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 (11/15) North and Central CA had limited dateline swell fading from waist high and clean with just a hint of texture on it. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were knee high, weak and clean. Southern California up north was flat and clean. Down south waves were knee to maybe thigh high and lined up and beautifully clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting the leading edge of the new North Dateline swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and clean but a little warbled. The South Shore was effectively flat and clean. The East Shore was getting waist high plus east windswell and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Northern dateline swell has started hitting Hawaii but is not expected into California till late Friday at the earliest. This swell originates from a gale that started wrapping up in the Bering Sea late Monday (11/12) with fetch just barely south of the Aleutians near the dateline generating seas to 28 ft building to 41 ft Tuesday then fading while pushing east with 22-26 ft seas holding in the Northern Gulf through Thursday (11/15). Remnants of this system to fall southeast through the Gulf into Saturday with seas 22-24 ft likely resulting in possible north angled swell for the US West Coast. Weather remains a concern though. A second pulse of gale winds is forecast for the Eastern Gulf early next week possibly producing more 20-22 ft seas and northerly semi-swell for the US West Coast. Nothing else of interest is charted behind in the West Pacific though. We've been waiting for a switchover to the Active Phase of the MJO, but even that is coming into doubt now.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (11/15) a split jetstream flow continued in control with the split point a bit west of the dateline (at 170E). The northern branch had 130 kts winds running through it tracking off Japan turning hard northeast pushing up to the Aleutians on the dateline, then turning east before falling southeast some into the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska with a weak trough trying to develop there. Minimal support for gale development in that trough. The southern branch was weak flowing flat east on the 25N latitude eventually pushing into Central CA. A weak trough was in it off the Central CA coast supportive of weak low pressure. Over the next 72 hours the trough in the Gulf is to fall southeast with 140 kt winds feeding it pushing over the Oregon-CA boarder on Sunday night. Limited support for gale development there. Beyond 72 hours a second trough is to dig out in the Eastern Gulf with 130 kt winds feeding into Monday (11/19) providing decent support for gale development and slowly easing east into British Columbia into Thursday AM (11/22).Back to the west a good portion of the jet is to continue peeling off to the north supporting a very split jetstream flow aloft.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (11/15) the North Dateline Gale had tracked east now relocated in the Northern Gulf of Alaska still producing 30 kt west winds (see North Dateline Gale below). High pressure at 1032 mbs was locked midway between Hawaii and the Aleutians continuing to form a pressure gradient in the gale's southwest quadrant and producing most of the winds mentioned above. This high was the result of the split jetstream flow aloft. A weak low pressure system was also trying to develop off South California lifting northeast. And another weak low was tracking off Japan. Over the next 72 hours the California low is to continue heading northeast and not developing much moving into Central CA through the day Friday. South winds and rain for that region is the only result. The Japan low is to try and develop west of the dateline late Fri day into Sat (11/17) but basically get sheared by the larger high in front of it. Some 35 kt north winds are forecast from it Friday evening into Saturday generating 22 ft seas near 30N 160E aimed at Hawaii. Maybe some tiny 13 sec period swell to result with luck. Blocking high pressure at 1028 mbs is to remain locked just north of Hawaii driving the storm track to the north and mostly just shutting things down.
North Dateline Gale (Part 1)
On Sunday (11/11) a gale developed 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 was fading from 40-45 kts over a solid area aimed east with seas fading from 32 ft at 50N 172W (same headings as before). On Wednesday AM (11/14) fetch was fading from 35 kts over a moderate area aimed solely to the east if not northeast with seas fading from 30 ft up at 53N 166W (309 degs NCal and bypassing HI to the east). In the evening a modest area of 30-35 kt west winds was moving into the Northern Gulf of Alaska with seas fading from 24 ft at 53N 160W (309 degs NCal, 313 degs SCal).
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
North CA: Expect swell arrival Friday (11/16) at 4 PM with swell 3 ft @ 18 secs (5.5 ft) and on the increase. Swell to peak overnight but still holding solid Saturday (11/17) with pure swell 5.5 ft @ 15-16 secs (8 ft faces) . Swell fading after that but also being reinforced/overridden by more local energy starting to arrive on Sunday. Swell Direction: 304-309 degrees
Gulf Gale (Part 2)
The remnants of the North Dateline Gale were trying to hold together in some form Thursday AM (11/15) with 30 kt west-northwest winds regenerating and seas holding at 22 ft at 50N 154W, then winds down to barely 30 kts in the evening but coming more from the northwest with seas fading from barely 22 ft at 48N 149W (307 degs NCal). 35 kt northwest winds are to be rebuilding Friday AM (11/16) falling southeast with seas 20 ft at 47N 150W (303 degs NCal). Solid 35 kt northwest winds holding in the Gulf in the evening with seas building to 25 ft at 43N 142W (297 degs NCal). The gale to be fading Saturday and moving into the Pacific Northwest with seas still 25 ft off Oregon at 44N 136W (304 degs SF Area), then dissipating by evening. Residual low pressure energy and secondary wind energy to push up to the California coast by Sunday into Monday (11/19) at 25 kts with seas 17 ft.
