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 Sunday (12/9) North and Central CA had Gulf windswell which continued to produce waves at shoulder to head high and clean but a bit warbled but still quite rideable early. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were flat and clean. Southern California up north was maybe thigh high on the sets and clean but weak. Down south waves were waist high and clean and a bit lined. Hawaii's North Shore was getting new datelines well with waves 2 ft overhead and clean. Certainly not as big a hoped for. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting east tradewind windswell at 2 ft and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Overall no big change is forecast swell wise. The jetstream configuration is looking better but is not to improve enough the make a significant difference size wise for anywhere but Hawaii, and that is attributable to the swell production region shifting to the dateline. Small swell is slated for the US West Coast from a gale that developed over the dateline targeting Hawaii with 26-28 ft seas Thursday (12/6) then reorganize Fri-Sat (12/8) well north of the Islands targeting the US West Coast with a small area of 28-30 ft seas tracking through the northern Gulf of Alaska. Modest swell to result along the US West Coast on Tues-Wed (12/12) the mainland. Another poorly organized gale is forecast over the extreme Northwest Pacific Mon-Tues (12/11) producing seas in the 26-30 ft range, but making little easterly progress. After that there's no clear signs of swell production. Things are really slacking.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Sunday (12/9) a solid jetstream flow was in place off Japan with a singular flow tracking east-northeast with winds 160 kts falling into a pinched trough on the dateline providing some support for gale development there. The jet then split heavily on the eastern side of the dateline trough with the northern branch flowing northeast tracking up into Central Canada while the southern branch tracked over Hawaii and then diffused moving over Southern Baja. Winds were up to 120 kts in the northern branch east of the dateline, but no troughs were present offering no support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hours winds to build to 170 kts off Japan but the split point is to retrograde west moving to a point just west of the dateline with the northern branch tracking hard north up to the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutians, then turning east and forming a very weak trough in the Gulf of Alaska by late Monday (12/10) capable of supporting maybe low pressure development. The trough is to slowly edge is way down the US West Coast reaching a point just off Central CA on Wed (12/12). This is to be what is effectively an backdoor trough, offering no support for gale development but ushering in cooler temps, some precipitation and north wind. Back in the west a weak trough is forecast developing off Kamchatka on Mon-Tues (12/11) supporting some degree of weak gale development, but nothing more and confined only the the extreme Northwest Pacific eventually lifting north and dissipating. Beyond 72 hours all that wind energy in the West Pacific is to east east dragging the split point east with it. By Thursday (12/13) the split point is to be due north of Hawaii with a broad flow of 130 kts winds tracking from Japan to the split point and a bit of a broad trough carved out off Japan. But winds speeds are to be settling down and the trough is to dissipate. By Sunday (12/16) the jet is to be flowing flat west to east across the width of the Pacific (from Japan to Oregon) with winds 120-130 kts with just a hint of a weak split near Hawaii, but of no interest. The good news is the split flow is to be gone (at least for a few days). The bad news is no troughs are forecast (which support gale development). Winter just can't decide whether it wants to be here or not.
Surface Analysis - On Sunday (12/9) the last remnants of a gale that developed on the dateline then tracked into the Northwestern Gulf were pushing inland over Eastern Alaska (see Dateline Gale below). A broad high pressure system at 1032 mbs was locking down the entire Eastern Gulf of Alaska (from Canada down to California). A new broad gale was building over Northern Japan trying to legs into the extreme West Pacific. Over the next 72 hours the West Pacific Gale is to build and track north east eventually moving into the Bering Sea off Kamchatka (see West Pacific Gale below). Otherwise high pressure is to hold strong in the Gulf of Alaska.
