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 Thursday (9/16) North and Central California was getting minimal locally generated short period north windswell at waist to maybe chest high and lightly textured, with minimal longer period southern hemi swell building underneath. Southern California was getting thigh high southern hemi background swell up north and clean. Down south the swell was more focused with sets occasionally chest high and beautiful with clean summer-like sunny conditions. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean with summer sand clogging the reefs. The East Shore was getting knee high tradewind generated east windswell with lightly chopped conditions. The South Shore was still getting combo New Zealand-Central SPac swell with waves chest high with maybe some head high sets and clean with light offshores in effect.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for southern hemi taking control pushing 5.5 ft with sets to 7 ft on Friday AM (9/17) and holding at 5.0 ft with sets to 6.5 ft Saturday AM (9/18) then starting to fade on Sunday from 4 ft with sets to near 5 ft. Possible small northwest swell could arrive on Monday holding into Tuesday. Southern California is to see southern hemi swell pushing to 5.5 ft on the face Friday (9/17) with sets to 7 ft and holding Saturday AM at 5 ft with sets to 6.5 ft then starting to fade Sunday with 4 ft faces with sets to near 5 ft. Maybe minimal dateline swell to arrive on Tuesday. The North Shore of Oahu is to see no ridable surf until Sunday, when some sideband energy from the dateline is to arrive possibly pushing 6.5 ft on the face holding into Monday. The East Shore to see short period east windswell at waist high or so on Friday holding Saturday then fading. We're becoming less concerned with windswell now that the North Pacific seems to be giving it a try. The South Shore is to see southern hemi swell slowly fading from waist high or so by Friday AM and almost gone by Saturday.
Up north a low pressure system was in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska on Wed/Thursday (9/16) with winds to 25 kts producing one small peak window of 14 ft seas (Thurs AM) aimed due south, mostly bypassing the Oregon and CA coast. At the same time a second tropical system tracked from Japan up to the dateline and organized better, positioned just barely south of the Aleutians on Thursday AM (9/16) with 35-40 kt west winds generating one spurt of 28 ft seas at 45N 178W Wed PM 2500 nmiles away and aimed well at Central CA, then expected to fade to 20 ft late Thursday from 2150 nmiles away and holding into early Friday AM. Theoretically small swell is expected to reach Central CA starting on Monday and holding into Tuesday AM (9/21).
Down south swell from a gale that pushed east from under New Zealand last week with up to 36 ft seas (on Mon-Tues 9/7) then reorganized while making a turn to the north producing more 30-32 ft seas and aimed well to the north and unshadowed by Tahiti is starting to arrive in California on Thurs (9/16) and expected to continue into the weekend. Another gale was tracking into the Tasman Sea Thurs AM (9/16) with seas to 38 ft and is to slowly fading into Saturday AM with seas dropping to 30 ft, all focused very well on Fiji and Northern New Zealand (best of the season), with limited energy expected to filter through Fiji reaching Hawaii maybe Thurs (9/23) and even less for California days beyond.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (9/16) the North Pacific jetstream was flowing over the 42N latitude line through a bit fragmented from Japan to Oregon with two troughs embedded in it, one over the dateline and another in the eastern Gulf of Alaska. Both had 100-110 kt winds flowing into them offering reasonable odds to support low pressure development at the oceans surface. Nothing exceptional, but certainly better than anything so far this Fall season. Over the next 72 hours the Gulf trough is to slowly fade while easing east, pushing onshore over Northern CA Sat/Sun (9/19). The dateline trough is to fade too while moving to the far Western Gulf of Alaska and dissipating. But behind it to the west a strong flat flow of 130 kt winds is to be building on the dateline, best looking flow so far this Fall. Beyond 72 hours the wind pocket on the dateline is to build to 140 kts and start pushing east starting to organize into a trough on Wednesday while 170 kt winds build into a broad ridge west of there, then dropping southeast feeding into the developing trough in the Gulf Thursday (9/23) providing decent odds for gale development there and for what likely will be days ahead. Looks like the Fall season is starting to materialize.
At the surface on Thursday (9/16) high pressure was pretty much out of the picture. A low pressure system was weakly organizing in the Gulf of Alaska Thurs (9/16) with pressure down to 1000 mbs producing a small area of 25 kt northwest winds at 42N 143W resulting in possibly 14 ft seas at 42N 143W possibly setting up some small 8 sec period northwest windswell for CA, but nothing of any real interest.
