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 (8/18) North and Central California was seeing waist high local north windswell up north with occasional waist high southern hemi sets intermixed with clean conditions. Down south it was thigh high with some waist high sets and clean early. Southern California was effectively flat up north but clean. Down south there was some background southern hemi swell occasionally showing producing waves at waist to chest high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The South Shore was getting minimal southern hemi background swell with waves at thigh high and clean wit light trades in effect. The East Shore was small with knee high or so easterly tradewind generated windswell with lightly chopped conditions.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
The North Pacific high is trying to make a bit of a comeback and by Tuesday is to be back in control late with north winds to 25 kts off Cape Mendocino by Wednesday with north windswell on the increase. Trades to increase a bit east of Hawaii possibly pushing east windswell there back into the rideable range by Wednesday too. And a bit of swell previously generated in the Gulf of Alaska is to be in the mix too, but nothing much. A massive (size wise) tropical system is sitting stationary in the far West Pacific and is expected to now track north and up into Central Japan late in the week. Down south a primer gale built under New Zealand Mon (8/22) producing a short pulse of 32 ft seas but whatever swell results is to get buried by a far bigger one behind. A very strong storm developed Tues-Wed (8/24) with 50 ft seas holding nearly 36 hours tracking from under New Zealand east-northeastward. A very solid long period swell has already pummeled Tahiti and is pushing east-northeast towards Peru with nice sideband energy forecast up into Hawaii and the US West Coast. Beyond the South Pacific is to fall silent but there's suggestions the North Pacific might start to become a little more agitated.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface on Sunday (8/28) high pressure was still pretty weak at 1024 mbs but was filling the entire East and Central North Pacific and poised to make a bit of a comeback. Weak low pressure was in the Northern Gulf but was non-productive. The high was generating north winds at 15-20 kts over a small area over Cape Mendocino CA with light trades at 15 kts over Hawaii too. Minimal north windswell was resulting in Central CA. Over the next 72 hours the high is to become more consolidated in the East Pacific with pressure reaching 1028 mbs by Tuesday (8/30) generating a fetch of north winds to 20-25 kts with lesser velocity winds sweeping down the entire CA coast. The fetch is then to becoming more focused on Cape Mendocino by Wed (8/31) with winds up to near 30 kts. Increasing local windswell for Central CA down into Southern CA likely. With the rise of high pressure low pressure development is to be suppressed in the Gulf.
Small Gulf Pulse
A low pressure system was tracking east positioned just south of the Eastern Aleutians Thurs-Sat (8/27) producing 30-35 kt west winds and by Saturday AM (8/27) seas were modeled at 20-22 ft at 49N 158W (1600 nmiles from NCal with swell pushing down the 306 degree path), good for some small 13 sec period swell tracking towards the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA arriving there late Tuesday swell maybe pushing 4.5 ft @ 12-13 secs (5.5 ft).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm 14W Nanmadol was 300 nmiles east of the Philippines on Tues (8/23) with winds 45 kts tracking slowly north. By Thursday (8/25) it had inched close to the northern Philippines with winds up to 90 kts. It passed over the most extreme northern tip of the Philippines and tracked northwest poised just off Southern Taiwan Sunday AM (8/28) with winds minimal Cat 1 typhoon strength at 75 kts. It is expected to move onshore and dissipate later in the day. No swell generation potential relative to our forecast area.
