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 Tuesday (9/8) North and Central California had up to head high residual swell coming from the Gulf of Alaska with a light southerly flow and texture. Southern California had some waist high lined up sets and textured up north pushing chest high at top spots way down south by with alot more wind on it mid-day. Hawaii's North Shore was effectively flat with trades kinda wrapping in making for some lump. The East Shore report was unavailable. The South Shore had a little more swell than expected, coming out of the south with waist high sets and reasonably clean conditions.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for slowly fading northwest windswell coming out of the Gulf on Wednesday at waist to maybe chest high, fading more on Thursday then up a little Friday. Southern California is to see maybe a little more barely rideable northwest swell on Wednesday, then fading to flat. The North Shore of Hawaii is expected to start seeing some rideable swell from a gale currently over the dateline by late Thursday getting decent on Friday and holding for the weekend at 2 ft overhead or a little more. The East Shore is to see a bit more easterly windswell Wednesday at waist to chest high, then fading Thursday and gone after that. The South Shore is to remain flat till late Friday when some small background swell might hit at waist high or so. .
Over the long term the best thing going is a gale that is building on the dateline expected to track quickly into the Gulf of Alaska and then fade out by Friday. It's to be just good enough to push swell into Hawaii and then have follow-on energy emanating from the Gulf to keep swell in the water though the weekend in the Islands and set up equal sized swell from Central CA by the early weekend continuing into early next week. A nice taste of Fall to result if all goes as planned. And better yet, another gale is forecast behind that for the Eastern Gulf. This whole pattern looks more like the hangover from last years La Nina (focus of gales being the Eastern Gulf) than the real colors of El Nino just yet (which would favor the dateline), though El Nino is likely trying to push things along in the right direction.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (9/8) the North Pacific jetstream was looking respectable with an unbroken flat tracking flat from Japan to Washington on the 45N latitude with a weak trough over the dateline and a stronger one in the Eastern Gulf with 140 kts winds there. No real support for gael development obvious.Over the next 72 hrs that dateline trough is to bloom as it move to the Gulf of Alaska with 180+ kt winds pushing down into it offering good support for gale development at the oceans surface late Wednesday into Thursday. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to get pinched off in the Gulf and fade some, then get reinvigorated late in the weekend by more energy dropping out of the Bering Sea Monday (9/14) and winds to 180 kts. This should provide decent support for more gale development in the Eastern Gulf early next week.
At the surface on Tuesday (9/8) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was 500 nmiles north of Hawaii elongated west to east generating trades at 15-20 kts there resulting in small short period easterly windswell along eastern shores. Of more interest was a developing storm right on the dateline Pressure was 984 mbs but it was forming a pressure gradient with the high south of it, generating confirmed winds at 50-55 kts aimed due east at 39N 178W aimed right up the 292 degree path to Central CA with some degree of 45 kt fetch (unconfirmed) pushing towards Hawaii down the 319 degree path. 30 ft seas were modeled at 40N 179E. Over the next 72 hours starting Tues evening fetch is to drop to 40-45 kts but covering a larger area at 40N 170W aimed right up the 288 degree path to Central CA with decent fetch aimed down the 331 degree path to the Islands. 30 ft seas forecast at 39N 175W heading mostly due east. The fetch is to fade in strength on Wednesday AM with 35-40 kts winds forecast at 40N 163W aimed right up the 287 degree path to Central CA and still with decent energy pushing towards HAwaii down the 348 degree path. 27 ft seas forecast at 39N 165W By evening the whole focus is to swing east away from Hawaii with a large fetch of 30-35 kts northwest winds set up at 40N 153W generating 25 ft seas at 40N 158W, though some energy is still likely pushing towards the Islands. Thursday AM (9/10) residual 30-35 kts fetch is forecast at 45N 152W with the core of the gale moving up into the northern Gulf. 25 ft seas are forecast at 43N 152W aimed right down the 296 degree path to Central CA. The final push of 30 kts winds is forecast in the evening with 25 ft seas at 46N 152W tracking towards the PAcific Northwest down into Central CA. Of course this is all modeled, so nothing is for certain just yet. But the models have held steady and solid wind are already in play, so this is something well worth monitoring.
Assuming it all goes as forecast, swell is likely for Hawaii and the entire US West Coast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (9/8) high pressure at 1022 mbs was trying to ridge east from north of Hawaii into Central CA generating a weak area of 15 kt north winds off the coast, but not really making it near-shore. That high is to weaken it's grip on the local weather scene even more on Wednesday as low pressure builds in the Gulf. Still some degree of northwest winds at 15 kts to hold over Cape Mendocino, but that's it with lighter northwest winds south of there. No real change is forecast through the rest of the workweek with a much lighter flow forecast by the weekend on into early next week (9/15).
The Inactive Phase of the MJO is in control of the Eastern Pacific expected to have control for the next 2 weeks and likely hampering odds for tropical storm formation:
Tropical Storm Dujuan was located 400 nmiles southwest of Central Japan and tracking fast to the east-northeast. Sustained winds were 50 kts with no strengthening forecast. The models suggest Dujuan is to continue moving into open waters of the North Pacific and accelerating on to the northeast, then becoming absorbed in a developing cold core low over Kamchakta on Thurs (9/10), making no further eastward progress. No swell generating potential is currently forecast.
Tropical Storm Linda as located 1200 nmiles southwest of Pt Conception California and stalled with sustained winds 50 kts. A slow turn to the north-northwest is forecast with Linda holding strength through Wednesday, then slowly ramping down. Even as of now satellite imagery is not impressive. No swell is expected to result.
