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Pacific Storm and Surf Forecast
Updated: Tuesday, September 29, 2015 11:38 PM
Buoys: Northern CA - Southern CA - Hawaii - Gulf of Alaska - Pacific Northwest
Buoy Forecast:
Northern CA - Southern CA - Hawaii - Gulf of Alaska - Pacific Northwest
Pacific Links:  Atmospheric Models - Buoy Data - Current Weather - Wave Models
Forecast Archives: Enter Here
A chronology of recent Mavericks Underground forecasts. Once you enter, just click on the HTML file forecast you want to review (e.g. 073199.html equals July 31, 1999). To view the maps that correspond to that forecast date, select the html file labeled 073199 maps.html
Swell Potential Rating = 1.5 - California & 1.5 - Hawaii
Using the 'Summer' Scale
(See Swell Category Table link at bottom of page)
Probability for presence of largest swells in near-shore waters of NCal, SCal or Hawaii.    

Issued for Week of Monday 9/28 thru Sun 10/4

Swell Potential Rating Categories
5 = Good probability for 3 or more days of Significant swell
4 = Good probability for 1-2 days of Significant swell
3 = Good probability for 3 or more days of Intermediate/Advanced swell
2 = Good probability for  1-2 days of
Intermediate/Advanced swell
1 = Good probability for 3 or more days of Impulse or Windswell
0 = Low probability for 1-2 days of Impulse or Windswell   

Small Gale Remains Forecast for Gulf
EL Nino Continues to Slowly Develop

Swell Classification Guidelines

Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
- 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).
- 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.
- up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.


On Tuesday, September 29, 2015 :

  • Buoy 165 (Barbers Point): Seas were 4.8 ft @ 6.2 secs with swell 3.9 ft @ 6.4 secs from 131 degrees.
  • Buoy 46025 (Catalina RDG): Seas were 3.0 ft @ 5.0 secs with swell 1.3 ft @ 14.2 secs. Wind north 6-10 kts. At Santa Barbara swell was 0.9 ft @ 6.2 secs from 244 degrees. At Santa Monica swell was 1.3 ft @ 14.3 secs from 211 degrees. Southward from Orange County to San Diego swell was 1.5 ft @ 13.5 secs from 204 degrees.
  • Buoy 46012 (Half Moon Bay): Seas were 3.4 ft @ 9.1 secs with swell 2.4 ft @ 8.1 secs. Wind west 4-10 kts. Water temp 64.2 degs.


    Buoy 46059 is scheduled to come back on-line in October.
    Pt Reyes buoy 029 scheduled for reactivation.  

Current Conditions
On Tuesday (9/29) in North and Central CA local north windswell was producing surf in the knee to maybe thigh high range and lightly textured with gray conditions. Down in Santa Cruz surf was thigh high on the sets and clean and lurped by high tide. In Southern California up north waves were flat and clean. A beautiful morning, but no surf. Down south surf was maybe knee to thigh high and clean and nearly breaking on the beach with clear skies. Hawaii's North Shore was getting tradewind generated wrap-around easterly windswell at waist high and a bit warbled from east-northeast winds. The South Shore was getting some wrap around east windswell at thigh high and raked by strong trades. The East Shore was getting local east windswell with waves head high and heavily chopped from enhanced trades.  

See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.

Meteorological Overview
For the North Pacific no swell producing fetch was occurring. High pressure was hanging on just north of Hawaii generating enhanced trades and decent sized east windswell along exposed east facing shores in conjunction with weak tropical low pressure (the remnants of Niala) just south of the Islands. For California, weak low pressure was just off the Central Coast making for gloomy conditions locally and eliminating high pressure and any local north windswell such a high would generate. The tropics were weak with no swell producing systems occurring. Looking at the forecast charts high pressure is to continue producing enhanced trades for Hawaii through Thurs (10/1) but with the fetch becoming increasingly isolated over and west of the Hawaiian Islands reducing it's potential to generate meaningful windswell. But with the NPac jetstream coming online a gale remains forecast developing in the Eastern Gulf on Wed-Thurs (10/1) generating up to 45 kt north winds and 29 ft seas aimed south mid-way between Hawaii and CA. Sideband swell possible mainly for Hawaii if all goes as forecast. And a Westerly Wind Burst is forecast to activate the tropics between the dateline and south of Hawaii over the weekend. Details are very fuzzy at this early date and not looking as positive as yesterdays model runs, but still something to monitor. Down south a gale was moving under New Zealand Tues (9/29) with 34 ft seas but decaying while tracking east. A stronger but smaller storm is to develop in the deep Central Pacific on Wed-Thurs (10/1) with up to 39 ft seas with more energy forecast tracking under New Zealand on Sat (10/3) also producing 39 ft seas. The models seem to have stabilized a bit regarding these systems. But that means nothing till wind is actually blowing on the oceans surface. And of course, El Nino continues slowly evolving with the high point being the painfully slow eruption of Kelvin Wave #3 focused west of the Galapagos and a possible WWB by the weekend. 

Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours

North Pacific

On Tues AM (9/29) the jet was pushing east off Japan with winds 140 kts in one pocket there, weakening while tracking east over the dateline and into the Western Gulf of Alaska before .cgiitting with the northern branch pushing up into Alaska and the southern branch meandering into North CA entered near San Francisco. No real troughs were evident offering no immediate support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the Gulf trough is to slowly pinch off into Sat (9/26) then evaporate. Of more interest is the development of the aforementioned consolidated jet pushing due east off Japan reaching to the dateline with winds 110 kts, then fading quickly and tracking east-northeast up into the Northern Gulf. No troughs forecast but the overall configuration is to start looking far more positive. Over the next 72 hours a significant improvement in the pattern is forecast starting Wed PM (9/30) with a trough building off the Kuril Islands supported by 140 kts winds flowing down into it and another trough developing in the Gulf with 130 kts winds flowing into it by Thurs AM. Decent support for gale development is possible in both troughs until Fri AM (10/2) when they both pinch off. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to continue circulating Sat (10/3) but get totally cut off from the main flow while the jet recharges in the west with a broad swath of 130-140 kts winds building arching northeast off Japan. That flow is to eventually reconnect with the remnants of the Gulf trough on Mon (10/5) regenerating a trough there now repositioned in the Eastern Gulf reaching south to 30N and looking to move towards California. Support for gale development possible. But back to the west a .cgiit flow is forecast redeveloping likely taking some punch out of the jet long term.

