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 Thursday (12/18) in North and Central CA surf was 2 ft overhead and fairly clean but still with some south lump and a little warbled. Protected breaks were smaller but cleaner. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high with some bigger peaks and pretty warbled though there was no real wind in effect. In Southern California up north surf was chest high on the sets and a bit on the weak side but lined up and plate glass clean. Looks fun. Down south waves were chest high and clean coming from the north and fun but not extraordinary. Hawaii's North Shore was getting residual swell with waves chest to head high and and clean and lined up but real weak. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting waist high wind swell and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Hawaii and California were getting leftover swell from previous fetch, with California the largest of the two, mainly due to additional windswell moving into the area. A small storm was tracking from the dateline through the Western Gulf on Wed-Thurs (12/18) with 43 ft seas over a small area setting up sideband swell for Hawaii starting late today into Friday (12/18) and decent sized direct energy for the US West Coast for the weekend. And another system was tracking east from a point directly off Japan Wed-Fri (12/19) with up to 38 ft seas aimed east, but dissipating quickly after crossing the dateline early Sat (12/20). Things to really settle down after that.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (12/18) the jet was pushing off Japan ridging slightly over the dateline with winds building to 200 kts then with 160 kt winds pushing on into the Gulf of Alaska and falling into a trough there. This trough was well supportive of gale development. The jet fell apart east of there. Over the next 72 hours the jetstream is to be crossing the North Pacific almost flat west to east from South Japan pushing into Oregon with a trough developing on the dateline Fri (12/19) with 150 kts winds feeding it supportive of gale development. The trough is to build into Sun (12/21) but winds are to fade feeding it, still supportive of gale development, but not strongly so. Additionally 180 kts winds to be building over Japan ridging northeast some. Beyond 72 hours the dateline trough is to get steeper eventually pinching off north of Hawaii on Tues (12/23) with the wind pocket off Japan feeding it at 180-190 kts. Once the trough pinches off support for gale development is to fade. At the same time 150 kts winds to be pushing flat off Japan reaching to the dateline. Starting late Wed (12/24) the jet is to start splitting just east of the dateline at 170W with most energy tracking northeast up into Canada. No troughs of interest are forecast over the width of the North Pacific. Winds are to build off Japan to 180 kts by Thurs (12/25) but the split point is to hold tight at 170W with no real trough forecast. Wind speeds are good, but the split point is typical of a developing Inactive Phase of the MJO.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (12/18) a storm was tracking through the Gulf (see 2nd Dateline Storm below). Also a gale was building off Japan tracking towards the Dateline (see Japan Gale below)
Over the next 72 hours no other swell producing fetch of interest is forecast other than those defined above.
Swell #1 (NCal) - 2nd Dateline Storm
A small storm started developing on the dateline on Tues AM (12/16) generating a small area of 50 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase from 22 ft. In the evening west winds built to 55 kts moving into the Western Gulf with seas 36 ft at 43N 172W (338 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). West winds continued at 55 kts with the storm lifting northeast in the Gulf on Wed AM (12/17) with seas 43 ft at 44N 162W bypassing Hawaii (295 degs NCal). The storm continued east in the evening with west winds fading from 50-55 kts targeting Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwest with seas building to 45 ft at 47N 155W (302 degs NCal). A slow and steady fade followed Thurs (12/18) with the gale lifting northeast through the Gulf and winds turning more northwest at 45-50 kts. Seas 43 ft at 45.5N 151W (300 degs NCal). The gale to stall in the Eastern Gulf in the evening with winds fading from 40-45 kts and seas 39 ft at 46N 144W (305 degrees NCal). Modest sideband swell for Hawaii but significant class swell with solid period is expected for the US West Coast with secondary energy shadowed energy relative to San Francisco is to come from a more northerly direction.