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 (10/30) in North and Central CA surf was shoulder to head high coming from the Gulf and clean and lined up but weak and a bit crumbled. Still, it looks fun. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest to shoulder high on the sets and clean and lined up but generally soft. In Southern California up north surf was chest high on the bigger sets and lined up and clean but very soft. Down south waves were waist to chest high and soft coming out of the north with clean conditions. Hawaii's North Shore was getting Gulf sideband windswell with waves head high and sets 2 ft overhead and clean but with a little cross warble in it. The South Shore was occasionally waist high and clean. On the East Shore was getting the Gulf sideband swell too with waves head high or so and chopped by easterly trades. .
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Windswell from the remnants of Hurricane Ana are fading along the California coast. Another weak gale is falling southeast through the Gulf of Alaska Wed-Fri (10/31) generating 20-24 ft seas and forecast tracking into Central CA Fri PM generating sideband swell for Hawaii (hitting now) and swell for California for the weekend, but accompanied by weather. Another gale is forecast tracking east through the Northern Gulf Fri-Sat (11/1) with seas peaking at 26 ft. Sideband swell for CA and more direct energy for the Pacific Northwest is possible. Longer term a gale is forecast off Kamchatka on Wed (11/5) and a cutoff gale off North CA on Thurs (11/8). Something to look forward too.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (10/30) the jet was fragmented pushing off North Japan then consolidated while ridging north up the dateline and into the Bering Sea, then turning and falling southeast through the Western Gulf with winds 160 kts forming a trough in the Eastern Gulf before turning northeast and tracking up into Washington. Decent support for gale development was occurring in the Gulf trough. Over the next 72 hours the trough is to be getting a little pinched while tracking east but still supportive of gale development as it moves inland over Monterey Bay late Friday evening. Back tot he west a consolidated but broad unfocused flow to be in-play tracking off the Kurils pushing more or less flat east centered on the 42N latitude reaching across the width of the North Pacific. No troughs to be in-play nor support for gale development indicated. Beyond 72 hours a new ridge is to build in the flow on Tues (11/4) on the dateline pushing the jet up into the Bering Sea again with winds 140 kts then falling southeast forming another trough in the Gulf also fed by 130 kt winds but this trough getting a bit pinched into Wed (11/5) and fully closing off 24 hours later. Limited support for gale development in the Gulf. Back to the west winds to start building to 180 kt pushing flat east off Japan on Thurs (11/6) reaching towards the dateline, with a consolidated flow reaching east into North CA suggesting the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to end and perhaps a more active storm pattern shaping up.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (10/30) residual swell from the remnants of Hurricane Ana and a cold core low were pushing into Central and South CA. Of more interest was a modest gale falling southeast through the Gulf of Alaska (see Gulf Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is to be developing in the Eastern Bering Sea on Fri AM (10/31) with 35-40 kt west winds barely getting exposure south of the Eastern Aleutians generating a small area of 26 ft seas up at 52N 170W (308 degs NCal). This fetch is to be pushing east in the evening with 35 kt west winds covering a better area south of the East Aleutians generating 24 ft seas projected at 53N 163W (310 degs NCal). By Sat AM (11/1) 35 kt west winds to be holding while pushing quickly east with 27 ft seas at 52N 160W (310 degs NCal, 358 degs HI). A quick fade to follow with winds 30 kts in the evening and 23 ft seas at 52N 151W (312 degs NCal) . Something to monitor.
A new gale developed in the Northwestern Gulf on Tues AM (10/28) with 30 kt winds building over a solid area and falling southeast with seas 20 ft at 50N 161W (357 degs HI, 307 degs NCal). Winds built in the evening to 30-35 kts falling further south with 19 ft seas at 48N 161W (360 degs HI, 305 degs NCal). On Wed AM (10/29) 35-40 kt northwest winds started falling into the Northern Gulf with seas up to 23 ft in the Northwestern Gulf tracking southeast at 50N 156W targeting Hawaii (360 degs) and the US West Coast (NCal 308 degs). More of the same occurred in the evening with 30-35 kt northwest winds falling southeast and 24 ft seas at 48N 152W (306 degs NCal). 30-35 kt northwest winds continued moving more to the Central Gulf on Thurs AM (10/30) with 23 ft seas at 45N 145W (302 degs NCal). A small area of 30 kt residual northwest winds to hold in the evening off North CA with 21 ft seas at 43N 142W (296 degs NCal). By Fri AM (10/31) the gale is to be dissolving off Cape Mendocino with 25 kt northwest winds generating 19 ft seas at 40N 136W (290 degs NCal, 300 degs SCal). 25 kt northwest winds to push to within 400 nmiles of Central CA in the evening with 17 ft seas at 38N 132W (295 degs SCal). The remnant low is to move inland over North CA late Friday into Sat AM (11/1). Raw local swell possible for North and Central CA on Saturday (11/1).
