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 (3/5) in North and Central CA surf was chest high and clean and lined up but inconsistent, coming out of the south. Fun early season southern hemi swell. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest to head high on the sets and clean and lined up. An early taste of summer. In Southern California up north surf was waist high and pretty trashed by northwest wind. Down south waves were chest high with some bigger sets and textured from light onshore wind. Bigger sets at top breaks. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northerly windswell with waves head high to 1 ft overhead and pretty trashed by northeast winds. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting windswell too with waves waist to chest high and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Local Gulf windswell was hitting the Hawaiian Islands with limited Japan swell fading underneath. Swell from a small gale that developed the Southeast Pacific on Mon-Tues (2/24) with 36 ft seas was hitting California. A tiny gale developed in the Southeast Pacific on Wed (3/4) with 34 ft seas aimed northeast. Small swell to result for Peru up into California. A tiny low pressure system was trying to develop in the Central Gulf on Thurs (3/5) but no seas of interest are expected to result. Remnants of this gale are to get reinforced in the same area Fri-Sat (3/7) resulting in 20-22 ft seas initially building to 26 ft over a tiny area falling south on Sun (3/8) targeting Hawaii. Small north swell is possible. Another small gale is to develop on the northern dateline region Tues (3/10) and building resulting in 37 ft seas later Wed (3/11) targeting Hawaii decently with 30 ft seas holding into Thurs (3/12). Possible solid north swell for Hawaii. 22 kt westerly winds (not anomalies but fully reversed trades) are blowing in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area forecast building to 35 kts on Mon (3/9) suggesting the MJO is waking up offering more support for warm water transport to the east. Modoki El Nino is not dead.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (3/5) the jet was tracking east off Southern Japan with winds 140 kts but still split just off the coast with the northern branch tracking northeast and pushing over the Western Aleutians up into the Bering Sea, then falling southeast into a weak trough over the Gulf of Alaska before heading northeast tracking up into north British Columbia. Only the slightest support for low pressure development was indicated in the Gulf trough. The southern branch tracked flat east over the dateline and Hawaii eventually pushing into Baja Mexico. Over the next 72 hours the same pattern is to hold with the jet split just off Japan with the northern branch tracking over the Kurils and into the Bering Sea then falling into a trough in the Gulf Fri (3/6) with up to 120 kt winds feeding it, offering very limited support for gale development in the Gulf. But the trough is to get cut off quickly on Sat (3/7) with support for gale development fading fast. The southern branch is to continue weak and tracking east over the dateline and Hawaii into southern Baja. Beyond 72 hrs the same split pattern is to continue but with a new trough building in the Western Gulf on Tues (3/10) with 120 kt winds feeding it and pushing south 24 hours later offering good support for gale development. Beyond there's some suggestion of a less split pattern possibly developing, with support from the MJO on the increase, which would be a good thing.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (3/5) no swell producing weather systems were in play other than windswell for Hawaii. High pressure at 1036 mbs was still locked over the dateline with a second weaker high at 1024 mbs pushing inland over the Pacific Northwest. Small swell from a gale that formed off North Japan last weekend was all but gone relative to Hawaii.
Over the next 72 hours a small gale is to develop Thurs PM (3/5) in the Central Gulf generating 35 kt northwest and west winds winds with seas 17 ft at 38N 148W (284 degs NCal). This system is to be lifting north fast Fri AM (3/6) with no fetch left in it's southerly quadrants offering no real hope for swell production.
But by Fri PM (3/6) the gale to reorganize and form a gradient with hit pressure tracking east from the dateline resulting in a small area of 35 kt north winds and 20 ft seas at 45N 152W targeting Hawaii down the 005 degree track. 35 kt north winds to continue over a small area Sat AM (3/7) generating more 20 ft seas at 40N 156W (360 degs HI) and falling south. In the evening fetch is to build to 40 kts over a tiny area with 24 ft seas building at 38N 158W targeting Hawaii down the 358 deg path. Winds to be fading from 35 kts Sun AM (3/8) and still falling south with seas 26 ft at 34N 160W 700 nmiles north of Kauai on the 357 degree track to Oahu. A quick fade to follow with no more swell production likely. If all goes as forecast raw local north swell is possible for the Islands on Mon (3/9).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (3/5) high pressure at 1026 mbs was moving inland over the Pacific Northwest with a weak offshore flow in control of California. No change is forecast till later Fri (3/6) when light north winds to near 15 kts are forecast for North and Central CA building in coverage Saturday, then fading to 10-15 kts Sunday and holding Monday. By Tuesday high pressure is to be breaking down with low pressure previously north of Hawaii starting to move east towards California. South winds and light rain to start reaching the North Coast on Wed (3/11) with south winds down to Monterey Bay and light rain to Morro Bay late. Light south winds and rain fading Thursday.
