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.
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As of Thursday PM (12/9) we finished that effort and fresh content should now be available for all to use. We apologize for the inconvenience and thanks again for using Stormsurf.
On Saturday (12/11) North and Central California was getting residual Gulf swell in the head high range and clean with a good amount of overcast in control still. Southern California was getting reasonably clean but near flat surf. Down south exposed breaks were thigh high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover northerly windswell with waves head high and a few larger sets and clean with light southerly winds and some sunshine early. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore is not being monitored for the winter and presumed to be asleep with waves 2 ft or less.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for surf fading from waist to chest high on Sunday. Monday new west windswell arrives to 5 ft (faces) fading from chest high on Tuesday. Possible new swell arrives on Wednesday with 8 ft faces but raw fading from head high Thursday. Southern California is to see northwesterly swell fading from knee high on Sunday with luck. New knee high westerly swell arrives on Monday holding into early Tuesday with luck. New northwest swell arrives Wednesday pushing shoulder high later up north then fading from waist to chest high early at top spots. The North Shore of Oahu is to see north windswell fading from 1 ft overhead early Sunday. Shoulder high leftovers expected on Monday maybe holding into early Tuesday though most to be waist high. Wednesday new head high north windswell arrives holding into Thursday. The East Shore is to see no significant easterly windswell (thigh to waist high) through Tuesday (12/14) then maybe up to chest high Wednesday before fading out 24 hrs later. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
Things are to remain kind of weak for a while longer. On Sunday another gale is to develop in the Central Gulf in the semi-perpetual upper trough carved out there and pushing east, but with seas only 18 ft range initially aimed a bit at Hawaii, then turning more towards the CA coast while tracking east and building slightly with seas near 20 ft Tuesday just off the Oregon coast. This is a big downgrade from 24 hr early. Possible smaller raw swell for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA mid-next week. Another similar gale is to build in the northern Gulf falling southeast on Thurs-Sat (12/18) with seas in the 24 ft range. Also an anemic gale is expected to organize on the dateline with 35 kt northwest wind and 24 ft seas aimed a bit south of Hawaii on Sun-Mon (12/13). Still maybe a little sideband swell to result for the Islands. Persistent east winds are to continue aimed at Japan positioned on the dateline driven by high pressure there and choking off the normal storm track just south of the Aleutians. The good news is the Active Phase of the MJO is expected to be pushing into the West Pacific next week, offering better opportunity to support gale development for 3 weeks to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Saturday (12/11) the jetstream was pushing flat off Japan but splitting just off the coast with the northern branch tracking due north into the Bering Sea then turning east and southeast falling into the Central Gulf of Alaska and feeding a bit of a semi-permanent trough located 1500 nmiles west of Central CA (and just north of Hawaii) while rejoining the southern branch there, then ridging pretty firmly northeast and pushing inland over British Columbia. The trough was not real supportive of gale development at the moment with winds very weak and strong ridging pushing over the Pacific Northwest dominating. In all, there was no support for gale devotement anywhere in the North Pacific at the moment. Over the next 72 hours the same pattern is to hold with the split over the dateline becoming even more pronounced but with the ridge off the Pacific Northwest relaxing some setting up a weak trough off the coast there with 140 kt winds flowing into it by Monday (12/13). But little energy is to be falling out of the Bering Sea, limiting it's effectiveness at supporting gale development at the oceans surface. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to push inland into Northern CA with some residual troughiness still persisting over the Gulf of Alaska while a huge well defined split remains centered over the dateline supportive of high pressure development there. Yet another pulse of wind energy is to drop into the Gulf trough on Thurs-Fri (12/17) possibly supporting another weak gale forming off the Oregon coast at that time. What we need is a real strong pulse of wind energy to push off Japan and blast through the split on the dateline cutting it off. But that statistically is not going to happen, this being a La Nina year.
At the surface on Saturday (12/11) high pressure was the name of the game. A moderate strength high at 1032 mbs was in the Bering Sea ridging south over the dateline and blocking the normal eastward flow of low pressure off Asia and Siberia. And second weaker high at 1024 mbs was just off Southern CA pushing into the Golden State. Weak low pressure at 996 mbs was in the extreme Northern Gulf of Alaska off Northern Canada and producing literally no fetch. In all, a quiet pattern was in-play. Over the next 72 hours low pressure is to slowly build in the Gulf of Alaska resulting in the production of 25 kt north winds falling from the Eastern Aleutians south towards Hawaii by late Saturday pushing near 30 kts Sunday AM at 45N 160W with 15 ft seas starting to build. By evening 30 kt northwest winds are forecast at 44N 155W with 18 ft seas at 45N 158W, or 1500 nmiles north of Hawaii and aimed well in that direction (355+ degrees). By Monday AM (12/13) that fetch is to wrap into the gales south quadrant exclusively but only at 30 kts at 42N 144W aimed at NCal up the 290 degree path. Sea trying to regroup. The fetch is to continue pushing east in the evening at 35 kts at 42N 137W with 20 ft seas forecast then at 41N 138W (294 degrees). Tuesday AM the gale is to be fading with residual 30 kt west winds at 45N 133W (315 deg NCal) with 20 ft seas holding at 43N 132W (302 degs NCal and 600 nmiles out). Tuesday night the gale is to be pushing inland and dissipate with 17 ft seas from previous fetch just off Southern Oregon at 43N 128W (319 deg NCal). If all this comes to pass some degree of what will basically be 10-11 sec period windswell could push into Hawaii initially and a bit larger but rawer windswell energy into Oregon and down to Central CA. Will monitor.
