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 Saturday (9/22) North and Central CA had local generated northerly windswell at chest high with some bigger sets and clean but a bit warbled early. Down south in Santa Cruz there was fading background southern hemi swell with waves waist high on the sets and clean but weak. Southern California up north minimal north windswell at knee high and clean early. Down south residual southern hemi swell was producing waves in the waist to chest high range and clean early. Hawaii's North Shore was getting small dateline preliminary windswell at waist high and clean with trades in effect. The South Shore had fading minimal southern hemi background swell producing waves at knee to thigh high and clean. The East Shore had some easterly hurricane swell at knee to thigh high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Up north minimal high pressure was producing a small and weak pressure gradient along the North CA coast resulting in north winds near 25 kts and small northerly windswell for the CA coast expected to hold through the weekend. No tradewind swell of interest was occurring but trades are forecast to build to 15 kts by Sunday holding into Monday resulting in minimal east windswell for east facing shores. But of far more interest was a gale that formed over the dateline on Thursday (9/20) that tracked southeast into the Gulf of Alaska with winds in the 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 was currently fading in the Gulf. And another smaller system continues forecast forming in the Northern Gulf Mon-Tues (9/25) with 35 kt winds and 26 ft seas with yet another in the same area late in the work week with seas in the 20 ft range. Fall is arriving with decent swell likely for a weeks duration focused on the US West Coast with sideband energy possibly for the Islands. 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 formed southeast of New Zealand Thursday pushing better to the northeast with seas at 36 ft fading some Fri (9/21) with seas down to 34 ft. Small summer like swell is pushing towards Tahiti, Hawaii and the US West Coast. So a variety of options are on the menu.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (9/22) the jet was doing well centered near 45N with a solid trough pushing east through the Gulf of Alaska with 120 kt winds feeding into it. This trough was supporting a gale down in the lower levels of the atmosphere. Decent energy was also tracking off Japan, what one would want to see this time of year. Over the next 72 hours the trough in the Gulf is to quickly dissipate but the energy pushing off Japan is to builds to 160 kts starting to form another trough in the Western Gulf of Alaska Monday into Tuesday offering limited support again for gale formation there. Beyond 72 hours the winds energy and trough is to hold decently in the Gulf through Thursday (9/27) then start pushing into Canada and fading out. But yet another solid trough is forecast developing ont he dateline by Saturday (9/29) with 130 kt winds feeding into it and looking to provide support for gale development long term. And yet more energy is to be building over Japan. Nice.
Surface - On Saturday (9/22) the remnants of the Dateline Gale (see below) were still circulating in the Gulf of Alaska producing a broad fetch of 30-35 kt northwest winds. Otherwise a small pressure gradient was tucked up along the Northern California coast generated courtesy of high pressure off Central CA at 1024 mbs resulting in a small fetch of 20 kt north winds producing limited short period north windswell. A fragmented area of trades (east winds) at 15 kts was trying to get organized just east of the HAwaiian Islands, but not doing anything just yet.
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast developing in the Northwest Gulf of Alaska later Monday (9/24) producing a small area of west winds at 35 kts and falling southeast into the Central Gulf on Tuesday producing northwest winds at 35-40 kts early covering a broader area. Seas building to 26 ft Tuesday AM (9/25) at 48N 165W tracking to 48N 157W in the evening and falling to 24 ft. This system to dissipate by Wed AM. Maybe a pulse of 14-15 sec period swell to result focused mainly of the Pacific Northwest but with energy reaching down to Pt Conception. Something to monitor. High pressure is to hold off the US West Coast continuing a weak gradient over Cape Mendocino Monday to Tuesday (9/25) producing north winds at 20 kts pushing 25 kts Wednesday resulting in small short period north windswell for mostly Central CA. There's also indications of increased trades relative to Hawaii in the 15 kt range and covering a broader area by Sun (9/23) offering a hint of east windswell for east facing shores there through Tuesday.
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 Jason-1 satellite passed over the leading edge of the fetch at 20Z and confirmed seas at 29.1 ft with one reading to 32.8 ft where the model suggested 28 ft seas. The model was right on track. The gale held in the evening with winds still 40 kts and seas 27 ft at 42N 173W (331 degs HI, 293 degs NCal) aimed at Hawaii and the US West Coast. The gale eased east Friday AM (9/21) with fetch increasing in areal coverage and solid at 45 kts targeting the same location with seas to 30 ft at 42N 165W barely targeting Hawaii and aimed better at the 291 deg path to NCal (297 degs SCal). Fetch started fading in the evening from 40 kts with seas fading from 30 ft at 43N 158W (292 degs NCal). The gale was lifting northeast on Saturday AM with winds fading from 35 kts and seas dropping fast from 28 ft at 44N 153W.
Decent utility class swell will result focused mainly along the US West Coast.
