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 (9/15) North and Central CA was seeing small swell from the Gulf was still hitting at waist to chest high and pretty warbled with local onshore winds at 5 kts early. Down south New Zealand swell was still hitting with sets chest high and clean but a little weaker than days past. Southern California had limited Gulf of Alaska swell up north at waist to maybe chest high and glassy. Down south residual southern hemi swell was mixing with fading Gulf swell generating waves waist to maybe chest high up north and clean. Down south the southern hemi swell was predominant producing waves chest high and occasionally bigger and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was back to effectively flat and clean. The South Shore was still getting some New Zealand leftover swell with waves up to waist high and clean. The East Shore was also getting north Gulf swell with waves waist high high but with chopped conditions.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
On Thursday (9/15) weak high pressure was trying to make a comeback in the East Pacific with weak low pressure pushing through the Northern Gulf. But in all no swell generation was occurring. Over the long haul Sat-Tues a series of two gale are to build in the Gulf of Alaska, modeled to be the strongest so far this Fall season. And beyond more is forecast with a true Fall pattern looking inevitable. But any particular outcome is far from certain. In the mean time a little north windswell is likely for Central CA Fri-Sat (9/17) courtesy of the North Pacific high with trades building a little over Hawaii through Mon (9/19) at 15 kts perhaps generating minimal easterly short period windswell there over east facing shores. Down south virtually no swell producing fetch is forecast with southern hemi swell fading out for the foreseeable future. All interests are now turning to the north.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (9/15) at the jetstream level a decently organized flow was tracking more or less flat west to east on the 45N latitude pushing from Kamchatka east to the mid-Gulf of Alaska then veering northeast before reaching British Columbia. A pocket of 140 kt west winds were over the Western Gulf almost trying to dig out a trough there and supportive of low pressure development. Over the next 72 hours that area of wind is to push east and fade pushing into British Columbia late Friday. But at the same time a building area of 150 kt winds is to be building over Kamchatka and tracking east, dropping into a building trough in the Western Gulf late Sunday (9/18). Increased potential for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to build and push east through the Northern Gulf through Tuesday (9/20), with yet more energy building over the dateline and falling into that trough and amplifying it through the week, with winds up to near 180 kts late Thursday (9/22). Certainly there is good potential for gale development over the coming week.
At the surface on Thursday (9/15) weak low pressure at 988 mbs was in the extreme eastern Bering Sea generating 30-35 kt west winds down into the Northern Gulf of Alaska and expected to hold for 18 hrs resulting in a tiny area of 20 ft seas at 53N 157W aimed mostly at British Columbia. Small 13 sec period swell is expected to radiate east and southeast reaching Central CA on Monday (9/19) pushing down the 312 degree path. Nothing exceptional. Also local high pressure off California was generating north winds at 20 kts over Cape Mendocino and expected to hold into Saturday (9/17) while falling south some resulting in typical short period windslop for North and Central CA Fri-Sat. This high is to also reach down to Hawaii effectively increasing the fetch of trades there and building them to a solid 15 kts well into next week, resulting in some increase in short period easterly windslop on easterly shores. Over the net 72 hours and of more interest is that another better organized gale is forecast to wind up off Vancouver Island Saturday with northwest winds building to near 40 kts late in the evening in it's west quadrant aimed at the Pacific Northwest and easing into British Columbia Sunday AM (9/18). 20 ft seas forecast at that time at 48N 135W just 500 nmiles east of Washington with 13 sec period swell likely pushing into the coast there and on down into Central CA by late Monday (9/19) but from a very northerly direction (317 degrees).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (9/15) weak high pressure at 1026 mbs was trying to hang on off the CA coast producing north winds at 15-20 kts affecting all of North and Central CA focused on Pt Arena. That fetch is to hold at 20 kts Friday centered off Pt Arena with 15 kt northwest winds reaching all nearshore coastal waters to Pt Conception, then starting to pull away from the coast on Saturday (9/17) with the core fetch still centered off Pt Arena. Maybe a small eddy flow to result for Pt Reyes southward continuing through Saturday (9/17) then fading with residual northwest winds 15 kts impacting the Central coast Sunday before lifting north slightly on Monday. Regardless, low pressure is to be in control of the Gulf of Alaska on through the workweek giving high pressure little room to grow, and just a small finger of high pressure is to try and hold on ridging into Oregon resulting in 15 kt north winds dangling off Cape Mendocino Tuesday and beyond, but having no effect nearshore south of Pt Arena through Thurs (9/22).
