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 (10/21) North and Central California was getting clean swell from the Gulf of Alaska with waves 3+ ft overhead and a little inconsistent, but definitely rideable. Southern California was near flat up north with waves thigh high and crumbly with chop and onshore winds early. Down south waves were effectively flat and textured, but without the brisk west wind. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting good swell from the Gulf with waves 3-4 ft overhead and pretty clean though not completely lined up. The East Shore was getting wrap around swell from the northwest at 3 ft overhead and warbled. The South Shore was thigh to waist high and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for Gulf swell fading on Friday from 7 ft and down to 5 ft (faces) on Saturday. New swell builds overnight pushing 15 ft and then fading through the day Sunday. Conditions to be poor through the weekend. Monday larger swell is possible if one is to believe the models then settling down some on Tuesday but trashed again. Southern California is to see Gulf swell fading from waist high or so early Friday. Residual northwesterly windswell expected at waist high early Saturday. Possible new Gulf swell to 6 ft (faces) expected on Sunday with larger northerly swell still for Monday fading Tuesday if one is to believe the models. The North Shore of Oahu is to see Gulf swell fading Friday from maybe 1 ft overhead and down to thigh high Saturday. New pulse from the northern dateline region is possible on Sunday at shoulder high building to head high Monday and then chest high Tuesday. The East Shore is to see no tradewind generated east windswell until Monday (10/25) at chest high and holding through the workweek. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
A decent gale dropped from the Bering Sea into the Northwestern Gulf on Monday (10/28) setting up 26-30 ft seas then faded to the 20 ft range while pushing into the Central Gulf later Tuesday. Fun sized swell hit Hawaii late on Wednesday and the US West Coast on Thursday and is to be settling down. A series of very weak local gales remain forecast tracking from the Eastern Gulf of Alaska into the Pacific Northwest, with the first Thurs-Fri (10/22) with 18 ft seas, the second late Fri-Sat (10/23) with 32 ft seas and a third Sun (10/24) with 38 ft seas with the result to be much raw jumbled local swell for Central CA northward and bigger up into the Pacific Northwest, but with rain and brisk south wind an overriding factor. Of course all this is just projected, and any real surf forecast is just a guess until it all unfolds over the next few days.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (10/21) the Pacific jetstream was looking good with a consolidated flow of 170 kt winds tracking flat over the dateline on the 43N latitude with lesser energy reaching east almost reaching the Oregon coast. A weak trough was trying to organize in the northwestern Gulf of Alaska but wasn't up to snuff just yet. Still, there was increasing support for gale development setting up in the upper atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours the first real push of energy is to reach the Pacific Northwest Coast Friday evening with a mini-trough developing right off the coast providing support for perhaps a small transitory gale. But more energy at 180 kts is to be building in the jet on the dateline pushing east and then starting to move into the Pacific Northwest on Sunday continuing into Tuesday (10/26). But no clearly defined troughs are forecast developing in to. regardless, with all the wind energy present some support for gale development is likely. Beyond 72 hours another pocket of 170 kt winds is to build over the Kuril Islands ridging northeast fast (Mon-Tues 10/26) and targeting the Bering Sea, then diving hard south into the Gulf of Alaska Wednesday forming a steep small trough there providing potential for more modest gale development later next week.
At the surface on Thursday (10/21) a weak low pressure system was trying to develop off Oregon resulting in 25 kt north winds targeting California and expected to build with up to 35 kt northwest winds and with seas to 18 ft late near 44N 133W. Windswell likely for North and Central CA later Friday but of not particular interest. Otherwise a broad pool of low pressure was circulating in the Southeastern Bering Sea producing 25 kt west winds and 18 ft seas south of the Aleutian Islands from Kamchatka east into the Gulf of Alaska likely setting up more windswell, but again, of no particular interest other than perhaps Hawaii. The fetch was actual the remnants of a broad gale that was circulating just off Kamchatka on Tues (10/19) generating 40 kts west winds over exposed waters and getting traction on the oceans surface with seas to 25 ft. Some small energy from this system is likely to result in minimal background swell for Hawaii starting late Saturday (10/23) at 2.5 ft @ 15 secs (3.5-4.0 ft faces) building slightly in to Sunday then lingering well into next week.
Over the next 72 hours a series of gales are to set up in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska west of Northern CA and tracking east before being deflected hard north by lingering high pressure inland. The first is forecast forming on Friday with up to near 50 kt northwest winds at 43N 140 with seas to 33 ft at 43N 138W in the evening then pushing east with 50 kts winds in the evening at 43N 135W and seas to 30 ft Saturday AM at 43N 131W poised to impact Oregon and NCal. The gale itself is to rapidly fade and be gone by morning but not before decent size raw swell is to be pushing towards Oregon down to Central CA. And another larger gale is forecast forming in the same area on Saturday AM (10/23) with 45 kt west winds at 43N 147W with 20 ft seas building at 42N 148W and building with 55 kt west winds in the evening at 44N 138W and seas to 30 ft at 43N 140W. This system to continue growing in areal coverage on Sunday AM (10/24) with 45-50 kt west winds at 46N 134W aimed entirely at North Oregon with 36 ft seas at 46N 133W (319 degs Central CA). This system is to be fading in the evening with 45 kt west winds at 46N 130W and 37 ft seas way up at at 47N 128W outside even the NCal swell window then. In all a very active but raw local pattern is forecast for the US West Coast. Most of this energy is to be bypassing Hawaii, racing east just north of the Islands then developing only once clear east of the Hawaiian swell window.