Tropical Storm 15W Talas developed out of low pressure in the West Pacific late Wednesday and as of Thurs AM (8/25) it was tracking north positioned 900 nmiles south of Tokyo Japan.By Sunday it was effectively stationary still 750 nmiles south of Tokyo with winds 50 kts. A slow increase in northward speed is forecast Monday (8/29) with Talas building to typhoon strength pushing near 80 kts late Tuesday (8/30) 400 nmiles south-southwest of Tokyo. The storm is to continue north positioned 100 nmiles south of Central Japan late Wed (8/31) with winds still 70 kts. The GFS model has it tracking into Japan late Thursday (9/1). No real swell producing fetch is forecast relative to our forecast area.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (8/28) high pressure at 1024 mbs was 1350 nmiles north of Hawaii but not real organized. A tiny fetch of 20 kt north winds was off Cape Mendocino producing limited windswell pushing down into Central CA. Winds were light nearshore from Pt Arena southward. By Monday (8/29) the core of the fetch is to fall south and the eddy flow disappearing. 15-20 kt north winds to impact the whole of the North and Central coasts. By Tuesday (8/30) pressure off the coast is to be 1030 mbs with north winds off Cape Mendocino rebuilding to 25 kts with 20 kt north winds pushing down the CEntral CA coast. Maybe up to 30 kt north winds forecast up north by Wed (8/31) holding into early Thursday but pulling away from the coast some with an eddy flow starting to build from Pt Reyes southward. The fetch to fade to 20-25 kts on Friday with and eddy flow from Pt Arena southward and then the whole fetch fading on Saturday with calm winds over the whole coast by Sunday as low pressure builds in the Gulf of Alaska.
On Sunday (8/28) a split jetstream pattern was in play over South Pacific with the southern branch running flat west to east and located well to the south, down at 62S and effectively running over the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf extending all the way into the Southeast Pacific. No support for gale development was indicated. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast if not getting reinforced with winds building to 130 kts. Again, no support for gale development forecast in our forecast area. But a trough is to be developing off Southern Chile by Tuesday with 110 kts winds feeding up into it. Beyond 72 hours the trough in the far east off Chile is to push more to the east and into southern Chile by Fri (9/2). The big ridge over the bulk of the South Pacific is to hold but a break is forecast under New Zealand late Thursday (9/1) with a steep trough developing there. That trough is to hold through the weekend (9/4) with 120 kt winds pushing solidly up into the trough. Maybe some hope for surface level gale development longterm.
At the surface on Sunday AM (8/28) secondary energy from the remnants of Storm #7S (details below) was fading while moving through the extreme Southeast Pacific. Seas were 30-32 ft at 50S 110W pushing towards extreme southern Chile. No energy was aimed up towards out forecast area. Over the next 72 hours high pressure is to take root east of New Zealand at 1036 mbs driving the storm track well to the south and over the Ross Ice Shelf. No swell producing fetch forecast.
Strong Storm #7S
A strong storm started developing tracking under New Zealand on Tuesday AM (8/23). Southwest winds were modeled at 55 kts with a core to 65 kts (hurricane force) aimed right up the 210 degree path to California (shadowed by Tahiti) and 30 degrees east of the 197 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were on the increase fast from 32 ft just of the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. WindSat passed over the fetch and reported confirmed winds at 55+ kts. The Jason-1 satellite confirmed seas at 39.9 ft with a peak reading at 41.3 ft where the model suggested 32 ft seas. This is typical in that storms wind up faster than then GFS model typically expects and seas respond accordingly. But the Wavewatch 3 wave model, since it is fed by the GFS model, also takes longer to depict generation of high seas. A large area of 50 kt southwest winds was to be in-place in the evening with a solid core to 55 kts all aimed directly up the 208 degree path to California (and shadowed by Tahiti) and blowing 45 degrees east of the 191 degree great circle path to Hawaii. Seas were building fast to 45 ft at 57S 180W and pushing just north of flat east. WindSAT confirmed winds at 55+ kts with the Jason satellite reporting seas of 39.9 ft with a peak reading to 41.3 ft where the model reported 42 ft seas. The Jason-1 satellite maxes out at about 40 ft. Regardless, it confirmed what the model was suggesting.