At the surface on Thursday (9/15) no swell producing fetch of interest was occurring. A weak pressure pattern was in control. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast with no winds greater than 25 kt forecast and seas well below the 30 ft threshold.
Southeast Pacific Gale
At the surface on Sunday AM (9/11) a 968 mb gale built in the Southeast Pacific supported by a building trough in the upper levels of the atmosphere. Southwest winds were at 40 kts and building in areal coverage with speeds to 45 kts in the evening while tracking east some. Seas to 32 ft modeled in the evening at 52S 134W. 40 kt west winds held into Monday AM (9/12) resulting in 34 ft seas at 50S 127W, on the eastern edge of the California swell window but mainly targeting Chile with only sideband energy pushing up into California. Fetch was fading fast Monday PM with only 35 kt south winds in the CA swell window and seas from previous fetch 32 ft at 47S 120W and moving east out of the California swell window. This was 4830 nmiles south of Southern CA and is expected to result in small sideband swell for exposed breaks in California coming from 180-187 degrees arriving late Monday (9/19) in Southern CA with period at 17-18 secs and peaking Tuesday noon (9/20) at 2 ft @ 16 secs (3 ft). the peak is to hit Central CA on Wednesday AM. But most energy is to be focused on South America.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs a new low pressure systems is forecast developing just south of the Eastern Aleutians on Sunday (9/18) pushing east with 30 kt west winds building to 35 kt on Monday in the Central Gulf and holding into early Tuesday. A solid area of 22 ft seas is forecast relatively close to the Pacific Northwest Monday evening at 50N 160W pushing east and building into Tuesday AM reaching 26 ft at 50N 152W then fading from 22 ft in the evening at 50N 148W. Possible decent 14-15 sec period swell pushing into the Pacific Northwest on Thursday (9/22) and on down into Central CA beyond from a rather northerly angle. Certainly a start if it develops as forecast.
Of more interest is yet another gale forecast building directly behind in the Western Gulf Thursday evening (9/22) with a broad area of 35 kt northwest winds reaching further to the south than the previous gales. And yet more is to possibly be evolving behind that courtesy of a supposed tropical system tracking north over the Kuril Islands. It looks like Fall is starting to take root.
As of Thursday (9/15) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued low. The daily SOI was -1.31. The 30 day average was down some at 3.88 with the 90 day average up slightly to 5.65. The 30 day average has been hovering in the +2.0-4.0 range for a month now, indicative of a neutral ENSO pattern.
Current wind analysis indicated light to moderate easterly anomalies were blowing from the Eastern equatorial Pacific over the dateline and into the Western Pacific fading only once they reached Indonesia. Pacific. This suggest that a weak Inactive Phase is still in control of the Pacific as it has been for months locked over the Central Pacific. The models indicate that easterly anomalies are to fade to near neutral over the Central and West Pacific a week out (9/23) but continuing in the Eastern Pacific. This suggests maybe the Active Phase might trying to get a foothold, but more likely just indicates a slackening of the Inactive Phase. But another long term model suggests that if anything a weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO is in-fact building in the Indian Ocean and is to push into the West Pacific 10-15 days out (9/29) while the Inactive Phase migrates into the East Pacific. It is hard to believe either model at this point. Will monitor but we suspect there is no good impact expected in relation to the North Pacific storm over the next few weeks.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (9/15) continues to indicate that cooler waters (-1 C degs) had a grip on the equator covering from a point south of Hawaii to the dateline and holding steady if not increasing their coverage slightly. Cooler than normal waters present in feeder bands originating off the US West Coast and Chile sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, serving to continue the existing La Nina pattern. This is typically what is referred to as a 'horseshoe pattern'. At least the cooler waters off the US West Coast were not expanding coverage anymore nor getting cooler as they had in late July into August. But warmer than normal waters are not building anymore over the Galapagos Islands extending west to a point south of Hawaii, and if anything were shrinking as trades increased there with a defined bu thin cool patch now evident on the equator extending from the Galapagos into Central America. Overall the big picture looks very much like La Nina.