NCal: Expect swell arrival near sunset Fri (10/31) with period 15 secs and size tiny. Swell to build through the evening peaking mid Sat AM (11/1) at 7 ft @ 14 secs (9.5 ft faces). Period dropping to 13 secs late. Residuals on Sun AM fading from 7 ft @ 11-12 secs (7.5-8.0 ft). Swell Direction: 297-306 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell building through the day Sat (11/1) reaching 1.9 ft @ 14 secs (2.5 ft faces) late at exposed breaks. Swell peaking Sun AM (11/2) at 3.4 ft @ 13-14 secs (4.5 ft faces). Residuals fading Mon AM (11/3) from 3.0 ft @ 11-12 secs (3.0-3.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 295-300+ degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Depression Vance was located 300 nmiles south of Acapulco Mexico on Thurs AM (10/30) tracking west with winds 30 kts. Vance is to build to tropical storm status by this evening and eventually reach hurricane status Sun AM (11/2) with winds 65 kts and turning northwest and north, reaching 15.5N 110W Mon AM (11/3) with winds 75 kts and positioned 1150 nmiles from Pt Dume and on the 158 degree track. It is to be barely east of the swell window for Dana Point assuming all this comes to pass. Something to monitor.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (10/30) a low pressure was building in the Eastern Gulf with a front off the California coast. A light windflow was in effect for the entire CA coast. Light rain possible for extreme North CA late Thurs/early Fri. Then the Gulf low is to be approaching the coast Fri AM with south winds 10+ kts for North CA on Fri AM reaching south to Pt Conception late with rain into San Francisco 8 AM Friday and Southern CA at 11 PM. Clearing for SF by 8 PM and SCal by 8 AM Sat. Snow is forecast for the Sierra starting Fri 11 PM continuing into Sat evening (1 ft to 18 inches above 7,000 ft). High pressure and north winds to build behind starting Sat AM for all of Central CA in the 15-20 kt range continuing into Mon AM (11/3). High pressure is to start pushing inland over North CA Tues AM (11/4) with winds fading and holding through Thurs (11/6).
Surface Analysis - A gale with 40 ft seas at 44S 150E (213 degs Fiji) was tracking under Tasmania on Tues AM (10/28) then pushing east-northeast reaching the mid-Tasman Sea in the evening with 34 ft seas at 41S 159E (210 degs Fiji), then quickly faded. Swell expected for Fiji arriving at noon Fri (10/31) with period 20 secs and size building fast. Swell to peak on Sat (11/1) at 3 AM local time at 6.9 ft @ 17 secs (11.5 ft Hawaiian) from 209-211 degrees. Limited filtered background energy to reach Hawaii too.
And a second system developed right behind with 40 ft seas southwest of Tasmania on Wed AM at 55S 141E (2600 nmiles from Fiji on the 211 degree path). It tracked east with seas fading from 36 ft Wed PM at 54S 151E (2350 nmiles from Fiji on the 208 deg path). A quick fade followed. Another small pulse of smaller swell to result for Fiji arriving noon on Sun (11/2) with period 20 secs and size tiny peaking near 8 AM Mon (11/3) at 4.8 ft @ 16-17 secs (7.5-8.0 ft). Swell Direction: 208-209 degrees
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 a new cold core gale is to be developing in the North China Sea with fetch easing east reaching the open Northwest Pacific Tues PM (11/4) with west winds 35-40 kts and seas building from 23 ft at 51N 162E. Winds to build to 40 kts Wed AM (11/5) with 27 ft seas over a solid area at 51N 168E (327 degs HI, barely in the 308 degs window for NCal). Fetch is to be pushing into the Central Aleutians bound for the Bering Sea at 35 kt in the evening with 28 ft seas at 52N 175E (331 degs HI, 308 degs NCal).
