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 (8/27) North and Central California had fading northwest swell from the Gulf of Alaska in the chest high range with southern hemi swell at waist to maybe chest high underneath. Near chopped in the afternoon. Southern California was still getting southern hemi swell with waves in the chest high range or better with some energy from the Gulf of Alaska seeping in at waist high or better too from LA southward. Conditions lightly textured in the afternoon. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The East Shore had waist high tradewind generated east windswell hitting exposed breaks with onshore winds and chopped. The South Shore had some waist to chest high sets working their way in, southern hemi background swell of indeterminate source and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for the south angled southern hemi swell to be fading on Friday from waist high and all but gone by the weekend. But new northwest swell from the Gulf of Alaska is expected in for Saturday in the overhead range but a bit windy, then slowly fading into Sunday. Southern California is to have a little more south angled southern hemi swell on Friday but dropping steadily and weak. But some north angled swell from the Gulf is expected into exposed breaks late on Saturday to chest high or so and holding well into Sunday. Fall is starting. The North Shore of Hawaii is to start seeing the first signs of Fall too late on Friday with small swell from the north arriving to head high dropping to chest high Saturday then surging with new swell in late on Sunday to 1 ft overhead. East windswell on the East Shore is to drop to the thigh to maybe waist high range on hold there through the weekend, though it's likely a good chunk of that north swell forecast for the weekend is to hit exposed breaks there too. The South Shore is to be near flat for the foreseeable future with Thursdays swell fading Friday and nothing expected beyond.
Over the long term the southern hemi is to remain in-active with no swell in the water (other than what is already hitting) and nothing forecast. Up north a broad gale developed in the Gulf Wed-Thurs (8/27) with 23 ft seas targeting the entire California Coast with sideband energy scheduled for Hawaii for the weekend. And yet another one is charted to build on Friday in the Western Gulf with 25 ft seas targeting both Hawaii and the entire US West coast for early next week. Fall is on the way, or at least a taste of it is.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (8/27) the North Pacific jetstream was a bit jumbled with the flow generally pushing northeast up the Kuril Islands, east over the Aleutians with a steep trough diving south through the Gulf of Alaska, before ridging north and finally pushing inland over Northern Canada. Winds in the trough were 110 kts, providing some support for gale development, but that was mostly leftover from days previous. Over the next 72 hrs a bit of a ridge is to build in the Northwest Pacific, pushing the jet well into the Bering Sea and locking that area down. Conversely a bit of a very weak trough is to try and build over the Eastern Aleutians diving into the Gulf, but getting inched off by the ridge in the west as it moves rapidly east. In all, the jet is to be too far to the north to be of real interest. Looks like El Nino isn't quite helping things here yet. Beyond 72 hours that ridge is to get locked over the East Pacific with the jet mostly north of the Aleutians, though a weak trough is forecast in the far West Pacific. A cutoff low is forecast circulating off the Pacific Northwest into mid-next week, perhaps supporting something low pressure like at the oceans surface. But whatever it is, it won't be strong.
At the surface on Thursday AM (8/27) the remains of the Gulf Gale (see details below) were fading off British Columbia with no swell producing fetch left. But it was getting absorbed or at least cannibalized by a building gale, the extratropical remnants of Typhoon Vamco developing in the Western Gulf over the Aleutians Islands. 45 kt northwest winds were modeled at 52N 170W partially obscured by the Aleutians Islands. 23 ft seas were building at 51N 170W. Over the next 72 hours starting Thursday PM (8/27) 40-45 kt northwest winds from this system are forecast at 50N 167W aimed 30 degrees south of the 306 degree path into Central CA and right down the 350 degree path to Hawaii. 25 ft seas are forecast at 48N 165W. Friday AM (8/28) 35 kt northwest winds are to be fading fast 45N 160W pushing more to the west or 30 degrees south of the 296 degree path to Central CA and 40 degrees east of the 358 degree path to the Islands. 25 ft seas to hold at 46N 162W. Residual 25 kts winds are forecast at 45N 152W in the evening with 20 ft seas at 45N 155W all pushing east-southeast towards the mainland (Central CA) with limited sideband energy towards the Islands. Assuming this all develops as modeled some form of decent mid-period swell might push into Central CA early next week and Hawaii as early as late weekend (Sunday), but that remains just a projection.