Part 1 - A gale developed west of the dateline Tuesday PM (12/4) with 30-35 kt west winds down at 33N 169E and seas on the increase. By Wednesday (12/5) AM pressure was 984 mbs with west winds building to 40 kts over a small area in the gales south quadrant. Seas building from 24 ft at 33N 172E. In the evening winds held at 40 kts but aimed more to the south with the gale itself pushing east and seas building to 28 ft at 34N 173E (aimed a bit south of the 299 degree path to HI - as west as it can get relative to Oahu's North Shore). The gale held on Thursday AM (12/6) with northwest winds still 40 kts and the gale tracking east. Seas 28 ft at 33N 178E (303 degs HI). Additional fetch of nearly 45 kt rebuilt as the gale lifted northeast in the evening with 26 ft seas at 35N 175W aimed well at Hawaii (305 degs HI). 45 kt northwesterly winds holding Friday AM (12/7) with a small area of seas at 26 ft at 40N 172W (330 degs HI). Fetch built Friday evening to 45 kts over a modest area as the gale stopped lifting north and started to move east. 24 ft seas built at 44N 170W (1300 nmiles from HI pushing down the 337 deg path). Beyond all fetch to be aimed at the US West Coast (see Part 2 below).
This swell did not develop anywhere near as strong as expected relative to the Hawaiian Islands. Swell was fading sunrise Sunday AM (12/9) from 5.0 ft @ 13-14 secs (6.5 ft) from 310-320 degrees. Additional but smaller more northerly angled swell expected for Monday fading from 4.5 ft @ 13 secs (5.5-6.0 ft) from 325+ degrees.
Part 2 - The dateline gale started tracking east through the Gulf of Alaska by Saturday AM (12/8). Winds were 45 kts over a moderate area in the gales south quadrant with seas up to 30 ft at 46N 167W (298 degs NCal). Winds held at 45 kts in the evening as the gale lifting northeast with 34 ft seas at 50N 167W (aimed a bit east of the 307 deg path to NCal ). The gale was racing northeast Sunday AM (12/9) with 40 kt southwest winds moving over the eastern Aleutians with 32 ft seas at 53N 160W aimed mostly east of the 313 degree path into NCal. By evening the gale is to be inland over Alaska. Some degree of small longer period swell is possible for California starting Tues (12/11).
North CA: Expect tiny westerly energy from when the gale was on the dateline (Part 1) arriving Mon (12/10) building to 1.5 ft @ 16-17 secs late (2.5 ft). Swell building more on Tuesday with a mix of dateline energy 3.1 ft @ 14 secs (4.5 ft) from 285 degrees and new Gulf energy (Part 2) arriving reaching to 2.6 ft @ 16 secs late (4 ft) from 303 degrees. Wednesday swell to peak (mainly associated with the Part 2 - Gulf energy) at 4.2 ft @ 14 secs (5.5 ft) from 305-310+ degs.
West Pacific Gale
A new gale was building over Japan easing east by Sunday (12/9) producing 35-40 kt west winds in pockets with seas on the increase. By Monday AM (12/10) the gale is to be producing 40 kt west winds and seas to 30 ft over a tiny area at 38N 158E (307 degs HI, 298 degs NCal) then lifting north into the evening with winds barely 40 kts and 30 ft seas fading at 41N 163E. The gale to fade more and d lift northeast thereafter with 35-40 kt west winds and seas 28 ft at 45N 170E (302 degs NCal) and not aimed at Hawaii any longer. This system is to be gone by Tuesday PM (12/11) with residual seas from previous fetch fading from 24 ft at 47N 176E (303 degs NCal). At this time some background westerly swell seems possible for Hawaii late in the workweek with well decayed and inconsistent sets the US West Coast by late in the weekend. Will monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (12/9) high pressure at 1030 mbs was locked off the North CA coast effectively blocking all weather activity over the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. A bit of a weak gradient was off Central CA with north winds 20-25 kts, but pulled away from the coast with a light wind flow early. The same pattern to hold Mon-Tues (12/11) but pulled more away from the coast with a light to maybe offshore wind flow forecast for Central CA. North wind possible for North CA and calm into Southern CA. Wednesday a backdoor front is expected to drop south down California with north winds 15-20 kts also dropping down the North and Central coasts and light winds holding for Southern CA. Light rain falling south over the entire state with 4-6 inches of snow for Tahoe with low snow levels. Clearing by Thursday with north winds forecast at 20 kts for the entire state starting early. Friday (12/14) north wind to back off by 10 AM over the entire state turning almost calm late. Light winds all day Saturday and Sunday though turning south over Northern CA late as a possible new local low winds up just off the coast.
