30) Tropical Storm Lana was well beyond the California swell window and still well east of Hawaii. Sustained winds were 35 kts. Lana is to max out 48 hours from now with 60 kts winds (not hurricane strength, but close) and moving well southeast of the Hawaiian Islands, tracking under the Big Island on Sunday. Good odds for southeasterly swell from this one for the Big Island if all goes as forecast. Will monitor.
On Thursday (7/28) the northern branch of the Southern Hemisphere jetstream remained in total control, with all wind energy there flowing flat west to east on the 30S latitude then disipating a bit southeast towards Chile. A weak ridge in the southern branch of the jetstream continued pushing south under New Zealand with remnants of a previous ridge east of there pushing south over the Ross Ice Shelf to a point below Southern Chile and offering no support for gale development anywhere in the South Pacific. Over the next 72 hrs the exact same pattern is forecast, but with the northern branch actually pushing more towards the southeast (towards Southern Chile). The weak ridge in the southern branch is to hold in the West offering no support for gale development there. Weakness in the ridge over the Southeast Pacific is expected, but winds speeds are to be so light there is not chance to support gale development. Beyond 72 hours the ridge in the Southwest Pacific is to only build, all the way south to the Ross Ice Shelf and totally shutting down odds for gale development there through the end of next week. A weak trough remains forecast for the far Southeast Pacific by Tues (8/4), but it is to be almost out of even the Southern CA swell window.
At the surface on Thursday (7/30) a broad low pressure system was under New Zealand but with winds only 35 kts mostly aimed south towards the Ross Ice Shelf,.with a high pressure system east of there, and another low in the Southeast Pacific pushing 35 kt south winds up towards California. But overall, none of these systems were of interest at this time. Over the next 72 hours the system in the Southeast Pacific is to build a little with 40 kt south to southeast winds at 43S 130W Thursday evening (7/30) with seas to near 30 ft at 44S 133W building to 45 kts Friday AM at 50S 120W aimed due north up the 180 degree path to Southern CA. 30 ft seas forecast at 48S 119W late Friday morning. Those winds are to swing aimed totally to the east 12 hrs later aimed only at Chile. Maybe something to result for Southern CA with luck, though the momemtum is more to the east (towards Chile) than the north.
Another weaker system is to push more directly up into the Tasman Sea on Thursday (7/30) with 35 ft seas, but offering northing aimed at US or Hawaiian targets.
New Zealand Gale
A broad but diffuse area of low pressure was organizing just southeast of New Zealand on Thursday AM (7/23), but winds were only up to 30 kts. That low pressure system got better organized reaching gale status Thurs PM 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 were modeled 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. 27 ft seas were modeled building at 52S 175W. In the evening more 45-50 kt southwest winds were modeled 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 were 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. 35 ft seas were modeled at 49S 163W pushing energy towards both Hawaii and CA. 32 ft seas from previous fetch were still holding Saturday evening at 48S 154W but focusing more to the east, targeting only Central and South America while fading.
Some degree of limited swell is forecast pushing northeast towards Tahiti and Hawaii, with some energy possibly for the US West Coast, though filtered by French Polynesia. .
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Friday (7/31) with swell building to 2.6 ft @ 17 secs late (shoulder high with sets to near 1 ft overhead). Saturday swell to continue at 3 ft @ 15 secs (shoulder high with sets to almost 1 ft overhead). Swell continuing on Sunday at 3 ft @ 14-15 secs (chest to head high with 1 ft overhead sets at top spots) and slowly fading. Swell down to 2.6 ft @ 13 secs on Monday (waist to chest high) and fading. Swell Direction: 190 degrees
Southern CA: Expect the first small signs of this swell should appear late late Sunday (8/2) reaching 1.5 ft @ 17-18 secs (2.5 ft faces). Swell to peak on Monday at 1.6 ft @ 16 secs (thigh to waist high). Still swell of 2 ft @ 15 secs (waist high) is expected on Tuesday (8/4), then fading on Wed. Swell Direction: 205 degrees
Tiny New Zealand Gale
On Sunday AM (7/26) northeast of New Zealand a 988 mb cutoff low was building generating a small area of 40 kt winds at 38S 172W aimed a but more west than north, not even aimed at Hawaii yet. By Sunday evening winds in this gale were up to near 50 kts over an infinitesimal area at 38S 171W aimed due north, or up the 193 degree path to Hawaii. A tiny area of 25 ft seas were modeled at 36S 172W. Monday AM (7/28) that fetch quickly swung into the gales north quadrant aimed east with residual winds of 35-40 kts aimed north towards Hawaii at 34S 169W. 27-28 ft seas from previous fetch were modeled at 34S 172W pushing towards Hawaii. This fetch dissolved by evening with 25 ft seas fading at 32S 168W.
Some small background or impulse class swell is expected pushing into Hawaii on Saturday (8/1), lost in the swell documented above.