Hawaii: Expect 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 7.0 ft @ 15 secs (10 ft faces) and slowly settling down from there, at 6.8 ft @ 14 secs late (9 ft). Swell down to 6 ft @ 13 secs on Monday AM (7.5 ft faces) and fading from there. Swell Direction: 335 degrees
North California: Expect swell arrival starting mid-day on Monday (9/24) with size building into the mid-afternoon peaking late at 6.6 ft @ 15-16 secs (10-11 ft). Residuals fading Tuesday AM at 5.8 ft @ 14 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction 290-295 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
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. By Saturday Jelawat had not made much progress, still located in the same position with winds 55 kts. Jelawat is forecast to strengthen, reaching typhoon status (65 kts) on Saturday evening (9/22) then make a slow turn to the north-northwest. Winds to reach up to 115 kts Tuesday (9/25) positioned 300 nmiles east of the Northern Philippines and accelerating while turning more to the northwest barely missing the northern tip of the Philippines Thursday (9/27) with winds still 100 kts. The models suggest another stall near Taiwan Friday with an eventually turn to the northeast. No swell forecast for our area immediately but the projected turn to the northeast is of interest (though not believable).
The models also suggest some form of spin-off energy from Jelawat developing off Southern Japan on Wed (9/26) tracking northeast.
And in the East Pacific a tropical storm is to form south of Baja on Sunday (9/23) lifting north tracking just off the Baja coast. Something of interest for Southern CA.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (9/22) a small area of weak high pressure at 1022 mbs was trying to ridge into the Central and North coasts generating a modest north windflow at 20 kts with a calm flow over Southern CA. The core of the fetch is to settle over North CA late on Saturday into Sunday AM with winds speeds 20-25 kts with a weak eddy flow become established over Central CA. Winds to fade to barely 20 kts mid-Sunday AM in the gradient producing small windswell for Central CA, with and eddy flow in control for Central and South CA. The eddy is to hold south of Pt Reyes through Monday and Tuesday, then north winds to fall over Central CA late Tuesday into Wednesday (9/26) before shrinking more on Thursday with the eddy returning for Central CA and holding through the weekend. A weak eddy flow to continue non-stop for Southern CA.
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.
New Zealand Gale
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.
Another New Zealand Gale
On Thursday AM (9/20) a new gale formed 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 built to 50 kts in the evening aimed well to the northeast while drifting east with seas up to 37 ft up at 56S 176W. Fetch started fading from 40 kts Fri AM (9/21) though covering a broad area with seas up to 36 ft at 53S 168W (205 degs CA and in the heart of the Tahiti swell shadow and 182 degs HI). Fetch held on at 35-40 kts in the evening with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 50N 160W. 35 kt south winds held Saturday AM (9/22) with seas 34 ft over a small area at 46S 157W. Wind are actually forecast to build to 40 kts in the evening aimed due north with seas still 30 ft at 43S 144W (194 degrees CA and emerging from the Tahitian swell shadow). The gale to fade out Sunday. 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.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Thurs (9/27) building to 2.6 ft @ 19 secs (5 ft) peaking early Friday at 3 ft @ 17 secs (5.0-5.5 ft) and holding through the day. Swell fading Saturday from 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 182-190 degrees
Rough data suggest swell arrival in California on Sat (9/29) at 1 ft @ 20 secs peaking Sun-Mon (9/31).
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 yet more near gale energy is to be circulating in the Northern Gulf of Alaska Thurs-Fri (9/28) with northwest to west winds 30 kts over a broad area offering continued modest swell production relative to the US West coast up into Canada into the weekend. Period on whatever swell results to be no more than 13 secs though. And some form of poorly organized low pressure system is to be migrating across the North Pacific Thurs-Fri (9/28) trying to get footing in the Gulf by Saturday. But details are not clear yet.
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 Saturday (9/22) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 6.18. The 30 day average was up some to 4.60 with the 90 day average up at -3.29. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a small area of moderate strength westerly anomalies continuing over the Maritime Continent (WPac) falling to neutral if not slightly east anomalies before reaching the dateline and holding at neutral the rest of the way across the equatorial Pacific into Central America. This suggests that a weak Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started Sept 2 in the West Pacific is continuing with roots for 21 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 (9/29) 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). 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 9/21 remain in agreement initially suggesting a weak 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 longer range outlooks is coming more into agreement between the models, though there are still differences. The Active Phase is to slowly decay over the next 10 days per the statistical model and give way to a neutral Phase 2 weeks out, while the dynamic model has the Active Phase holding on for the next 2 weeks if not strengthening 10 days out. Suspect the dynamic model is wrong but we still like the tease it provides. Regardless, both models hint at some favor of weak Inactive Phase building in the Indian Ocean. 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 (2-3 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 9/2-9/22 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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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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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