Surface - 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 high pressure is to hold off the US West Coast, but steadily decaying through the workweek. Weak low pressure is to fall south along the eastern edge of the high and just off the Pacific Northwest Coast Tues-Wed (12/12) generating 25-30 kt north winds and 16-18 ft seas good for raw local north windswell reaching down to Pt Conception into Thurs (12/13).
There's also hints of 2 small weak low pressure systems developing next weekend (12/16) with one near the dateline and another off Oregon. But at this early date even those weak systems seems optimistic.
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 (12/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -31.71 (due to localized low pressure over Tahiti). The 30 day average was down to 2.51 with the 90 day average down some at 2.14. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light easterly anomalies over the western Maritime Continent (WPac) fading to neutral just east of there and extending to the dateline, turning westerly there reaching to a point southeast of Hawaii then dying to neutral and extending east into Central America. This indicates a neutral phase of the MJO. A week from now (12/17) weak east anomalies are forecast holding over the western Maritime Continent fading to dead neutral over the Central Maritime Continent and holding that way over the dateline on into South America. This suggests the Inactive Phase is to be gone, but not real Active Phase replacing it. Just a dead MJO signal. This might help to repair the split jetstream, but will do nothing to charge it up.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/8 suggest a weak Inactive Phase was in-play over the dateline with the Active Phase trying to build in the Indian Ocean. The statistical model suggests the core of the Inactive Phase is to ease east over the next 15 days but still hold in some fashion located south of Hawaii while the Active Phase builds and eases east from the Indian Ocean, arriving in the West Pacific about 10 days out (12/18) and holding there. Conversely the dynamic model has the Inactive Phase backtracking/retrograding and building strong over the West Pacific 8 days from now (12/16) and holding there with Active Phase captive in the Indian Ocean through 12/23. The extreme divergence between the 2 models is striking. At this time there is no believable consensus between the models and therefore no forecast worth talking about. The more likely outcome is more of the same, a weak MJO signal and a jetstream that is not real supportive of gale development.
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 occurring with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. But the collapse/stalling of the MJO in November has us rethinking that position. As of now (12/8) it seems the MJO is dead, or at least very weak. And if anything, the jetstream flow aloft is symptomatic of that MJO situation, rather weak and ineffective. At a minimum a split jet suggests a very weak wind flow aloft. If any flavor of El Nino or an Active Phase was in play, the jet would not be split. If anything, perhaps we're still in the netherlands between a weak El Nino in the ocean and a dissipating La Nina in the upper atmosphere - A true neutral pattern. The semi-Pineapple Express weather pattern that occurred over California the week of 11/28-12/5 is a classic sign of a true neutral pattern. Until such time as some sort of Active Phase develops strong enough to 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 and initially we thought it did little to replenish the warm water pool, only holding it at a steady state. Some data suggested a slightly strong impact, but nothing remarkable. A second Kelvin wave developed due to a prolonged WWB event in the West Pacific between Sept 2 and Oct 9. That Kelvin Wave had 2-3 deg C warmer than normal subsurface water and was located in pockets under the equator. We believe it has or is reaching the Central America coast and will possibly provide a little boost to water temps shortly, but most data suggests nothing dramatic. At a minimum it should keep things in the normal range. That said - waters temps are below normal now in the Nino-1 region. So the best this Kelvin wave will do is return temps to normal.
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 has collapsed (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 over 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 we are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than the previous 2 years under the direct influence of La Nina. Still, the exact outcome for this Winter is in doubt. We had expected a normal number of storm and swell, but we are considering downgrading that shortly. A complete lack of ENSO energy typically signals a lack of storm energy, and is perhaps a harbinger of the coming 5 months. Longer term 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 Mavericks - The Jay Moriarty Movie: Two trailers for the new movie about Jay, Frosty and Mavericks has been posted. Movie opens on 10/26/12. Here's the link: http://www.mtv.com/videos/movie-trailers/818957/chasing-mavericks.jhtml & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNdYoX9Vfxg&feature=relmfu
Props from the Pros: Stormsurf was mentioned over the past week in two different media sources. One was in an interview Kelly Slater did with the New York Times and another was in a promotional piece Ramon Navarro did for the Big Wave World Tour. Many thanks to Curt Myers from Powerline Productions for alerting us and of course thanks to Kelly, Ramon and the Tour for using our service. Here's the links:
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".
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