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.
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On Thursday (1/29) in North and Central CA surf at top spots was 1-2 ft overhead on the face on the sets and clean with a bit of energy. Down in Santa Cruz surf was maybe chest high on the sets and clean and weak. In Southern California up north surf was waist high and clean and semi lined up, but pretty weak. Down south waves were chest to shoulder high and clean and lined up on the sets. Hawaii's North Shore was getting Kuril Island swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead at top breaks and a bit textured if not jumbled from southerly winds. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting some windswell at thigh to waist high and clean.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Kuril Island swell was fading in Hawaii and coming up somewhat in California, but nothing remarkable. A small gale fell south from the northern dateline region producing 20-22 ft seas on Wed-Thurs (1/29) targeting areas a bit west of Hawaii. A gale is now forecast for the Gulf of Alaska on Sat-Sun (2/1) producing 24-28 ft seas aimed south at Hawaii and better to the southeast at the US West Coast. Small swell is possible. And a very weak gale is projected just off Japan on Sun-Tues (2/3) generating 20-26 ft seas aimed reasonably well at Hawaii, but making little eastward progress. Not much swell to result for the Islands. Longer term there's some suggestions the Gulf of Alaska may become marginally more active, but that is more a guess than a certainty.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (1/29) the jet was pushing east off Southern Japan at 140 kts and splitting just east of there with much energy tracking north over Kamchatka up into the North Bering Sea, then falling back south merging with the main jetstream flow on the dateline forming a trough with it's apex 900 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii and offering some support for gale development. From there the jet tracked northeast and split at 140W with some energy flowing up into British Columbia and the rest tracking south into Baja. Only the Hawaiian trough was of interest. Over the next 72 hours the split east of Japan is to start dissipating some and the trough north of Hawaii is to fade out. A confused and incoherent pattern is to be occurring while the jet theoretically tries to reorganize. No clear-cut support for gale development is indicated though there is limited potential in the Gulf. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to finally become consolidated into a single flow later Wed (2/4) tracking flat west to east originating off Southern Japan with winds 140 kts building to near 170 kts as it passed over the dateline down at 32N then pushes to a point northeast of Hawaii, splitting at 145W and almost forming a small trough there. Winds to build to near 190 kts late Thurs (2/5) on the dateline with the trough in the Gulf becoming better defined. perhaps some support for gale development possible. This would suggest the Active Phase of the MJO is reorganizing.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (1/29) swell from a gale that developed off the Kuril Islands was fading in Hawaii and building modestly into California (see Kuril Island Gale below).
Otherwise a new gale built over the Northern Dateline region on Wed AM (1/28) producing a small area of 35 kt north winds and 21 ft seas at 49N 178W aimed due south (338 degs HI). Winds held in coverage and velocity into the evening with 21 ft seas at 44N 177W (330 degs HI). 30-35 kt north winds pushed south into Thurs AM (1/29) generating 22 ft seas at 43N 172W (325 degs HI). Fetch to fade from there in the evening with residual 22 ft seas moving to 39N 171W (331 degs HI). A small pulse of north angled swell is possible for the Hawaiian Islands later Sat (1/31) with swell to 4.2 ft @ 14-15 secs (5.5 ft). Swell continuing on Sun (2/1) at 6 ft @ 13 secs (7.5 ft) early, fading from there. Residuals on Monday (2/2) fading from barely 5 ft @ 12 secs (6 ft faces). Swell Direction: 330-335 degrees
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is to start winding up in the Gulf of Alaska Fri PM (1/30) generating 35-40 kts winds over a small area in it's southwest quadrant targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast. Seas building from 17 ft. On Sat AM (1/31) 50 kt winds are to be aimed east at Central CA northward and 40 kt north winds aimed at Hawaii. a small area of 28-30 ft seas are to be targeting Central CA northward at 42N 154W and 24 ft seas aimed south at Hawaii from 45N 160W. 35 kt north and west winds to continue in the evening generating 24 ft seas targeting Hawaii at 41N 160W and 26 ft seas at the US West Coast at 42N 152W. Only west winds to remain Sun AM (2/1) aimed at the US West Coast with 22 ft seas at 40N 152W. This system to dissipate after that. Perhaps some modest swell for the Islands and a little more for California up into the Pacific Northwest.
Also a small gale is to try and develop just east of Japan on Sat AM (1/31) generating 45 kt west to northwest winds making little eastward progress with seas building from 24 ft at 39N 148E. More of the same is projected in the evening with seas building to 26 ft at 40N 150E over a tiny area. 40 kt northwest winds are forecast off Japan on Sun AM (2/1) generating 24 ft seas at 38N 152E increasing in the evening to 26 ft at 39N 151E. 45 kt northwest winds to build Mon AM (2/2) with seas building to 28 ft again at 39N 151E. northwest fetch fading from 35 kts in the evening with seas fading from 24 ft at 37N 155E. Some weak swell is possible pushing towards Hawaii. ...
Kuril Island Gale
A gale developed off the Kuril Islands on Fri (1/24) with 50 kt west winds aimed east holding late and generating seas to 30 ft at 41N 152E. Winds faded to 45 kts Sat AM (1/24) with seas 37 ft over a small area aimed east at 41N 160E (308 degs HI, 299 degs NCal). Winds faded from 40 kts in the evening with seas 35 ft at 40N 168E (310 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). Winds continuing to fade Sun AM (1/25) from 35 kts with seas 30 ft at 40N 171E (313 degs HI, 296 degs NCal).