Surface Analysis
On Tues AM (9/29) a rather calm pattern was in effect for everywhere but Hawaii, and there it was limited to enhanced trades and east windswell courtesy of a gradient formed by weak high pressure north of the Islands at 1020 mbs and the remnants of Depression Niala south of the Islands. Otherwise low pressure was over the extreme North Gulf of Alaska generating 30 kts northwest winds there and starting to get traction on the oceans surface. A light winds pattern was in effect for California with no windswell of interest present nor being generated. Otherwise no swell producing fetch of interest was indicated.

Over the next 72 hours the low in the Northern Gulf is to build late Tues into Wed AM (9/30) producing 35-40 kt west winds and 24 ft seas up at 57N 145W targeting only Canada down to maybe Vancouver Island. Raw swell for those locations the likely result.

Of far more interest is to be the development of low pressure in the Western Gulf Wed AM (9/30) generating 35 kt north winds and starting to get some traction on the oceans surface while easing east. By Wed PM winds to build to 45 kts over a tiny area aimed south-southwest with seas building from 23 ft at 42N 150W. A slightly larger fetch of 45 kt north winds to hold into Thurs AM (10/1) with seas building to 29 ft at 41N 148W aimed well at Hawaii. Fetch is to start fading from 40 kts in the evening with seas fading from 26 ft at 41N 145W generating more swell targeting mainly Hawaii. Fetch is to be fading from 35 kts from the northeast Fri AM (10/2) with seas fading from 23 ft at 42N 147W. Most swell is to be targeting Hawaii from this system if all goes as forecast.

30 kt northwest fetch is also forecast for the area east of the Northern Kuril Islands associated with a upper trough there, but lifting northeast fast and getting no traction on the oceans surface.


  North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height


Tropical Update
As of Tues (9/29) no tropical systems of interest were occurring. Tropical Storm Marty was 120 nmiles east of Acapulco with winds 55 kts and meandering, but is forecast to start a westward track late Wed (9/30) and be down to depression status, and fading from there. No other systems of interest were occurring for now, but we expect this calm spell to be short-lived (see Long Term Forecast below).

California Nearshore Forecast
On Tues (9/29) a weak low pressure system was off the Central CA coast holding high pressure and north winds at bay. A generally light wind pattern (north 10 kts) is forecast through Wed other than north winds 15 kts over Pt Conception as the aforementioned high pressure system moves inland over Central CA late Wed. North winds to start building Thurs resulting in north winds at 15-20 kts over North and Central CA building to 25 kts over North CA later Friday (10/2) and 30 kts Saturday (with a far lighter flow over Central CA. The gradient is to start fading rapidly Sun AM with north winds fading from 20 kts over North CA early and gone late. A light wind pattern is forecast onward through Tues (10/6).   


South Pacific

Surface Analysis  
On Tues AM (9/29) no swell from previous fetch was in the water. A gale formed while tracking under New Zealand Mon PM (9/28) producing 45 kt west-southwest winds and seas building from 32 ft at 60S 170E. On Tues AM (9/29) the fetch was covering a solid area at 40 kts all from the west now and seas 33 ft at 59S 180W. By evening fetch is to be fading fast with seas dropping from 29 ft at 58S 165W. Sideband swell is likely for Tahiti and maybe minimal energy for Hawaii but the extreme east to almost southeast fetch heading is not favorable for solid swell propagation to the northeast.  

Over the next 72 hours a small but stronger system is forecast forming in the deep Southwest Pacific on Wed AM (9/30) producing a tiny area of 55 kt west winds and starting to get traction on the oceans surface. By Wed PM 50 kt west winds are to be tracking flat east generating 40 ft seas over a tiny area at 61S 173W on the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. This system is to track east Thurs AM (10/1) with 45 kt southwest winds starting to fade resulting in 40 ft seas at 60S 160W. Winds to fade from 40-45 kts in the evening with seas fading from 35 ft at 58S 146W. Better odds for swell from this one targeting mainly Chile and Peru with sideband energy up into California and even less for Hawaii.


South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height




Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future

North Pacific

Beyond 72 hours residual low pressure from the previous gale in the Gulf (above) is to continue circulating 900 nmiles east of North CA but is to not develop any. High pressure associated with a projected .cgiit of the jet in the far West Pacific is to develop down at the surface reaching from Japan east over the dateline by Tues (10/6). as that high develops, south of it a broad pool of low pressure is to start forming from south of Hawaii to well west of the dateline aligned on the 15N latitude line. This is to be mainly associated with a developing Westerly Wind Burst on the equator in the Kevin Wave Generation Area. Rough estimates suggest at least two tropical system to result if not more. It's way too early to believe any of this just yet.

Also high pressure is to start developing along the Canada and US West Coast on Sat (10/3) generating the usual pressure gradient and north winds at 30 kts isolated to Cape Mendocino perhaps generating a short pulse of north windswell for North and Central CA. But the high and associated north fetch is to be gone by Sunday (10/4) as low pressure in the Gulf eases east.