Low pressure at 992 mbs was starting to build in the Western Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday AM (8/25). This low built to gale status on Tuesday evening (8/25) with 30-35 kt north-northwest winds confirmed at 47N 155W and seas building. By Wednesday AM 35+ kt north-northwest winds were confirmed at 47N 152W aimed 40 degrees south of the 303 degree path into Central CA and 45 degrees east of the 10 degree path into Hawaii. 20 ft seas were starting to build there. In the evening 35 kt northwest winds continued at 43S 150W aimed 35 degrees east of the 296 degree path to Central CA and 40 degree east of the 12 degree path to HI. 23 ft seas were modeled at 42N 148W traveling about mid-way between Hawaii and CA. Thursday AM (8/27) winds rapidly faded from 30 kts with 23 ft seas modeled but fading at 40N 145W heading southeast.
A nice little dose of northwest swell is expected to result move into Central CA by Saturday AM (8/29) at 6.0-6.5 ft @ 13 secs (8.0-8.5 ft faces) from 290-297 degrees.
Limited energy for exposed breaks in Southern CA is expected mid-day Saturday (8/29) at 3 ft @ 13 secs (4 ft faces) with top spots a bit bigger (5 ft faces). Swell Direction 295-300 degrees
Sideband swell is expected into north facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands late Friday (8/28) at 6 ft @ 12 secs (7-8 ft faces) fading into Saturday. Swell Direction: 5-10 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (8/27) a sliver of weak high pressure was barely holding off Central CA deflecting a front from a gale in the Gulf off to the north. A light wind regime was in place and expected to hold through Friday. Weak high pressure at 1022 mbs is forecast to set up ridging into the Pacific Northwest on Saturday AM with north winds nearshore at 15 kts forecast, lifting north and consolidating over Cape Mendo on Sunday (8/30) building to 25 kts with decreasing winds from Pt Arena southward, then dissipating on Monday. Light winds forecast through Wednesday (9/2) then coming up from the north again as weak high pressure tries to build in on Thursday focused on Pt Conception.
The Inactive Phase of the MJO is faltering over the far West Pacific and not expected to return, which likely will not hamper odds of tropical storm formation over the coming 3 weeks, though not amplify it any either:
On Thursday (8/27) the extratropical remnants of Typhoon Vamco were dropping south from the Bering Sea into the Gulf of Alaska assisted by the jetstream. See forecasts above.
Tropical Depression Hilda was tracking 360 nmiles south of the Big Island of Hawaii looking very ragged, if even still a tropical system. The remnants of Hilda are forecast to track slowly west while dissipating. No swell production forecast.
Tropical Storm Ignacio was positioned 650 nmiles southwest of Dana Point CA and was tracking northwest at 11 kts with sustained winds 30 kts. A slow decay is forecast with Ignacio gone in 48 hours. No swell production forecast.
On Thursday (8/28) a fully split jetstream pattern continued over the South Pacific, with the northern branch flowing flat east on the 30S latitude while the southern branch pushed solidly east on the 70S latitude and mostly encased in ice over the Ross Ice Shelf in the West offering no odds for gale development. Over the next 72 hrs no real change is forecast. No support for gale development suggested.
At the surface on Thursday (8/28) high pressure at 1028 mbs was in-control of the Central Pacific ridging south to about the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf and blocking the south Pacific storm corridor. No low pressure of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours that high pressure is to drift east and dissipate, but no swell producing low pressure of interest is forecast.
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 at 1032 mbs that has been holding over the dateline is to surge east almost filling the Gulf of Alaska by Monday (8/31) but held at bay by residual low pressure off British Columbia. And an upper level low is to be over the dateline, but of no interest to anyone. by Wednesday (9/2) the low that was off BC is to drift west and get a little traction generating 15-20 kts winds but all aimed west towards open ocean. No swell to result. The upper low that was over over the dateline is to hold there too, with no change forecast into Thurs (9/3). The tropics off Northern Mexico up into the area west of southern Baja are to get quite active, but that still remains only a guess by the models.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (8/27) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Inactive Phase but it as not obvious. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index continued to defy expectations by remaining negative. The Daily SOI index was down to -8.01 (negative 9 days) making it effectively a 39 day negative run (since 7/21), more typical of the Active Phase. This is being caused by a slow moving low pressure system tracking east under Tahiti and is expected to hold into Friday (8/28), then fading with high pressure an positive SOI values to follow. The 30 day average was down an inch to -5.55 and the 90 day average was down to -1.23. The SOI index continues to try and regain some of the ground it lost when the MJO went Inactive in early July. It certainly hasn't lost anything.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated that effectively neutral winds were in control of the entire equatorial Pacific with just the faintest hint of easterly anomalies over the Philippines. For the inactive Phase, this is great news. Nothing other than purely normal conditions are forecast to hold over the Pacific from 8/31 through 9/15. We still suspect the Active Phase will appear weakly in early Sept (say 9/10), but it normally take a while for the models to get a handle on it when it does occur. If this happens, this means the Inactive Phase schedule for the late August early Sept timeframe will be skipped all together (a good thing). Will monitor.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (8/24) indicates no real change since the last update on 8/20, with a solid area of warmer than normal water extending 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 the California coast , the result of northerly winds over the past week. Much cooler than normal waters (-2.5 deg C) are mirrored streaming off Africa and pushing east reaching South America, but diminishing some from previous weeks. Looking back in the records, exactly the same flow developed during the big El Nino of 1997 and is likely to suppress Atlantic hurricane actively due solely to the frigid water temps.
