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 Tuesday (8/28) North and Central CA had local north windswell producing waves in the waist high range and clean with sun on the coast. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was effectively flat and clean (knee high). Southern California up north was flat with northwest wind adding solid texture on top. Down south windswell was producing some thigh high sets and heavily textured by northwest wind. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean with trades in effect. The South Shore was effectively flat with only windswell wrapping in at knee high or so. 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 moving towards and just starting to ridge into the US West Coast but no pressure gradient or fetch of interest was occurring yet. Trades were in the 15 kt range over Hawaii and not doing too much in regards to windswell production. Beyond high pressure is to move a little firmer into the Pacific Northwest setting up 20 kt north winds over nearshore Central CA waters then lifting up to Cape Mendocino on Thursday while fading some through the weekend, good enough to produce bare minimal locally generated windswell isolated mainly to Central CA. Trades to hold in the 15 kt range for Hawaii through the week producing minimal east windswell with the fetch area growing a little more solid by the weekend in terms of areal coverage (still 15 kts) with windswell coming up slightly. There continues to be suggestions that the remnants of Typhoon Bolaven might regenerate over the Gulf of Alaska over the weekend, but remains fairly unbelievable. A tropical system is to develop stronger east of Cabo San Lucas in the net 48 hours.
Down south Storm #2S tracked from the deep South-Central Pacific heading northeast with seas in the 35-38 ft range. Swell from it is in the water pushing northeast and hitting Central and South America with significant class swell pushing northeast towards the US West Coast. But beyond no swell production is forecast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (8/28) the Northeast Pacific high pressure system was starting to move back east again barely ridging into Northern CA with no gradient yet being generated. Light winds were the rule there. The southern quadrant of the high was producing easterly trades over the Hawaiian Islands and open waters east of there at about 15 kts, just barely enough to produce minimal easterly windswell for exposed breaks in the Islands.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to continue easing east over North CA building a light pressure gradient along the Central California coast with north winds building to 20 kts on Wed (8/29) likely producing raw and minimally sized local windswell there. The gradient is to build slightly in the days beyond while lifting north peaking over Cape Mendocino on Thursday with winds to 25 kts allowing a minimal bit more windswell to develop, then fetch fading to the 20 kt range Friday with less coverage and holding over the weekend with no significant eddy forecast for the Central CA coast and limited only to Southern CA. Rideable windswell, but nothing more. East trades to hold at 15 kts over the Hawaiian Islands with non-continuous fetch east of there through Friday, then starting to build in coverage a bit more over the weekend into Monday. When that happens there improving odds for minimal windswell along east facing shores, but nothing more.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
As of Tuesday AM (8/28):
Typhoon Tembin had made landfall off southern Taiwan on Thursday (8/23) with winds 110 kts (125 mph) tracking west, passing over Taiwan then did a full 180 degree turn in the China Sea regaining some wind speed (on Sunday) at 85 kts and re-hit the southern tip of Taiwan Monday raking the east coast while traveling north-northeast. On Tuesday AM (8/28) winds were 50 kts with Temblin heading north from Taiwan forecast to push into South Korea late Wednesday with winds 40 kts, then fading. No swell is suggested for our forecast area.
Typhoon Bolaven was positioned just off the western coast of North Korea with winds 45 kts traveling.north and is expected to be well inland by evening. Remnants to move on north over China with the GFS model suggesting this system re-emerging off Kamchatka late Friday (see North Pacific long term forecast).
Tropical Storm Ileana was 375 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas traveling west northwest with winds 45 kts. It is projected to reach hurricane strength on late Wednesday near the islands of Clarion heading on a steady northwest track. This heading puts it over cooler waters with a downgrade to tropical storm status expected Friday AM (60 kts) and fading fast from there while accelerating to the west-northwest. Low odds for small background swell for Southern CA, and even that to be masked by southern hemi Swell #2S hitting at the same time.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (8/28) a weak wind pattern was in effect early, but by afternoon high pressure was starting to ridge into the CA coast with north winds building over North and Central CA at 15+ kts. 20 kt north winds to be in control Wednesday nearshore for North and Central CA and growing in coverage through Thursday while lifting north and building to 25 kts. Friday the gradient is to weaken some with barely 20 kt north winds hanging over Cape Mendocino with 15 kt winds sweeping down the Central CA coast. More of the same is forecast through the weekend though weakening some. a weak eddy flow (south winds) setting up over the Central CA coast becoming more pronounced over the weekend. The gradient is to rebuild slightly over Cape Mendo early next week with winds to 25 kts and much weaker nearshore over Central CA. A weak eddy flow to continue for Southern CA.