A broad gale built in the Eastern Bering Sea on Sat-Sun (10/17) with 35 kt northwest fetch starting to fall south of the Aleutian Islands Sunday AM at 50N 170W aimed best at the Pacific Northwest with sideband energy aimed at Hawaii from a very northerly angle. This fetch held and build in coverage Sunday evening. The fetch then started fading by Monday AM down to 30-35 kts at 50N 160W then dissipating by the evening. 25 ft seas resulted Sun PM at 49N 170W building to 30 ft Monday AM (10/18) at 48N 164W then fading Monday PM from 26 ft at 47N 159W with 20 ft residuals into Tues AM at 46N 151W. Possible 15-16 sec period swell is to result targeting primarily the US West Coast with sideband energy reaching south towards Hawaii.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Wednesday (10/20) mid-afternoon with period 14-15 secs and size building to 7 ft @ 14 secs at sunset (9 ft faces). Swell to continue overnight with peak energy arriving at 3 AM Thursday (10/21) at 8 ft @ 13-14 secs (19 ft faces) then fading later in the day. Swell Direction: 347 degrees
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Thursday morning pushing 6 ft @ 16 secs (9 ft faces) with period slowly settling down to 15 secs at sunset. Swell Direction: 301-303 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (10/21) the first weak front associated with the first in a series of gales was pushing into Central California, having impacts down to Monterey Bay with south wind and light rain in the late afternoon and evening hours, but not much more. This is to be the weakest of the three forecast for the weekend. Friday Am light winds are forecast from Cape Mendocino southward, but the next front is to be poised just off the North coast and pushing inland, with south winds reaching as far south as maybe Big Sur and rain down to almost Pt Conception by Saturday PM. The next gale and associated front is to be queuing up off the coast reaching Cape Mendo on Saturday night and south winds down to Monterey Bay on late Sunday morning but rain well ahead of that , reaching down to near Pt Conception through Sunday night. in short, south winds and rain for the entire weekend north of Pt Conception. But Southern Ca is to remain protected from this early season pattern.
High pressure to build in after that with a full on pressure gradient and 25 kt north winds taking control centered over Pt Conception on Monday (10/25) but not so strong initially up north (SF Bay Area early Monday) then racking the entire North and Central Coast Tuesday before fading Wednesday as another gale sets up just off the Central coast with south winds and rain the expected results again. Looks like we're going to get all the early season bad weather that bypassed us last year.
At the oceans surface on Tuesday (10/19) no swell producing fetch was occurring at the oceans surface. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast with no swell producing weather systems modeled.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
72 hrs high pressure is to get a foothold over the Northeast Pacific and dateline regions starting Sunday (10/24) likely suppressing low pressure development and fueling trades over Hawaii and local easterly windswell development there and some degree of a pressure gradient off Central CA by Monday (10/25) resulting in local north windswell and poor conditions. More low pressure is to be queuing up in the West Pacific with a gael forecast on the dateline on Sunday 910/240 with 45 kit northwest winds at 45N 170E pushing to 43N 180W on Monday with seas in the 26 ft range aimed well at Hawaii, then fading some while pushing east, only to possibly regenerate Wed/Thurs (10/28) in the Central Gulf with 35-40 kt northwest winds and 22 ft seas targeting California. But this remains just a preliminary forecast. Clearly the Active Phase of the MJO is having the intended consequences though, namely the increased production of gales and swell.
See the official El Nino/La Nina Forecast using the link posted below.
As of Thursday (10/21) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued in the positive range after only a 3 day dip last week. The daily SOI was at 28.17. The 30 day average was at 23.90 with the 90 day average at 22.31 and effectively unchanged (it can't realistically get any higher).
Wind anomalies as of Wednesday (10/20) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated that the MJO continued to settle down, but still strong. Fading easterly anomalies were dissipating in the far Eastern Pacific pushing into Central America, indicating a fading Inactive Phase of the MJO was all but gone. In the West a strong Active Phase (west anomalies) was filling the eastern 50% of the Indian Ocean and tracking into the far Western Pacific reaching the dateline with the core over the Philippines. The Inactive Phase is forecast to dissipate in the next 3 days with the Active Phase holding solid just west of the dateline, then moderating while barely filtering over the dateline and pushing into Central America through 11/3, and almost gone by 11/9. An exceedingly weak version of the Inactive Phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean behind it but never pushing into the West Pacific through mid November. At this time this is the first real Active Phase of the MJO so far this Fall and offers at least a tease of some potential fuel to support formation of North Pacific gales starting 10/18 and continuing for a few weeks thereafter (into the first week in November). The models have now clearly picked up on this trend with a series of gales forecast for the East Pacific. It is pretty typical for MJO Phases to be not well defined during summer months or during El Nino years, and to then become much more apparent as Fall develops, with the effects at the surface more obvious then too. The swing from Active to Inactive and back to Active becomes more pronounced too during La Nina years. So this current development of a strong Active Phase is not unexpected. We'll be following the phase shifts much more closely this Winter because only during the Active Phase will there be good potential for storm development.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (10/21) continues to indicate that downright colder than normal waters (-2 C degs or cooler) expanding 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 were on the equator, but a broad secondary area extended from a point off Chile pushing gently northwest towards 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 if not mature 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. Looks like a classic La Nina setup. 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 on 10/18 (getting a little warmer than previous readings of -7 degs in mid- Sept). regardless, this is still 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 now fully 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. The expectation is that we'll see a building moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) for the remainder 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. 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.
See more details in the El Nino update.
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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table