And by Sat (10/3) trades are to start building over Hawaii associated with building high pressure north of the Islands reaching over the dateline (see above) and tropical low pressure south of the Islands and continuing into the weekend at least. This situation is very dynamic and any firm forecast is not possible.


South Pacific

Beyond 72 another system is modeled developing south of Tasmania on Fri PM (10/2) with 50 kts southwest winds tracking east fast pushing under New Zealand on Sat (10/3) with a modest sized area of 50 kt southwest winds and seas at 44 ft at 57S 168E. Fetch is to be fading from 40 kts in the evening with seas fading from 40 ft at 58S 179W. This system is to be gone by Sun AM (10/4). Something to monitor. And more similar systems are forecast in this area beyond.     

Details to follow...


Nino3.4 Anomalies Continue Retreating per Hi-Res Imagery
But Not by Nino3.4 Index - WWB Forecast

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.cgianet, though most noticeable in the Pacific. 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. Prolonged and consecutive Active MJO Phases help support the formation of El Nino. During the Inactive Phase the jet stream tends to .cgiit 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).E.cgianation of data layout below: Major sections are organized in cause-and-effect sequence starting with wind conditions/forecasts for the Kelvin Wave Generation Area (KWGA - equatorial West Pacific) followed by subsurface ocean temperature conditions (i.e. monitoring for Kelvin Waves), then ocean surface temperature conditions (i.e Nino 1.2 and 3.4) followed by atmospheric co.cgiing analysis. The 1st paragraph in each section is new/recent data and is typically updated with each new forecast. The 2nd paragraph, where present, provides analysis and context and is updated as required.

Overview: A strong El Nino is developing. It began its lifecycle in late 2013 as a primer WWB and Kelvin Wave developed. Then in early 2014 a historically strong push by the Active Phase of the MJO resulted in a large Kelvin Wave, and anomalies continued in the Spring into early Summer transporting more warm water eastward. But the cycle faltered in July due to a protracted bout of the Inactive Phase of the MJO which enabled the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle to manifest driving cooler water east, muting warm water buildup along the Ecuador coast. Still the warm water pipe remained open, but surface temperatures near the Galapagos never recovered and any atmospheric momentum was lost. Then in early 2015, another historically strong push from the MJO occurred, effectively a repeat of the early 2014 event, invigorating the warm water transport process and, adding more heat to an already anomalously warm surface pool off Ecuador. That pool has been building steadily in spurts ever since. The paragraphs below describe the current status of various El Nino indicators, followed by a few paragraphs that tie all the pieces together and provide our analysis of what is to come.      

KWGA/Equatorial Surface Wind Analysis & Short-term Forecast: As of Tues (9/29):
Analysis from TAO Buoys: Down at the surface the TOA array (hard sensors reporting with a 24 hr lag) indicated moderate west winds (not anomalies) from 162E-175W on the equator and north of there. West winds at 10 kts were in the eastern KWGA at 3N 165E. Anomalies continued strong from the west from 162E to 165W on and north of the equator with some anomalies south of the equator. This pattern has been in control in some form since 9/2 and intensified some 9/17 and is holding to date. It is locked over the eastern half of the KWGA, which is a normal configuration as El Nino matures. Previously, west anomalies were steady for a 29 day window (7/19-8/19) and followed directly behind a very strong WWB burst (third of the year) that was associated with a robust Active Phase of the MJO (historically strong) 6/24-7/17 (nearly 2 months of west anomalies or stronger). Starting 9/2 a steady Westerly Wind anomaly pattern set up from 160E over the dateline intensifying some 9/17 and is holding through today. Most impressive.   
1 Week Forecast: A 2-3 day fade in anomalies is forecast 9/29-10/1 over the dateline but continue east of there from 160W to 120W (east of the KWGA). But then west anomalies if not west winds are to start rebuilding solidly on 10/2 at 175E and points east of there and holding through 10/6. The GFS model depicts west winds mostly north of the KWGA in the InterTropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) for the next few days, then building strong to 25+ kts on Fri (10/2) up at 9N and building south with 16 kt west winds at 5N and good coverage of 10-15 kt west winds in the heart of the KWGA from 155E to 180W then slowly tracking west into Mon (10/5). Good west wind coverage at 18 kts is forecast back to 135E Mon-Tues (10/6). This situation, if it develops, almost looks like a full-on WWB. Elsewhere in the KWGA a slack wind pattern is to continue. This remains a great and improving situation. No east anomalies have occurred this year in the KWGA, not one day, and none are forecast. The thought is these anomalies are continuing to push warm water from the West Pacific to depth and though not generating a distinct Kelvin Wave, are filling the semi permanent reservoir already present west of the Galapagos.    

A huge WWB occurred in March followed by a second smaller one (9 day duration) in early May with weaker but still solid west anomalies continuing after that through 6/10. Anomalies faded to neutral for 8 days through 6/18 as the Inactive Phase of the MJO interfered with the pattern (the first such event of the year), then weak westerlies started again on 6/18. A significant WWB, the strongest of the year so far, starting on 6/26 peaking near 7/4 but held nicely through 7/17 (22 days), the result of a historically strong Active Phase of the MJO which produced a strong and large Kelvin Wave, the third this year and the strongest by far. Moderate westerly anomalies redeveloped 7/29 when a Rossby Wave started interacting with the building El Nino base state, enhancing the westerly flow, developing a mini-WWB at 175E through 8/5. And westerly anomalies continued through 8/19. That is nearly 2 months of non-stop anomalies if not out and out west winds (6/26-8/19). From 8/19-8/25 lesser westerly anomalies occurred and those were mainly east of the KWGA, with dead neutral anomalies in the West KWGA. West anomalies started rebuilding on 8/26 and turned to legit west winds up at 9N on 9/3 and held in some fashion up there into 9/29 while calm winds held in the KWGA proper.  And now strong west winds are forecast. West wind anomalies at the surface are the hallmark of the Active Phase of the MJO and El Nino and drive Kelvin Wave production.  

Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here

Longer Range MJO/WWB Projections: As of 9/29: 
OLR Models: Indicate a dead neutral signal over the far West Pacific typical of a maturing El Nino. The Statistic model suggests no MJO pattern and that is to hold for for the next 15 days. The Dynamic model depicts the same thing. In essence no MJO influence is forecast. This is typical of the pattern when an El Nino base state strengthens.  
Phase Diagrams 2 week forecast (ECMF and GEFS): Both models indicate perhaps some for of 'MJO-like' signal forecast. The GEFS suggests a legit Active Phase developing starting now initially in the Indian Ocean then becoming more pronounced while moving into the West Pacific 1-2 weeks out. The ECMF is less optimistic, depicting it starting and fading in the Indian Ocean, and never developing fully. In reality, this is likely not the MJO, but likely an enhanced El Nino base state westerly wind burst projected by the GFS starting this weekend (10/3).
40 Day Upper Level Model: It depicts a weak Inactive Phase in the far West Pacific tracking east. In reality, this pattern has been on the charts for weeks now and consistently fails to materialize. It is suspected the stronger El Nino base state is in control, but exhibits an Inactive-like MJO pattern over the far West Pacific, with an Active-like pattern over the dateline and points east of there, but not moving. The model thinks it's a real Inactive Phase in a normal year in the West Pacific and tries to move it east. Clearly that is not the case. We are ignoring this model.        
CFS Model beyond 1 week (850 mb wind): A weak push of the supposed Active Phase of the MJO started today and is to hold through 11/8 enhanced mid-Oct by a Rossby Wave. We don't believe this will be an Active Phase, per say, but instead an El Nino fueled Westerly Wind event (that manifests on the EOF charts like an Active MJO). An Inactive Phase to follow 11/10-12/15 with West anomalies fading significantly in the December window. Perhaps another Active Phase behind that starting 12/6 with West anomalies building again centered at 170W and enhanced by a Rossby Wave. But it appears that all oscillations are to be weak. West anomalies are forecast from now to the end of December but weakening and with a hint of eastward movement of the core of those anomalies by mod-Dec. The El Nino base state is now the primary driver of Westerly Anomalies from here forward. No easterly anomalies are forecast. We are entering the core of the EL Nino cycle (Oct-Dec)  The question is, will another Kelvin Wave result or will the anomalies at least continue to fuel the subsurface warm reservoir into Dec? We think probably so. Is it possible this El Nino might last longer than previously expected? Too early to tell. At a minimum, three more months of west anomalies are forecast (per the model). Tropical systems have the best chance of constructively interfering (enhancing) westerly anomalies from here forward. We're on autopilot now.  It doesn't get any better than this.

CFSv2 3 month forecast for 850 mb winds, MJO, Rossby etc

Subsurface Waters Temps
TAO Array: (9/29) Actual temperatures remain impressive. A tongue of 29 deg temps are pushing east from 140E to 140W and appear poised to try and make a push east. The 28 deg Isotherm reaches east to 125W (holding steady).  Anomaly wise +2.0 degs anomalies are fully bulging from the dateline eastward and +4 deg anomalies cover from 155W eastward (expanding west slightly), the direct effects of the massive June-July WWB and non-stop westerly anomalies ever since. A large warm reservoir at +5-7 deg above normal is starting to erupt into the Galapagos. That reservoir is holding coverage with peak +7 degs anomalies centered at 108W (easing east some) with +5 deg anomalies extending east from 138W to Ecuador (holding). This pocket is a mixture of warm water from a WWB in early May merging with water from the most recent strong WWB in late June-July and more warm water moving in from the dateline. The pipe is wide open. And warm warm water continues falling to depth near the dateline and into this reservoir. Warm waters appears to be erupting west of the Galapagos per the hi-res subsurface animation (9/25) at 105W at +4C with +3 deg C surface movement of the warm pool 130W-->105W.  
Sea Surface Height Anomalies (SSHA):  (9/25) It is holding solid depicting 0-+5 cm anomalies over the entire equatorial Pacific starting at 177E (expanding slightly). Peak anomalies were +15 cm extending from 102W to 135W (shrinking). +5 cm anomalies are pushing into Ecuador. This update (9/25) indicates arrival of the 3rd Kelvin wave with peak heating subsurface from the Galapagos westward. All this is indicative of a wide open pipe with a large Kelvin Wave in flight. This is a classic major El Nino setup.
Upper Ocean Heat Content: As of (9/25) it indicates +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies are tracking east between 178W and the Galapagos (holding). +1.0-1.5 degs are easing east from 154W eastward. +1.5 deg anomalies are doing the same tracking east from 145W. A large pocket of +2.0 degs anomalies are at 135W-->90W (easing east slightly). The previous large pocket of +2.5 deg anomalies that covered 20 degrees of distance has shrunk to 10 degrees between 120W-->110W (easing east and shrinking). A previous pocket of cooler 0.5-1.0 degs anomalies between the Galapagos and Ecuador is gone with +1.5 anomalies the while way into Ecuador. The Downwelling Phase of Kelvin Wave #3 is erupting now. Whatever we get is all there is going to be.  

