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 Sunday (9/18) North and Central CA was seeing smallish swell from the Gulf of Alaska hitting at head high and clean early with a definite hint of Fall like energy in the water. And this is just the start. Down south there was no real surf with occasional waves to knee to maybe thigh high and clean. Southern California was near flat up north with waves maybe 2 ft on the sets and glassy but lumped. Down south there were some southern hemi background sets occasionally to shoulder high and a little textured. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was near flat with sideshore lump running through it. The East Shore was getting easterly trade wind generated windswell with waves thigh to waist high high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
On Tuesday (9/20) small northerly swell from a series of weak gales in the gulf of Alaska was hitting Central California. But of far more interest was swell pushing southeast from a reasonably potent early season gale that developed in the Western Gulf of Alaska Sun-Mon (9/19) with up to 45 kt winds and up to 32 ft seas Monday AM. The first real utility class swell of the Fall 2011-2012 season is expected to result for CA by Thursday (9/22) with sideband energy into Hawaii at the same time. That gale is expected to regenerate slightly early Wed followed by another pulse just off British Columbia late Thursday. This is to ensure some degree of limited northerly swell pushing down the Pacific Northwest into Central CA through the weekend. And yet another moderate gale is forecast developing in the Western Gulf pushing east Sat-Mon (9/26) with swell heading primarily for the US West Coast and sideband energy down into Hawaii. Looks like a decent run of rideable northerly swell is in the forecast with a little luck. Down south a tiny gale was tracking east through the extreme Southeastern Pacific with potential at best only for Southern CA, with better odds for Chile. Longterm the southern hemi under New Zealand is projected to again turn active, but that's just a fantasy at this early date.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (9/20) at the jetstream level 150 kt winds were flowing over the dateline just south of the Aleutians falling into a moderate trough over the Gulf of Alaska. Decent support for gale development was in-play there. Over the next 72 hours far more energy is to start building on the dateline Wednesday (9/21) at 190-200 kts and falling into the pre-existing trough in the Gulf and deepening into Friday (9/23) providing excellent support for gale development there. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to almost pinch off then get reinforced by yet more 130 kt winds pushing east into the Gulf Sunday, then moderating into Tuesday (9/27). More support for gale development possible through the period. A very nice start to the Fall season if the models depict reality.
At the surface on Tuesday (9/20) swell from the 2nd Gulf Gale (details below) was heading southeast towards Hawaii and California with the gale remnants still circulating in the northern Gulf producing northwest winds at 25 kts as a new fetch developed in it's south quadrant (see Follow-on Pulse below). Typhoon Roke was approaching Southern Japan with winds 100 kts and having possible swell producing potential long term. The extratropical remnants of Typhoon Songa were approaching the dateline and steaming east offering more potential (see Follow-on Pulse below). Over the next 72 hours the Gulf of Alaska is to remain active, but down a bit from the gale that resulted earlier this week.
2nd Gulf Gale
On Sunday AM (9/18) a gale developed in the Western Gulf of Alaska with pressure down to 968 mbs and a solid fetch of 40 kt northwest winds building and seas on the increase. By Sunday evening a small fetch of 45 kt northwest to west winds was at 48N 163W targeting primarily the US West Coast with seas building from 26 ft (if not higher). By Monday AM the gale was fading some with pressure holding at 968 mbs and winds still 40 kts in it's south quadrant at 45W 157W with seas to 32 ft at 46N 160W (299 degs Central CA 1750 nmiles out). Solid utility class swell was being generated. By evening the gale was fading with winds down to 30-35 kts over a solid area and seas fading from 30 ft at 45N 154W (1484 nmiles form Central CA on the 298 degree path).
If all this comes to pass the first real utility class swell of the season is to push east offering good potential for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA with even energy possible for Southern CA.
Relative to Central CA, swell arrival is expected near 10 PM Wed (9/21) building to 7.5 ft @ 17 secs (12-13 ft ) near 3 AM Thurs. Swell fading from 7.5 ft @ 15 secs (11-12 ft) at sunrise.
Also some sideband energy is forecast for Hawaii starting Wed (9/21) from 335 degrees building to 6 ft @ 14-15 secs mid-day (8.5 ft faces).
Remnants of the 2nd Gulf Gale are to be invigorated by more energy streaming east into it on Tuesday AM (9/20) resulting in more 35 kt west winds in the evening getting good traction on an already agitated ocean surface and lifting somewhat northeast. Winds building to 50 kts Wed AM (9/21) as this fetch lifts fast to the northeast just off the coast of Central Canada. More 24 ft seas are forecast at 50N 138W on Wed AM 1000 nmiles from Central CA on the 319 degree path possibly resulting in more reinforcing 13 sec period swell for Friday AM (9/23) relative to Central CA and earlier for the Pacific Northwest. Something to monitor.