Below the surface on the equator things are unchanged. Colder than normal water that had been locked all winter (2010-2011) southeast of Hawaii under the equator evaporated in late February 2011, then returned starting in early July. An impenetrable wall of colder than normal water (-3 degs C) developed in mid-July locked at 140W separating warm anomalies in the east and west, blocking any eastward progress of warmer subsurface water. On 7/21 it vaporized, with a clear subsurface path present allowing warmer subsurface water to flow eastward. But then as quickly as it redeveloped, it died with the cold pool re-emerging starting on 7/30 and built far stronger by 8/8 with waters -5 deg C below normal and holding strength and position on the equator and south of Hawaii through 8/18 and blocking the warm water flow eastward. It weakened some in late August and by 8/23 had vaporized with just residual -2 degree anomalies left behind holding through the end of the month. Then on 9/8 the cold patch reappeared and dropped to -4 degs C only to rebound to -3 deg C on 9/11 and -2 deg C on 9/13, holding as of 9/15. Regardless of the fine details, this area of cool subsurface water was still blocking the normal warm flow to the east and suggests that a weak Active Phase of the MJO in mid-August might have tried to dislodged the cool pool, at least temporarily, but then it returned with the Inactive Phase in the West Pacific the last weeks of August into September. That Inactive Phase may now be fading, but suspect it will return as Fall progresses.
Ocean currents for the equatorial Pacific on 9/5 were unchanged from the previous month flowing anomalously west in the far West Pacific with a small pocket of strong easterly flow at 120W. Previously we found anomalies developed flowing from west to east starting in February and were continuing through June 2011 (a little weaker towards mid-June than earlier in the month). Westerly anomalies continued in July to (thru 7/22) Easterly anomalies were isolated to a small area on the equator at 120W. We oft look at such symptoms as an El Nino indicator, but that does not seem likely given all the other data. But that coupled with a falling SOI at least it depicts a tendency towards normal conditions. Will monitor. Historically it is very unlikely if not impossible to have an El Nino form directly behind a La Nina. More typical is several years of a slow buildup before an actual El Nino event occurs. This suggest the warm waters currently pooling up off Ecuador will likely dissipate as summer progresses but at the same time, the cooler than normal horseshoe pattern over the North and South Pacific will dissipate too.
Remnants of what was a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) are still evident and momentum from this La Nina event are expected to hold well into the Fall of 2011 and likely into early 2012 in the upper atmosphere regardless of how quickly La Nina's demise occurs in the ocean. In short, it's going to be tough for surfers on west facing shores in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, though east facing shores of the West Pacific and Atlantic might do well from the Inactive Phase's dominance, especially in summer months. That is not to say there will be no storms, in fact, there could be short periods of intense activity when the Active Phase gets an opportunity to come to fruition, but that will be the exception rather than the rule, with the Inactive Phase trying to keep a cap on storm activity. Best bet's at this time are for an enhanced tropical season in the Atlantic (2011).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours high pressure is to take firm control of the upper levels of the atmosphere shutting down swell production more than it already is from New Zealand eastward. 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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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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Mavericks Surf Shop Grand Opening - Sunday, December 19 2:00 - 6:00 p.m. rain or shine! Check out the new home of Jeff Clark's Mavericks Surf Shop, now located at 25 Johnson Pier in Pillar Point Harbor. The shop features much of Clark's surfing memorabilia, classic boards and photos, as well as an entirely new line of Jeff Clark original Mavericks clothing, accessories and surfboards. The shop has been open in the new location since December 8, and the Grand Opening party is set for this coming Sunday, just in time for Christmas. The party starts at 2 p.m., with live music, food and drinks. Jeff Clark and many Mavericks surfers will be there to meet the public. Local restaurants Ketch Joanne's and Princeton Seafood will serve up delicious food, while San Francisco Wine Trading Company is providing the beverages. The shop will be open all weekend, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Stormsurf Maintenance Upgrades: Buoy 46059 and 46012 were replaced a month or so ago. Totally new buoys were installed. Here on Stormsurf we had to reset the algorithms used to calculate 'pure swell' for them. That was accomplished on 11/13. Pure swell numbers are now correct. Links: 46012, 46059
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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