The models also hint at a small gale developing 800 nmiles off San Francisco on Thurs (11/6) with 35-40 kt northwest winds and 26 ft seas over a tiny area.
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).
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) On Thursday (10/30) the daily SOI was up some at -0.65. The 30 day average was down some at -8.83 and the 90 day average was down some at -8.78. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a steady weak Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO. A weak low pressure cell is forecast developing south of Tahiti starting Fri (10/31) and forecast holding at least into Tues (11/4) with 30 day average SOI numbers expected to hold.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent reaching almost to the dateline. Light east anomalies were on the dateline then returning to light west anomalies southeast of Hawaii before fading to neutral and pushed into the Galapagos. A week from now (11/7) neutral anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent continuing over the dateline then turning very lightly westerly from there into the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated modest west anomalies still over the West Pacific. It started 10/16 and was holding through 10/29. It is presumed an Active Phase of the MJO was loosing control while pushing east over the East Pacific.
Looking at the trend over the past few months there has not been a extended period of enhanced trades so far this year, and we're over 304 days into the year. The trend is clearly towards westerly anomalies (suppressed trades) which suggests a bias towards El Nino. Big westerly wind bursts occurred Jan-April, followed by a neutral period May into early June. The TOA array surface sensors (the ground truth) indicated moderate westerly anomalies re-developed west of the dateline 6/25-7/6, then again 7/11-7/20, building into a WWB and holding through 8/10. Light westerly anomalies developed again 8/20-8/22, 8/29-9/2, 9/10-9/17, and stronger 9/20-10/8 (a WWB) west of the dateline with another 10/12-10/29 on the dateline. Neutral anomalies filled the gaps. A modest Kelvin Wave is impacting the Galapagos associated with westerly anomalies during June, July into mid-August. And another Kelvin Wave is developing in the dateline region being fed by westerly anomalies in October there. That's two WWBs over the past 20+ days. Compared to La Nina where enhanced trades (20+ kts) would be blowing non-stop, we're in great shape and have been all year. No easterly anomalies of interest have occurred all year. It would be hard to make a case stating some flavor of weak El Nino was not in play at this point.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 10/29 are generally in sync. They both suggest a dead neutral MJO pattern over the West Pacific. The Statistic model depicts this pattern holding for the next 15 days with a weak Active Phase developing 5 days out in the Indian Ocean slowly east east, but not reaching the West Pacific even 15 days out. The Dynamic model has an Inactive Phase rebuilding 5 days out and building 15 day out, but that is not believable. The ultra long range upper level model run 10/30 depicts a weak Inactive pulse in the far East Pacific pushing inland over Panama while a new very weak Active Phase is building in the West Pacific and is forecast pushing east through 11/28. A weak Inactive pattern is to follow starting 11/24 in the West Pacific easting east into 12/9. Recent experience this year suggests this model overhypes any projected Inactive Phases. The models are calibrated assuming a neutral global weather pattern, and typically either overcall weather events during La Nina and undercall then during El Nino in the Pacific Basin. This suggests that warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some gentle guiding impact on the atmosphere above. 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 (10/30) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific, down some from the peak of the Kelvin Wave eruptions in late June in the east, but up some since early Sept and still building slowly. Warm pockets are building from 100W to 140W, likely the result of the first of a pair of Kelvin Waves impacting the Galapagos region (as expected). TAO data suggests 0.5-1.0 deg C anomalies present from the Galapagos to 140W, fading to just below 0.5 degs west from there to the dateline. +1.0 deg C anomalies are present west of the dateline. Hi res data suggests a string of pockets of +2.0 deg anomalies from the Galapagos to 125W (the new Kelvin Wave erupting there) with some now to nearly +4 deg C (10/27), and then 1.25-1.5 deg pockets from 155W to well west of the dateline (Kelvin Wave Generation Area), suggesting more warm water is poised to track east. It now appears warm water is building 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. And serious warm water is entrenched along the California coast and building in coverage, the exact opposite of the trend of the past 3+ years.This is significant in that is suggests the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weakened relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is mostly normal/neutral except for cool water streaming off Southern Chile pushing west reaching up to the equator near 140W. The significant feature of late is that this pocket is in rapid decline and being replaced with normal if not slightly warmer than normal waters. Given this situation, it suggesting a warm regime is getting the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin, rather than isolated only to the North Pacific as it has been most of this year. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific remains most impressive, while the South Pacific is starting to trend in the same direction.