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 (8/6) North and Central California had fading thigh high southern hemi background swell coming from a gale that was east of New Zealand last weekend (7/25) with waist high local short period windswell on top. Winds were light with reasonably clean conditions. Southern California had some thigh high southern hemi swell up north pushing maybe waist high down south but windy and chopped. This was coming from the same New Zealand Gale mentioned above. Hawaii's North Shore was effectively flat. The East Shore had waist high plus east windswell with onshore winds. The South Shore had some generic southern hemi swell with waves thigh to waist high on the sets at the better breaks with trades in control.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for the surf to drop to near nothing on Friday. Then some more thigh to waist high southern hemi background swell is expected in for Saturday with local chest high north windswell on top by Sunday (8/9). The southern hemi swell to be gone by Monday but more of the same sized north windswell is expected well into the following week. Southern California is to see nothing really rideable early Friday till another pulse of thigh to waist high background southern hemi swell arrives late holding into Saturday, then back to flat. A fraction of the windswell from up north is expected at exposed breaks on Sunday into next week. The North Shore of Hawaii is to be flat for the next 7 days. The East Shore is to continue seeing steady short period east windswell in the waist to near chest high range Friday and through the weekend. Theoretically much more size is expected next week if the tropics cooperate. The South Shore is out of the picture completely with no surf forecast by Friday and holding for the next 7 days.
Looking at the models virtually nothing of interest is forecast in the southern hemi for the next 7 days. Every other run something pops up 5-6 days out on the model, but it is not believable nor stable. Of more interest is the North Pacific. A tropical pattern remains forecast up east of Hawaii with Hurricane Felicia still forecast moving very close if not over the Big Island early next week. Also the large pool of low pressure east of the Philippines and up to Japan remains forecast to spiral off pieces of it's energy, with those cells moving northeast over the dateline bound for the Gulf of Alaska. No definite development forecast for any of them, though windswell is possible for Hawaii and the US West Coast. Of special interest will be the track of Felicia if and when it move over or north of Hawaii, with recurvature towards the Gulf a possibility. You can almost sense a hint of an El Nino enhanced Fall pattern trying to develop.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface today modest high pressure at 1028 mbs was trying to consolidate 1000 nmiles north-northeast of Hawaii covering the area from the dateline up to but not over Central CA. It was generating trades and a broad fetch of 15 kts east winds over the Hawaiian Islands with tropical low pressure tracking south of the Islands generating a weak gradient and trades up to 20 kts in that area as well. Short period east windswell was the product of these winds. Weak low pressure that had been off Central CA was all but gone. The large pool of low pressure at 988 mbs circulating northeast of the Philippines was still in place as it had been for 10 days now, but drifting northwest, fueled by the Active Phase of the MJO. A pair of very weak low pressure system had migrated from off the Kuril Islands over the dateline and were now in the Northern Gulf of Alaska but only generating 20 kt westerly fetch and no swell. Over the next 72 hours no real change is forecast with the high pressure system north of Hawaiian holding at 1028 mbs while Hurricane Felicia tracks west towards the Hawaiian Islands and a string of weak low pressure cells moves east through the Gulf of Alaska. The pool of low pressure in the West is to start easing west and inland over China with fragments getting pulled off to the north, recurving northeast and bound weakly for the dateline. No swell to result but the pattern is encouraging.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (8/4) low pressure at 1016 mbs was off Central CA suppressing winds along the coast there, but high pressure was sneaking in under the low setting up a weak pressure gradient off Pt Conception and generating northern winds there south over the Channel Islands at 15 kts with limited effects into Southern CA. This same pattern is to hold Wed and Thurs (8/6). By Friday the low off Central CA is to be gone with north winds building to 20 kts over the same region, though Monterey bay northwards are to remained mostly protected. This pattern is to continue to have some effect on Southern CA in the late morning and afternoons with chop taking control. By the weekend high pressure is to start pushing into Central CA proper with north winds increasing some, but not exceeding 15 kts and making for some chop.
The Active Phase of the MJO and a building El Nino was having a positive impact on tropical storm formation:.
On Thursday (8/6) Typhoon Morakot was 150 nmiles east of Taiwan with sustained winds 80 kts and on the increase, bound for the island. No swell production is forecast in association with it relative to our forecast area..
Tropical Depression Gone was inland over Southern China.
Tropical Storm Enrique was midway between Baja and Hawaii northwest winds sustained winds 30 kts and dissipating while pulling over cold waters. No swell production for Hawaii or CA is forecast.
Hurricane Felicia was up to a Category 4 strength with winds at 115 kts positioned 1290 nmiles east-southeast of the Big Island of Hawaii and tracking west-northwest. A continued path to the west-northwest is forecast then turning west and slowly dissipating. Winds are to be down to 30 kts as the core of this system pulls up to the Big Island Monday evening (8/10). But clearly decent swell with period at 15 sec seems likely arriving Saturday at sunset along exposed southeast shores of the Big Island. East to northeast windswell is expected into exposed east facing shores of the remaining Islands.
On Thursday (8/6) the northern branch of the Southern Hemisphere jetstream remained in control pushing flat and hard to the east southeast on the 30S degree latitude. A persistent ridge continued flowing south of New Zealand into Antarctica from the southern branch of the jetstream, shutting off surface level gale potential. A weak trough remained over the Southeast Pacific, but winds were so weak as to provide no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hrs the exact same pattern is forecast and building, with a strong ridge taking control of almost the entire South Pacific pushing hard over the Ross Ice Shelf. Beyond 72 hours the ridge in the Southwest Pacific is to slowly start moderating by Tues (8/11) and lifting northeast a day later with a weak trough forecast over the Ross ice Shelf. At least it looks better than what has been occurring over the last week or more.
