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 (8/30) North and Central CA had local north windswell producing waves estimated at waist high and obscured by fog. Down south in Santa Cruz Swell #2S was underwhellming at head high on the very rare sets. Southern California up north was getting knee to waist high windswell with northwest warbled on it but clean early. Down south Swell #2S was head high very lined up and clean on the rare sets, up to 2 ft overhead at top spots. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean with trades in effect. The South Shore was still getting some rideable swell with waves waist high 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
Swell #2S was hitting with a bit less in size than forecast and with incredibly long waits between sets. But when the sets came 10-15 waves per set were not unusual with some rare ones having up to 30 waves at the peak of the swell. Up north high pressure was weakly ridging into the US West Coast forming a weak pressure gradient centered over Cape Mendocino with winds 20 kts there making for minimal local north windswell pushing down the Central CA coast. Trades were covering a broader area relative to Hawaii in the 15 kt range extending from California to the Hawaii Islands and only producing minimal easterly windswell. Of slightly more interest was a low traveling through the Bering Sea producing 20-25 kt westerly winds extending south of the Aleutian Islands. Beyond high pressure is to continue doing as it is now, resulting in more 20 kts north winds in the gradient over Cape Mendocino through Thursday (9/6) then fading. The result is to be more small local windswell. Trades to hold in the 15 kt range over Hawaii through Thursday (9/6) producing more modest east windswell, with the fetch area fading Friday. Of more interest is a supposed gale to develop over the intersection of the dateline and Aleutians traveling east and producing up to 45 kt west winds early in the workweek. Possible small swell to result if the models are to be believed.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Sunday (9/2) the Northeast Pacific high pressure system was at 1028 mbs and was lightly ridging into North and Central CA generating the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA producing north winds at 20 kts there. This was resulting in small north local short period windswell tracking down the Central CA coast. The southern quadrant of the high was also producing easterly trades over the Hawaiian Islands and open waters east of there the whole way to California at about 15 kts, just enough to produce minimal easterly windswell for exposed breaks in the Islands.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to hold it's position easing east into North CA maintaining the pressure gradient along the North California coast with north winds holding in the 20 kt range producing more small sized local windswell pushing down the Central CA coast. Pressure to build to 1032 mbs on Tuesday with only minimal increase in the fetch size and no change in wind speed or windswell size expected. East trades to hold at 15 kts over the Hawaiian Islands with continuous fetch east of there from California through Wednesday (9/5), then starting to lift north with progressively less fetch aimed at the Islands. No real change in windswell size expected through that time along east facing shores.
Also the remnants of Typhoon Bolaven tried to redevelop while pushing east off Kamchatka late Friday (8/31) tracking east to the Western Gulf Sunday (9/2) with winds 20-25 kts just south of the Aleutian Islands producing 15 ft seas. Low odds of minimal windswell resulting in Hawaii and the US West Coast (see QuikCASTs for details). Additional non-tropical low pressure energy is forecast to building at the intersection of the Aleutians and the dateline Monday evening with pressure dropping to 980 mbs and winds building to near 45 kts extending just south of the Aleutians. 40-45 kt west winds to continue over a small area pushing east Tuesday (9/4) generating seas to 26 ft at 49N 178W in the AM and 29 ft in the evening at 50N 170W. Possible small swell with period in the 15 sec range radiating southeast from there if all goes as forecast. Will monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
As of Sunday AM (9/2) no tropical system of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (9/2) modest high pressure was ridging into the North CA coast producing north winds with a weak eddy flow building behind it over Central CA. Winds were light early. More of the same is forecast Monday with a better eddy flow over the whole Central CA coast. NO real change forecast through the workweek as high pressure retrogrades west and a light winds pattern takes hold locally. Finally on Sunday (9/9) high pressure is to start pushing back east producing only a fragmented 15 kt northerly breeze at the usual select locations, and less elsewhere. A weak eddy flow to continue for Southern CA.
