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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 (12/24) North and Central CA surf was head high with sets 1-2 ft overhead at top spots and clean early and well lined up. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high and clean but soft. In Southern California up north surf was chest high and well lined up and clean - looking quite rideable for a change. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and clean but pretty weak looking. Hawaii's North Shore was getting the early forerunners of a new swell from Japan with waves maybe 8 ft on the face and warbled but clean and on the increase. Almost looks like too much period. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting east windswell at waist high and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A smaller but reasonably strong storm tracked east from Japan on Sat (12/21) with seas to 47 ft initially, fading to the 32-34 ft range on Sun (12/22) before approaching the dateline Mon-Tues (12/24) with seas down to 30-32 ft. Moderate long period swell possible for all. After that a micro-gale is forecast for the dateline Wed-Thurs (12/26) with 30-36 ft seas aimed east for 24 hrs then dissipating. A slightly larger system is forecast for the Northwestern Gulf on Fri (12/27) with 34 ft seas falling southeast for 24 hours, and a similar system forecast off the Kuril's on Sun (12/29). And yet another similar system is possibly for the Southwestern Gulf on Tues (12/31). In short, nothing huge is forecast, but there's potential for much small background swell after the Japan swell.
Note: NDBC has issued a schedule to start repairing buoys as of 11/12/13. Unfortunately no buoys of interest to California are scheduled through September 2014. TOA Array (El Nino Monitoring) buoys are set for maintenance in April 2014.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (12/24) the jetstream was tracking solidly off Japan with 150-160 kt winds pushing flat from japan over the dateline then splitting 750 nmiles north of Hawaii. There was no trough indicated in the jet but it was still supportive of gale development. The northern branch pushed hard north from the split point tracking up into alaska while the southern branch fell south into a steep trough south of Hawaii, then rebounded north before again falling south down the coast of Baja. No support for gale development was indicated except from Hawaii westward. Over the next 72 hours winds in jet over the West Pacific are to wither some but start to form a trough on the dateline later Thurs (12/260 with 160 kt winds falling into the trough providing some support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to hold together while lifting slightly northeast into Sun AM (12/29) providing some support for gale development. But of more interest is development of more strong winds pushing off Japan starting Sat (12/28) at 180 kts and reaching to the dateline 24 hours later. No troughs are forecast but the flow is to hold tracking flat east then slowly moderating into Tues (12/31) with winds still 150+ kts then. The split point is to move to 150W or just 750 nmiles north of Hawaii. Certainly there's some support for solid gale development possible.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (12/24) the lesser remnants of the Japan Storm (see Japan Storm below) were still circulating on the dateline and filling the West Pacific producing a solid sized fetch of 35 kt west winds aimed due east mainly at the US West Coast. Otherwise high pressure at 1032 mbs was ridging into the Pacific Northwest setting up an offshore flow for California. No other weather systems of interest were occurring. Over the next 72 hours the Japan Storm is to dissipate by Tues evening (12/24). But a new gale is to develop off Japan on Wed AM (12/25) with a tiny area of 45 kt northwest winds tracking flat east. Those wind are to cover a little more area in the evening pushing near 50 kts with seas to 32 ft over a tiny area at 35N 172E targeting Hawaii (304 degrees HI) . But by Thurs AM (12/26) the gale is to be dissipating with winds fading from 40 kts and seas 30 ft on the dateline at 35N 180W (310 degs HI). Fetch to be fading in the evening from 30-35 kts aimed due east with seas fading from 24 ft at 38N 174W (325 degs HI). Assuming all this play out some degree of limited small swell could result for Hawaii by Sat (12/28).