Jet stream - On Tuesday (8/28) a split jetstream pattern remained locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch repositioned better to the north under New Zealand (at 50S) undulating east from there but wind speeds so weak (70 kts or less) as to almost be non-existent. No support for gale development indicated. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast other than 90 kt winds building under New Zealand, but also pushing back south again (60S). The net result is no support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours no change is forecast with the jet holding down at 60S with no real winds of interest and no troughs either. If anything a large ridge is forecast pushing hard south by Monday (9/3) on the eastern edge of the CA swell window and right through the middle of the South American swell window slamming into Antarctica. No support for gale production indicated.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific the last 30 kt winds associated with Storm #2S were fading in the extreme Southeast Pacific (see details below). No other fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no fetch of interest is forecast with seas well below even 25 ft.
Storm #2S - Southeast Pacific
On Thursday AM (8/23) a storm developed over Antarctic Ice with a moderate sized area of 45-50 kt southwest winds becoming exposed over ice free waters north of there with seas building to 34 ft over a modest area at 58S 160W. The Jason-1 satellite passed south of the fetch at 15Z and reported seas of 36.1 ft with a peak reading to 39.7 ft where the model suggested 32 ft seas. Nice. That fetch lifted north in the evening with winds down to 40 kts and seas modeled at 38 ft at 55S 151W targeting California up the 199 degree path and east of the Tahiti swell shadow. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the north quadrant of the fetch and reported seas of 35.5 ft with a peak reading of 41.2 ft where the model suggested only 32 ft seas.
Winds built Friday AM at 40-45 kts over a smaller area still lifting and aimed north-northeast with seas 38 ft at 51S 144W (194 degs CA). Again the Jason-1 satellite passed over the south quadrant of the fetch reporting seas of 30.7 ft with a peak at 37.7 ft where the model suggested 28 ft seas. These winds surprisingly held into the evening at 45 kts with seas fading from 36 ft at 46S 138W (191 degs CA). The satellite passed south of the fetch and reported seas at 33.3 ft with a peak to 40.4 ft where the model suggested only barely 28 ft seas.
Additional 40-45 kts more westerly fetch occurred Saturday AM (9/25) with 36 ft seas at 46S 128W (186 degs CA) and continuing if not building more solidly at 45 kts into the evening but aimed more if not almost due east. 38 ft seas were tracking east from 44S 120W and starting to move out of the CA swell window. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the Western quadrant of the storm reporting seas at 30.6 ft with one readying to 39.7 ft where the model suggested only 29 ft seas. Another good sign.
45 kt fetch was pushing east Sunday AM (8/26) on the edge of the CA swell window with a small area of 36 ft seas at 45S 113W (out of the CA swell window) tracking fast east and offering only swell for Chile and maybe Peru with 32 ft seas in the CA swell window at 42S 120W. The Jason-1 satellite confirmed seas at 32.6 ft with one peak reading to 37.1 ft just west of the core of the gale. the model had seas at 34 ft. Winds fading from 35 kts in the evening with no seas in the California swell window and 32 ft seas fading at 47S 105W targeting Chile. A quick fade after that.
