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 Tuesday (11/13) North and Central CA had limited northwest windswell at waist high or so at top spots and clean with slight onshore texture. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were thigh to waist high and clean but weak. Southern California up north was flat and windy. Down south waves were knee high and lined up and pristine clean. Hawaii's North Shore was small with waves waist high or so and pretty junky. The South Shore was effectively flat and clean. The East Shore was getting knee high northeast windswell and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Surf to remain small until swell from a gale over the northern dateline regions starts arriving. Late Monday this system started wrapping up in the Bering Sea with fetch just barely south of the Aleutians near the dateline generating seas to 28 ft expected building to 41 ft Tuesday then fading while pushing east with 24-26 ft seas holding in the Northern Gulf through Thursday (11/15). Remnants of this system to fall southeast through the Gulf into the weekend with seas 20-22 ft likely resulting in possible north angled swell for the US West Coast. Weather remains a concern though. Some sideband swell expected for Hawaii starting Thurs (11/15) from early in the storms life. Nothing else is charted behind this system but there remains hope that the switchover to the Active Phase of the MJO will help shake something loose from the grips of high pressure.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (11/13) a split jetstream flow was becoming more established with the split point on the dateline. The northern branch was tracking northeast along the Aleutians with a weak trough just east of the dateline offering minimal support for gale development there. From there the jet briefly headed into the Bering Sea over Western Alaska before falling south down and off the Canadian coast reaching down to a point well off San Francisco before tracking back northeast and inland over Washington. This is what is called a 'backdoor trough'. The southern branch was down between 15-20N running flat east before pushing into Baja. There was limited support for low pressure development in the bottom of the backdoor trough. Over the next 72 hours no real change is forecast other than the backdoor trough slowly easing east eventually pushing over Central CA late Thursday (11/15). A new proto-trough is to start forming in the Northeast Gulf at the same time but offering nothing in terms of gale development potential. Beyond 72 hours the northern branch is to continue ridging north over the dateline then falling into a trough pushing down and just off the US West Coast on Saturday (11/17) moving over San Francisco 24 hours later. Possible support for low pressure if not gale development in the trough. But overall the pattern is looking very weak.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (11/13) the North Dateline Gale was tracking along the Aleutians heading east (see details below). High pressure at 1028 mbs was locked just south of it helping to form a pressure gradient in the gale's south quadrant and producing west wind to 50 kts. This high pressure was the result of the split jetstream flow mentioned above. Otherwise a light pressure pattern as in control off the US West Coast while a broad but weak low pressure system was trying to develop over Japan. Over the next 72 hours the Japan low is to race north-northeast and be in the Bering Sea by Friday (11/16) totally landlocked and offering no fetch to exposed waters of the North Pacific. Blocking high pressure at 1028 mbs is to remain locked just east of the dateline filling the space between Hawaii and the Aleutians.
North Dateline Gale
On Sunday (11/11) a new gale was developing in the West Pacific while lifting northeast generating 35-40 kt north winds aimed at open ocean. Seas were building. In the evening the gale continued it's northward trek approaching the Aleutians near the dateline still producing 35-40 kt north winds and seas to 22 ft aimed south into open ocean not targeting our forecast area. By Monday AM (11/12) the gale strengthened with 45 kt northwest winds building over a small area just south of the Aleutians on the dateline with seas building. Limited fetch aimed at Hawaii. In the evening this system reached storm status with 50 kt west-northwest winds modeled just south of the Aleutians and the core of the storm in the South Bering Sea on the dateline. 29 ft seas were modeled at 49N 179E. On Tuesday AM (11/13) a solid area of 50 kt west fetch was occurring on the dateline free and clear of the Aleutians aimed east with seas building to 41 ft at 50N 175W (336 degs HI, 307 degs NCal). In the evening fetch is to be fading from 45 kts over a solid area aimed east with seas fading from 34 ft at 50N 174W (same headings as before). On Wednesday AM (11/14) fetch is to be fading from 35-40 kts over a moderate area aimed solely to the east with seas fading from 32 ft at 52N 166W (308 degs NCal and bypassing HI to the east). In the evening a modest area of 35 kt west winds is forecast moving into the Northern Gulf of Alaska with seas fading from 27 ft at 53N 160W (309 degs NCal, 313 degs SCal).
Assuming the models are correct some degree of modest longer period energy is to be pushing towards the US West Coast with smaller sideband energy targeting Hawaii.
Hawaii: Expect swell from the early portion of the storm arriving on Thursday (11/15) building to 3 ft @ 15-16 secs (4.5-5.0 ft faces). Swell to peak early Friday AM at 6 ft @ 16 secs just before sunrise (9.5 ft) fading to 5.1 ft @ 14-15 secs late (7.5 ft). Swell Direction: 330 degrees
The gale is to try and hold together in some form Thursday AM (11/15) with 35 kt west-northwest winds regenerating and seas holding at 25 ft at 52N 154W, then winds down to 30 kts in the evening but coming more from the northwest with seas fading from 25 ft at 50N 148W (312 degs NCal). 35 kt northwest winds forecast Friday AM (11/16) falling southeast with seas 21 ft at 47N 148W (302 degs NCal). Limited 30-35 kt northwest winds holding in the Gulf in the evening with seas holding at 22 ft at 43N 140W (297 degs NCal). The gale to be fading Saturday with residual seas at 19 ft off Northern CA at 42N 133W (303 degs SF Area), then dissipating by evening. Residual low pressure energy and secondary energy to push up to the California coast by Sunday into Monday (11/19).