Also on Thursday (9/16) remnants of a second tropical system that tracked east from Japan up to the dateline had organized better, positioned just barely south of the Aleutians in the morning with 35-40 kt west winds generating one spurt of 28 ft seas at 45N 178W Wed PM 2500 nmiles away and aimed well at Central CA, then expected to fade to 20 ft late Thursday at 45N 170W (2150 nmiles away from NCal) then fading from 20 ft Friday AM. Theoretically small swell is expected to reach Hawaii starting Sunday AM (9/19) at 5 ft @ 13 secs (6.5 ft faces) fading from 5.5 ft @ 12 secs (6.5 ft faces) from 325 degrees. Central CA is to start seeing swell mid-day Monday at 4.0 ft @ 15 secs (6 ft faces) holding at 5 ft @ 13 secs (6.5 ft faces) by Tuesday AM (9/21). Swell Direction 297-301 degrees.
Over the next 72 hours additional low pressure energy is expected to build over the dateline just south of the Aleutians producing a fetch of 35 kt west winds on Sunday easing east into Monday (Western Gulf) producing more seas in the low 20 ft range. Perhaps some limited 13 sec period swell could result more for the US West Coast than Hawaii. but even that is merely a guess.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical activity of interest is forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (9/16) weak low pressure at 1000 mbs was 900 nmiles west of Central Oregon with summertime high pressure positioned well south and west of it's normal place resulting in light to calm northwesterly wind flow over all of California other than 15 kt northwest winds over Pt Conception. This low is expected to slowly track south and east into Sunday while fading, pushing over Cape Mendocino late in the day with light precipitation modeled down to Monterey Bay early on Friday then regrouping over the north end of the state, organizing into a front and pushing south into Monterey Bay on Sunday evening. Seems a bit optimistic, but something to watch for. The first legitimate rain of the season. South winds ahead of this 'front' are to push into location from Pt Reyes northward to 15 kts Sat/Sun (9/19), but making no further south. Calm winds are forecast south of there resulting in good conditions. That said, high pressure is to try and sneak under the low ridging into Pt Conception Thurs (9/16) on into the weekend , dropping over the Channel Islands Fri-Sun (9/19) possibly setting up a northerly flow over Southern CA nearshore waters in the afternoons during that window. High pressure is to rebound northward by Monday (9/20) with northwest winds at 15-20 kts centered over Pt Conception but reaching up into North CA, then lifting north into Tuesday centered over San Francisco at 20 kts, basically covering the entire state except Southern CA. Warbled and messy conditions to return at that time. But. latest data suggests the gradient is to move to it's usual place over Cape Mendocino by Thursday (9/23) and fading fast with light winds south of there.
On Thursday (9/16) the jetstream was producing a ridge pushing firmly south over the mid-South Pacific and suppressing odds for gale development at the oceans surface there, but a trough was building in the West pushing north to the mouth of the Tasman Sea with 150 kt south winds feeding up into that trough, providing good support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to start weakening fast and collapsing south into Sunday, with the push of the jet aiming more towards Antarctica than to the north and offering no support for gale development for our forecast area. Beyond 72 hours the remnants of that trough are to persist under and just southeast of New Zealand and by mid-next week (9/23) 130 kt south winds are to again be feeding up into the trough possibly providing support for gale development down and the oceans surface.
At the oceans surface on Thursday (9/16) a broad gale continued building into the Tasman Sea. This system started forming south-southwest of Tasmania on Wed (9/15) with 45 kt south to southwest winds pushing mostly into Tasmania, with maybe a little reaching clear of it's south end and tracking up into the extreme southern Tasman Sea. On Thursday 40 kt southwest fetch was finally pushing free and clear of Tasmania reaching to 39S 152E early and up to 36S 165E late resulting in 38 ft seas at 38S 158E (Thurs PM). Then on Friday additional 40 kt southwest fetch is to build into the Central Tasman Sea near 40S 160W resulting in 35 ft seas at 40S 160W in the evening. This system is to be fading fast on Saturday AM. Northern New Zealand is to receive the brunt of this swell though an almost equal amount of swell energy is to push up into Fiji starting on Sunday AM (9/19 GMT), with perhaps some very filtered energy reaching up into Hawaii by Thursday (9/23). Will monitor. Over the next 72 hrs no other swell producing fetch is forecast with the high pressure locked in-place dominating the greater South Pacific.
South Pacific Gale
A strong gale started to wrap up under New Zealand on Monday AM with 45-50 kt west to almost southwest winds building, pushing to 50 kts solid in the evening at 60S 175E and aimed more to the northeast or 20 degrees east of the 209 degree path into North CA and barely shadowed by the western edge of the Tahitian Islands chain. Seas reached 34 ft at 59S 174E (210 degs CA and 194 degs for Hawaii).
