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 (9/20) North and Central CA had some warbled northerly local windswell at waist to maybe chest high with calm local winds. Down south in Santa Cruz there was small southern hemi swell with waves waist high or so and clean but weak. Southern California up north had limited north windswell at knee to thigh high and chopped from northwest wind. Down south southern hemi swell was producing sets to head high but a bit textured with a modest northerly wind starting to blow. Hawaii's North Shore was flat to maybe thigh high and a bit warbled with northeast trades in effect. The South Shore had some minimal southern hemi background swell producing waves at thigh to waist high and clean with northeast trades in effect. The East Shore had no real east windswell producing waves only knee high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Up north high pressure and a small gradient is starting to build along the Central CA coast expected to move up to Cape Mendocino by Saturday with north winds near 25 kts then resulting in small northerly windswell for the CA coast through the weekend. No tradewind swell of interest in Hawaii. But of more interest is a decently organized gale that is forming over the dateline expected to fall southeast into the Gulf of Alaska with winds in the 40-45 kt range producing seas in the 28-32 ft range targeting sideband energy towards Hawaii and better at Central CA and points north of there. This system is just now starting to organize. And another smaller system is forecast forming in the northern Gulf on Tues (9/25) with seas in the 20-22 ft range with yet another in the same area late in the work week with similar seas. It looks like Fall is finally starting to set up. Down south on Monday (9/17) a modest gale developed under New Zealand with seas to 34 ft aimed a little bit to the northeast offering limited potential for small southern hemi swell long term. And another system was forming southeast of New Zealand Thursday and forecast to push better to the northeast through Fri (9/21) with seas at 34-36 ft. A variety of swells looks likely in the coming 10-12 days.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (9/20) the jet was still displaced a bit to the north running west to east generally just south of the Aleutians at 50N with a decent trough on the dateline dipping south to 40N with winds feeding into it at 170 kts offering some support for gale development there. A big ridge was off the Canadian coast driving the jet northward there up into Alaska. Over the next 72 hours the ridge in the east is to fade allowing the trough on the dateline to track east into the Gulf of Alaska through the weekend, though weakening along the way. Still, it should help to support low pressure in that area. Beyond 72 hours another pulse of wind energy is to move into the Western Gulf on Mon (9/24) with winds in the 160 kt range feeding development of a new trough there holding through the end of the workweek while slowly tracking east providing decent support for low pressure if not gale formation. And the better news is by Friday 99/28) the jet is to be reset down at 40N, right where one would want it to be for this time of year.
Surface - On Thursday (9/20) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was off the Northeast Pacific forming a weak pressure gradient over Central CA generating 20 kt north winds and limited raw short period north windswell there. The high was centered too far north of Hawaii to produce meaningful easterly trades there, with windswell along east facing shores below normal levels. Of far more interest was a nice but modest looking gale developing south of the Aleutians just east of the dateline (see Dateline Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours the dateline gale is to be the focus of all attention. That said, high pressure off the US West Coast is to slowly ease north continuing the weak gradient with north winds 20-25 kts relocated up to Cape Mendocino by late Friday holding into Sunday AM (9/23). Limited odds for small short period north windswell for mostly Central CA. There's also indications of increased trades to 15 kts over a broader area by Sun (9/23) for Hawaii offering a hint of east windswell for east facing shores there through Monday.
Starting Wednesday AM (9/19) a small gale developed off Kamchatka falling southeast and moving south of the intersection of the Aleutians and the dateline by Thursday AM (9/20) with winds building 40 kts over a small area and seas to 27 ft at 46N 180W. The gale is to hold in the evening with winds still 40 kts and seas 27-28 ft at 42N 174W (331 degs HI, 293 degs NCal) aimed at Hawaii and the US West Coast. The gale is to ease east Friday AM (9/21) with fetch increasing in areal coverage and solid at 45 kts targeting the same location with seas to 32 ft at 41N 165W barely targeting Hawaii and aimed better at the 290 deg path to NCal (297 degs SCal). Fetch to start fading in the evening from 40 kts with seas fading from 30 ft at 41N 159W (290 degs NCal). The gale is to be lifting northeast on Saturday with winds fading from 35 kts and seas dropping fast from 26 ft at 43N 152W. If one is to believe the models, possible decent utility class swell could result focused mainly on the US West Coast. Will monitor.
