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 (12/11) North and Central CA had residual Gulf windswell producing waves at shoulder high and clean early but warbled and funky, with occasional rideable waves in between. Longer period energy building underneath. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were also chest high and clean but pretty soft. Southern California up north was pushing thigh high on the sets, lined up and clean but very weak. Down south waves were thigh to waist high and clean but weak. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover dateline energy with waves chest high and clean. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting east tradewind windswell at head high plus and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Small swell is starting to hit the US West Coast from a gale that developed over the dateline with 26-28 ft seas Thursday (12/6) targeting primarily Hawaii, then reorganized Fri-Sat (12/8) well north of the Islands targeting the US West Coast with a small area of 28 ft seas tracking through the northern Gulf of Alaska. Modest swell to result along the US West Coast on Tues-Wed (12/12). Another poorly organized gale developed over the extreme Northwest Pacific Mon-Tues (12/11) producing seas in the 26-30 ft range, but making little easterly progress. Maybe some swell for the mainland by Sun (12/16). But if one is to believe the models, somewhat positive changes are coming. The jetstream is to remain split, but the northern branch is to dip a bit more to the south opening up a small gap in the Gulf and northern dateline to support gale development. First a gale is to develop in the Western Gulf Sun-Mon (12/17) with up to 42 ft seas tracking east with a stronger system forming behind it in the northern dateline region Monday tracking to the Gulf Wednesday (12/19) with 44 ft seas initially moderating to the 36 ft range. Possible swell targeting primarily the US West Coast to result assuming all comes to pass.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (12/11) a solid jetstream flow was in place tracking off Japan in a single flow with winds 160 kts trying to form some sort of broad trough offering minimal support for gale development. Once the jet hit the dateline it split heavily with the northern branch flowing northeast tracking up into the Eastern Bering Sea and landlocked, before diving southeast down the Canadian coast forming a weak trough just off Vancouver Island. Winds 120 kt feeding into the trough offering minimal support for gale development. The southern branch continued east from the split point tracking over Hawaii and into Southern Baja. Over the next 72 hours the same pattern is to continue but with the trough off the US West coast dipping south eventually pushing inland over Southern CA late Thurs (12/13). But of more interest is the northern branch is to relax some, falling just south of the Eastern Aleutians with winds in the 150 kt range and offering an path for eastward moving storm system to follow and not encounter the land masses oft the Aleutians or Alaska. Some support for gale development possible. And a trough is to start digging out east of the dateline Fri (12/14) with 120 kt winds feeding it offering some support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the northern branch is to drift north again tracking over the Aleutians by Monday (12/17) shutting storm production down over the dateline. But the jet is to dip south through the Eastern Gulf mid next week, setting up a pattern much like earlier in the Fall, with weather systems developing and falling down the US West Coast.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (12/11) limited swell from a gale that developed on the dateline tracking into the Northwestern Gulf Wed-Sun (12/9) was pushing into CA (see Dateline Gale Part2 below). A broad gale developed over Northern Japan tracking northeast Sun-Tues (12/11) (see West Pacific Gale below). Also a strong high pressure system at 1040 mbs was locking down the entire Central Gulf of Alaska but was pulled away enough from the mainland to allow weather to fall down the Canadian Coast. Over the next 72 hours a gradient is to develop between high pressure in the Gulf and low pressure falling south down it's eastern flank Tues-Wed (12/12) generating 30 kt north winds resulting in limited northerly windswell expected to impact the California Coast starting Wed (12/12). See QuikCASTs for local details.
Part 2 - A gale previously in the dateline with all fetch targeting Hawaii 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 was 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
Another gale built over Japan easing east Sunday (12/9) producing 35-40 kt west winds in pockets with seas on the increase. By Monday AM (12/10) the gale was producing 40 kt west winds and seas to 30 ft over a tiny area at 37N 158E (306 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 faded more and lifted northeast thereafter with 35-40 kt west winds and seas 30 ft at 45N 169E (301 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 46N 175E (302 degs NCal). At this time some background westerly swell seems possible for Hawaii late in the workweek (Oahu: 4.4 ft @ 16 secs - 7 ft faces from 305 degrees on Friday (12/14) with well decayed and inconsistent sets the US West Coast by late in the weekend (Central CA: 4.2 ft @ 16 secs - 6.5 ft faces from 300 degrees on Sunday (12/16).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (12/11) high pressure at 1040 mbs was locked in the Central Gulf of Alaska effectively blocking all weather activity over the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. But a weak low did manage to sneak over the top of it and was falling down the Canadian coast, expected to bring a quick bit of weather into California Tuesday PM. But for now it was holding off north winds, with a light wind pattern indicated for the entire state. Wednesday a backdoor front is expected to drop south down the California coast with north winds 10-15 kts also dropping down the North and Central coasts making it to maybe Morro Bay, but light winds holding for Southern CA. Light rain falling south over the entire state with 3-4 inches of snow for Tahoe with low snow levels. Clearing expected by Thursday with north winds forecast at 10-15 kts for the entire state starting early. Friday (12/14) north winds still 15 kts early and holding through daylight hours, then fading late. Light winds all day Saturday though turning south over Northern CA late as a possible new local low winds up just off the coast. The front from that low pushes south Sunday with south winds ahead of the front and high pressure and north winds behind it at 15 kts building over all of North and Central CA . Light rain associated with the font pushing south to Pt Conception Sunday evening. 2 inches of snow for Tahoe with low snow levels. Southern CA to be protected. Monday another possible gale pushes up to the Oregon coast with the front reaching extreme North AC late. Light winds south of there through the day. Tuesday the front pushes down Central CA with 20 kts north winds behind it. 4-6 inches of snow for Tahoe possible with low snow levels.