Over the next 72 hours a small gale is forecast developing in the Central Tasman Sea Thurs PM (3/5) generating 40 kt southwest winds. On Fri AM (3/6) 50 kt south winds are projected with seas building to 36 ft at 40S 160E targeting Fiji (211 degs) and indirectly Hawaii. Winds to be fading from 35 kts in the evening with seas fading from 34 ft at 39S 165E. Assuming all goes as forecast a solid pulse of 18 sec period swell could result for Fiji.
Surface Analysis - No swell producing fetch of interest is occurring.
Early Season Gale
South CA: Swell to starting peaking near 3 AM on Wed (3/4) with pure swell 3.2 ft @ 17 secs (5.5 ft) and holding well through the day. Swell fading as period drops from 3 ft @ 15-16 secs (4.5-5.0 ft) early on Thurs (3/5). Residuals fading from 2.3 ft @ 14 secs (3 ft) on Fri AM (3/6). Swell Direction: 190-195 degrees
On Mon AM (2/23) a small gale started to develop in the South Central Pacific generating 35 kt southwest winds. By evening it was rapidly deepening with pressure 968 mbs forming a gradient with high pressure at 1028 mbs just east of New Zealand generating 50 kt south winds over a tiny area with 45 kt south winds over a modest area. Seas were building from 33 ft at 53S 143W (195 degs SCal, 193 degs NCal). The Jason-2 satellite confirmed seas at 32.5 ft with one reading to 35.7 ft where the model indicated 32 ft seas. The model slightly under-hyped it. On Tuesday AM (2/24) fetch was fading from 45 kts over a decent size area aimed north with 36 ft seas at 50S 135W (190 degs SCal, 188 degs SCal). On Tues PM winds were fading from 40 kts again aimed due north with seas fading from 30 ft at 48S 132W (190 degs SCal, 188 degs SCal). The Jason-2 satellite passed over the north quadrant and confirmed seas at 31.5 ft with one reading to 35.9 ft where the model suggested 30 ft seas. Again the model slightly under-hyped it. No additional fetch of interest occurred. A nice little early season pulse of southern hemi swell is expected to push north.
North CA: Residuals fading on Fri AM (3/6) at 2.6 ft @ 15 secs (4 ft) early Swell Direction: 187-193 degrees
2nd Early Gale
A small gale started building in the South Central Pacific on Tues PM (3/3) generating 45 kt southwest winds and starting to get some traction on the oceans surface with seas building from 28 ft over a tiny area at 58S 142W. 40-45 kt southwest winds were lifting northeast Wed AM (3/4) with 30 ft seas over a tiny area at 56S 135W (190 degs SCal,188 degs NCal). 40-45 kt southwest winds held into the evening with seas building to 34 ft at 52S 129W (186 degs SCal, 185 degs NCal). The gale was in quick decline Thurs AM (3/5) with fetch fading from 35 kts and seas fading from 28 ft at 48S 122W (182 degs SCal, 180 degs NCal). Small background southern hemi swell is possible.