Below the surface on the equator a steady flow of warmer than normal subsurface water has been tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America for months now. And if anything that pattern is building. 2-3 deg warmer than normal waters have mysteriously re-appeared off Central America. And the Kelvin Wave we have been tracking of late is still migrating east from 165W, the result of a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) in the West Pacific that occurred on 7/25-8/2. It has strengthened now with temperatures up to 2 deg C to 3 deg C above normal while feeding the warm water pump, providing reinforcements on the way to Ecuador. This is critical to the formation of a legitimate El Nino, but will take 2 months from the time it is generated to reach it's target (9/27 or so). The small pocket of cooler water 100 meters down on the equator south of South CA that was previous mentioned a week or more ago appears have dissipated. More good news.
Fully blowing westerly winds in the far West Pacific and westerly anomalies reached to the dateline starting 8/12. They had pretty much settled down by 8/19, and were reduced to weak anomalies by 8/20, and those weak westerly anomalies continued even today (8/27), becoming more pronounced a little east of the dateline. Looking at the models slack winds are forecast on the equator west of the dateline for the next week (through 9/3). This is good news and might continue to prime the warm water pump pushing east. We've been looking for perhaps another Kelvin wave to result from this slack wind flow/weak Westerly Wind Burst of late. Starting 8/25 the first faint signs of a second pocket of warming water was perhaps starting to appear under the dateline and continue today (8/27). Very preliminary data at best, but it suggests that reinforcements for the existing Kelvin Wave already in-transit are on the way. Will continue monitoring this situation.
The belief at this time is this developing El Nino is past the critical juncture, and will survive in some fashion with effects continuing in the atmosphere until at least the Spring of next year. It is certainly doing much better for much longer than last year. But the picture remains far from black and white, though it is coming a bit more in focus. 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. Of note, some data suggests that during the development of moderate to stronger El Nino's and La Nina's, it is normal for the MJO signal to become exceedingly weak. That was the case in late July into August now, and is still the case today. That coupled with the solid accumulation of warm water in the equatorial East Pacific is evidence in-favor of continued development. As long as there continues to be WWB's, then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold if not build, and the atmosphere above it will respond in kind to the change (towards El Nino). Therefore the delineation of whether development will continue versus stall is dependent upon more WWBs. And the scales continue to tip in favor or more development rather than less.
The next milestone were looking for is development of the next Active Phase of the MJO, expected sometime near the 3rd week of Sept. Also water temps need to hold if not build (i.e.or whether another WWB will occur - as is maybe happening now). A final confirmation should be possible in Sept. In the mean time, 21 days of the Inactive Phase that were in progress appear to have faltered entirely, or at least much weaker than previously forecast. 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 storm and swell enhancement, without necessarily all the weather. So as of right now things remain miles better than anything the Pacific has seen in the past 12 years regarding anomalous sea surface temperatures, besting anything since the big El Nino of 1997. That is very good news. But the lack of a clear response in the atmosphere as evidenced by a unremarkable SOI remains perplexing (even though all other indicators suggest an El Nino is well underway), causing us to remain cautious.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest a complex gale is to be moving south of Tasmania perhaps throwing 50-55 kts fetch and 32 ft seas up into the Tasman Sea late on Saturday (8/29) bound for Fiji, but the whole system is to start sinking southeast as it approaches the South Pacific, dissipating all the while. Nothing of interest is to survive capable of generating swell for Hawaii or US interests. A second batch of fetch is forecast for the Tasman Sea on Tuesday (9/1) generating 35 ft seas targeting mainly New Zealand with sideband energy fro Fiji with luck.
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