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 starting Friday evening (12/14) high pressure is to relent a little in the Gulf of Alaska allowing a storm to develop on the dateline building Saturday AM (12/15) with 55 kt west winds and seas building from 28 ft at 38N 180W. In the evening west winds to hold at 55 kts aimed due east with the gale tracking east-northeast with seas building to 42 ft at 42N 170W (292 degs NCal and aimed mostly east of the 335 degs path to Hawaii). 45 kt west winds to hold into Sunday AM (12/16) with 38 ft seas moving to 43N 161 W targeting only the US West Coast (292 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to hold into the evening with 34 ft seas tracking east from 43N 153W (293 NCal). On Monday AM (12/17) 40 kt west winds to be approaching the Pacific Northwest still producing a moderate area of 31 ft seas at 43N 144W (295 degs NCal). The gale is to be fading in the evening as it starts moving onshore over British Columbia with seas from previous fetch at 28-30 ft at 45N 139W. Possible larger swell for the US West Coast if all goes as forecast.
And another storm is forecast developing west of the northern dateline region Sunday AM (12/16) with 55 kt northwest winds and seas building from 26 ft at 43N 162E. Winds to push 60 kts in the evening as the storm lifts east-northeast generating 42 ft seas at 46N 170E (303 degs NCal, 319 degs HI). 55 kt west winds to hold into Monday AM (12/17) with 44 ft seas over a small area at 48N 180W (303 degs NCal, 331 degs HI). Winds to fade from 45 kts in the evening in the Northwestern Gulf of Alaska with seas dropping from 39 ft at 49N 172W targeting only the US West Coast (304 degs NCal). theoretically this system is to regenerate in the Gulf on Tuesday AM (12/18) with 45 kt northwest winds taking hold and seas regenerating from 34 ft at 50N 160W (307 degs NCal). 40 kt northwest winds fading in the evening with seas 36 ft at 48N 150W (307 degs NCal). It is way too early to believe any of this just yet.
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 (12/11) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -45.72 due to localized low pressure over Tahiti and not necessarily a direct El Nino or MJO symptom. The interesting thing about this scenario is that the low is to hold steady over Tahiti for the next week. And another low was north of it on the other side of the equator (more details in the next paragraph). The 30 day average was down to -0.78 with the 90 day average down some at 1.08. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino (yet).
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated dead neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) building to moderate west anomalies over the dateline with a pair of low pressure systems straddling either side of the equator near 160W. This configuration only appears during Westerly Wind Bursts and solid El Nino's. Light east anomalies were well off the coast of Central America. This indicates a burst of what looks like an Active Phase of the MJO. A week from now (12/19) neutral anomalies are forecast holding over the Maritime Continent with weak westerly anomalies on the dateline and continuing in patches into South America. The low straddling the dateline in the north hemi is to be gone. This suggests the a neutral pattern to take hold, not a real Active Phase. Just a dead MJO signal. This might help to repair the split jetstream, but will do nothing to charge it up. A sustained WWB is required at minimum.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/10 suggest a dead neutral pattern was in-play over the Pacific with no MJO signal in the Indian Ocean either. The statistical model suggests a tiny core of an Inactive Phase is to develop south of Hawaii 7 days out while a weak Active Phase builds and eases east from the Indian Ocean, arriving in the West Pacific about 10 days out (12/20) and holding there. Conversely the dynamic model depicts the exact opposite with the Inactive Phase developing over the West Pacific 5 days from now (12/15) and holding there through the end of the model run (12/25) and a weak Active Phase captive south of Hawaii. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as far as models go. The extreme divergence between the 2 models is striking. At this time there is no believable consensus 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. But the current pair of equatorial low pressure systems is most interesting, but likely just a coincidence.
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 (12/11) 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 -0.7 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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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