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 Sunday (8/12) North and Central CA had local windswell producing waves in the waist high range and a bit warbled even early with light west wind. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was mostly waist high with a few sets near chest high and clean with light fog early. Southern California up north had chest high windswell produced sets and warbled but with no real wind early. Down south waves were waist to chest high and lined up coming out of the south with no wind and clean though a little warbled. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with trades and clean conditions. The South Shore was flat and clean with light trades in effect. The East Shore report was not available.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure was continued easing into the Pacific Northwest generating the typical pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino with winds to 20 kts there producing limited northerly windswell pushing down the coast and unremarkable. Weak trades were in control over the Islands at 10-15 kts with no real windswell resulting. A broad closed isobar low pressure system was in the Western Gulf of Alaska with westerly winds to 25 kts and seas to 15 ft, good for only minimal windswell for the US West Coast. Tropical Storm Hector was south of Cabo heading west and of no interest. High pressure is forecast to continue weakly feeding the usual gradient over Cape Mendocino through early Wednesday then fading out, with windswell from it dropping out mid-week. After that, things get very quiet in the North Pacific with no swell producing fetch forecast.
Down south a small gale developed in the Central South Pacific on Thurs (8/2) with 34 ft seas but tracking flat east and offering no much for our forecast area other than some background swell that is already hitting California and expected to continue into maybe Tuesday (8/14). A solid storm developing well off Southern Chile on Thurs (8/9) and just barely in the California swell window with up to 38 ft seas pushing northeast then developed further with seas to 42 ft but pushing out of even the Southern CA swell window. This one has produced swell that is hitting South America and expected to reach up into Central America. Nothing else is expected to follow for the entire South Pacific. In short, a big wave drought looks likely about a week out.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Sunday (8/12) the North Pacific high pressure system was at 1024 mbs centered 7500 nmiles west of North CA nosing into the extreme northern Pacific Northwest and Southern Canada generating the usual pressure gradient off Cape Mendocino with winds to 20 kts there producing small short period local north windswell reaching into exposed breaks in Central and South CA. The high also was generating weak easterly trades at 10-15 kts over the Hawaiian Islands resulting in weak small east windswell along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to try hold with the pressure gradient over North CA continuing producing 20-25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino Monday through early Wednesday (8/15) resulting in more small north local windswell for Central CA. But it is to be under assault from a broad low pressure system currently maxing in the Western Gulf of Alaska at 992 mbs and producing northwest and west winds at 25 kts expected to hold into early Monday AM. Seas to peak at 17 ft well off Southern Oregon targeting Central CA northward up into Oregon Sunday afternoon and with 14 ft seas targeting Hawaii on Monday afternoon. Maybe some minimal windswell to result for those locations (see QuikCAST's for details). Regardless, a quick fade of the low is forecast by Monday evening with no further fetch forecast. Remnants of the low are to ease northeast into the Gulf of Alaska and help degrade high pressure off the California coast, resulting in reducing high pressure off the CA coast and less locally produced windswell by mid-week.
As the high fades mid-week (late Wednesday 8/15) so are trades relative to the Hawaiian Islands with east windswell fading. Until then easterly trades are to continue in the 10-15 kt range Sun-Wed with minimal east windswell expected.
Typically on a good year one could start seeing some form of tropical systems developing south of Japan with the potential for recurving northeast by 8/15. In fact, swell from such systems have reached into Central CA near that date. But as of today there is no evidence that such a system will develop anytime soon.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Hector was 300 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas on Sunday (8/12) with sustained winds 40 kts and was tracking flat west with seas 18 ft. It is forecast to build into Tuesday with winds reaching 55 kts, then fading thereafter and continuing on essentially a westerly track. No swell expected relative to California or Hawaii.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (8/12) a light northerly flow (5-10 kts) was nearshore over the North and Central coast with stronger north winds over outer waters (15-20 kts), the result of high pressure ridging into the Pacific Northwest. More of the same is forecast Monday and Tuesday, with perhaps and eddy flow pushing up into Central CA waters on Wednesday and Thursday. But by the the Cape Mendocino pressure gradient is to have collapsed with no winds in excess of maybe 10 kts forecast for California waters into Sunday (8/19) other than a small patch of 15 kt north winds for Pt Conception. Southern CA to remain in an eddy flow for the next 7 days.