At the surface on Tuesday (9/8) high pressure at 1032 mbs was over New Zealand ridging south to the Ross Ice Shelf and effectively cutting off the Storm track from the Indian Ocean eastward. No swell producing weather systems were in-play in the US swell window. Over the next 72 hours no significant change 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 another gale is forecast developing in the Northern Gulf of Alaska on Sunday (9/13) dropping south over the Aleutians bound for the East-Central Gulf by Tues (9/15). No more than 30-35 kt winds are modeled, and the wave models suggest something even less with seas not even hitting the 20 ft mark. Regardless, formation is still a ways off and the specifics are likely to change. This is just another system to monitor over the long haul.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (9/8) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Inactive Phase, and reasonably strong. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained barely negative. The Daily SOI index was at 11.35. The 30 day average was up to -0.20 and the 90 average was up to -0.01. The SOI index was slowly on the rise, typical of the Inactive Phase of the MJO.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated that strong easterly anomalies have now built over the entire Eastern equatorial Pacific starting weakly over the Philippines and building in velocity south of Hawaii into Central America. This is the peak of this event and is expected to hold while slowly loosing coverage through 9/17. All this is typical of the Inactive Phase of the MJO and is a much stronger signal than the models had indicated earlier. But of more interest, the models also indicate that western anomalies associated with a building Active Phase of the MJO were taking root over the Indian Ocean, looking very healthy. As the Inactive Phase pushes over Central America the Active Phase is to be starting to exit the Indian Ocean pushing into the Western Pacific on 9/12. This same pattern is to hold through 9/17 with the Easterly anomalies easing and tracking east out of the Pacific over Central America while the Westerly anomalies push into the Western Pacific and to the dateline holding strength. By 9/22 a decent core of westerly anomalies are to remain reaching to the dateline with the Easterly Anomalies al but gone over Central America. By 9/27 weak westerly anomalies are to continue extending from the Philippines to the dateline and under Hawaii. So the question remains: How far off the mark are the models, and will the Westerly Anomalies develop stronger than currently forecast and hold longer too. And will the Easterly anomalies fade earlier than expected. It's too early to tell, but our guess is that might be the case. The good news is the easterly anomalies didn't even develop until they reached the East Pacific, leaving the prime area for Westerly Wind Burst development (and Kelvin Wave formation) untouched. Such a scenario only aids the development of El Nino.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (9/7) indicates only subtle change over the past month, 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 holding at 2.0 deg C above normal in the east. This is suggestive of a moderate El Nino. But the expanse of the warmer waters has increased some solidifying there grip north up the coast of Baja Mexico and Southern CA, but still retreated from the Central California coast. There is also more coverage over the dateline region pushing east, suggesting the warm pool is in fact building not in intensity but in area. This would likely have a stronger effect on the environment over the long term. Cooler than normal waters (-2.0 deg C) remain mirrored streaming off Africa and pushing east reaching South America. Typical of stronger Classic El Ninos of the past. .
Below the surface on the equator major changes are developing. 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, very much so. 2-3 deg warmer than normal waters are in control from 165W extending the whole way into Central America in one non-stop contiguous stream. Most impressive. The Kelvin Wave we have been tracking of late is embedded in that stream with it's core near 165W, the result of a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) in the West Pacific that occurred on 7/25-8/2. Between it and the Kelvin Wave off Central America, a nearly continuous pool of 2+ deg C warmer than normal water is present from west of the dateline into Central America with pockets to near 3 C above normal. This is very good news if it holds. We actually expect it to hold for weeks or more. This is exactly the sort of situation we've been looking for and is critical to the formation of a legitimate El Nino. We suspect this large confluence of warm water backing up across the length of the thermocline could possibly feed a continuous stream of warm water into the Central America coast for months to come. This is interesting.
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, continuing steady 8/31. But on 9/3 more fully blowing west winds were indicated and were holding into 9/7 extending from the west to 165E with a solid westerly anomaly in play. This is the result of developing tropical system (Dujuan) in the West Pacific, classic El Nino symptoms. This is good news and might continue to gently feed the subsurface warm water flow pushing east. At a minimum it suggests reinforcements for the existing Kelvin Wave pattern already in-play. 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. All data suggests this will not be a strong El Nino, more likely a moderate one. NOAA is 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, but a far stronger signal is now in play. 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 current data indicates that the warm pool will continue to build.
The next milestone we're looking for is development of the next Active Phase of the MJO, expected sometime near the 3rd week of Sept. The models (as of 9/3) now indicate it is forecast to develop as hoped for. Also water temps need to hold if not build (as is happening now). A final confirmation should be possible in mid-Sept. In the mean time, the current Inactive Phase currently in-progress faltered as it passed over the West Pacific, a good thing in that it allowed the prime area for Westerly Wind Bursts to remain unscathed, allowing the warm pool to continue to build. 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, a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, but without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. 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 the only perplexing indicator. But we're becoming more disposed to think the SOI of more of a lagging indicator, at least for this event.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest a large gale developing on the extreme eastern edge of the South CA swell window (Southeast Pacific) on Sat (9/12) with 45 kt winds, but mostly encased in ice to the south. Any exposed fetch in the north is to be aimed east towards Southern Chile. Seas to 47 ft are modeled at 56S 112W, outside the CA swell window and aimed due east. No other fetch 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table