Southern CA: Swell to be hitting decently Thurs late afternoon (3/12) at 1.9 ft @ 17-18 secs (3 ft) peaking Fri AM (3/13) at 2 ft @ 17 secs (3.5 ft). Swell Direction: 185 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 small gale is projected for the Northern Dateline region starting Tues AM (3/10) generating 40 kt north winds and 23 ft seas aimed south at 45N 176W (333 degs HI). 40-45 kt north-northeast winds to building into the evening with 27 ft seas building at 43N 172W (332 degs HI). 50 kt north winds to build Wed AM (3/11) taking aim a bit west of Hawaii with 35 ft seas at 42N 171W (333 degs HI). North winds to hold at 45 kts Wed PM over a broader area with 37 ft seas at 39N 168W (335 degs HI). 45 kt north winds to hold into Thurs AM (3/12) generating 34 ft seas at 39N 167W (336 degs HI). Fetch is to be fading from 40 kts over a decent sized area Thurs PM aimed south with 31 ft seas fading at 36N 163W (347 degs HI). 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 (3/5) the daily SOI was down some at -3.80. The 30 day average was rising from 0.79 and the 90 day average was rising from -5.13. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a fading Active Phase of the MJO. A slowly weakening pressure pattern is forecast over Tahiti for the next week with an equally slow decline in the SOI possible. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated a small but building area of moderate to strong westerly anomalies were over the Maritime Continent reaching almost to the dateline. Light east anomalies continuing from there to a point south of Hawaii. Light east anomalies continued from there to the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated moderate to strong westerly anomalies in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area extending to the dateline. A Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started on 1/15 faded out on 2/20 (a month in duration) but started to regenerate positioned more to the east 2/25 and was holding while retrograding west. This is already a decent event and supported Kelvin Wave development, with more support currently occurring. A week from now (3/13) strong westerly anomalies are to continue over the Maritime Continent almost reaching to the dateline. Light to moderate east anomalies are expected from the Galapagos to the dateline. This suggests the Active Phase is to continue regenerating on the dateline a week out.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/4 suggests a building Active Phase of the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was developing over the Maritime Continent. Beyond the Statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to slowly fade while easing east over the next 15 days, while the Dynamic model suggests a building Active Phase developing reaching the strong state 10 days out and holding on the dateline 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 3/5 depicts a strong Active Phase currently in the Western Pacific and building some more while slowly pushing east reaching Central America and still solid on 3/30. A weak Inactive Phase to follow in the West Pacific starting 3/25 and tracking east and building pushing into Central America 4/14. Our best guess is the MJO is regenerating and should reach a moderately Active state over the next 2-3 weeks. 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 (3/5) a weak warm water/El Nino like regime remains in control of the equatorial Central and West Pacific but with pockets of slightly cooler water depicted off Central America and a building cool pool developing off South America just like it did last year at this time. TAO data suggests 0.0-+0.5 anomalies are covering a region from Ecuador to roughly 140W with more solid +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies holding from 140W into the West Pacific with a pocket of +1.5 deg anomalies in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area. The CDAS NINO 3.4 Index suggest water temps have dipped some to +0.6 degs, previously peaking late Nov at about +1.0 then falling to 0.0 in early January. With this being a Modoki El Nino, cooler water would be expected in the NINO 1.2 area (near the Galapagos and Peruvian Coast).
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue warming and expanding. As of 3/5 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was in control under the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up. And a pocket of +4-5 deg anomalies continues building in coverage under the dateline, suggesting that the extended WWB that occurred 1/15-2/20 has created a Kelvin Wave. And with more westerly anomalies in play in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area, more warming is possible. This Kelvin Wave is expected to start erupting over the Galapagos on roughly May 1. Satellite data from 2/27 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies over most of the West and Central equatorial Pacific with a core at +5 cm over and pushing east of the dateline with one small area to +10 cm, indicative of an open pipe with an embedded Kelvin Wave. Neutral anomalies cover from 120W eastward. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (2/27) indicates +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies are holding while easing east between 163E-110W with +1.0-1.5 degs from 177E-123W and a core of +1.5 deg anomalies at 170W. This also supports the thesis that another Kelvin Wave is in flight. Theoretically the peak of what was thought to be a developing El Nino occurred (12/21/14) with no more Kelvin Wave development expected beyond if this was to be a single year event. But if this is a true multiyear Modoki El Nino event, then it would not be unexpected to see another Kelvin Wave develop in the Jan-Feb 2015 timeframe (as is actually occurring). See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 2/20 was not encouraging. The current is pushing moderately west to east over patches in the West Pacific reaching east with less energy north of the equator in the East Pacific. But solid east current was in control over and south of the equator in the East. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were firmly in control on the equator over the West Pacific then north of the equator in pockets reaching to the Galapagos. No real easterly anomalies were present. This data continues to suggest a mixed pattern and barely supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 3/5 for the Nino 3.4 region are stable. It suggests water temps are at +0.8 deg C and are to slowly warm into July reaching +1.2 degs C, and continuing to +1.6 degs by Nov. This suggests that perhaps we are moving from a multi-year steady state Modoki event to perhaps a full blown El Nino. But it is too early to believe that just yet.See the chart based version here - link.
Analysis: Multiple downwelling Kelvin Waves generated by suppressed trades and occasional Westerly Wind Bursts occurring late 2013 though 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, Modoki event (the better of all options).
We remain in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in-play per NOAA. 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