Assuming this to be true another pulse of modest period raw and local swell is expected reaching into North California starting Sunday (11/18) with swell 7-8 ft @ 14 secs (10 ft faces) from 295-300 degrees with shorter period energy continuing into Tues-Wed (11.21).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (11/15) a weak pressure and wind pattern was in control of the California coast. Low pressure was developing off South and Central California, a signal of what is to come. But for now a light south wind flow was over the Central coast with light offshore winds to the north and calm wind for SCal. On Friday south winds to be in control at 20 kts for the Central and North coasts as the low moves closer and maybe weak southeast winds for Southern CA. Light to modest rain for the entire Central and North Coast and reaching perhaps down to Los Angles. Maybe 1-2 inchs of snow for Tahoe. Saturday brisk south winds to continue early for the Central Coast reaching down into Southern CA then fading late AM as a new front edges up to the North Coast. Light rain in pockets possible all day over the state. 12-16 inches of snow for higher elevations of Tahoe. Sunday light southwest winds to continue except building from the south for Northern CA as a new front washes out over the Central Coast early and a second front builds near Cape Mendocino. Modest rain early down to Morro Bay as the day moves on. 3-6 inches of snow for Tahoe. Monday the next pulse of low pressure moves in with south winds from Monterey Bay northward and rain building south to Pt Reyes but making no further southward advancement. Another 1-2 inches of snow for Tahoe. No change Tuesday (11/20) or Wednesday with a light southerly flow down to Monterey Bay and calm south of there. No precip for Tahoe forecast. The front to finally push through reaching down to Monterey Bay late Wednesday with weather clearing out beyond.
Surface - On Thursday (11/15) 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 yet another pulse of Gulf energy is forecast with another gale forecast developing off Northern Canada Monday AM (11/19) producing 35 kt northwest winds and seas building from 22 ft. By evening 35 kt northwest winds to be falling southeast through the Gulf with 22 ft seas forecast at 47N 152W (302 degs NCal). Tuesday AM (11/20) 30 kt winds to be fading with 22 ft seas at 44N 148W (297 degs NCal) holding into the evening with 20 ft seas at 40N 140W (285 degs NCal, 300 degs SCal) then fading. But residuals to hold in that area Wednesday. It certainly looks like some degree of short period swell is possible for the US West Coast.
Also high pressure is theoretically supposed to relent north of Hawaii by Wed (11/21) possibly opening the storm door an inch. There's a hint of some gale activity again on the Northern Dateline region by Thursday (11/22) with 30 kt northwest winds targeting Hawaii, but that is far from believable at this early date.
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 (11/15) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 11.64. The 30 day average was up to 3.15 with the 90 day average up at 3.03. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated mixed light but steady east anomalies were over the Maritime Continent (WPac) extending to the dateline before fading south of Hawaii and holding that was on into Central America. This is slightly indicative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO holding over the dateline. The Active Phase was theoretically trying to get a toe-in-the-door in the West Pacific, but there was no evidence of it from a surface wind perspective (the only thing that counts). A week from now (11/23) the weak east anomaly pattern is to hold 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 remains 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 11/14 are in agreement over the short term , but different than a few days ago. They suggest the Inactive Phase was gone over the dateline with a mild Active Phase in the Indian Ocean trying to seep into the extreme West Pacific, but not quite making it. The statistical model suggests a modest version of the Active Phase it is to slowly push into the West Pacific by 11/22 and hold there into 11/29. (2 weeks out). The dynamic model continues to be conservative suggesting a neutral pattern now with the Active Phase fading in the Indian Ocean and not making nay headway into the West Pacific. If anything 2 weeks out a weak flavor of the Inactive Phase is to return to the far West Pacific. 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 non-pattern) has us rethinking that position. The interesting part of this equation is warm surface water is still present in the equatorial Pacific. If anything, perhaps we're still in the netherlands between a weak El Nino and a dissipating La Nina, but not 'normal' either. 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 120W. 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 exact outcome for this Winter is in doubt. A complete lack of ENSO energy typically signals a lack of storm energy, and is perhaps a harbinger of the coming 5 months. But it's still a bit early to tell. 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