Assuming this to be true a rather long run of north angled lesser period swell is possible for the US West Coast followed by possible weather. At least it's something to monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (11/13) a weak pressure and wind pattern was in control off the California coast. A front was pushing down the North Coast with light rain reaching Pt Arena but is not expected to make it any further south. A new weak low is to develop well off the Central CA coast Wednesday (11/14) in the bottom of a backdoor trough pushing east moving into nearshore waters Thursday generating light south winds for the Central coast (offshore winds to the north and southwest winds for SCal). Light rain well after sunset possible for Central and Southern North CA. South winds building Friday for the Central and North coasts as the low moves closer and maybe weak southwest winds for Southern CA late. Light rain for the entire Central and North Coast and reaching perhaps down to Santa Barbara County. Maybe 1-2 inchs of snow for Tahoe. Saturday south winds to continue for the Central Coast reaching down into Southern CA as a new front edges up to the North Coast. Light rain all day for the state. Sunday the new front washes out over the state with a light southwest flow for the North and Central coast and calm down south. Solid rain early down to Pt Conception turning to light rain as the day moves on. 8-10 inches of snow for Tahoe. Monday the next pulse of low pressure moves in with south winds from Pt Conception northward and rain building south to the point late. Another 8 inches of snow for Tahoe. Clearing Tuesday (11/20) with a light northwest winds flow everywhere.
Surface - On Tuesday (11/13) no swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
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 high pressure at 1028 mbs is forecast to be slowly easing east from a point north of Hawaii ridging into the Central CA coast on Tues (11/20) and at least moving away from the dateline region. A small low is to try and develop west of the dateline Sat (11/17) but basically get sheared by the larger high in front of it. that said, some 35 kt winds are forecast from it Saturday generating 24 ft seas near 32N 167E aimed at Hawaii. Maybe some tiny 13 sec period swell to result with luck. Otherwise no swell producing weather systems are forecast other than what is noted above.
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 Tuesday (11/13) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 7.63. The 30 day average was up to 2.45 with the 90 day average up at 2.62. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a mix of light west and east anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac). Neutral anomalies were over the dateline extending eastward to Central America. This is slightly indicative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO moving east from the dateline. The Active Phase was trying to get a toe-in-the-door in the West Pacific, but was very weak. A week from now (11/21) weak very weak east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent and dateline fading to neutral south of Hawaii. This suggests that the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to be fading but still holding in the Central Pacific, with the Active Phase not doing much (if anything) in the West Pacific. This is a bit of a disappointment, and could be a harbinger of what the Winter could turn into, especially considering the split jetstream flow over the North Pacific.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 11/12 remain in agreement over the short term suggesting a fading Inactive Phase was over the dateline with a moderate Active Phase in the Indian Ocean starting to seep into the extreme West Pacific. The statistical model suggests the Inactive Phase it is to slowly loose strength while tracking east over the next 2 weeks positioned south of Hawaii by 11/21 and gone with a far more modest Active Phase pushing into the West Pacific by 11/21 and then moving to the dateline 2 weeks out. The dynamic model continues to be conservative suggesting the Inactive Phase to weaken and fade over the next 5 days but with the Active Phase also fading, barely making it into the West Pacific by 11/21 then dissipating 2 weeks out with the Inactive Phase returning. Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in the year, we believed a return to a normal MJO cycle was occurred with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. But this latest shift in the MJO (with it turning to almost a none pattern) has us rethinking that position. Until such time as a respectable Active Phase develops to try and reunite the split jetstream flow over the North Pacific, storm potential is to remain dampened.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). A weak Kelvin Wave propagated east erupting along the Central American coast late October but did little to replenish the warm water pool only holding it at a steady state. That said, fragments of it are showing up in the Nino1+2 temp analysis, which is actually a bit better than hoped for, but just barely. A second Kelvin wave developed due to a prolonged WWB event in the West Pacific between Sept 2 and Oct 9. That Kelvin Wave has 2-3 deg C warmer than normal subsurface water and is located on the equator at 122W. It's actually racing east. It is expected to reach the Central America coast by December (if not sooner) and will possibly provide a little boost to water temps at that time. At a minimum it should keep things in the normal range.
And what initially appeared to be a strengthening MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) suggested a return to a neutral ENSO pattern. But that is in doubt now (see above). That said, projections from the CFSv2 model are not supporting any form of El Nino development but rather a return to a neutral state by November or almost a return to La Nina with -0.4 deg C water temps by late January into February, then slowly returning to normal if not slightly warmer by June 2013. But virtually all the other ENSO models predict a slow decline from El Nino threshold temps into Spring 2013, but never dipping into negative territory. The CFSv2 model is a minority opinion, if not a complete outlier. This is a bit better than hoped for and still gives us a glimmer of hope for a normal Winter in terms of storm production. But looking at the atmosphere, there's no overt signs of anything remotely resembling El Nino, and if anything, with a split jetstream pattern developing in the North Pacific, it looks still like some vestiges of La Nina. Regardless, the warm spurt in July 2012 was just a false start.
It appears that neither El Nino or La Nina is imminent. But we are in a far better place than the previous 2 years under the direct influence of La Nina. The expectation is this winter will be followed by at least one year of slightly warmer temps (2013) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
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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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