This system exceeded expectations and developed stronger than originally forecast. We haven't seen that in a long time. Additionally the Jason-1 satellite made multiple passes over the fetch and the data came back better than what the models were suggesting every time. All passes were over the periphery of the storm, but this suggests it might have been even stronger than what was modeled. This all looks very promising. And in regards to California, the storm pushed well to the north likely setting up significant class energy pushing towards the CA coast. Swell is already in the water and pushing north and northeast. Solid energy is also bound down into Central America with additional fetch later in the storms life forecast aimed more to the east, targeting Chile and Peru. And even small sideband energy is to radiating up into Hawaii from the first day of the storms life off Antarctic Ice.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Wednesday (8/29) moving to 1.5 ft @ 20 secs (3.0-3.5 ft) at sunset. Swell to peak on Thursday (8/30) AM at 1.8 ft @ 18 secs (3.5 ft with sets to 4.0 ft) holding through the day as period drops a little. Residuals on Friday (8/31) with swell fading from 1.6 ft @ 16 secs early (2.5-3.0 ft). Swell fading Saturday (9/1) from 1.4 ft @ 14 secs (2 ft). Swell Direction: 178-180 degrees.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival starting Thursday (8/30) with period 23 secs dropping to 22 seas late and size maybe to 1.6 ft (3.5 ft with sets to 4.5 ft). On Friday (8/31) size to steadily be on the increasing from 2.6 ft @ 20 secs (5.2 ft with sets to 6.5 ft) pushing to 3.3 ft @ 19 secs late 6.3 ft with sets to 7.8 ft) at sunset. Swell to start peaking overnight into Saturday AM (9/1) at 3.6 ft @ 17-18 secs (6.3 ft with sets to 7.9 ft) and occasional readings to 3.7 ft @ 18 secs (6.5-8.0 ft) with period falling to 17 secs late. Swell from the original fetch to start settling down on Sunday AM (9/2) with swell still in the 3.0-3.3 ft @ 15-16 sec range (4.5-5.3 ft with sets to 6.5 ft) with additional sideband energy arriving from a very southerly direction at 2.2 ft @ 17-18 secs (3.9 ft with sets to 4.8 ft). Swell Direction: Initially 192-197 degrees turning to 180 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival starting Thursday night (8/30) with period 23 secs and size maybe to 1 ft and likely not noticeable. On Friday (8/31) size to steadily be on the increase pushing 2.7 ft @ 19-20 secs at sunset (5.3 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). Swell to start peaking on Saturday AM (9/1) at 3.3 ft @ 18 secs (6.0 ft with sets to 7.5 ft) and occasional readings to 3.6 ft @ 18 secs (6.5-8.0 ft) with period fading towards 17 secs late. Swell from the original fetch to start settling down on Sunday AM (9/2) with swell still in the 3.0-3.3 ft @ 16 sec range (4.8-5.3 ft with sets to 6.6 ft) with additional sideband energy arriving from a very southerly direction at 2.2 ft @ 18 secs (4.0 ft with sets to 5 ft). Swell Direction: Initially 191-196 degrees turning to 180 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 other than windswell previously discussed there is some suggestion the remnants of Typhoon Bolaven are to try and redevelop while pushing east off Kamchatka late Friday (8/31) with winds 25 kts, but not getting even marginally well defined till Sunday (9/2) when they move in the Northeast Gulf of Alaska. Winds to hit 30-35 kts with seas to 20 ft, early Monday for 12 hrs, then quickly fading. Maybe minimal swell to result for the Pacific Northwest up into Canada if one is to believe the models. Otherwise no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
No other signs of Fall indicated on the models with high pressure locked over the entire North Pacific.
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 Tuesday (8/28) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) dropped to 1.94 (7 days in a row positive). The 30 day average was up some at -8.13 with the 90 day average at -5.64. The Inactive Phase of the MJO was in control of the Pacific but has not built anywhere near as strong as what was previously modeled. All this is consistent with a developing El Nino. And the presence of two tropical systems in the far West Pacific (with Typhoon Bolaven developing fairly strong) during the core of the Inactive Phase, also hints to it's weakness.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated weak light east anomalies over the dateline region but fading as the reached the Maritime Continent (WPac). Neutral anomalies were over the Central and East Pacific on into Central America. This suggests the Inactive Phase was over the dateline, but just barely (a good thing for maintaining the warm water pump). A week from now (9/5) east anomalies are forecast to be fading on the dateline but rebuild over the Maritime Continent, suggesting a revival of the Inactive Phase. If this plays out as forecast, that would not be a bad outcome (more below).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 8/26 are in complete disagreement over the long term outlook. Both suggest the Active Phase is building in the Indian Ocean but the statistical model suggests the Inactive Phase is to dissipate 5 days from now with the Active Phase building over the Maritime Continent by 8/31 and continuing on that trend 2 weeks out. Interestingly the dynamic model has the Inactive Phase backing off just slightly 5 days out, then rebuilding to moderate strength 2 weeks out with the Active Phase in the Indian Ocean dissipating. So a total contrary forecast is presented by the two models. Clearly one of these forecasts is incorrect. For now we'll continue to be somewhat concerned that the current Inactive Phase could redevelop and degrade what is already a weak eastward moving warm water transport pattern (feeding the warm pool off Ecuador and Columbia). But if the Inactive Phase is gone 5 days from now, then we'll likely be pushing into a new Active Phase. And it seems odd that a building Active Phase in the Indian Ocean would give way to a new Inactive Phase in the extreme West Pacific.
More warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Warmer than normal water accumulated off Ecuador through 7/2 (part of a continuous pattern that started in Jan 2012) fueled by a Kelvin Wave, weaker than normal trades and a MJO pattern dominated by the Active Phase in early April and a continued weak MJO signal beyond. The warm water pattern peaked on 7/2 in an unmistakable El Nino-like configuration. Since then (through 8/20) a steady but weak degradation of the warm pool has occurred, but areal coverage actually expanded and has now reaching up into Southern CA. Of interest is what appears to be degradation of the cool pool that has dominated between California and Hawaii and a steady supply of very warm water migrating east from Japan towards the US West coast (presumably driven by the north quadrant of the North Pacific high. Also something that almost looks like a weak Kelvin Wave appears to be propagating east both subsurface (2 deg C anomaly) and at the surface (1 deg C anomaly). If this is real, it would help to replenish the warm water pool. If it is not a Kelvin wave, then a more troubling pattern might be setting up. To make matters worse, the most recent update (8/27) depicted a thin trail of cooler water starting to track off Ecuador on the equator, right through the heart of the warm pool. This is likely caused by trades blowing in that area dispersing warm water north and west and no Kelvin Wave or insufficient subsurface warm water upwelling to replenish the warm waters being dispersed on the surface. We are in need of a warm water source to stabilize the warm pool, and quickly.
A weak MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) is a sign of the weak version of El Nino. Strong Active Phases accompanied by Westerly Wind Bursts (WWB) is a sign of a strong El Nino. Given the data to date, the current event is looking more like a weak El Nino at best. As we move into the Fall months (starting late August), the tendency is for whatever pattern has been dominant to only become amplified. In short, the true MJO character will become exposed in Fall, with summer just being a build-up. The expectation is that a near failure of the MJO could occur with trades fading and more slow-but-steady warm water propagation continuing eastward. If this happens the question then becomes: Will it be slow enough and weak enough to turn into a multi-year warm event, or will the atmosphere switch as usual in February 2013 and usher in a new La Nina. It's way to early to know.
At this time there is only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern in-play (as of 8/21). Remnants of La Nina are still affecting the atmosphere and will likely continue for several months into the middle of Fall (mid-Oct), but steadily degrading. 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 it's momentum is not going to be easily be halted. The high has caused drought conditions over portions of North America and unrelenting north winds pushing down the California coast and stronger than normal trades over Hawaii. The high 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. But recent imagery suggest the high is shifting west some and north winds along the California coast are becoming less of an issue, with local water temperatures on the rise. This could be attributed to the change in season, or a fading La Nina, or a combination of both. We're in a hybrid atmospheric state but the trend is starting to shift more towards the normal category. The longer the MJO remains biased towards a neutral or Active state, and the longer warm water holds if not builds off Central America, and the more the cool pool fades between CA and Hi, the more the atmosphere will respond (especially come Fall) turning towards at least a neutral if not an El Nino-like configuration. The atmosphere is like a big ship, it takes a long time to turn. 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 its seems the Active Phases of the MJO are not strong enough to usher in some flavor of real El Nino, but the Inactive Phases are not strong enough to shut off the warm water pump to the East Pacific either. Regardless, we are effectively past the La Nina hump and the tendency will be for a return to a normal if not slightly El Nino-like enhanced state. All this is way 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 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