New Zealand Storm
On Wednesday AM (7/29) a storm under the Tasman Sea built with up to 45 kt west winds modeled at 51S 160E placing 36 ft seas at 51S 158W or just barely west/outside of the California swell window. By evening 35 ft seas were repositioned east at 52S 165E aimed directly up the 119-220 degree paths and totally unshadowed by Tahiti but 6600 nmiles away. This fetch was also pushing right up the 218 degree path to Tahiti. All energy was totally shadowed relative to Hawaii by New Zealand. Maybe some swell will result for the aforementioned targets, with Tahiti the most likely target. This system totally dissipated by early Thursday AM (7/30).
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 try and get another foothold 1500 nmiles northeast of Hawaii continuing to generate trades there at 15 kts through the weekend with perhaps tropical low pressure south of the Islands feeding the local pressure gradient early next week with trades to 20 kts and large local windswell possible. No windswell is forecast for the US West Coast with northerly winds less than 15 kts into early next week. There's some suggestion of tropical activity in the far Western Pacific migrating north and then turning northeast bound for the dateline, but no defined swell producing fetch is apparent.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (7/30) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was starting to do what we'd been hoping for over the past 2 weeks, namely going solidly negative. It was finally moving well into the Active Phase, the first since 6/23 when the last of three consecutive Active pulses took control starting April 20th. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained neutral. The Daily SOI index was down to -19.33. The 30 day average was down to 2.32 and the 90 day average was down slightly to -1.84. The SOI index is going to hopefully start regaining some of the ground it has lost since going Inactive a month ago. Wind anomalies at the surface and the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated a small area of weak easterly winds were still barely hanging on over Central America but effectively gone, consistent with the end of the Inactive Phase. But a broader area of westerly anomalies, the signal of a newly building Active Phase were pushing from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific almost reaching the dateline, better than previously expected. The models suggest the final bits of the Inactive Phase are to gone by 8/3 with the Active Phase holding it's position in the West Pacific reaching to the dateline and locked there through 8/8, then dissipating through 8/18. This is a bit more like what were were hoping for. As of early this week we have been thinking that all the momentum associated with consecutive instances of the Active Phase of the MJO in the Spring and early Summer of 2009 have almost dissipated, and with it the mechanism that has been pushing warm water from the West to the East Pacific (more below). But the latest Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (7/27) 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 of Baja Mexico almost into Southern CA. Interestingly, much cooler than normal waters (-2.5 deg C) are in the same location streaming off Africa and building while pushing east, now reaching South America. This is highly suggestive of a burst of perhaps southeasterly winds building across the equatorial South Atlantic. Looking back in the records, exactly the same flow developed during the big El Nino of 1997. So this is not unfamiliar territory (there is a reverse teleconnection between the Pacific and the Atlantic from a surf perspective i.e. whats good for the Pacific hampers the Atlantic, and visa versa). This is likely to completely suppress Atlantic hurricane actively due solely to the frigid water temps. Back in the Pacific two tiny pockets of cooler water starting to show embedded in the core of the warm pool off Central America in mid-July, the likely result of the weakening of the overall MJO pattern. But those have dissipated. And looking at water temp anomalies since June to now (7/27) there has been no degradation and if anything a slight increase in the building warm anomaly. This is what one would expect of a building El Nino. 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 nearly 4 deg C. Previous episodes of the Active Phase had primed the warm water pump and were feeding the warm regime into 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, stating to break the surface near Central America in mid-July. Another Westerly Wind Burst appeared to be developing on 7/6, but faded by 7/12. No Kelvin Wave resulted. So all looked good at a glance, but the lack of any clear symptoms of the Active Phase of the MJO had become a problem. But interestingly, another bout of westerly winds appeared on 7/21 extending from New Guinea almost to the dateline and became more pronounced on 7/25 and even moreso into 7/30. In fact, fully blowing westerly winds were in charge associated with an area of low pressure there almost reaching to the dateline (not just anomalies). This is clearly a sign of a developing Westerly Wind Burst. And 150 meters down under the equator, warmer water is definitely building and drifting east, so the warm water pump is not shut off after all, and if anything, is getting reinforcement. Models show another day or two of westerly wind in the area too. 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 (which it appears to be doing) and perhaps a Westerly Wind Burst and a new Kelvin Wave developing (that appears to be happening as of 7/28). The hope is that this developing El Nino will not loose it's legs and falter like last year at this time, and all data seems to be more supportive of the positive outcome as compared to a few weeks ago. Still we're in 'wait-and-see conservative mode', but are getting more optimistic. Regardless, where we are right now remains miles better than anything the Pacific has seen in at least the last 3 or more years.
Beyond 72 hours high pressure at 1032 mbs is to be building south of Tahiti controlling waters east of New Zealand and producing a decidedly southward push to all fetch in the area Sunday (8/2) - to Tues (8/4). Maybe a little better picture is forecast later next week, but still no swell producing fetch is forecast.
Otherwise another storm is forecast tracking from under Australia up into the Tasman Sea Mon/Tues (8/4) with 45 kt winds and 45 ft seas offering good potential for West New Zealand up into Fiji. But all are to be shadowed from the greater US and 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