A solid area of 45 kt southwest winds continued Tuesday AM at 57S 172W producing 36 ft seas at 58S 175W now heading right up the 209-210 degree route to CA and 35 degrees east of the 188 degree path towards Hawaii. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the eastern quadrant of this system at 18Z and reported a 15 reading average sea height of 32.1 ft with a one reading max on 37.4 ft where the model suggested 33 ft seas. It appears the model was right on track. Also having the fetch track right up the same great circle paths to CA might help improve set consistency. In the evening the fetch backed off some though still covering a reasonably large area with 40 kt southwest winds at 50S 156W tracking up the 202 degree path to California, on the eastern edge of the Tahitian swell shadow and aimed well east of the 178 degree path to Hawaii. 32 ft seas persisted at 56S 165W (202 degs CA).
By Wednesday AM (9/8) the fetch fragmented and decayed with a smaller areas of 40-45 kts southwest winds trying to hang on at 50S 154W and seas from the original fetch at 30 ft at 51S 155W. The Jason-1 satellite passed directly over the center of the fetch at 18Z and reported average seas of 29.3 ft with one peak reading at 36.7 ft, about exactly in line with what the model projected. In the evening a new broad fetch of 40-45 kt south-southwest winds developed at 56S 170W getting traction on an already agitated ocean surface, producing more 31 ft seas back at 55S 170W with seas from the original fetch at 30 ft at 50S 149W (196 degs CA - 187 degs HI).
This fetch held at 40-45 kts and aimed pure north from 49S 154W on Thursday AM with seas to 32 ft at 49S 158W. The models suggested a tiny area of up to 40 kt south winds peak out Thursday PM at 50S 143W pushing right up the 195 degree path to California and unshadowed by Tahiti with sideband energy to Hawaii up the 175 degree path. 32 ft seas were modeled at 45S 152W.
On Friday AM (9/10) a big strong push north was forecast initially by the models with 40-45 kt south winds pushing well to the north at 42S 142W aimed right up the 196 degree great circle path to California and even with sideband energy aimed up the 169 degree path to Hawaii. Unfortunately that was a bit overblown, with only 30 ft seas resulting at 41S 146W pushing right up the 197 degree path to CA. A quick fade occurred in the evening with winds dropping from 40 kts at 40S 140W but still aimed due north. Momentum from previous fetch held seas at 29 ft at 37S 140W. This extreme north position should greatly decrease swell decay.
A quick fade occurred thereafter.
In all this remains a reasonably positive scenario, with solid fetch and seas early in the storm life but a long ways away and aimed a bit east of the great circle tracks up to either Hawaii or California. The later half of this gales life did not develop anywhere near as strong as originally projected, but it did reach well to the north providing decent opportunities for our forecast area, but nothing over the top. Still, considering the complete lack of swell and fetch in the Southern Hemi, anything is a step in the right direction.
Hawaii: 14 sec residuals expected on Friday and fading out. Swell Direction: 188 degrees initially turning to 1790-180 for the second half of the swell.
Southern California: Swell building some over night pushing to 3 ft @ 17 secs Friday AM (9/17) and holding (5.5 ft faces with sets to 7 ft) through the day through inconsistent. Swell from the second more northward push of the gale to start arriving late Friday midday with period at 17 secs and size building overnight, pushing 3.0 ft @ 16 secs (5.0 ft faces with sets to 6.5 ft) Saturday AM (9/18) and a bit more consistency. Swell from the initial push to still be arriving to. Swell holding through late afternoon, then starting to fade with swell 2.8 ft @ 15 secs (4 ft faces with sets to near 5 ft) on Sunday (9/19). Swell Direction: Initial push from 202-210 degrees turning more towards 199-203 degrees for the second push.
North California: Swell building some over night pushing to 3 ft @ 17 secs Friday AM (9/17) and holding (5.5 ft faces with sets to 7 ft) through the day through inconsistent. Swell from the second more northward push of the gale to start arriving late Friday night with period at 17 secs and size building, pushing 3.0 ft @ 16 secs (5.0 ft faces with sets to 6.5 ft) Saturday AM (9/18) and a bit more consistency. Swell holding through late afternoon, then starting to fade with swell 2.8 ft @ 15 secs (4 ft faces with sets to near 5 ft) on Sunday (9/19). Swell Direction: Initial push from 200-208 degrees turning more towards 198-202 degrees for the second push.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
72 hrs low pressure that was over the dateline is to move to the Gulf
of Alaska Wed/Thurs (9/23) with winds to 30 kts aimed pretty well at
the US West Coast. Sea possibly to 20 ft or better, but this is purely
an early guess by the models. Possible more small swell for the US West
Coast with sideband energy pushing down towards Hawaii.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (9/16) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued solid in the positive range. The daily SOI was at 19.79 and has been that way in excess of 59 days now. The 30 day average was up to 24.29 with the 90 day average up to 17.68. The Inactive Phase of the MJO appears to still be in control.