Also a diffuse gale is forecast building just west of the dateline Sunday (12/12) producing 35 kt northwest winds at 38N 168E moving to 35N 168E in the evening aimed more south than west. Seas of 24 ft are forecast at 36N 169E Sunday night holding while pushing to 32N 170E Monday AM (305 ->295 degs HI) and aimed pretty well to the south. Maybe some sideband swell to result for Hawaii with luck.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (12/11) high pressure at 1024 mbs was 600 nmiles west-southwest of Southern CA trying to ridge into Central and North CA, but not quite making it with residual moisture from a gale that was in the Gulf still hovering over the extreme northern end of the state. A light wind pattern was in effect coastside other than north winds to 15 kt isolated to the Point Conception area caused by the pressure gradient generated by high pressure moving into the area. The Central Sierras received nothing but light rain from the previous weather system serving only to soggy up what was a nice snow base. It will take a foot or more of freshies to hide the damage exerted by this rain. The high is to be moderating on Sunday with north winds fading over Pt Conception and a light wind pattern for the entire state likely with things drying out even in the north. No change for Monday for most locations but a new gale is to be pushing towards Oregon a with a front pushing into Northern CA on Tuesday with rain reaching down to Monterey Bay and snow for the upper elevations of the Sierra (3-4 inches) then clearing out on Wednesday with light winds everywhere except north winds at 20 kts over Pt Conception. Light winds and calm early Thursday (12/16) but south winds and rain coming into Central CA mid-day as the next front builds off the coast with rain and south winds likely for the entire state Friday. More rain and south winds expected Saturday too on the coast even down into Southern CA with a good amount of snow in the Central Sierras. At least there's one ray of hope.
At the oceans surface no swell producing fetch was occurring. 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 another broad but diffuse gale is forecast developing in the
Northern Gulf of Alaska starting Wed (12/15) with 30-35 kt northwest winds
up at 50N 155W and holding in that general area into Thursday with up to 22 ft seas forecast at 45N 157N Thursday
night aimed well at Hawaii (360 degrees). Additional but weaker 30-35 kt fetch is to wrap into the gale southern quadrant on Friday with 24 ft seas at 44N 148W aimed at bit south of Central CA (296 degrees). Maybe a small pulse of north swell to push into Hawaii from this one with modest swell into Central CA.
As of Friday (12/10) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued well in positive territory. The daily SOI was down to 15.36. The 30 day average was up to 20.57 with the 90 day average up slightly at 20.17. Overall, averages remained high, though down slightly from the peak in mid-to-late October (90 day ave near 22.0).
Wind anomalies as of Thursday (12/9) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models continued to indicated that easterly anomalies were filling the North Pacific from Central America to the dateline, but were retreating and pushing to the east. They were not particularly strong, but indicative of the last pulse of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. The Active Phase of the MJO was building in the Central Indian Ocean effectively filling it with west anomalies and a bit stronger than previously indicated. East anomalies (Inactive Phase) in the Pacific are to be fading out through 12/14 (nearly gone then) while westerly anomalies (Active Phase) start pushing east into the Western Pacific almost pushing to the dateline, pushing east of it on 12/19 and straddling it on 12/24 then fading some while easing east into 12/19. We suspect the remnants of the Active Phase will push east into Central America into maybe the second week in January. Since the Active Phase supports the development of low pressure in the Northern Pacific, if anything, the best shot for swell in Hawaii and the US West Coast will be roughly over the Christmas-New Years Holidays. Then a week after the New Year the Inactive Phase will likely be coming back and shutting it all down into early February. Sometime soon after that north winds should start building along the US West Coast as Springtime high pressure builds in much stronger and earlier than usual.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (12/9) continues to indicate that cold waters (-2 C degs or cooler) had a stable grip on the equator covering solidly from South America west to the dateline and beyond, but are not getting any colder and not expanding their coverage. And if anything, the areal coverage of the coldest waters seems to have dissipated some. Maybe we have already reached the peak of this La Nina event, but that is likely just wishful thinking. The models suggest a second surge of this La Nina event is to develop and take hold by late Jan-early Feb, which will likely send water temps much colder. Colder than normal waters covered the equator from Ecuador west to New Guinea with feed bands originating off the US West Coast and South America sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, only serving to reinforce what is already a solid La Nina pattern. These colder waters are a reflection of stronger than normal high pressure built in over both hemispheres causing upwelling 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 strong on the equator south of Hawaii and locked in position (sort of like a stationary cold Kelvin Wave). Previously this pocket down to 7 degs below normal in mid- Sept and 6 degrees below normal on 10/18. But it has warmed to 3 degs below normal on 12/9 and was starting to move east. This is most interesting and possibly suggests the peak of La Nina may have already been reached.
Over the entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to the Philippines and beyond. From a historical 'normal' perspective these easterly winds were fully anomalous, blowing harder than normal from the east to the west, as would be expected looking at all the other data. But this only occurred starting in late Sept, with only normal winds indicated prior to 9/11. Looking at the Pacific equatorial current as of 12/5, it is now running slightly anomalously west to east, completely contrary to it's previous flow and a bit unusual for a La Nina year. It actually started this pattern in early November. This likely explains the rise in negative subsurface temperatures under the equator.
Of note; 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 did not waiver until Oct 2010. But trades never wavering 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). If this is true, and if the current change on the equator as of November is real, then we should start seeing signs of a faltering La Nina, with the pocket of cold subsurface water under the equator being the first piece of that puzzle. Something to monitor.
regardless, for now a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) is in control and momentum from it is expected to hold 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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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