A small gale started developing off Japan on Friday (12/20) tracking east producing a tiny area of 45-50 kt west winds and seas building to 44 ft at 36N 152E in the evening targeting Hawaii and California. The Jason-2 satellite passed over the eastern edge of the fetch at 1Z and reported seas at 31 ft with one readying to 34.2 ft where the model suggested 30 ft seas. The model was right one track if not a little low. On Sat AM (12/21) a solid but small area of 50 kt west winds held pushing flat east with seas building to 47 ft at 37N 159E (302 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). The Jason-2 satellite passed over the far west quadrant reporting seas of 33.5 ft where the model reported 26-28 ft seas. \again the model was right on track if not under calling it. 45 kt west winds to ease east into the evening generating 45 ft seas at 38N 164E (306 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). The gale started fading Sun AM (12/22) with winds down to 40 kts and seas fading from 38 ft at 39N 171E (312 degs HI, 295 degs NCal, 298 degs SCal). The Jason-2 satellite passed over the west part of the core of the storm reporting seas 36.4 ft with one peak reading to 42.1 ft where the model indicated 37 ft seas. The model was right on track. The gale rebuilt slightly in the evening forming a second pulse with 40 kt west winds redeveloping over a broader area and 32 ft seas up at 41N 171E (313 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). The gale faded some Mon AM (12/23) with a moderate area of 40 kt west winds remaining and seas dropping from 30 ft over a small area at 40N 170E (317 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). Fetch built in the evening to 45 kts with 34 ft seas holding at 41N 172E (not really aimed up the 315 degree path to HI, 296 degs NCal, 300 degs SCal). The Jason-2 satellite passed over the far western flank of the gale at 0z and reported seas to 27.3 ft with one reading to 31.6 ft where the model suggested 27 ft seas. The model was right on track. It passed over the eastern flank at 8Z and reported seas to 28.9 ft with one reading to 32.5 ft where the model suggested 30 ft seas. The model was within 1 ft of reality. West fetch was fading Tues AM (12/24) from 35 kts on the dateline with seas fading from 31 ft at 40N 180W (293 degs NCal, 298 degs SCal). The system is to dissipate from there. Most energy is to be pushing up the great circle paths to NCal, with a far more indirect energy into Hawaii, but the Islands are to be much closer. The swell to be a little too north relative to SCal to reach into many breaks.
Hawaii: Swell arrival expected on Tues (12/24) with period 18-19 secs late and peaking at sunset near 7.5 ft @ 18-19 secs (14 ft Hawaiian). Swell to continue Christmas Day at 7.8 ft @ 16-17 secs (13 ft Hawaiian). Swell to increase some on Thurs (12/26) with swell up to 9 ft @ 16-17 secs (14-15 ft Hawaiian) from the second pulse of the storm then starting to fade Friday (12/27) from 7.5 ft @ 15 secs (11 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 305 initially then turning to 312-317 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival the day after Christmas (12/26) with swell building to 4.8 ft @ 18 secs (8-9 ft), holding on Fri (12/27) 5.3 ft @ 16-17 secs (8-9 ft). The swell to rebuild on Sat (12/28) to 7 ft @ 16 secs (11 ft), then fading Sunday (12/29) from 5.5 ft @ 15 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 293-297 degrees
Southern CA: Swell to arrive the day after Christmas (12/26) and tiny building to 1.8 ft @ 20 secs (3.5 ft). Swell to start pulsing better on Fri (12/27) at 2.4 ft @ 17-18 secs (4 ft), then rebuilding late Sat (12/28) to 2.9 ft @ 16 secs (4.5-5.0 ft). Swell to hold in to Sun AM (12/29) at 3.2 ft @ 16 secs (5 ft) then start fading late AM. Residuals on Mon (12/30) at 2.2 ft @ 14 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 298-300 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (12/24) high pressure was ridging into the Pacific Northwest at 1036 mbs forming a gradient over Cape Mendocino setting up north winds there to 20 kts with some north wind wrapping south to maybe San Francisco outer waters late, but with light offshore winds nearshore. But by Christmas Day that is to fade with a light offshore wind pattern forecast for the state other than extreme North CA. By Thurs (12/26) an offshore flow is to again become established for the entire state holding into Saturday, then just turning slack through Sunday. Perhaps a light northwest flow to set up by Tues (12/31) mainly for Central and North CA but then never more than 5 kts.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were in play. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing gale activity is forecast aimed up into our forecast area.
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 residuals of the tiny dateline gale are projected redeveloping in the Northwestern Gulf of Alaska on Thurs (12/26) generating a tiny area of 45-50 kt northwest winds on the dateline in the AM and then 45 kts west winds in the evening producing 32 ft seas at 43N 175W (295 degs NCal) aimed mainly at the US West Coast. Winds to rebuild to 45-50 kts Fri AM (12/27) falling southeast at Hawaii with seas to 36 ft over a tiny area at 43N 179E (325 degs HI, 296 degs NCal) , Fetch is to be fading Fri PM from 40 kt targeting Hawaii well generating 36 ft seas at 40N 175W (326 degs HI). Fetch is to be gone by Sat AM (12/28). Assuming all plays out as forecast Hawaii could get another nice pulse of swell arriving Mon (12/30) at 9 ft @ 15 secs (13-14 ft Hawaiian) from 322-325 degrees.