Hawaii: Rough data suggest swell arrival at sunset on Saturday (9/22) with swell 3 ft @ 17 secs (5 ft faces) and building overnight. Swell at sunrise Sunday to 6 ft @ 15 secs (9 ft faces) and slowly settling down from there. Swell down to 6 ft @ 13 secs on Monday AM (7.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 335+ degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Hurricane Lane peaked Monday PM (9/17) with winds 70 kts at 18 N 127.3W and seas 28 ft, mid-way between Baja and Hawaii and tracking northwest. On Tuesday AM (9/18) it was down to tropical storm status tracking northwest with winds 60 kts and seas 24 ft. As of Wednesday AM winds were down to 30 kts and it was effectively dead.
For the most part this was a fish storm, though some small swell energy could radiate east towards Hawaii arriving late Friday (9/21) at 3 ft @ 11 secs (3.0-3.5 ft) with luck and mixed with small local east windswell continuing through Saturday.
On Thursday AM (9/20) Tropical Storm Jelawat was located 300 nmiles east of the Central Philippines with winds 35 kts and on the increase, tracking west-southwest. Jelawat is forecast to stall in the next 6-12 hours and slowly strengthen, reaching typhoon status (65 kts) on Saturday 99/22) then make a slow turn to the north-northwest. Winds to reach up to 105 kts by Tuesday 99/25) positioned 300 nmiles east of the Northern Philippines. The models suggest an eventually landfall over mainland Chine late Wednesday (9/26). No swell forecast for our area.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (9/20) a small area of weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was trying to ridge into the coast near Morro Bay generating a modest north windflow at 15 kts affecting the Central CA coast, with weak north winds over the North Coast and a calm flow over Southern CA. The core of the fetch is to start moving north on Friday finally settling over North CA on Saturday with winds speeds 20-25 kts with a weak eddy flow become established over Central CA. Winds to hold at barely 25 kts into Sunday AM producing small windswell for Central CA, then faltering to 20 kts and decreasing in areal coverage, holding north of Pt Reyes through Monday, then falling over Central CA later Tuesday into Wednesday (9/26) before shrinking more on Thursday with a weak eddy flow setting up over Central CA. A weak eddy flow to continue non-stop for Southern CA.
New Zealand Gale
Surface - On Thursday AM (9/20) a new gale was forming southeast of New Zealand on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf with winds 40-45 kts over a broadish area and seas building from 32 ft at 60S 175E (207 degs CA and shadowed by Tahiti and 192 degs HI). The fetch is to hold in the evening while drifting east with seas up to 34 ft up at 56S 175W. Fetch is to start fading from 40 kts Fri AM (9/21) though covering a broader area with seas up to 36 ft at 52S 168W (205 degs CA and in the heart of the Tahiti swell shadow and 182 degs HI). Fetch is to be fading from 35-40 kts in the evening with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 48N 160W. In all some degree of decent swell is possible for HI and CA if one is to believe the models, though sets will be pretty broken up.
On Monday AM (9/17) a gale organized under New Zealand producing a small area of 45 kt west-southwest winds and seas building from 32 ft early at 56S 172E (213 degs CA and unshadowed by Tahiti). This system tracked east and held in the evening with winds to near 45 kts and seas peaking at 34 ft at 57S 179E (194 degs HI and 209 degs CA right in the edge of the Tahiti swell shadow). 45 kt winds barely held Tuesday AM (9/18) tracking flat east with and seas fading from 32 ft at 58S 168W.
Possible small southern hemi swell could result for both Hawaii starting Tues (9/25) at 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft) and starting late Wednesday peaking Thursday (4/27) for California at 2 ft @ 17 secs (3 ft) from 206-212 degrees centered on 211 degs.