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival late on Thurs (12/18) with swell building to 6 ft @ 16-17 secs late (9.5 ft). Swell to peak overnight then starting to fade early Fri AM (12/19) at 6.9 ft @ 14-15 secs (9-10 ft). Residuals on Sat (12/20) fading from 4.2 ft @ 12-13 secs (5 ft). Swell Direction: 330-340 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Fri (12/19) with period 22 secs about 11 AM and size tiny and building through the afternoon pushing 20 secs near sunset and size near 6 ft @ 20 secs (12 ft Hawaiian). Swell to build overnight peaking near 3 AM Sat (12/20) at 10.2-10.9 ft @ 18 secs (17.3-18.5 ft Hawaiian) unshadowed in the SF Bay Area and pushing 12.7 ft @ 18 secs (22.9 ft ahwaiian0 outside the shadow. Swell to remain solid with period 17 secs through the morning at 10.2-10.9 ft @ 17 secs (17.3-18.5 ft Hawaiian) in the shadowed area. Size fading with period 16 secs at sunset. Residuals on Sunday AM (12/21) at 9 ft @ 14-15 secs (13 ft). Swell Direction: 294-296 initially turning to 300-302 degrees.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Sat (12/20) building to 3.6 ft @ 19 secs late (6.5 ft). Swell to peak overnight at 5.5 ft @ 17-18 secs (9.5 ft). By Sunday AM (12/21) swell is to be fading from 5 ft @ 16-17 secs (8 ft faces) with period drifting down to 16 secs late. Residuals on Mon AM (12/22) at 3.9 ft @ 14 secs (5.0-5.5 ft). Swell Direction: 300-305+ degrees
Japan Gale (Possible Swell #2 - Hawaii)
A broad but not well defined gale built over Japan on Wed AM (12/17) with 40-45 kt west winds trying to push off land and getting some traction on the oceans surface east of Japan. Seas on the increase. By the evening 40-45 kt west winds were off the coast of Japan over a solid area aimed east with seas building from 36 ft at 36N 158E (301 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds continued Thurs AM (12/18) tracking east with seas 34 ft over a modest area at 37N 158E (302 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). In the evening 45 kt west winds to continue tracking east with 37 ft seas at 37N 168E (304 degs HI, 294 degs NCal, 298 degs SCal). 40 kt west winds to continue pushing east but loosing coverage on Fri AM (12/19) generating 36 ft seas at 37N 176E (310 degs HI, 290 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Fetch is to quickly dissipate from there with the bulk of the low pressure relocating to the Northern Gulf of Alaska. 35-40 kt west winds are forecast on the dateline Fri PM (12/19) with 33 ft seas at 37N 177W (315 degs HI, 288 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). 30-35 kt west winds to continue Sat AM (12/20) with seas fading from 28 ft at 37N 170W (328 degs HI, 283 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal).
Possible solid west swell for Hawaii with less size and consistency for the US West Coast.
Hawaii: For planning purposes based on preliminary data swell arrival is expected Sun (12/21) with swell building to 8.8 ft @ 17 secs late (15.0 ft Hawaiian). Swell holding decently overnight fading Mon AM (12/22) from 8.6 ft @ 16 secs early (13.5 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 301 degrees moving to 310 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 (12/18) a new low was filling the Gulf of Alaska light south winds along the Central CA coast and up to 20+ kts in North CA with rain building late for Cape Mendocino. South winds to be in control early Friday for the North and Central Coasts with a front pushing through. Rain for Monterey Bay northward early reaching Morro Bay later in the day with 3-4 inches of snow for Tahoe through Sat sunrise. 90 inches of total snow has fallen so far this season at Squaw Valley. Weak high pressure starts to build Saturday with north winds 10 kts over outer waters for the North and Central Coasts pushing 15 kts later near Pt Conception and building in coverage into Central CA on Sunday. North winds 15 kts Monday then turning northeast Tuesday for all of North and Central CA with high pressure pushing onshore over Oregon. A brisk offshore flow is forecast Wed and Thurs for North and Central CA.