A strong Kelvin Wave impacted the Ecuador Coast in May-June with a second somewhat weaker one impacting it in June. And now a third is erupting, but westward di.cgiaced just west of the Galapagos. A previous pause in warming near Ecuador occurred starting mid August, attributable to the Upwelling Phase of the Kelvin Wave Cycle, but ended on 9/20. The subsurface configuration suggests there are 2.5+ months of warm water in this reservoir (till Dec 15) and some of that water is extremely warm (7 degs above normal). The peak was forecast to occur roughly on 10/4 in the Nino 1.2 region but we are revising that to 11/4 now given stalling effect the Upwelling Phase had. And westerly anomalies continue in the KWGA pushing more warm water to depth. So the question becomes, is this third Kelvin Wave the final one, or will another follow? Or maybe just a continued r.cgienishment of the warm pool will continue for the next month or more driven by El Nino fueled westerly anomalies. We all hope the answer is more is on the way. But that is entirely dependent upon how strong the El Nino base state really is. All data suggests this is a historically epic setup.  

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.
Satellite Imagery
(9/28) Overall the picture is improving. Warmer waters are building up into Central America and south into Peru and filling the Nino3.4 region nicely. The warm water signal covers the entire equatorial Pacific from the dateline eastward with embedded pulses of warmer water now depicted from Ecuador to 130W (wave-like pulses). And the pattern is getting better defined and is exhibiting more concentration compared to previous days data. The overall signature is the strongest of any point so far this year and of any time since mid-July 1997. Compared to '97, 2015 anomalies are warmer in the Nino3.4 region, but have less concentration and coverage in Nino1.2.  Surprisingly coverage south of the equator is growing and trying to obtain par with '97. Overall, the current expansion of water temps is impressive. Along the West African Coast, cool water continues there. Very warm water continues off the US West Coast and is holding and extending west the whole way to Japan but unrelated to this years El Nino, attributable to the building warm phase of the PDO. Slightly cool water is over North Australia extending north of New Guinea to the dateline. The cool wake of previous tropical systems are evident off Japan and the Philippines. Warming water continues near Madagascar suggestive of a building Indian Ocean Dipole.  
Hi-res Nino1.2: (9/28) Temps have gained a little ground the past few days, and hold in the respectable range. +2.5 anomalies fill the Ecuador-Galapagos region with a small pocket to +4.0 along the immediate Ecuador coast. A tiny cool pocket is holding just north of the Galapagos but steadily loosing ground. Overall, this warming pattern is very good news and suggests previous cooling in this region was not completely due to westward di.cgiacement of this years event, and was attributable to the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave Cycle. But we still are disposed to think this years event is westward di.cgiaced (see Nino 3.4 below).  Warming in this area peaked on 7/14 then crashed and has been trying to rebuild ever since.
Galapagos Virtual Station: (9/28) Anomalies have faded some at +3.6 down from +4.0 degs on 9/26 and attributable to the tiny cool pocket just east of the Galapagos. Previously a solid reading occurred on 5/23 at +4.59 degs suggesting the first Kelvin Wave generated in Jan-Mar had arrived, then built to +5.45 degs on 6/14. Temps faded from that high peak down to +4.1 degs in late June then rebuilt up to +4.94 on 7/17. Then a fade set in, down to +3.1 degs as of 7/31 and bouncing from +3.1-3.5 through 8/7, then falling dramatically to +2.0 on 8/10 and held at +2.1-2.3 degrees 8/14-8/19. Temps built to +2.7-3.2 8/22-8/27 and up to +3.5 on 9/5 then down to +3.2 degs on 9/9.  A dramatic rise started 9/12 pushing up to +5.3 on 9/16 flirting with peak temps received back in 6/14 (+5.5). But a bit of a fade occurred 9/17 down to +4.5 falling to 3.8 degs on 9/23 then anomalies stabilized at +4.0 degs. A quick look at the Nino1.2 hi-res imagery e.cgiains the situation, with the last little pocket of the upwelling phase cooler waters moving into the East Galapagos.
Hi-res 7 day Trend (9/28): Warming in the south end of Nino1.2 off Peru and Chile has stopped. But slight cooling on the equator either side of the Galapagos has been r.cgiaced with warming in those pockets now.
Hi-res NINO 3.4: 
(9/28) The latest image remains impressive in the east part of the region, but continues backsliding both in the east and west. A solid pool of warm surface water remains unbroken advecting west from from the Galapagos westward with solid +2.25 degs anomalies from a previous Kelvin Wave reaching west to at least 150W. Within that, 3 pockets of +4 deg anomalies are present west of the Galapagos at 97W, 105W and 112W and advecting west. These pockets are the leading edge/breach point of Kelvin Wave #3. These anomalies actually have rebuilt some in the past 3 days as of 9/28, but are nowhere near the peak when Kevin Wave #3 first started breaching on 9/19. Still, it looks respectable. Coverage of anomalies west of 150W continue thinning, with no continuous +2.25 anomalies west of there. Previously +2.25 anomalies reached to 133W on 7/16 and then 138W (7/31) pushing to 149W on 8/10 and 158W on 8/15 and filling the area to 160W on 8/30 solidly. But a breakup started on 9/5 at 155W, regrouped 9/15 and held solid to 9/23, But has lost coverage since. This is advection west of warm water resulting from eruption of the 1st and 2nd Kelvin Waves earlier this year. And the third one is just starting to present and will likely refill this area west of 150W a few weeks out.
Hi-res Overview: (9/28) Like the low-res image, the El Nino signal is unmistakable and the strongest since 1997, and stronger than anything in the satellite age prior to that. But, the intensity of warm anomalies in the eruption site west of the Galapagos continues to loose intensity through 9/28. All anomalies are in the 4-5 deg range, where as when it peaked on 9/16 there were 3 clearly defined pockets at +5 degs. We'd like to say they have advected west and lost a little heat in the process, but we're not seeing that either. And even worst, temps between 160W-180W have lost at least 1 deg C if not more. Clearly Nino3.4 temps are on the downswing per visual inspection of the satellite imagery, and we cannot e.cgiain why. This is not a Nino1.2 issue. It is an issue affecting all Nino regions. Given the subsurface situation, surface water temps should be raging. Instead they are in a holding pattern if not backsliding. This is not good.