By Wednesday AM (8/24) a large area of 50-55 kt southwest winds continued tracking east-northeast aimed right up the 203 degree great circle path to CA and blowing 40 degrees east of the 184 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were modeled building to a magnificent 51 ft at 55S 170W (205/207 degs NCal/SCal) and shadowed by Tahiti and 187 degs relative to HI but alot of fetch passing east of the great circle tracks heading there. WindSAT confirmed winds at 55+ kts with Jason-1 reporting seas at 38.8 with a peak to 41.3 where the model was suggesting 39-40 ft seas. The model was right on track. A quick fade was forecast in the evening with a broad area of 45 kt southwest winds forecast blowing 35 degrees east of the 198 degree path to CA and effectively useless to Hawaii. Seas to be peaking at a large 52 ft at 53S 157W pushing up the 200/203 degrees path to NCal/SCal and passing out of the eastern edge of the Tahitian swell shadow. Limited sideband energy pushing up the 179 degree path to Hawaii. But WindSat confirmed winds still at 50-55 kts with Jason-1 reporting seas at 38.8 with a peak to 41.0 ft where the model suggested 40-41 ft seas. Again right on track.
This system was effectively gone by Thursday AM (8/25) but seas from previous fetch were still modeled at 47 ft at 50S 148W pushing up the 196/199 degree path to NCal/SCal and effectively unshadowed by Tahiti. Residual seas fading from 41 ft Thursday PM at 47S 139W pushing up the 191/194 degree paths to NCal/SCal.
The good news about this system is the models have done an incredibly good job of modeling this storm suggesting large if not huge seas resulting. And those winds and seas have been effectively confirmed by satellites. A total of near 36 hrs of seas in the 50 ft range have occurred, very unusual for the Southern Hemi. From a pure storm perspective, this is the strongest storm we've seen in a few years. The bad news is that the bulk of the energy is shadowed by Tahiti relative to California. And of more concern is the fetch itself was traveling far more to the east than the north, meaning only sideband energy is to reach up into Hawaii with no direct fetch pushing up in that direction. Regarding California, at least the fetch itself was pushing almost right up the great circle paths there, but the whole of the fetch was traveling almost perpendicular to the Golden State rather than following a single great circle path to the northeast. This will limit swell size, consistency, and number of waves per set. Most all direct energy is traveling up a singular great circle path towards Peru and Northern Chile. Regardless, because of the sheer size and strength of the storm, a solid very long period swell seems likely affecting the whole of the Eastern Pacific Basin. Expect initial periods in the 22-23 sec range with rideable size. This will set alot of water moving near any coast, resulting in strong currents and rips. Initial size may not be exceptional, but the power will be obvious once you enter the water. Lesser experienced surfers take note.
This swell hit Tahiti on Saturday (8/27) and as expected, size was large. But again, it was not so much the size but the period which was the problem. Estimated at 20 secs, the swell was still rather raw and not well refined. This is good in that is suggests though Tahiti was not directly on the great circle paths of this swell either, they received piles of energy. That raw character will be refined over the 3600 nmile journey north to CA.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Mon (8/29) with tiny little lines building through the day with period 23 sec early falling to 22 secs late and size slowly building. Maybe rideable late with luck to 1.6 ft @ 22 secs (3.5 ft). Solid energy is forecast by Tuesday (8/30) with swell period 18-19 secs through the day, longer periods and smaller size early. Swell to peak late pushing 3.9 ft @ 19 secs late (7 ft faces with sets to 9 ft). Swell to continue near peak size early Wednesday (8/31) with pure swell 3.9 ft @ 17 secs (6.5 ft with sets to 9 ft), then fading slowly through the day. 15 sec residual energy to continue through Thurs (9/1) at 3.3-3.6 ft @ 14-15 sec mid-day (5.0-5.5 ft) with lesser energy into early in the weekend. Swell Direction: Centered on 187 degrees with energy ranging from 179-192 degrees