Wind anomalies as of Wednesday (9/15) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated the Inactive Phase was still in control with light east anomalies covering the entire width of the tropical Pacific and pushing into Central America. A weak incarnation of the Active Phase of the MJO was trying to build over the width of the Indian Ocean. This pattern was to continue with easterly anomalies and the Inactive Phase tracking over the Eastern Pacific while fading and pushing into Central America through 9/25 then slowly dissipating into 9/30 while a weak version of the Active Phase and it's much needed westerly anomalies are forecast to try and push into the West Pacific on 9/25, barely making it halfway to the dateline then stalling and dissipating there into 10/5. This is about the same as the previous forecast and might help to build a weak Fall weather pattern over the North Pacific. Also the movement of the Inactive Phase into the Atlantic might help to fuel hurricane development there through the end of Sept.
We believe the remnants of El Nino are just about gone from the upper atmosphere. The expectation is that we'll see a building moderate to moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) for the remained of 2010 extending well into 2011 and likely to early 2012. In short, the next year and half is 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.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (9/13) indicates that downright colder than normal waters continue to expand their grip on the equator covering solidly from South America west to the dateline and beyond and are in fact getting cooler and covering a larger area over time, extending the whole way to New Guinea. The coldest waters extended from a point south of Hawaii to just west of the dateline, a clear signal of strong easterly winds there and solid upwelling. Feeder bands of cooler than normal water continued building off the US West Coast and South America sweeping fully to the dateline, only serving to reinforce what is already an impressive La Nina pattern, suggesting stronger than normal high pressure has built in both hemispheres and upwelling is in full effect in the Gulf of Alaska and off South America. This is good for sea life and the food chain (since they tend to like colder waters), but bad for storm production. Looks like a classic La Nina setup. This continues the turn for the worse and only seems to be getting stronger. At the same time a massive buildup of warmer than normal waters has stalled in the Atlantic almost bleeding into the far Eastern Pacific. This was of concern to hurricane forecasters there. But it appears residual upper level shear from El Nino has done a good job of if not chopping the tops off developing systems, at least directing then to the north. But that shear appears to be fading some as we move into the heart of hurricane season in the Atlantic. Regardless of this year, next year might be a very strong hurricane producer, with the El Nino shear gone and a mature La Nina in control.
Below the surface on the equator no Kevin Wave activity was present and if anything colder than normal water was building strong over the dateline and pushing east (sort of like a cold Kelvin Wave). This pocket was -6 degs below normal (getting colder). Not good.
Over the entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to the Philippines and beyond. And now from a historical perspective these easterly winds were anomalous, blowing harder than normal from the east to the west, as would be expected looking at all the other data. But this is a rather recent development, with only normal winds indicated prior to 9/11. The interesting twist to all this is that the Pacific current that runs along the equator turned abruptly from flowing towards South America to flowing towards the Philippines in mid-March (2010), right as the SOI started it's impressive drive into positive territory and the North Pacific winter storm machine abruptly shut down. And it has not wavered since. But trades never waiver from the normal range. This suggests trade wind anomalies might be a byproduct of the Pacific equatorial current change and not the other way around i.e. the trades do not drive the temperature change initially, but the current change does. And then the atmosphere responds in kind to the change, building high pressure and reinforcing the flow and water temps. Said a different way, the change in the current might actually foretell a coming change in the trades, and then with the advent of the trade wind change, it only serves to reinforce the current in a self amplifying loop, until such time as the cycle runs it's course and the self feeding system collapses over a multiyear period. At that time the current then switches direction, and a whole new self-enforcing cycle stars anew. Something to consider (regarding the formation and El Nino/La Nina).
El Nino is effectively gone and slowly losing it's grip on the global upper atmospheric weather pattern. Still some lingering impact might continue through early Fall 2010, but likely not enhancing the storm track in the South Pacific any longer. A transition to cooler than normal conditions (La Nina) is expected through Nov 2010, and the signs continue to point to a La Nina pattern for the long term future.
See more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours there suggestions of yet another strong gale building up into the fickle Tasman Sea on Sun-Mon (9/20) with 40-45 kt southwest winds building seas to 38 ft at 46S 157W targeting South and Central New Zealand best, though sideband energy will likely push up towards Fiji. This is still a ways off, but interesting none-the-less. Follow on wind energy is forecast to continue blowing into Southern New Zealand at 35-40 kts, but mostly obstructed by it's landmass relative to swell interests in the northern hemisphere.
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