SST Anomalies on 9/14/2015 and what is driving them from below.

Other Sources
TAO Data: +1.0 anomalies are in control over the entire equatorial East Pacific, the warmest in years, advecting west from the Galapagos covering the entire area west to the dateline and beyond (holding at 175E). We're monitoring the +0.0 anomaly line on the equator to see if it's moving east. Today its at 155E (moving west). +1.5 deg anomalies have rebuilt in the west with the core unbroken temps at 178W. There is also a massive embedded area of +2.0-2.5 deg anomalies extending from the Galapagos to 170W with +3.0 deg anomalies depicted embedded in it but shrinking to a pocket at 110W. Overall the warm water signature is shrinking in the west, and though still impressive, has lost significant ground the past week.
Nino1.2 Index Temps: (9/29) Temps have lost a little ground as expected at +1.8 today. They bottomed out at +1.265 degs on 9/15, and have been slowly rebuilding since. This fall is consistent with what is being indicated in the hi-res Nino1.2 imagery. Previously temps hovered at +2.1 degrees early June then spiked reaching +3.0 degs on 7/3, faded, then spiked again on 7/13 at +3.0 degs and yet again at +3.0 degs on 7/22. Temps fell to +1.9 degrees on 7/27 and bottomed out at +1.0 degs on 8/20 at the height of the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave Cycle. Then temps started building to +1.3 on 8/26 and +1.7 by 8/29 and to +2.0 by 9/8 before falling, down to +1.265 degs on 9/15. They started rising after that as Kelvin Wave #3 started arriving.  
Nino 3.4 Index Temps: Temps are rising today at +1.981, having spiked on 9/17 at +2.077 then falling some only to start rebuilding recently. The all time peak for this event was +2.24 degs on 8/23 (one day). We are approaching that level again in fit's and starts. By any normal standard we are in Strong El Nino.  We expect these temps to continue upward for the foreseeable future. In '97 for Sept the monthly anomaly in Nino3.4 was +2.21 (OISST.v2) The data for (Aug 2015) was +2.06. Will be interesting to see what the Sept posting looks like. For OISSTv.4 in Aug it was +1.74 ('97) and +1.49 (2015). Aug data is just a bit behind '97. Based on what is happening in the Nino 1.2 region, with the 3rd Kelvin Wave apparently starting to erupt there, the thought is additional warming is poised to occur in Nino3.4 with a 1 month delay. Water temps previously held in the +1.0-1.3 deg range since mid-April, then started building pushing +1.5 degs on 6/30, held then crept up, peaking at +1.75 degs on 7/19 and +1.7 degs on 7/29, pushing +1.8 of 8/10 and +2.24 on 8/23. 

Special Analysis (9/3): We performed an analysis of Nino1.2 and Nino3.4 weekly anomalies temps using OISST.v2 data. A very interesting pattern emerged: Nino1.2 temps are averaging lower in this years event to date compared to '97, but the Nino3.4 temps are higher.  Specifically the Nino1.2 anomaly average for the period 4/30-8/26 for 2015 is +2.42 while in '97 is was +3.43. Meanwhile west of there in the Nino3.4 region, the average for 2015 is +1.49 while it was +1.42 in '97.  This suggests the 2015 event is more focused west of the Galapagos as compared to '97. And looking at the Nino4 region, the same pattern emerges. A si.cgie view of SST anomaly charts clearly indicates the same thing. There was much more heating in the Galapagos region in '97, while in 2015 the warmth is di.cgiaced more to the west.

If you narrow the focus to just the timeframe July through August the same trend emerges with Nino1.2 anomalies +1.52 degs warmer in '97 compared to 2015 and Nino 3.4 temps almost dead even (-0.03 in 2015). 

Regardless, the working theory is this years event is westward di.cgiaced somewhat like the '82/83 super El Nino event. The main evidence for this is the eruption of Kelvin Wave #3 west of the Galapagos.  Though that eruption is fading some now, and with no evidence to suggest peak eruption is occurring in the Nino1.2 region proper (yet), we will continue with this theory. This suggests the Walker circulation is not di.cgiaced as far east as in '97 but more like '82/83. At this time we're unsure what the effects on rainfall would be. Total rainfall in San Francisco in '82/83 was 38.17" (+16.38") versus 47.22" in '97/98 (+25.43"). The long term average is 21.79". In LA in '82/83 it was 31.28" (+16.47) versus 31.01" in '97 (+16.2"). Long term average 14.81". Regardless, both events were well above average. This also suggests the core of storm production will be north of the most warming. So rather than the Eastern to Central Gulf of Alaska being the focus, it might be more in the Western Gulf. This is actually a good thing relative to California by perhaps giving resulting swells more room to groom themselves before hitting the coast. This might bode not so well for Hawaii, with large stormy conditions the result. Of course, this is just speculation at this time.  

Pacific Counter Current:  As of 9/16 the current was moderate but not overly impressive. The current is pushing strongly west to east over the west equatorial Pacific north of the equator from 130E to 155W, and still solid but fading while pushing west to 130W before fading out at 90W. A stream of weak to modest east current was just south of the equator from 110W to the dateline. Anomaly wise - modest west anomalies were spread mostly north of the equator over the West Pacific, with a strong pocket north of the equator from 170E to 150W, then fading with another pocket at 100W. One pocket of east anomalies was indicated south of the equator from 140W to the dateline. This is not impressive but not unimpressive either. Compared to the '97 El Nino at this time, there is no comparison. In '97 the current was raging east from 130E to 130W mainly north of the equator.   