South California: Expect swell arriving Wed (8/31) with period 23 secs and size tiny but steadily building through the day with rideable sets by early afternoon pushing 2.3 ft @ 22 secs (5.0 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). Swell to be solid on Thursday (9/1) at sunrise with period 19-20 secs and size still on the increase as period falls towards 18 secs. Size starting to peak noon at 3.8 ft @ 19 secs (7 ft with set to 9 ft). Swell to still be solid Friday AM (9/2) with pure swell 3.9 ft @ 18 secs (6.7 ft with sets to 8.5 ft) then fading some late. Solid swell of 3.5 ft @ 16 secs (5.5 ft with sets to 7.0 ft) expected through the day Sat (9/3). 14-15 sec residuals on Sunday. Swell Direction: 202 degrees with the range being 194-210 degrees
North California: Expect swell arriving Wed (8/31) with period 23 secs and size tiny but steadily building through the day with rideable sets by sunset at 2 ft @ 22 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 5.5 ft). Swell to start becoming solid on Thursday (9/1) at sunrise with period 20 secs and size still on the increase as period falls to 19 secs. Size starting to peak late at 3.3 ft @ 19 secs (6.5 ft with set to 8.0 ft). Swell to be solid Friday AM (9/2) with pure swell 3.8 ft @ 18 secs (6.5 ft with sets to 8.5 ft) then fading some late as period drop towards 17 secs. Solid swell of 3.5 ft @ 16 secs (5.5 ft with sets to 7.0 ft) expected through the day Sat (9/3). 14-15 sec residuals on Sunday. Swell Direction: 199 degrees with the range being 191-208 degrees
New Zealand Primer Gale (Hawaii)
On Saturday (8/27) a small but decently organized gale pushed under New Zealand with 40-45 kt southwest winds building in coverage still at 40 kt in the evening, then fading from 35 kts Sunday AM. 26 ft seas supposedly resulted at 52S 171W Sunday AM (8/28) , but faded before exceeding that height. This system mainly served to rough up the oceans surface acting as a primer for more energy that followed directly behind.
On Sunday evening (8/21) a new small gale organized south of New Zealand with southwest winds to 45 kts over a small area. That fetch pushed hard to the northeast over night with a moderately large area of 40-45 kt southwest winds forecast Monday AM (8/22) with 34 ft seas building at 55S 176E pushing up the 195 degree path to Hawaii. But the fetch faded fast in the evening with only 35 kt southwest winds remaining and seas fading from 30 ft at 50S 176W and pushing up the 186 degree path to Hawaii. This was good for swell pushing into Hawaii at 2 ft @ 16-17 secs (3 ft faces) late on Sun (8/28) with pure swell to 3 ft @ 16 secs (4.5-5.0 ft) on Monday all from 191 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 hrs high pressure is to continue holding off California generating 25-30 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino Thursday (9/1) and producing more north local windswell for Central CA. Fetch to fade to 20-25 kts on Friday then dissipating on Saturday as low pressure building in the Gulf. Windswell to continue through that time period. Trades to building slightly over the Hawaiian Islands thanks to the same high pressure system to 15 kts producing very limited easterly windswell holding into Friday before dissipating.
Beyond the models suggest a solid pulse of low pressure to drop out of the Gulf of Alaska on Sun (9/4) with a good sized fetch of 30-35 kt northwest winds taking aim on the US West Coast. Possible hope for some semi-real Gulf swell if one is to believe the models.
As of Sunday (8/28) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was starting to rise. The daily SOI was up to 15.05. The 30 day average was up to 3.78 with the 90 day average up to 4.28. These readings are lagging indicators from the Active Phase of the MJO that traversed the Central Pacific the week of 8/13-8/20 but starting to show the building impact of the INactive Phase taking root now.