North CA: Swell peaking Fri (1/30) at 4.5 ft @ 15-16 secs (7 ft). Residuals on Sat (1/31) at 4.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (6 ft). Swell Direction: 296 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/29) a new high pressure system was building just off the Pacific Northwest setting up northerly winds over outer waters at 15-20 kts forecast pushing to 20 kts on Friday then fading to 15 kts Saturday and weaker still on Sun (2/1) as low pressure builds in the Gulf. A weak northerly flow to continue Monday then fading Tues (2/3) as Gulf low pressure starts making some eastward progress, perhaps reaching to within 600 nmiles of the coast.
Surface Analysis - No swell producing fetch of interest 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 there's some suggestions of a gale trying to form in the Western Gulf on Thurs (2/5) aided by a positive jetstream flow aloft. No cohesive swell production is yet modeled, but it's seems a distinct possibility. 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).
(1st paragraph in each section is new/recent data. 2nd paragraph where present is analysis data and is updated only as required).
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) On Thursday (1/29) the daily SOI was rising at 0.62 after an 11th day solidly negative run. The 30 day average was rising from -9.15 and the 90 day average was down some at -8.22. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a modest Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO with the 90 day average near -8 since 10/20 (3.0 months). Weak low pressure is to continue holding southwest of Tahiti well into the following week (2/7) keeping the SOI somewhat negative. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak westerly wind anomalies over the East Maritime Continent just south of the equator building to the moderate category on the dateline then fading tot he weak category south of Hawaii. Weak east anomalies continued from 135W into the Galapagos (very much a reflection of what is occurring off the CA coast). Down at the surface the TOA array indicated strong west anomalies in the heart of the Kelvin Wave Generation Area. A Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) continued in-play but not making any eastward progress. A week from now (2/6) weak west anomalies are to continue over the Maritime Continent building to the moderate range near the dateline. Neutral anomalies are forecast east of there to the Galapagos. This suggests the Active Phase is to continue holding over the West Pacific to the dateline.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/28 are in sync initially. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was holding a bit west of the dateline. The Statistic model depicts the Active Phase moving east over the next 15 days and fading south of Hawaii while the Inactive Phase of the MJO moves from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific. The Dynamic model is much more aggressive with the Active Phase rebuilding over the West Pacific strongly 10-15 days out, then easing east. The Inactive Phase of the MJO is in the Indian Ocean and is to remain there per the Dynamic model. The two models are slowly coming into closer agreement. The ultra long range upper level model run on 1/29 is falling in line with the dynamic model depicting a strong Active Phase rebuilding over the West Pacific now, and is forecast to track east into Central America on 2/23. A moderate Inactive Phase is supposed to push into the West Pacific 2/13 and be easing east into 3/10 while a new weaker Active Phase takes over the West Pacific. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
Surface Water Temps: 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 the most recent low res imagery (1/29) a weak warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific and not getting any warmer. A weak El Nino signature is barely holding on. Cool water has been developing east of the Galapagos to Peru, but now appears to be loosing some ground. Warm water has traction just west of the Galapagos all the way to Indonesia. TAO data suggests neutral anomalies are covering a region from 130W to Ecuador, with +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies holding from 130W into the West Pacific with a pocket of +1.0 deg anomalies in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area. The CDAS NINO 3.4 Index suggest water temps at +0.8, previously peaking late Nov at about +1.0 then falling to 0.0 in early January. The thought is the Upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase briefly had an impact on water temps, but is now loosing ground with temps again on the increase some.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator are now warming. As of 1/29 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was starting to rebuild it's control under the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up. And a new pocket of +2 deg anomalies with a core to near 3.0 degrees was building in coverage under the dateline, suggestive of a new Kelvin Wave and likely associated with the new WWB occurring at the surface there. Satellite data from 1/23 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies over most of the West and Central equatorial Pacific, indicative of an open pipe, but neutral anomalies from 120W eastward. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (1/23) indicates +0.5-1 deg anomalies are continuing to develop between 130-140E reaching east to 160W, suggestive that another weak Kelvin wave might be in the early stages of development. Theoretically the peak of El Nino occurred (12/21) with no more Kelvin Wave development expected if this is to be a single year event. If it is a true multiyear Midoki El Nino event, then it would not be unexpected to see another Kelvin Wave develop in the Jan-Feb 2015 timeframe (as appears to be the case). See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 1/26 was not encouraging. The current is pushing moderately west to east over a small area of the far West Pacific, but mainly east to west over the rest of the equatorial Pacific. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just on the equator over the West Pacific then north of the equator in pockets to 135W. Pockets of moderate east anomalies were just south of the equator from the Galapagos to almost the dateline. This data continues to suggest a mixed pattern and barely supportive of warm water transport to the east. But we suspect that might be attributable tot he current upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase in flight now.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 1/29 for the Nino 3.4 region have stabilized. It suggests water temps are down some at +0.6 deg C and are to hold through May and Sept 2015. This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year Midoki event. See the chart based version here - link. A consensus of other models are not as optimistic though.
Analysis: Multiple downwelling Kelvin Waves generated by suppressed trades and occasional Westerly Wind Bursts occurring through 2014 in the West Pacific. Those Kelvin Waves warmed waters over the Eastern equatorial Pacific, but not sufficiently to declare an official El Nino. Still some degree of teleconnection or feedback loop between the ocean and the atmosphere is in play. The focus now becomes whether this warming and resulting teleconnection will persist into 2015 and transition into a multi-year event, or fade in the March-June 2015 Spring Unpredictability Barrier. At this time we're assuming the situation will move to a multiyear, Midoki event (the better of all options).
We remain in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in-play. But we continue monitoring Westerly Wind Bursts and Kelvin Wave development, suggestive of continued warming East Pacific equatorial waters for the 2015 (meaning enhanced support for the jetstream and storm development in Fall/Winter 2015-2016).
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