Another small gale is forecast just off the Kuril Islands on Sun (12/29) producing 32-34 ft seas but making no real eastward headway. Little to nothing to result for Hawaii or the US mainland. Perhaps another gale to develop in the Gulf on Tues (12/31) with 26 ft seas projected over a tiny area late. Something to monitor. .
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 (12/24) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up slightly at 1.71. The 30 day average was down to 4.71 and the 90 day average was holding at 2.69. The nearterm trend based on the SOI was indicative of a weak and fading Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was just above neutral territory suggestive of the Inactive Phase of the MJO also. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends, so the move into positive readings is not unexpected.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak east anomalies over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral over the dateline holding that way south of Hawaii and continuing into Central America. A week from now (1/1) a mix of neutral and light east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent and the dateline fading to neutral south of Hawaii then turning slight easterly mid-way into Central America. In all this suggests the Inactive Phase of the MJO is currently over the West Pacific and fading while pushing east.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/23 are now in-sync. Both suggest a neutral pattern was over the West Pacific and a new Active Phase is to start building building over the Philippines 4 days out and slowly easing east, peaking as it's leading edge reaches just to the dateline 10 days out. Even the conservative dynamic model is in agreement. This is an upgrade from previous runs. The Active Phase is to hold on the dateline up to 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 12/24 suggests a weak Active Phase pushing into the West Pacific and slowly tracking east into Jan 10 before dissipating on the dateline. In parallel a new weak Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Jan 13 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 2/2 with a new Active Phase building behind it. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of now (12/23) a completely neutral water temp pattern covers the equator from Central America to the Philippines if not biased on the warm side of neutral (+0.25 degs C). This is the best we've seen in quite a while. A weak tongue of warmer than normal water started developing over the East Pacific mid-October in sync with a building Active Phase of the MJO. Some slight erosion occurred thereafter, but has stopped and a neutral to warmish pattern started setting up in Dec and has not stopped. 0.0-0.5 degree anomalies cover the entire equatorial Pacific east to west. A building pocket of warmer water continues over Chile and all of Peru too, a good sign. Water temps off West Africa have eroded some. The California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California remains in-place driven by offshore winds and upwelling. The wall of warmer than normal water just off the North CA coast remains displaced west, held off by high pressure and local upwelling all the result of much offshore winds. Still, thousands of nmiles of warmer water is lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast. In short, there's no sign of a legitimate warm pattern developing yet, but there are some interesting suggestions of such a pattern trying to develop. And certainly there's no troubling cool water on the charts and if anything, warm water is getting the upper hand. We remain in a pure neutral pattern (as neutral as it can get). It will take 3 months from the time the cool eddy ended off the Galapagos and a fully neutral pattern developed (mid-Sept) till anything helpful to the jetstream manifests in the upper atmosphere (mid-Dec).
Subsurface waters temps on the equator indicate a solid pocket of warm water 2 degs C above normal is down at 50 meters near 100W and is moving through the far East equatorial Pacific about ready to impact (if not already impacting) the coasts of Ecuador and Columbia. This is a eastward moving Kelvin Wave. This is great news in that it is expected to provide slight warming to the already warming surface warm pool near the Galapagos (a good thing) over the next 30-45 days. The hope is this will add some fuel to the jetstream over the next 2 months.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 12/24 remain unchanged and optimistic. The model previously had suggested rapid warming starting March 2014 building to +1.0 deg C by late July 2014. Then the model backed off some, but more recent runs started again suggesting warming expected. Today's run suggests warming to +1.0 deg C by Aug-Sept 2014. For the immediate future (this Winter) a neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering near 0.0 deg C through late January, then a slow but steady increase is to set in. A consensus of other models suggests slow warming, but not passing beyond mildly positive territory till Spring of next year.
Overall the immediate outlook remains nothing stellar, but trending towards something that would be considered right on the threshold of warm, by Summer 2014, assuming one were to believe the models. Other models suggest a continuation of neutral conditions, though trending warmer. All this is good news. If anything the ocean is in a recharging mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures gradually on the rise again in fit's-and-starts.
We are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014 with perhaps a slightly warmer pattern by early 2014. The weak presence of the Inactive Phase of MJO in the summer of 2013 still seems to be biasing the weather global pattern. But with the ocean turning neutral, we suspect the atmosphere will make the turn as well over the next few months (into Dec 2013). This is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. It is becoming apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. Longer term the expectation is there will be at least one to two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). 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 Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table