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 high pressure is to build over the East Pacific Mon (12/22) pushing the storm track north over the West Pacific presumably in sync with a building Inactive Phase of the MJO. A small storm is forecast for the Northern Dateline region on Tues (12/23) with 50-55 kt west winds early and 43 ft seas over a small area at 50N 178W in the evening. The storm is to track into the Bering Sea after that with no additional fetch or seas of interest being produced. A quieter pattern to follow.
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 (12/86) the daily SOI was rising slightly at 2.75. The 30 day average was holding at -5.03 and the 90 day average rising from -6.36. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weak 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, but loosing a little ground. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated very weak east anomalies over the Central Maritime Continent turning to weak west anomalies over the dateline then fading to neutral south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued into the Galapagos. A week from now (12/26) weak west anomalies are to develop over the Maritime Continent building to moderate strength over the dateline reaching to a point south of the Hawaiian Islands. Neutral anomalies to continue on into the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated light to modest west anomalies over the dateline to Hawaii region with neutral anomalies over the rest of the equatorial Pacific. It would be most interesting if an extended period of westerly anomalies were to develop.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/17 are in sync. They both suggest a weak Inactive MJO pattern was in play near the equatorial Pacific on the dateline. The Statistic model depicts this weak Inactive Phase holding for the next 2 weeks. The Dynamic model depicts the same thing but with the Inactive Phase strengthening slightly while easing east. Both depict the Active Phase of the MJO building in the Indian Ocean and easing into the far West Pacific 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 12/18 depicts a weak Inactive Phase over the West Pacific tracking very slowly east and progressively fading over the Easter Pacific through 1/27. There no signs of the Active Phase.
The good news is that what appeared to be resurgence of the MJO is now returning to a very weak pattern, suggesting that El Nino is now gaining traction again. Normally the MJO fades away during El Nino events. The fading of the MJO supports the El Nino hypothesis. 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 (12/15) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific (up some since early Sept) and stabilized. A clear but weak El Nino signature is holding. Warm water has good traction and appears to be building some just west of the Galapagos while tracking west between 90W to 160W, likely the result of the leading edge of the second in a pair of Kelvin Waves impacting the Galapagos region (as expected). This weak El Nino signature is stable but not getting progressively stronger, TAO data suggests +0.5-1.0 deg C anomalies are present over a continuous area on the equator from the Galapagos to the far West Pacific with a pocket of 1.5 deg anomalies at 110W (new Kelvin Wave eruption area) with 1.5 deg anomalies starting to build near 160E. Warm water is clearly present on the surface in the NINO 3.4 region based on TAO and hi res imagery.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water. There are virtually no signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California. Warm water remains entrenched along the California coast suggesting the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weaker relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is also starting to build in warmth with only on small cool pocket well off Chile, not reaching even north to 10S and in decline. A warm regime has the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 12/18 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with a broad embedded pocket of +4 deg anomalies centered near 105W pushing east and starting to reach the Galapagos embedded in with a steady stream of +2.0 deg anomalies pushing east from the dateline into the Galapagos. The +4º C anomalies are the second in a pair of recent Kelvin Waves in-flight. Satellite data from 12/14 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies in the Eastern equatorial Pacific indicative of a Kelvin Wave in flight pushing east. Other models collaborate the presumption that a Kelvin Wave is in flight. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (12/9) indicates the second of a pair of recent modest Kelvin Waves started building back at 145E-160W in Sept and is now pushing east reaching to 95W and is the second strongest Kelvin Wave of this ENSO event. Satellite imagery now depicts some warm water redeveloping in the far West Pacific (160E) at depth.