SST Anomaly projections
CFSv2 model - PDF Corrected:
 For the model run 9/29 for the Nino 3.4 region, peak temperatures for this event have stabilized. Water temps are at +1.75 deg C (verified at 1.99 degs today) and are to fade some to +1.75 degs by Oct peaking at +1.85 degs by Nov, then dropping off. Considering temps in Nino3.4 now and the size of the new Kelvin Wave below, we suspect this projection is well on the low side. Uncorrected data has stabilized suggesting a peak to +2.45 degs in Nov. We'll venture a guess of somewhere around +2.3 degs for a one month peak in Oct-Nov but suspect that might be on the low side.
IRI Consensus Plume: The mid-Sept Plume has upgraded again, suggesting peak temps between +2.1 degs (Statistical models), +2.5 degs (Dynamic) with the CPC consensus at +2.45. The mid-July consensus was spread between +1.5-2.0 degs and the mid-Aug between +2.0-2.5 degs. See chart here - link. 

If one is to make a direct comparison of the 2015 event to '97 at this time of year based on the areal coverage of water temps, there is no comparison. '97 imagery leaves this years event in the dust. The '97 event built non-stop from this point forward (in terms of areal coverage). Instead, the 2015 event, though warming nicely with comparable to stronger anomalies in Nino3.4 and Nino4, is weak in Nino1.2 and the coverage of warm waters is a worm in this area compared to '97s mammoth coverage. A clear and significant downgrade occurred in the Galapagos area 8/12-8/20 the result of a pause in upwelling of warm water in that region, a break between the first and second Kelvin wave eruptions and the third poised just off Ecuador. It trued to rebuild then fell back on 9/8 and then started rebuilding 9/15. The good news is concerns about these cooler waters advecting west and impacting temps in the Nino3.4 region are gone, with regent warming from the 3rd Kelvin Wave already eliminating those cool pockets. And things are just getting started. Peak temps in western Nino 1.2 expected 10/4 then advecting to Nino 3.4 on 11/4.

Atmospheric Co.cgiing Index's (lagging indicators rather than driving oceanic change):   
Daily Southern Oscillation Index (9/29): Was rising from -13.70. Of note: The 97 El Nino had daily values at -40 to -50 in early Nov with one spurt to -76 Jan 30-31st.
30 Day Average: Was rising from -16.63. The lowest point in years was achieved -20.95 on 8/21, with the previous lowest at -20.49 on 7/18/15.
90 Day Average: Was rising from -16.42. The peak low was obtained on 9/16 at -18.56. This is the critical threshold we've been anticipating (values -18 or lower), providing yet more evidence of strong atmospheric co.cgiing. But we had hoped it would hold there. It has not, but will likely start falling again as it picks up the negative numbers in the daily index.  It has been at or below -10.0 since early July and on a steady fall ever since, bottomed out at a low reading on 8/5 at -14.17, then beat it on 9/2 at -15.23, and peaked (9/16) at -18.56 (peak low of the year so far). 
Trend (looking for negative SOI numbers, indicative of the Active Phase of the MJO or El Nino): The near term trend based on the daily average was indicative of a building El Nino base state. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steadily building El Nino base state.
SOI Trend - Darwin (looking for high pressure here): A modest high pressure pattern was in the area and to not give way to any lower pressure, with a new high pressure system building over Southeast Aust on Thurs (10/1) holding into Sun (10/4) and weaker but still high pressure at least till Tues (10/6).  
SOI trend - Tahiti (looking for low pressure here): Low pressure was exiting southeast of Tahiti on Tues (9/29) with a higher pressure pattern taking root by Wednesday with no clear immediate relief indicated.         
SOI 1 week Forecast: The net result is to be a trend of slowly rising SOI values through Tues (10/6). This is not what we want to see.       
SOI Analysis: During El Nino, the SOI functions as a measure of how well the ocean and atmosphere are co.cgied. Current numbers suggest good but not great co.cgiing, but getting better footing slowly but steadily (notice the 90 day average trend). This pattern is to only change for the better as the El Nino base state builds as we move into Fall. A consistent 90 day average of -18 is our target, indicative of a strong El Nino.
Southern Hemi Booster Index (SHBI) Analysis (which is theorized to supercharge a developing El Nino): Per the past 5 day 850 mbs anomaly charts, a weak but persistent south flow has been in effect in the East Australia region strengthening lately. Per the GFS model that flow is to fade some, then return on Thurs (10/1) holding into Mon (10/5). It is high pressure over Southeast Australia that sets up the southerly surface flow. South and southeast wind anomalies have been in this region off and on for weeks now (previous run 7/29-8/10, this run 8/13-8/18), then returning consistently 9/18. The SHBI appears to only be slightly influencing El Nino development, but we have no hard numbers to confirm. 
ESPI (like SOI but based on satellite confirmed cloud cover): (9/29) Today's value hold as 2.22, down from +2.30 on 9/26, up from +1.87 on 9/18 and up since 9/5 (+2.07). The ESPI was steady in the +2.5 range through 8/10, then began falling, to +2.42 on 8/18 and bottoming out at +1.78 on 8/26. It started rebuilding on 8/29 at +1.89 holding at +1.87 on 9/18 and up to +2.2 on 9/24 reaching +2.3 on 9/26. Historically the peak of the '82 El Nino was +2.2 and the '97 event +2.85. This suggests the '15 El Nino is reasonably well co.cgied with the atmosphere, more so than some of the other indices indicate.
Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) (Aug) The current ranking is up hard at +2.37 or up 0.39 standard deviations (65). The July MEI was 1.97 SD (65). At this same time in '97 the ranking was 3.00 SD (66) and in '82 it was 1.85 SD (62). So we're between the '82 and '97 events but close to '97, in strong El Nino territory presumably moving towards the Super El Nino range. The top 5 events since 1950 in order are: '97, '82, '91, '86, and '72 with '97 and '82 classified as 'Super El Nino's' because they reached 3 standard deviations (SD) above normal. '91 and '86 were at about 2.2 and 2.1 respectively with '72 peaking at 1.8 SD's above the norm. We've already beat all those. Suffice it to say we are somewhere between '82 and '97 in term of of atmospheric co.cgiing per this index. Most impressive.  
North Pacific Jetstream (9/24) Detailed analysis is in the NPac Short Term Forecast above. In short, the jet has started the Fall transition perhaps influenced by El Nino, but nothing remarkable. This is disappointing, considering this is the ultimate determiner of how well El Nino is connected to the atmosphere in terms of influencing winter storm production. We suspect it is just a matter of time before it wakes up and responds.     