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 10/30 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with one embedded pockets of +3 deg anomalies at 170W and a +1.0 degs pocket at 90W tracking into the Galapagos. This is good news in that it indicates the pipe is open and at least one if not two Kelvin Waves are in flight. The leading edge of the first Kelvin Wave is erupting over the Galapagos. Satellite data from 10/25 depicts a broad area of +5 cm anomalies are covering the entire equatorial Pacific from New Guinea to the Galapagos, indicative of multiple Kelvin Waves in flight pushing east. Other models collaborate the presumption of Kelvin Wave genesis. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (10/25) indicates the first modest Kelvin Wave has developed in the west reaching east to 100W but is making no easterly headway and now confirmed to be erupting to the surface there. A bit of a cooling followed (the presumable upwelling phase) and a new Kelvin wave started building back at 145E-160W in Sept and is now pushing east reaching to 160W (10/25). It is assumed steady light westerly anomalies and 2 recent WWBs events over the past 20 days are feeding more warm water into the pipe. At this time we are well over the proverbial 'hump' and some sort of warm event is underway. As the first of the pair of Kelvin Waves arrives at the Galapagos now, more warm water will reinforce the existing warm pool theoretically pushing things into minimal El Nino territory. And when the second Kelvin Wave pushes east (about 3 months from now or Jan 20) then we are set. 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 10/6 suggests an unchanged pattern. The current is pushing west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. If anything it's moving into the moderate to strong category from the West Pacific to a point south of Hawaii. On and just south of the equator the current was generally pushing east to west in the moderate category. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest between 130E-170E and in pockets reaching to the Galapagos. There were no significant east anomalies indicated. This data suggests a somewhat mixed picture but continued slightly better than the last update and improving incrementally
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 10/30 are stable. It suggests water temps are +0.5 deg C and are to hold between there and +0.6 degs through April 2015. But the real interesting part is that water temps are to start building from +0.8 degs in May 2015, pushing +1.5 degs C by July. This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year warm event. See the chart based version here - link.
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 when the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle took over. Water temps in the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle have held remarkably consistent from May-June 2014 onward, even during upwelling phases. Continued suppressed trades with embedded weak westerly anomalies developed in the West Pacific in July and have held through present time producing the latest Kelvin Wave with +3 degs C in flight now. Water temps have held in the Galapagos triangle in the +1.5 degree range for several months now. Certainly there is nor has been any 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.
Assuming westerly anomalies continue in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area (west of the dateline), more warm water will migrate east. This seems reasonable seeing how there has been virtually no easterly anomalies for the first 9 months of this year. And trades tend to weaken during Fall months in the northern hemi, meaning we're just now starting to reach the point in time where Westerly Wind Bursts should have the best support for development. Most El Nino's do not develop till the Fall, including the Super El Nino of '83/83. Only a few (namely the '97 Super El Nino) developed and survived strong through the summer and over the span of an entire year. A more 'normal' development life cycle would favor the alternating 'downwelling/upwelling' Kelvin Wave cycle. See currently Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here . Notice the alternating eastward migrating 'cool' and 'warm' cycles (upwelling/downwelling Kelvin Waves). Also note the CFSv2 model accurately depicted the upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase, with water temps in Nino1.2 fading in August then redeveloping in September.
Finally, there's the 'feedback loop' consideration. As far as we're concerned it is in-play. Evidence of such includes a total breakdown of the Gulf of Alaska high pressure system, 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 again in late Oct. 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). The only argument against the feedback loop now is a weak west moving Pacific Counter Current (rather than flowing east).
Only once the ocean and atmosphere are coupled on a global level (that is, the ocean has imparted enough heat into the atmosphere to start changing the global jetstream pattern) can one begin to have confidence that a feedback loop is developing and a fully matured El Nino can result. 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 except the Pacific Counter Current.
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 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). Monitoring the number, location and track of tropical systems in the North Pacific over October will help to put the final nail in coffin, though given the current track record, it is only a formality at this time. 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 is 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.
At a minimum the ocean is well past recharge mode, with cold water from the multiyear 2010-2013 La Nina cycle dispersed and temperatures on the rise. 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. Even if we never reach official El Nino status this is a far better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. Still lingering concerns about what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998) will temper our forecasts.
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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