Jet stream - On Sunday (8/12 a split jetstream pattern remained locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch displaced well to the south running flat west to east down at 70S with a ridge pushing further south over the Southeastern Pacific into Antarctica. No support for gale development was indicated. A trough was present off extreme southern Chile, but well outside of our forecast area. Over the next 72 hours the ridge is to track east and clear out of the area while a new pocket of 120-130 kts winds swell east from under New Zealand. A bit of a trough is to form on the leading edge of this wind pocket but reaching north to only 60S in the Central Pacific late Monday (8/13) and tracking fast to the east. No real support for gale development over ice free waters is expected. Beyond 72 hours a strong ridge is to push hard south behind that wind pocket pushing well into Antarctica and tracking east with reinforcements behind that and completely locking down the South Pacific through Sunday (8/19). No support for gale development indicated.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Sunday (8/12) no swell producing fetch was present over ice free waters. High pressure was building under New Zealand at 1028 mbs pushing any fetch in clear water to the south. Over the next 72 hours high pressure at 1032 mbs is to build while pushing east from under New Zealand reaching down to 62S and over Antarctic Ice eliminating odds for swell production. Beyond 72 hrs that high is to continue to keep a lock on the West and Central Pacific. There's some indications of a gale forming in the far East Pacific on Friday (8/17) with 35 kts southwest winds developing, but it is to quickly collapse with seas not reaching in excess of 26 ft and all east of our forecast area.
Second New Zealand Gale
Another small gale formed southeast of New Zealand on Wed (8/1) with 40-45 kts west winds peaking at near 55 kts Thursday AM (8/2) aimed due north but covering only a tiny area. Seas peaked at near 36 ft Thurs PM (8/2) over an infinitesimal area at 56S 138W offering only the faintest odds of swell pushing into the California swell window. Some 17 sec period energy arrives in Southern CA on Sun (8/12) from 190 degrees (1.5 ft @ 17 secs - 2.0-2.5 ft) and is to continue into Tuesday fading then from 2.4 ft @ 14 secs (3.0-3.5 ft).
A gale developed in the deep Southeast Pacific over Antarctic Ice Wednesday (8/8) with 45-50 kt southwest winds becoming exposed to ice free waters in the evening while lifting northeast with seas building to 35 ft at 59S 125W. Thursday AM (8/9) a large fetch of 45-50 kts southwest winds were building seas to 39 ft at 56S 119W on the edge of the Southern CA swell window. In fact the Jason-1 satellite passed directly over the core of the fetch at 14Z and confirmed a 15 reading average of 39.9 ft with a single peak reading to 41.3 ft, right in line with what the wave model projected. The fetch lifted northeast in the evening with winds fading from 45 kts and seas to 43 ft at 56S 110W and effectively out of even the Southern CA swell window but targeting Central America and South America well. Fetch faded from 40-45 kts Friday AM (8/10) with seas dropping from 40 ft at 54S 103W targeting Chile and Peru well. A quick fade followed with seas fading from 36 ft at 52S 98W in the evening.
This system was just barely in the Southern CA swell window Thursday AM and was moving out by the evening. But that should be enough to push some small sideband swell northward and provide a much needed diversion for an otherwise lackluster summer surf season. Far better energy is to be tracking towards Chile and Peru assuming this system plays out as forecast.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival Thursday AM (8/16) with pure swell 2 ft @ 21 secs (4 ft with sets to 5 ft) building to 2.3 ft @ 19 secs (4.4 ft with sets to 5.5 ft) late. Swell to continue on Friday (8/17) at 2.7 ft @ 18-19 secs (5 ft with sets to 6 ft) then fading Saturday from 2.6 ft @ 16 secs (4 ft). Swell Direction very southerly at 176-180 degrees.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Thursday (8/16) with pure swell building to 1.8 ft @ 21 secs late (3.8 ft with sets to 4.5 ft) late. Swell to continue on Friday (8/17) at 2.3 ft @ 20 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 6 ft) holding Saturday at 2.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (4 ft with sets to 5 ft). Swell fading Sunday from 2.3 ft @ 16 secs (3.5 ft with sets to 4.5 ft) Swell Direction very southerly at 174-179 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 high pressure is to retrograde west centered over the dateline by Thurs (8/15) at 1024 mbs and pretty weak though broad, resulting in no fetch being generated anywhere in the North Pacific through Saturday (8/18). Even trades over Hawaii to fall below 15 kts. There's some indication it might start pushing east on Sunday (8/19) with trades again on the increase over the Hawaiian Islands to 15 kts with tiny east windswell resulting late. but nothing more. North windswell that has been a staple of the California surf diet is to be removed from the menu.
