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 (9/4) North and Central CA had local north windswell producing waves at thigh high and clean. Down south in Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was producing surf at waist high and textured. Southern California up north was waist to chest high southern hemi swell with maybe a few bigger sets and pretty textured. Down south Swell #2S was still producing sets in the chest high plus range with heavily textured conditions. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean with trades in effect. The South Shore was getting some bare rideable waves at thigh 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
Up north high pressure was weakly ridging into the US West Coast forming a weak pressure gradient centered over Cape Mendocino with north winds 20-25 kts there making for minimal local north windswell pushing down the Central CA coast. Trades were covering a broad area relative to Hawaii in the 15-20 kt range extending from California to the Hawaii Islands producing minimal easterly windswell. Of more interest was a low pressure system traveling through the Bering Sea producing 35 kt westerly winds extending south of the Aleutian Islands with seas to 26 ft. Beyond high pressure is hold through Thursday, resulting in more 20 kt north winds in the gradient over Cape Mendocino resulting in more small local windswell. Trades to hold in the 15 kt range over Hawaii producing more modest east windswell. But come Friday (9/7) that is to all fade with windswell heading down. Swell from the dateline gale is to eventually reach the US West coast and even a little into Hawaii. But nothing much to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (9/4) the Northeast Pacific high pressure system was centered 750 nmiles off Oregon at 1032 mbs ridging lightly into the Pacific Northwest generating the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA producing north winds at 20-25 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 15-20 kts, producing rideable easterly windswell for exposed breaks in the Islands.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to slowly start drifting west with the pressure gradient along the North California coast fading by Thursday and north winds fading from 20 kts producing decreasing small sized local windswell pushing down the Central CA coast, then dropping out. East trades to experience the same trend fading from 15-20 kts over the Hawaiian Islands down to 15 kts and then out by Friday with the continuous fetch extending from California to Hawaii dissipating with windswell heading down along east facing shores.
Also the remnants of Typhoon Bolaven redeveloped slightly 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. Minimal windswell resulting in Hawaii and the US West Coast (see QuikCASTs for details). Additional non-tropical low pressure energy built at the intersection of the Aleutians and the dateline Monday evening (9/4) with pressure dropping to 972 mbs and winds building to 40-45 kts extending just south of the Aleutians. 40 kt west winds continued over a small area pushing east Tuesday (9/4) generating seas to 26 ft at 50 177W in the AM and 25 ft in the evening at 50N 170W. Small swell with period in the 15 sec range is radiating southeast from there expected into North CA late Saturday (9/8) and Hawaii on Friday (9/7). See QuikCASTs for details.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
As of Tuesday AM (9/4) Tropical Depression John was a few hundred nmiles west of Southern Baja California tracking northwest winds with 30 kts and fading. No swell potential exists. No other tropical system of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (9/4) modest high pressure was ridging into the Pacific Northwest coast producing north winds just off Cape Mendocino with a weak eddy flow under it over Central CA. Winds were light early. More of the same is forecast through Friday (9/7) as high pressure starts retrograding west. Finally on late Saturday (9/8) high pressure is to start pushing back east producing only a fragmented 15 kt northerly breeze at the usual select locations, and then to 15 kts on Sunday over all of North and Central CA. By Monday (9/10) the usual pressure gradient is to return to Cape Mendocino with 25 kts north winds there and a weak eddy flow over Central CA. A weak eddy flow to continue for Southern CA.
Jet stream - On Tuesday (9/2) a split jetstream pattern remained locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch undulating along the 60S latitude with winds weak at 80 kts in pockets offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast but with a ridge forecast forming in the Central Pacific Wednesday (9/5) pushing into Antarctica. No support for gale production indicated. Beyond 72 hours yet a third is forecast under New Zealand pushing into Antarctica Saturday (9/8) eliminating any support for gale production indicated. And yet a third ridge to be pushing east under New Zealand on Tues (9/11).
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific a large gale was circulating over the Southeast Pacific but mainly over Antarctic Ice with limited 45 fetch pushing flat east near 120W. Seas were building. In the evening fetch is to continue with seas building to 38 ft but positioned entirely east of the California swell window and aimed only at Antarctica. No swell to result. Otherwise no fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours another small gale is forecast developing east of New Zealand on Thursday on Thurs (9/6) with a tiny fetch of 55 kt southwest winds and seas building to 46 ft late at 52S 146W, but tracking flat east if not almost southeast, then fading Saturday. Low odds of swell pushing northeast towards California. Will monitor.
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 another small low is forecast for the Extreme northeast Gulf of Alaska on Saturday (9/8) producing 30 kt westerly winds and seas to 17 ft likely setting up windswell for the Pacific Northwest. And an even weaker one to follow behind. The local north wind gradient is forecast rebuilding over Cape Mendocino on Monday (9/10) also resulting in building local windswell.
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 (9/4) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) dropped to -4.22 (8 days in a row near 0 or negative). The 30 day average was down some at -3.94 with the 90 day average at -5.85.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated weak to moderate east anomalies on the dateline but weak west anomalies over the 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 9/3 are in disagreement, but not as much as previously. The statistical model suggests a neutral Phase is in play now with the Active Phase stating to build weakly over the Maritime Continent by 9/12 and holding there 2 weeks out. Interestingly the dynamic model depicts a neutral pattern now but with a weak Inactive Phase rebuilding 8 days out then quickly fading. Clearly one of these forecasts is incorrect. For now we'll continue to be somewhat concerned about a resurgence of the Inactive Phase degrading 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 8 days from now (9/12), 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 9/3) a steady but weak degradation of the warm pool has occurred, but areal coverage actually expanded and is building more 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 we're no calling 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 maybe 3-4 weeks out. The most recent updates of the seas surface temp anomaly charts (8/27, 8/30, 9/3) depict 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. But there is no more indication that it is building. We are in need of a warm water source to stabilize the warm pool, and quickly. Hopefully the Kelvin Wave pushing east 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 36 ft range late Friday fading to 30 ft late 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 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