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 Monday (9/10) North and Central CA had local windswell was producing waves at waist high or so and reasonably clean early at protected break with a light southerly eddy flow in effect. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was flat and clean. Southern California up north was knee to thigh high all local windswell and pretty blown by northwest wind. Down south windswell was thigh high and pristinely clean but effectively unrideable. Hawaii's North Shore was getting bare minimal leftover dateline swell pushing chest high on rare sets and clean with light trades in effect. The South Shore had wrap around windswell producing a few thigh high sets and clean with trades in effect. The East Shore had east windswell producing waves at chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Up north high pressure was ridging east generating the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA resulting in 20 kt north winds there producing small north local windswell. High pressure was also producing the usual fetch of 15 kt easterly trades pushing over the Hawaiian Islands resulting in modest easterly windswell there. The forecast calls for the North CA pressure gradient to build peaking Tuesday (9/11) producing 30 kt north winds and windswell for Central CA into Wednesday. Trades to continue if not build slightly in areal coverage between Hawaii and California during that time frame offering continued hope for windswell along east facing shores. But by Thursday that is to be fading at all locations and by the weekend things to be pretty meager. The good news is the models are depicting some form of gale developing over Kamchatka pushing east towards the dateline early next week. Down south a small gale tracked east with seas to 34 ft last Thurs (9/6). Maybe some tiny energy is pushing north for CA later this week. And another small gale is forecast developing in the extreme East Pacific on Tues (9/11) pushing due north with seas to 30 ft, targeting only Southern CA and points south of there. Also a weaker gale was developing nestled up the Eastern New Zealand with seas forecast to 28 ft late Monday (9/10) offering some hope for Hawaii. But for now we're really just waiting for Fall.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Monday (9/10) the jet was di.cgiaced well to the north running west to east along the 50N latitude with winds 110 kts in pockets with a small weak trough near the dateline. No support for gale development was indicated. Over the next 72 hours the dateline trough is to push east and weaken with no other trough formation forecast. Beyond 72 hours wind energy is to start building over Kamchatka at 150 kts and pushing east forming a small steep trough near the dateline over the weekend (9/15), but not offering much if any support for gale development. But another pocket of winds energy is to build over Kamchatka on Mon (9/17) with winds to 170 kts feeding a better defined trough on the dateline 24 hours later. Would be nice if it were to occur.
Surface - On Monday (9/10) the Northeast Pacific high pressure system was ridging some into the US West Coast producing the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino resulting in a limited fetch of 20 kts north winds forecast to 25 kts in the evening. The high was also producing trades over Hawaii and points east of there at 15 kts producing modest east windswell into east facing shores of the Islands.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to peak on Tuesday at 1028 mbs producing up to 30 kt north winds in the California gradient over Cape Mendocino holding till Wednesday AM with an eddy flow over all of Central CA offering modest local north windswell for Central CA and southerly winds. But by Wednesday PM the gradient is to be fading fast, gone by Thursday AM with windswell from it dropping too. Trades driven by the high are to be peaking relative to Hawaii on Tues-Wed (9/12) at 15 kts extending for brief periods the whole way from California to Hawaii, offering increased odds for local east windswell. But by Thursday that too is to fade.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
As of Monday (9/10) a tropical depression had formed in the far West Pacific. Otherwise no tropical systems of interest were being monitored. The models suggest this depression is to build while tracking north-northwest moving over Southern Korea on Sun (9/16). Also a weak tropical system is forecast developing south of Cabo San Lucas Mexico late Thursday (9/13) tracking east. But until wind actually starts blowing, it's just a fantasy.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (9/10) high pressure was building along the North CA coast with a gradient almost forming over Cape Mendocino and with a weak eddy flow trying to get legs over the Central Coast. This pattern is expected to become more developed on Tuesday, peaking in the evening, then beginning a slow decline with the gradient fading out Thursday and the eddy flow holding into Friday. The gradient is to return on Sunday (9/16) over Cape Mendocino with an eddy flow for Central CA holding into early next week. A weak eddy flow to continue non-stop for Southern CA.
Surface - At the surface on Monday (9/10) a broad but ill defined low was trying to organize over and just east of New Zealand. It previously had producing 32 ft seas in the Southern Tasman Sea on Sun (9/9) offering some energy aimed obliquely towards Fiji. By evening it is to be producing 40 kt south winds just off southeast New Zealand producing 28 ft seas at 46S 177E targeting Hawaii and holding into mid-Tuesday (9/11) at 48S 175W. If this comes to pass some degree of limited 14-15 sec range well is possible relative to HI.
Another gale was getting organized in the far Southeast Pacific producing a small area of 45 kt south winds Monday AM (9/10). Fetch to fade to 40 kts in the evening but still aimed northward with seas building to 26 ft at 55S 120W. Fetch is to barely regenerate Tuesday AM 99/11) to 45 kts over a tiny area with seas to 32 ft over a tiny area too at 50S 118W, then fading and moving out of even the Southern CA swell window. Limited odds for tiny southern hemi swell isolated mainly to Southern CA and Mexico.