At the surface on Thursday (8/6) high pressure at 1024 mbs was located southeast of New Zealand ridging south over the Ross Ice Shelf and into interior Antarctica totally blocking the South Pacific storm corridor. And more high pressure at 1028 mbs was building directly over New Zealand riding south to the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, reinforcing this blocking pattern. A broad low pressure center was tracking east into southern most Chile and of no use to anyone. No swell producing fetch was indicated. Over the next 72 hours the high pressure system southeast of New Zealand is to consolidate building to 1032 mbs while expanding, totally locking down the entire Southwest Pacific and eliminating any support for gale development.
A new system built in the Southeast Pacific on Thursday PM (7/30) with 40 kt south to southeast winds at 43S 130W with seas to near 29 ft at 43S 133W building. Winds were up to 45 kts Friday AM at 50S 120W aimed due north up the 180 degree path to Southern CA. 30 ft seas were forecast at 45S 117W late Friday morning. But those winds swung totally aimed to the east 12 hrs later aimed only at Chile. Low odds of anything resulting for Southern CA. The momentum was more to the east favoring Chile.
Weak southern hemi background swell of 2 ft @ 15 secs (2.5-3.0 ft faces) is expected for South and Central CA on Sat (8/8) holding to 2.3 ft @ 13-14 secs Sun. Swell Direction: 190 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 high pressure system north of Hawaii is to drift east riding into Central and North CA forming a pressure gradient off North CA and generating 25 kt north winds there by late Saturday (8/8) with modest short period windswell pushing into Central CA. Also this high is to continue generating trades over the Islands at 15 to near 20 kts through the weekend and into next week, with the specter of Hurricane Felicia looming east of the Hawaiian Islands possibly making weather there by late Monday (8/10). A strong of very weak low pressure cells is to continue pulling off the Philippine low pressure pool tracking northeast over the dateline and ridging over the northern edge of that high pressure system off the US West Coast producing varying degrees of 25 kt westerly fetch. Possible small windswell to result mainly targeting Central CA northward up into the Pacific Northwest. But that's really just a guess. The high pressure system ridging into Central CA over the weekend is to fade with that gradient only producing 20 kt north winds early next week and gone by late Wednesday (7/15) with windswell potential fading with it. So officially northing yet in the North Pacific, but it is not dormant either.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (8/6) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in a moderate Active Phase. This was the first Active Phase since 6/23 when the last of three consecutive Active pulses took control starting April 20th. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained essentially neutral. The Daily SOI index was down to -10.68 and has been negative (or nearly so) for the past 17 days (since 7/21). The 30 day average was down to -0.5 and the 90 day average was up slightly to -1.69. The SOI index was trying to regain some of the ground it lost when the MJO went Inactive in early July. Wind anomalies at the surface and the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated modest westerly wind anomalies, the signal of the Active Phase, continued from the far Eastern Indian Ocean into the West Pacific and reaching the dateline. The models suggest the Active Phase is to hold it's position in the West Pacific over the dateline through 8/13, then dissipating by 8/18 with neutral conditions following through 8/25. No sign of the Inactive Phase is forecast through we know it will materialize. As of late July we had 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 had dissipated, and with it the mechanism that had been pushing warm water from the West to the East Pacific (more below). But Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (7/30-8/3) indicates that a solid area of warmer than normal water extends over the equator from the dateline east and building into Central/South America with temps to 2.0 deg C above normal. This is suggestive of a moderate El Nino. These warmer waters are pushing north up the coast of Baja Mexico, but have retreated from Southern CA. Much cooler than normal waters (-2.5 deg C) are mirrored 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. what's 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. Looking at water temp anomalies since June to now (7/30) there has been little to no degradation in the warm anomaly, but no real advance either. This is what one would expect of a weak to moderate 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 3 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, starting 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 8/1. In fact, fully blowing westerly winds were in-charge associated with an area of low pressure there on 7/30 almost reaching to the dateline (not just anomalies). This was a sign of a Westerly Wind Burst. But it dissipated on 8/3. 150 meters down under the equator, warmer water is definitely building and drifting east, (1 deg C above normal - another Kelvin Wave) so the warm water pump is not shut off after all, and if anything, is getting some modest reinforcement. 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 is doing) and perhaps a Westerly Wind Burst and a new Kelvin Wave developing (which is happening as of 8/5). The belief at this time is this developing El Nino will not completely loose it's legs and falter like last year, but will survive in some fashion with effects continuing in the atmosphere until Spring of next year. That is not to say this will be a strong El Nino, more likely a weak to moderate one. NOAA is now also forecasting the same outcome. Regardless, that delineation is still yet to be seen though the next active phase expected the 3rd week of Sept. A final confirmation would be possible at that time. Strong El Ninos bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast, along with the potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides swell improvements, without the weather. So as of right now things remain miles better than anything the Pacific has seen in at long time regarding anomalous sea surface temperatures, besting anything since the big El Nino of 1997. But the lack of a clear response in the atmosphere as evidenced by a unremarkable SOI remains perplexing, causing us to be cautious.
Beyond 72 hours high pressure over New Zealand is to build to 1040 mbs, but lifting north a little with it's axis aligned more west to east, offering a outside chance for low pressure to start building under it, though totally encased in Arctic Ice through Tues (8/11). by Wednesday it's to get a toehold out over the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf with 40-45 kt west winds and 30 ft seas building at 60S 170W, but with winter fully in control sown south and the Ice pack building north with each passing day, little traction is expected to result before the gale dissipates. Another similar gale is to follow, perhaps positioned a little further north on Thurs (8/13), but most fetch is to be aimed at the Ross Ice Shelf and nothing to the north. The southern hemi is not looking productive.
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