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 Northwest Gulf of Alaska on Monday (9/24) with winds 30 kts and lifting northeast tracking into Northeast Gulf on Tuesday with northwest winds to 35 kts covering a broader area. Maybe 22 ft seas at 51N 157W mid-day Tuesday (9/25). Maybe some small 13 second period swell to result for the US West Coast. And yet another similar gale is forecast for the same area on Thurs (9/27). It looks the Active Phase of the MJO moving over the Central equatorial Pacific is having the desired affect.
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 planet. 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 split 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 Thursday (9/20) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up hard at 21.22 (previous 9 days in a row neutral or between -8 and +4). The 30 day average was up some to 4.42 with the 90 day average at -3.45. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated moderate plus strength westerly anomalies continuing over the Maritime Continent (WPac) falling to neutral before reaching the dateline and holding at neutral the rest of the way across the equatorial Pacific into Central America other than a modest area of east anomalies south of Hawaii. This suggests that a weak Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started Sept 2 in the West Pacific is continuing with roots for 19 days in a row (a good thing for setting up a Kelvin Wave and feeding warm water eastward). The Active Phase of the MJO was in control over the West Pacific. A week from now (9/28) neutral anomalies are forecast to be in control of the Maritime Continent and dateline all the way into the East Pacific suggesting a very weak Active Phase (at best if not it's outright demise). This Active Phase and WWB is what we were hoping for to prevent further degradation of the warm pool.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/19 remain in agreement initially suggesting a weak to modest Active Phase is in-play over the West Pacific with the Inactive Phase moving over Central America bound for the Caribbean and Atlantic Basin. The Active Phase is to slowly decay over the next 5 days per the statistical model and give way to a neutral Phase 10 days to 2 weeks out, while the dynamic model has the Active Phase holding on for the next 2 weeks. Suspect the dynamic model is wrong but we still like the tease it provides. This all favors some degree of weak maintenance plan for the warm water pool off Ecuador, if not slightly more due to the WWB currently in play.
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 some signs of shrinking in areal coverage, but has also migrated some to the north (up along Baja) while shrinking in the south along Chile. And the latest update on 9/17 has again depicted a thin track of cooler than normal water snaking it's way west through the heart of the warm pool off Ecuador. We've also been tracking the cool pool that has dominated between California and Hawaii, generated by 2 years of La Nina and stronger than normal high pressure there. There's some signs it is weakening, but it is still quite obvious and a force to be reckoned with atmospherically. There is also 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 looked very much like a weak Kelvin Wave propagated east both subsurface (2 deg C anomaly at 118W) and at the surface (1 deg C anomaly), moving east of 120 and off the charts by 9/17. If this is real, it would help to replenish the warm water pool maybe 3-4 weeks out (early Oct), but nowhere near the levels it was in July (our best guess). The overriding concern is there is no indication that the warm water pool is building in temperature or areal coverage as one would expect if El Nino were developing, and plenty of evidence that it is in a slow but steady decline or at best just just barely hanging on in maintenance mode. In fact the models are now picking up on the decline in water temps in the Nino 3.4 region, depicting a sharp decline in temps of 0.5 degs there for late September. Hopefully the Kelvin Wave (mentioned above) pushing east will add a little fuel. And if in fact the WWB that occurred 9/2-9/18 in the far West Pacific is productive, another Kelvin Wave could result with yet more warming expected 90 days out (Dec). But this is looking less like a legitimate El Nino and more like a pulse towards a neutral or slightly warm pattern. Water temps are now modeled only .75 degs above normal in the Jan-Feb 2013 timeframe for the Nino 3.4 region, just barely within El Nino thresholds. So the evidence is not promising, but the models are hopeful for some degree of rebound longterm.
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 amplified. 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 play, 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-play. 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 place 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 and alot of energy 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).So it will be interesting to see whether the pattern we are currently in is a tease or the real thing. The preference is for a tease with a slowly building storm pattern occurring over a multi-year period, culminating with a real El Nino 2 or more years beyond.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing 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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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, 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".
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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