Jet stream - On Sunday (9/2) a split jetstream pattern remained locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch running flat along the 60S latitude with winds incredibly weak at 70 kts offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast with a large ridge forecast pushing hard south by Monday (9/3) in the far Eastern Pacific slamming into Antarctica. No support for gale development is indicated in our forecast area. Beyond 72 hours another ridge is forecast forming in the Central Pacific Wednesday (9/5) pushing into Antarctica. And yet a third is forecast under New Zealand on Saturday (9/8) with no support for gale production indicated.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific no fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no fetch of interest is forecast.
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.
Southern CA: Swell fading on Monday (9/3) from 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Swell Direction: Initially 192-197 degrees turning to 180 degrees
North CA: Swell fading on Monday (9/3) from 3 ft @ 16 secs (4.5-5.0 ft). Swell 2.3 ft @ 15 secs early Tuesday (3.5 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 local windswell is to totally fade out for both CA and HI by Fri (9/7) as high pressure retreats to the north and west. No windswell or any other swell of interest is forecast.
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 (9/2) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) dropped to -0.53 (6 days in a row near 0). The 30 day average was up some at -3.44 with the 90 day average at -5.98.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated weak east anomalies on the dateline but neutral anomalies over the entire Maritime Continent (WPac) with hints of west anomalies over Indonesia. Neutral anomalies were over the Central and East Pacific on into Central America. This suggests the Inactive Phase was dissipating over the dateline (a good thing for maintaining the warm water pump). A week from now (9/10) east anomalies are forecast to be rebuilding over the Maritime Continent with neutral anomalies over the dateline on into the East Pacific suggesting a revival of the Inactive Phase. But this forecast is driven by a dynamic model. If this plays out as forecast, that would be a bad outcome (more below).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/1 remain in complete disagreement. The statistical model suggests a neutral Phase is in play now with the Active Phase stating to build over the Maritime Continent by 9/5 and growing there on over the dateline 2 weeks out, and pretty solidly. Interestingly the dynamic model has the Inactive Phase dissipating 5 days out, then rebuilding to moderate plus strength in 10 day holding 2 weeks out with a new Active Phase building in the Indian Ocean. So a total contrary forecast remains 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 10 days from now (9/11), then we'll likely be pushing into a new Active Phase. We're still inclined to guess that the dynamic models don't have a good handle on seasonal transitions compounded by the transition from La Nina to El Nino.
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 8/30) a steady but weak degradation of the warm pool has occurred, but areal coverage actually expanded and has now reaching solidly up into Southern CA. Also of interest is the recent degradation of the cool pool that has dominated between California and Hawaii and a steady build up 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 at 120W) 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 updates (8/27 & 8/30) depicted a thin trail of cooler than normal water starting to track west off Ecuador on the equator, right through the heart of the warm pool, and building. This is likely caused by trades blowing in that area dispersing warm water north and west with insufficient subsurface warm water to replenish the warm surface waters being dispersed above. We are in need of a warm water source to stabilize the warm pool, and quickly. Hopefully that supposed Kelvin wave will do the trick. Will know in the next few weeks as it impacts the Ecuadorian coast.
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 a gale is forecast tracking under Tasmania into the Tasman Sea on Fri-Sat (9/8) with winds 45 kts aimed well to the north and seas in the 38 ft range Friday fading to 30 ft Saturday. Possible moderate swell for Fiji if this comes to pass. Nothing else of interest 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 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
Props from the Pros: Stormsurf was mentioned over the past week in two different media sources. One was in an interview Kelly Slater did with the New York Times and another was in a promotional piece Ramon Navarro did for the Big Wave World Tour. Many thanks to Curt Myers from Powerline Productions for alerting us and of course thanks to Kelly, Ramon and the Tour for using our service. Here's the links:
Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
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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New Weather Model Server Stormsurf has installed another weather model production server. This has enabled us to spread the load across more servers allowing us to post both wave and weather model updates much quicker. Also we are testing new content (like North America jetstream, winds and precipitation, local wind forecasts in 1 hr increments and snow and mountain wind forecasts in both 1 and 3 hours increments). The model menus will be updated shortly with these new links.
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table