Previously on Thursday AM (9/6) in the South Pacific a broad but ill defined gale was tracking east over the Central South Pacific. A small area of 45 kt west winds were in.cgiay starting to generate 30 ft seas at 52S 165W. In the evening 45-50 kt westerly winds built in coverage some tracking east with seas building to 34 ft at 51S 151W, but tracking flat east. The fetch started lifting east-northeast Fri AM and fading out with seas from previous fetch fading from 32 ft at 49S 143W. Low odds of small swell pushing northeast towards California and nothing for HI. The best of this fetch is to be on the eastern edge of the Tahitian swell shadow at 194 degrees relative to CA but perpendicular to Hawaii. Small swell expected into Southern CA starting Thurs (9/13) at 1.8 ft @ 17 secs (3 ft) from 190 degrees then dropping Friday from 1.6 ft @ 15 secs (2.5 ft). Nothing for Hawaii 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 windswell is to drop out for both Hawaii and California with high pressure on the decline. But some regeneration of it is forecast by late Saturday holding into Monday (9/17) along the CA coast offering a hope of small windswell for both North and Central CA Sunday (9/16) and beyond. But trades relative to Hawaii to fall to the 10-15 kts range by Friday and remain there, offering little to no windswell potential.
Also some degree of disorganized fetch at 20-25 kts is forecast forming on the Northern Dateline Fri-Sat (9/15) and easing east into the Gulf of Alaska with winds building to 30 kts late Sunday, all aimed east only at Northern Canada. No swell to result. But a better organized fetch is to be developing right behind it on Sun (9/17) off Kamchatka with winds 35 kts pushing east and reaching the dateline late Monday. Seas forecast in the 22 ft range. Maybe some 13 sec period swell to result for HI and CA if one is desperate enough to believe the models. At least there's some wind forecast moving in that area. But the longterm concern is the northward di.cgiacement of the jet, meaning that anything that does form is to also be di.cgiaced well to the north. This is a typical La Nina hangover effect.
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.cgianet. 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 .cgiit 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 Monday (9/10) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding at 12.12 (5 days in a row at that general reading). The 30 day average was up to 0.77 with the 90 day average at -4.10. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a modest size area of weak west anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) pushing to the dateline with modest east anomalies east of there extending to a point south of Mexico. Neutral anomalies were off Central America. This suggests that perhaps a Westerly Wind burst had set up in the West Pacific while the remnants of the Inactive Phase were dissipating east of the dateline (a good thing for maintaining the warm water pump). A week from now (9/18) neutral anomalies are forecast to be in control of the Maritime Continent and dateline all the way into the East Pacific suggesting the end of the Inactive Phase and the beginning of a very weak Active Phase (at best). This is what we were hoping for to prevent further degradation of the warm pool. But the warm water pump looks very weak.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/9 remain in agreement suggesting a weak Active Phase is now in.cgiay over the Indian Ocean in to the West Pacific with the Inactive Phase moving over Central America bound for the Caribbean and Atlantic Basin. This pattern is to hold for the next 2 weeks. This all favors some degree of weak maintenance.cgian for the warm water pool off Ecuador, but not adding much if anything to it.
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. But since then a steady but weak degradation of the warm pool has ensued. The warm pool has also showed signs of shrinking in areal coverage, but has migrated some to the north (up along Baja) while shirking in the south along Chile. There is limited evidence of a 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). Something that looks very much 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 r.cgienish the warm water pool maybe 3-4 weeks out (early Oct), but nowhere near the levels it was in July. The most recent update of the sea surface temp anomaly charts (9/10) depicts some spotty evidence of a thin trail of cooler than normal water tracking west off Ecuador on the equator through the core of the warm pool, but nothing remarkable. The overriding concern is there is no indication that the warm water pool is building in temperature or areal coverage, and.cgienty of evidence that it is in a slow but steady decline or at best just just barely hanging on in maintenance mode. Hopefully the Kelvin Wave (mentioned above) pushing east will add a little fuel. And if in fact a WWB is occurring now in the far West Pacific, another Kelvin Wave could result with yet more warming expected a few months out. But this is looking less like a legitimate El Nino with each update.
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 a.cgiified. 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. As of right now, with the very weak MJO pattern in.cgiay, the weak evidence of any WWBs, the declining warm pool, our bets are for this warm event to not reach a real El Nino status. And this would actually be a good thing (see final paragraph).
At this time there is only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern in.cgiay (as of 9/6). 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.cgiace for 2 years now and it's momentum is not going to be easily be halted. The high has caused 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. Recent imagery suggest the high is shifting west and north some and winds along the California coast are becoming less of an issue. But there has been no change in local water temperatures off Central and North CA.
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. This is way better than where we've been for the past 2 years (under the influence of La Nina). The preference is that El Nino does not form this year, because that would only usher in another La Nina the year or two beyond. Rather, a neutral pattern biased slightly warm would be good, followed by at least another year of slightly warmer temps ultimately converging in a stronger El Nino 2-3 years out. And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts before a legit El Nino forms). We believe this is the pattern we are currently in (a false start), with a legit El Nino not expected till the winter of '13/14 or even '14/15.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no 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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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,.cgiease 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".
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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 acco.cgiished 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