Analysis: In late 2013 into 2014 the Active Phase of the MJO and successive Kelvin Waves warmed waters over the Eastern equatorial Pacific and primed the atmosphere out of a 15 year La Nina biased pattern that had been in.cgiay since the demise of the '97-98 Super El Nino. It is assumed some greater force was dictating the change from a cool regime to warmer pattern, (the PDO). This warming and teleconnection continued building in 2015 with two Kelvin Waves arriving in Ecuador warming surface waters well into El Nino territory and a third, the strongest so far, starting to erupt in the Galapagos region. At this time we believe the classic El Nino feedback/teleconnection loop is in effect, with the atmosphere and the ocean well co.cgied.   

The 2015 El Nino pattern continues to build in fits and starts, but is hampered by 'The Pause' that occurred in August and continues in Nino1.2 today (9/10). In spite of that, El Nino continues to move forward. Temps in the Nino 3.4 region today are solid and expected to only build as the leading edge of massive Kelvin Wave starts erupt over the Galapagos. Still the focus of that eruption right now is west of the Galapagos.  The big question remains concerning how strong will this El Nino become. In the end, strength is a function of the temperatures in the Nino3.4 region. The warmer the core temps and the larger their areal coverage, the more influence on the jetstream. Obtaining high Nino3.4 temps is a function of the strength and duration of westerly anomalies in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area. And the frequency of those events is dictated by the 'character' of the El Nino. The '97 event was a bulldozer, developing out of a previous cold La Nina water state, and never looked back. Contrasting that was the '82-83 event, which didn't even start presenting until the Fall. The 2015 event presented originally with a false start in 2014 (and for that matter another false start in 2012), and has taken it's sweet time getting organized since then, in fit's and starts. We suspect it is struggling against an atmospheric biased towards La Nina forced by a 15 year run of the cool phase of the PDO. But we believe the atmosphere is now transitioning to the warm phase of the PDO, but is still fighting some previous momentum from the cool phase, hence elongating this El Nino's lifecycle. Regardless, a large and strong Kelvin Wave, the largest of this event is starting to erupt now. It will take at least 3 months for the tail end to erupt over the Galapagos and advect through the Nino 3.4 region. So assuming peak heating in Nino1.2 occurs on 10/4, it will be 11/4 till that peak warmth reaches Nino3.4. And that might even be optimistic.

Comparing the 2015 El Nino to '82 and '97
Full Sized Chart
(Click to enlarge)

The longer El Nino threshold temperatures persist, the thought is the longer it will take proportionally to dissipate. That is, the sooner warm water temps develop, the sooner they will have an effect on the atmosphere and the more momentum El Nino will have on the atmosphere, and will therefore take longer to dislodge. The atmosphere responds very slowly to change. but once changed, it doesn't turn back to it's previous configuration quick either. An official El Nino was declared in late 2014 and has only gotten stronger since then. If westerly anomalies continue as predicted by the CFS model, and another Kelvin Wave results (starting say 11/1), it would not arrive in Ecuador till ~Feb 1, 2016, and not disburse till a month later (March) that would mean a total duration of El Nino temps in the Nino3.4 region of 17 months. That said, the character of this event is not at all like '97 (which was brisk paced and steady), but not at all like '82 either (which developed even later and faster). This one is a slow moving train wreck. That would not be a bad thing, in that it could slow the inevitable transition to La Nina until later in the winter of 2016-2107.

So where does it go from here? Having a MEI (July & Aug) that is equivalent to two other El Nino that eventually turned into Super El Ninos is no guarantee that this years event will eventually evolve into a Super El Nino. We still have 0.63 SDs to go. But given the current warming in the west quadrant of Nino1.2 now, that seems like a pretty easily obtainable goal. And looking at the record back to 1950 for other events that have similar values in July & Aug, the odds favor that outcome. With an evolving El Nino base state in control and building, it seem more warm water transport east is inevitable. And we haven't even hit the Fall season switchover, which tends to supercharge westerly anomalies during El Nino years. The future concerning more and stronger WWBs is unknown, but we are betting on the CFSv2 being largely on the right track with the El Nino base state slowly having greater influence over time and being enhanced by Rossby Waves at times.        

So for now we're tracking towards an El Nino that will end up somewhere between the 82' and '97 event, with very good atmospheric momentum in.cgiay.  We'll continue monitoring the North Pacific jetstream and will be looking for tropical activity in the West Pacific to recurve northeast moving towards the Gulf of Alaska, and for swell to result from such systems in Sept. To us, those are the sure signs of deep changes in the atmosphere influenced by El Nino. Typhoon Atsani did not live up to the hype. And Kilo is not going to do it either. And the jetstream charts are not impressive. All data to date regarding the character of this years event, depict it as a slow mover. As such, any direct influence from El Nino will probably occur alter in the Fall rather than earlier. Regardless, continue your training routine.Once the storm cycle starts, we expect it to only build in momentum, consistency, and intensity, peaking in the Feb timeframe.      

See imagery in the ENSO Powertool


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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