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 Sunday (8/12) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was at -19.79 (negative or nearly so for 22 consecutive days). The 30 day average was down some at -6.49 with the 90 day average down to -7.40. The 30 and 90 days averages were moving back into preferred negative territory courtesy of the latest Active Phase of the MJO. But since the Active Phase has all but faded, and the SOI is a lagging indictor, the expected trend is for the SOI to start moving into positive territory in the next week.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a small area of light west anomalies holding over the Maritime Continent (WPac) near 150E with light east anomalies over the dateline. Again west anomalies took firmed control south of Hawaii to a point south of Cabo. Neutral anomalies elsewhere. This suggests the Active Phase was weakly in control of the Central Pacific and moving east, likely in the later stages of it's life there. A week from now (8/20) modest east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent with neutral anomalies elsewhere from the dateline into Central America suggesting a weak Inactive Phase building in the far West Pacific with the Active Phase . exiting east over Central America.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 8/11 are in agreement suggesting that the Active Phase is all but gone over the Pacific, tracking into Central America while a moderate strength Inactive Phase was getting a foothold over the Maritime Continent pushing east. Both suggest the Inactive Phase is to build to moderate strength over the Maritime Continent and dateline 5 days out (8/17) tracking east 2 weeks from now and starting to fade at that time. Interestingly, it is to be displaced north some with a small area of enhanced precipitation holding over the dateline over the 2 week period. The statistical model has a new Active Phase building in the Indian Ocean starting 8 day out. For now residuals of the current Active Phase are to continue gently pumping warm water to the east, but the building Inactive Phase is likely to take a bite out of that possibly interrupting that warm water build-up. How much and how long is open for debate. If this were to occur it could disrupt the buildup of favorable conditions for the coming Fall and Winter season.
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 accumulated off Ecuador 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 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 charts, through 7/2 an unmistakable El Nino-like pattern developed extending from south of Hawaii into Ecuador and extending north to Cabo San Lucas and south well into Chile. Updates through 8/6 indicated no effective change in the warmest anomalies occurring off Columbia, regardless of ongoing MJO phases. But the 8/9 update did finally depict a slight reduction in warmest waters off Central America, the result of previous Inactive Phase activity. With no apparent reinforcements in the form of a Kelvin Wave in the pipe or in the forecast, it seems likely continued erosion of the warm pool could occur. The preference is for a weak MJO pattern to continue (a sign of some flavor of El Nino, and preferably a weak multi-year event) and no Inactive Phases of any magnitude.
Only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern is in-play right now (as of 8/12). 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. Drought conditions over portions of North America are another indicator. The high continues to generate consistent/unrelenting 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 periodic declines in nearshore north winds have occurred with some eddy flow working its way up into Central CA with water temps on the rise, but only to be beat back down as the high rebuilds and north winds regenerate. The presence of 3 hurricanes in mid-July in the East Pacific, and then subsequent weaker systems are all attributable to the warmer waters temps building near the equator and period Active MJO activity over that portion of the Pacific. But the larger picture still reflect La Nina. So in reality, we're in a hybrid atmospheric state. The longer the MJO remains biased towards a neutral or Active state, and the more warm water the builds off Central America, the more the atmosphere will respond (especially come Fall) turning more towards at least a neutral if not an El Nino-like configuration. We remain on the bubble as of this date. Historical Note: It is 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 and leave us in limbo with just a neutral pattern in play (normal)? The forecast moderate Inactive Phase in mid-August might just cause that stall. But 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 weather systems are 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 Mavericks - The Jay Moriarty Movie: Two trailers for the new movie about Jay, Frosty and Mavericks has been posted. Movie opens on 10/26/12. Here's the link: http://www.mtv.com/videos/movie-trailers/818957/chasing-mavericks.jhtml & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNdYoX9Vfxg&feature=relmfu
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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".
Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
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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