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 (10/13) North and Central CA had surf from the leftovers of Storm #1 still providing waves in the head high to 2 ft overhead range and clean early coming from a very westerly direction. Down south in Santa Cruz the same swell was producing sets in the waist high range and clean but weak. Southern California up north was getting the same swell at waist high and afternoon wind was putting some heavy texture on it at exposed breaks. Down south the same swell was producing sets at waist high and textured with warbled underneath. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover energy with waves at chest high or so and kinda bumped up from brisk trades. The South Shore was getting some minimal southern hemi swell at waist to chest high with some bigger sets and clean. The East Shore had east windswell at thigh to waist high and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Leftover swell from a storm on the dateline last week to hold into Sunday (10/14). Next up is swell from a tiny system that tracked through the Western Gulf Thursday (10/11) with seas to 32 ft. It pushed east and is to redevelop in pockets in the Central Gulf starting Saturday PM (10/13) with seas to 20 ft and a second pulse Tues (10/16) with seas also in the 20 ft range. Modest fun sized north angled short period swell expected from the US West Coast during the workweek with perhaps minimal sideband energy for the Islands. A small and weak system is forecast to try and develop just north of Hawaii late Mon (10/15) with seas to 20 ft, targeting only the Islands, then fading out. Tropical energy is to flare up off Japan but die off before reaching the dateline late in the workweek with seas in the mid-30 ft range. Maybe some small swell to result for the Islands. Down south a small but strong system formed under New Zealand Friday (10/5) with seas to 46 ft over a small area aimed mostly east and fading fast, effectively gone by Saturday morning. Minimally rideable swell is hitting Hawaii and is to reach California early next week (10/15). Nothing else of interest expected down south with Summer settling in.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (10/13) the jet was fairly solid running flat east off Southern Japan at 35N with winds to 120-130 kts over it's length and starting to push into the Pacific Northwest. A faint trough was trying to develop off Japan but not remarkable. Over the next 72 hours the trough is to push to the dateline and develop some on Monday (10/15) with winds building to 160 kts trying to support gale development down at the surface but tracking east pretty fast. Beyond 72 hours additional wind energy is to be building off Japan Wednesday feeding the dateline trough with more 150 kt winds flowing down into it possibly supportive of gale development. But the trough is to quickly pinch off early Friday (10/19) with a large ridge building over the dateline by Saturday pushing up into the Bering Sea, then falling just as hard south over the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. Maybe some support for gale development there, but again nothing remarkable.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (10/13) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was holding from over the Hawaiian Islands east to the US West Coast. Low pressure was developing some in the Gulf of Alaska (see Gulf Gale below). A second pocket of even weak low pressure was on the dateline tracking fast towards the Gulf. A tropical system remained locked off the Northern Philippines and south of Japan similar to many similar systems previous.
A broad but ill-defined low circulated over the entire Aleutian Island chain on Thursday (10/11). Embedded in it's southern quadrant was small closed isobar gale positioned just east of the dateline Thurs AM (10/11) with winds 45 kts over a small area seas modeled at 32 ft at 45N 172W. In the evening winds were fading from 45 kts over a tiny area with seas 32 ft at 48N 168W and nearly gone by Friday AM (winds down to 35 kts and seas barely 28 ft at 48N 167W). Some small longer period swell could radiate east possibly arriving in Central CA Sunday evening (10/14) at 2 ft @ 17 secs (3 ft) with swell up to 3.7 ft @ 15 sec (5.5 ft faces) Mon AM from 300 degrees.
Remnants of the above gale started to redevelop in the Central Gulf on Saturday (10/13) producing a broadish fetch of 30 kt west winds and seas peaking at 20 ft Sat PM (10/13) at 45N 155W (297 degs NCal) 1300 nmiles out. Additional 18 ft seas to result from this fetch Sunday AM (10/14) off the Oregon coast at 45N 142W with higher seas north of there but outside the CA swell window. And yet another fragment of 35 kt northwest winds are forecast in the Northern Gulf Monday AM 910/15) producing 20 ft seas Tuesday AM at 53N 143W almost outside the Central CA swell window. The net result is to be a steady pulse of northerly angled proto swell in the 12-13 sec range Tues-Thurs (10/18) for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA with the Pacific Northwest receiving the most size. Swell QuikCASTs for details.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thursday (10/11) Typhoon Prapiroon was located 600 nmiles south-southwest of Southern Japan with winds 90 kts and was getting ready to change direction from the west-northwest drift it has been maintaining for the past 4-5 days. But on Saturday it was still located off the Northern Philippines and is to remain nearly stalled there through Tuesday (10/16) then accelerating on a northeast track Wednesday racing northeast late Thursday (10/18) heading for the dateline but getting sheared by poor upper level winds. Maybe 40 ft seas are forecast Thurs AM (10/18) at 30N 141E (292 degs HI and 3300 nmiles out) with seas down to 28 ft Fri AM (10/19) at 34N 155E (298 degs HI and 2700 nmiles out). Maybe some small swell to result for Hawaii if this all comes to pass.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (10/13) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was hanging on along the California coast, but continued under much pressure from a building pool of low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska. Sunday the front from the low is to push into the Pacific Northwest while northwest winds from the high off the CA coast build some up to San Francisco to 15 kts late, but the core at 20 kts is to be off Pt Conception. More of the same forecast Monday with the high building up to Pt Arena Tuesday with northwest winds 15 kts over all of North and Central CA (though maybe less in the mornings nearshore). By Wednesday a small summer like pressure gradient to develop over Cape Mendocino with north winds at 30 kts and a light eddy flow developing south of Pt Reyes. The gradient to fade Thursday (10/18) from 20 kts but rebuild by Saturday (10/20) as a new very strong high pressure system at 1040 mbs builds in from the Western Gulf with the tip of it reaching North CA and 25 kt north winds taking hold over Cape Mendocino (but an eddy flow continues for Pt Reyes southward). Nearshore Southern CA to remain in a relatively calm wind pattern for the duration. But long term high pressure and north winds looks imminent.