When the second Kelvin Wave arrives in the east (about Dec 30) we will be set for the winter. Of course what is good enough to feed storm develop and what constitutes an official El Nino are two different things. We are focused on the former. The quandary now is whether this will be a one year event, or something longer.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 12/11 is mixed. The current is pushing moderately west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. It is strongest north of New Guinea and again south of Hawaii. But on the equator a steady modest east to west flow was in control over the width of the Pacific. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 115W. East anomalies were on the equator, strongest at 170E. This data continues to suggest a mixed pattern but generally supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 12/18 for the Nino 3.4 region are back up again. It suggests water temps are up to +1.0 deg C and are to fade some to between +0.5-0.6 through April 2015. But the interesting part remains that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in June 2015, pushing +2.0 degs C by late August 2015.
This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year warm event, and not a weak one either. See the chart based version here - link. A consensus of other models are not as optimistic.
Analysis: A downwelling Kelvin Wave was generated and pushed east starting in Aug 2013, followed by a stronger one in Oct-Nov, and a massive one in Jan-April 2014. A weaker one followed in July with yet a modestly stronger one building under the dateline in October. The only interruptions have been attributable to the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle. Water temps in the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle have held remarkably consistent from May 2014 onward, even during upwelling phases. Continued suppressed trades with embedded weak westerly anomalies have held in the West Pacific all year so far producing the aforementioned Kelvin Wave with +3 degs C in flight now. There has been no signs of easterly anomalies or a shut down of the Kelvin Wave pipe for better than a year now. This is a huge step forward. See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
At this point a teleconnection or feedback loop between the ocean and the atmosphere is in play. Evidence includes a total breakdown of the Gulf of Alaska high pressure system this summer, resulting in very high water temps off California. Also the early season recurving of multiple tropical low pressure systems tracking northeast off Japan bound for the dateline. And the pulse of tropical activity near Hawaii on the week of 8/4 and those systems continued evolution in the West Pacific is most telling. And then the near record pulse of tropical activity off Mexico (8/18-9/20) resulting in Lowell, Super Hurricane Marie, followed by Odile and Polo (though these last 2 produced no swell) and finally Rachel. And then even a few inches of snow in the Sierra on Sept 27 and again on Oct 15 and 6 inches on Oct 31. The last time any of this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. And multiple recurving tropical systems pushed off Japan reaching the Gulf of Alaska in October (Fengshen and Vongfong). And then one more recurving tropical system in November (Super Typhoon Nuri). And even the Pacific Counter Current is now falling in line.
About 3 months of undisturbed heating is required for the atmosphere to start responding on a global level where the point of 'no return' could be achieved from our perspective. The warm pool starting forming in earnest on 5/1, and so the atmosphere would not trip over the 'no-return' point till 8/1. We have passed that threshold. As of 9/2, all the arguments against a feedback loop being in place were gone.
Note that what we consider 'teleconnected' and what NOAA considers threshold El Nino conditions are two different things and serve different purposes. We are focused on monitoring weather events that contribute to the production of open ocean storms (and therefore swells) mainly in the Pacific Basin that may or may not have the same impacts as a full blown El Nino. So our criteria is certainly less than the threshold of NOAAs. That said, considering the size and duration of the westerly wind bursts in Jan-April, and the Kelvin Wave that preceded it, it seem hard to believe that at least some Pacific Basin wide 'change' was not already well entrenched even early this year, and had been developing since perhaps as early and Aug of 2013 (when the first Kelvin Wave of the series started taking shape). We will continue monitoring westerly wind anomalies and warm subsurface water buildup in and under the Kelvin Wave Generation area. Also monitoring of the NPac jetstream (which has already been productive) and Atlantic hurricane activity (which was nonexistent) are key. But at this time odds continue stacking up in favor that a global teleconnection is now established. If that's true, the focus then becomes estimating how deep the ENSO cycle will become, or whether it will stay shallow but transition into a multi-year event. At this time we're predisposed to the multiyear, Midoki scenario. And that is actually the better of all options.
Officially we are still in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in-play. But given all current signs, from a winter storm and swell production perspective, atmospheric transition is well underway and we are in a far better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina.
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