Current wind analysis indicates light to moderate easterly anomalies were in control over the Western equatorial Pacific focused on the dateline. Near normal winds were over the far Eastern Pacific with no anomalies indicated. This suggests that a near neutral pattern was in effect. The models indicate that weak easterly anomalies are to hold over the West Pacific with neutral winds over the East Pacific through at least 9/5 and likely longer. This suggests the Inactive Phase of the MJO was developing in the West Pacific and will continue while pushing east over the Central Pacific for the next 2 weeks, resulting in a slight dampening effect on storm development for the next 3 weeks or so. But the good news is the Active Phase of the MJO was building behind it over India, expected to slowly push east into the West Pacific 2.5+ weeks out. Something to monitor.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (8/25) remains essentially 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 if not increasing their coverage slightly. 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. At least the cooler waters off the US West Coast were not expanding coverage anymore nor getting cooler as they had in late July into August. Warmer than normal waters are not building anymore over the Galapagos Islands extending west to a point south of Hawaii, and if anything are shrinking. And tongues of warmer water are positioned in the both the Northwest and Southwest Hemispheres but are trying to make inroads to the east, a bit more effective in the north and in the south, almost reaching Northern CA. But overall the big picture still looks very much like La Nina.
Below the surface on the equator things have again made another dramatic reversal starting on 8/23. Colder than normal water that had been locked all winter (2010-2011) southeast of Hawaii under the equator evaporated in late February 2011, 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. On 7/21 it vaporized, with a clear subsurface path present allowing warmer subsurface water to flow eastward. But then as quickly as it redeveloped, it died with the cold pool re-emerging starting on 7/30 and built far stronger by 8/8 with waters -5 deg C below normal and holding strength and position on the equator and south of Hawaii through 8/18 and blocking the warm water flow eastward. It was down at 100 meters and was rising while gaining areal coverage. Then on 8/20 it looked a bit weaker, down to -4 degs below normal and by 8/23 vaporized with just residual -2 degree anomalies left behind. By 8/28 those anomalies were holding at -2 C and drifting east. Regardless it is still blocking the normal warm flow to the east. This suggests the recent Active Phase MJO pulse in mid-August might have dislodged the cool pool, at least temporarily. It will likely rebuild with the return of the Inactive Phase in the West Pacific.
Ocean currents for the equatorial Pacific on 8/11 we flowing anomalously west in the far West Pacific with a small pocket of strong easterly flow at 120W. Previously we 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 imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest that high pressure is to break over New Zealand on Fri (9/2) with a gale low starting to develop just southeast of there. A broad fetch of 35-40 kt south winds is forecast developing just off the east coast of New Zealand on Saturday lifting north some and then starting to fade on Sunday. Seas building to 26 ft. Something to monitor but not of any real interest yet.
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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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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Mavericks Surf Shop Grand Opening - Sunday, December 19 2:00 - 6:00 p.m. rain or shine! Check out the new home of Jeff Clark's Mavericks Surf Shop, now located at 25 Johnson Pier in Pillar Point Harbor. The shop features much of Clark's surfing memorabilia, classic boards and photos, as well as an entirely new line of Jeff Clark original Mavericks clothing, accessories and surfboards. The shop has been open in the new location since December 8, and the Grand Opening party is set for this coming Sunday, just in time for Christmas. The party starts at 2 p.m., with live music, food and drinks. Jeff Clark and many Mavericks surfers will be there to meet the public. Local restaurants Ketch Joanne's and Princeton Seafood will serve up delicious food, while San Francisco Wine Trading Company is providing the beverages. The shop will be open all weekend, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Stormsurf Maintenance Upgrades: Buoy 46059 and 46012 were replaced a month or so ago. Totally new buoys were installed. Here on Stormsurf we had to reset the algorithms used to calculate 'pure swell' for them. That was accomplished on 11/13. Pure swell numbers are now correct. Links: 46012, 46059
Also since we moved to the new weather model server last month we discovered that our Longrange Precipitation Models ceased to display frozen precipitation (as they once did). Some of our scripts did not get installed on the new server. That has been fixed (11/13) and now snow is again viewable worldwide. Here the new North America sample.
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/
New Weather Models With the activation of our new server we have now released a new block of weather models including North America jetstream, wind and precipitation, local coastal wind forecasts in 1 hr increments and snow and mountain wind forecasts in both 1 and 3 hours increments. The new animations can be found here (look for those items tagged with the New! icon): http://www.stormsurf.com/mdls/menu_wx.html
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table