And yet another follow-on pulse (the extratropical remnants of Typhoon Songa previously off Japan) is forecast pushing over the dateline streaming east and building off North CA Thursday AM (9/22) with 40 kt west to southwest winds at 43N 145W. Seas 18 ft. This fetch is to lift hard northeast in the evening with winds to 55 kts at 49N 140W resulting in 24 ft seas at 48N 139W off Vancouver Island (317 degs CCal 950 nmiles out) possibly resulting in more reinforcing swell with period 13-14 secs Saturday afternoon (9/24) for Central CA from a very northerly angle. Larger swell possible up into the Pacific Northwest.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday (9/20) what was previous Tropical Storm Roke finally got organized and was on the move to the northeast positioned 200 nmiles south of Kyoto Japan with sustained winds at 100 kts, a solid typhoon. This system had previously been circulating for a week south of Southern Japan with winds in the 55 kt range. Current projections have Roke tracking over eastern Japan on early Wednesday then emerging off Northeast Japan in the afternoon with winds down to 55 kts and accelerating to the northeast over open ocean. The GFS model continues to suggest that Roke with turn extratropical and hold together, tracking up the Kuril Islands then across the Aleutians before falling southeast into the Western Gulf of Alaska late Friday (9/23) and starting to reorganize. See Longterm Forecast for details.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (9/20) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was trying to hang-on well off the CA coast producing north winds at 15-20 kts over Cape Mendocino with next to no effect nearshore or south of Pt Arena. A weak eddy flow (south winds) was over Central CA. More of the same is forecast Wednesday with the gradient then trying to push a but further south on Thursday only to return to the north position on Friday with a weak eddy flow continuing for Central CA. A front is to be building out at sea pushing close to the North Coast on Sunday (9/25) driving high pressure to the south, and replacing it with south winds at 15 kts over the North Coast, and even having some south wind effect down to San Francisco on Sunday, then quickly blowing through with slack winds Monday through Tuesday (9/27) for North and Central CA. But with high pressure displaced well to the south, the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino is to set up camp over Pt Conception, with north winds there starting Monday at 15-20 kts easing north into Tuesday (9/27) reaching San Francisco in the late afternoon.
At the surface on Tuesday (9/20) a cutoff low was tracking east in the Southeast Pacific. It developed Monday PM (9/19) on the eastern edge of the CA swell window with 45 kt southwest winds over a tiny area in the Central Pacific. By Tuesday AM winds were near 55 kts but it had quickly turned flowing due east. 34 ft seas were modeled at 34 ft Tuesday AM at 38S 130W covering only a tiny area. In the evening seas to build to 36 ft at 37S 125W over a tiny area all aimed to the east. 38 ft seas forecast at 37S 119W Wed AM (9/21) before fading and moving out of even the Southern CA swell window. Some degree of tiny south angled sideband swell is possible for Southern CA by Wed (9/28) with luck.
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). This peak is to hit Central CA on Wednesday AM. But most energy was focused on South America. Size declining fast after Wednesday.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 the extratropical remnants of Typhoon Roke are to race northeast traversing the Aleutian Islands over the dateline then dropping southeast into the Dateline-Western Gulf region on Saturday AM (9/24) with 40 kts northwest winds and falling into the evening. 24 ft seas building at 46N 167W. The gale is to stall somewhat in the Central Gulf Sunday AM (9/25) with northwest winds 40 kts with seas to 26 ft at 45N 154W and all energy starting to bypass Hawaii targeting the US West Coast (NCal 297 degs). A solid fetch of 35 kt northwest winds to start nuzzling up to the Pacific Northwest coast in the evening resulting in 28 ft seas at 43N 148W (293 degs NCal/300 SCal). This fetch is to hold into Monday AM (9/26) resulting in more 28 ft seas at 43N 143W before starting to dissipate and push into the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday (9/27). At this point it's all just a fantasy, but something to monitor none the less.
As of Tuesday (9/20) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) data was not available. Previously on Sunday (9/18) the daily SOI was 24.72. The 30 day average was up some at 5.27 with the 90 day average up slightly to 6.19. The 30 day average had been hovering in the +2.0-4.0 range for a month indicative of a neutral ENSO pattern, but was now on the increase.
Current wind analysis indicated light to moderate easterly anomalies were blowing from the Eastern equatorial Pacific to the dateline then fading a bit east of Indonesia. This suggests that the Inactive Phase of the MJO was 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 build over the Central and West Pacific a week out (9/28) with the Inactive Phase still in control. Another long term model we use 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 (10/4) while the Inactive Phase migrates into the East Pacific. But this has been the case with this model for a few weeks now. It is hard to believe that any significant change will occur, with the expectation that the current pattern will remain locked in place as it has been for months now. Will continue monitoring but we suspect there is no good impact expected in relation to the North Pacific storm pattern over the next few weeks.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (9/19) 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 but 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 9/15-20. 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 and is showing no signs of budging.
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 the models suggest a decent storm building under New Zealand on Tues (9/27) with 55 kt southwest winds over a modest area and seas on the increase pushing 40 ft by nightfall at 55S 180W. Will believe it when it happens.
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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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