Surface - On Saturday (10/13) no swell producing fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast. Summer is taking over the South Pacific.
New Zealand Storm
On Friday AM (10/5) a storm developed under New Zealand with 55 kt southwest winds at 56S 160E in the CA swell window and pushing unshadowed right up the 218 degree path (shadowed by New Zealand relative to HI) and seas building to 42 ft over an tiny area at 56S 160E. In the evening fetch was fading from 45 kts with seas 46 ft at 53S 165E (pushing right up the 218 degree path to CA and still just barely shadowed relative to HI on the 201 degree path). Fetch was effectively gone Sat AM (10/6) at 35 kts with seas from previous fetch fading from 36 ft at 51S 175E (215 degs CA and 197 degs HI).
Some small long period but well spaced out swell is possible for California starting Sat (10/13) with period 22 secs and size tiny if even noticeable, building some on Sunday (10/14) with period at 20 secs at 9 AM (1 ft @ 20 secs - 2 ft faces), peaking late Monday (10/15) at 1.5 ft @ 18 secs (2.5-3.0 ft faces). Period turning to 17 secs at 5 AM Tues (10/16) with swell 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.5-3.0 ft). Long waits between sets but a decent number of waves per set when they come. Swell Direction: 217-219 degrees
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 the models suggest a new small gale developing 900 nmiles northwest of Hawaii on Tues (10/16) with 35-40 kt north-northwest winds and seas to 20 ft over a tiny area at 35N 168W (Tues PM 331 degs HI). The gale is to fade Wed (10/17) while tracking northeast with no swell producing fetch resulting.Most energy is to target Hawaii and miss the US West Coast.
There's some movement suggested for the tropical system off the Philippines too (see Tropics).
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 (10/13) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 23.14. The 30 day average was up some at 2.17 with the 90 day average up to -0.88. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated modest east anomalies had developed over the Maritime Continent (WPac) with neutral anomalies on the dateline and the rest of the way across the equatorial Pacific into Central America. A week from now (10/21) neutral anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent turning to slightly west anomalies on the dateline on over the East Pacific suggesting what would be expected, that the Active Phase of the MJO was pushing east. We've had a good long run of the Active Phase (since at least 9/1) but now it's over.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) are in agreement suggesting a weak version of the Inactive Phase is seeping from the Indian Ocean into the far West Pacific. The statistical model suggests it is to fade and near neutral conditions to persist for the better part of the next 2 weeks while the dynamic model is far more aggressive with a full strong Inactive Phase forecast. That seems a bit unbelievable as if right now. But if it does develop it will fully signal the death of any form of El Nino this season (as if it isn't already technically dead) .
More warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). A warm pool that built and peaked off Ecuador 7/2 fed my multiple Kelvin Waves earlier has been steadily loosing ground, but is not gone. That said - pulses of cooler than normal water continue tracking through the core of the warm pool (as of 10/11) likely signaling it's demise. 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. It should help to replenish the warm water pool sometime in October, but nowhere near the levels it was in July. A second Kelvin wave developed due to a prolonged WWB event that started Sept 2 in the West Pacific and continued for 21 days in a row through 9/22 then faded on 9/25 only to return with gusto on 9/28 before finally dissipating on 10/9. The resulting Kelvin Wave is to provide reinforcing warming expected 90 days out (Dec). This Kelvin Wave is evidenced by 3 deg C warmer than normal subsurface water building under the dateline as of 10/13. But it will only be enough to keep things in the normal range and not add any net additional warm water into the mix.
And what appears to be a strengthening MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) suggests that El Nino is not forming, but instead is dissipating. Projections from the CFSv2 model are not supporting any form of El Nino development either but rather a return to a neutral state by November into February, then a return to a slowly building warm pattern thereafter.
At this time there is only limited atmospheric evidence of a 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. We believe we're in a hybrid atmospheric state with the trend shifting more towards the normal category. The atmosphere is like a big ship, it takes a long time and alot of energy to turn. The good news is there is confirmed evidence of tropical systems recurving northeast and migrating to the dateline. This suggest La Nina is dissipating.
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). We think we are in a slowly building multi-year pattern that will culminate with a real El Nino 2 or more years beyond.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Finally updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours 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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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