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 Tuesday (12/2) in North and Central CA surf was head high to 1 ft overhead at exposed breaks and relatively clean coming out of the south but a little on the weak side. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high and cleaning up with decent form coming out of the south, but just windswell. In Southern California up north surf was knee to thigh high and weak with rain and southerly winds in effect. Down south waves were waist high and relatively clean but weak with rain. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northwesterly dateline swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and a bit warbled though lined up at select breaks. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting northeast windswell at head high to 1 ft overhead and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a gale that was over the dateline Fri (11/28) with 33 ft seas then lifting northeast Sat (11/29) with seas dropping from 30 ft was hitting Hawaii, but fading. Also a small fetch developed off Central CA on Sun-Mon (12/1) producing 20-26 ft seas targeting mainly Hawaii (from the northeast). Swell is moving towards Hawaii. A modest sized are of 20-22 ft seas is present just south of the Central Aleutian targeting mainly the US West Coast. Small swell possible. Starting Friday (12/5) the first in a series of 3 gales is to form in the Western Gulf tracking east-southeast with 28 ft seas, followed by a stronger one Sat-Sun (12/7) with up to 40 ft seas, with a third developing north of Hawaii pushing east-northeast Mon-Tues (12/9) with 34 ft seas moving into the Eastern Gulf. A run of semi-legit surf looks possible mainly for the US West Coast. It looks like the Active Phase of the MJO is manifesting itself on the 7 days models.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tues (12/2) the jet was fragmented and incoherent east of the dateline other than a cutoff low just off Central CA poised to move inland offering support for only low pressure there. But 170 kts winds were building over Japan and starting to reach eastward. Over the next 72 hours winds are to hold at 170 kt over Japan and ridging east-northeast expected to fall into a developing trough just east of the dateline on Fri (12/5) with 160 kt winds falling into it, offering some support for gale development. The entire jet is to start becoming more coherent with all .cgiits disappearing. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to start building impressively, with 190 kt winds stretching from Japan to the dateline on Sat (12/6) then falling into the aforementioned trough now repositioned north of Hawaii. The jet to flatten more Sun-Mon (12/8) with the trough holding in the Central Gulf and winds 180 kts over the dateline. Decent support for gale development to continue mainly in the trough in the Gulf. Even on Tues (12/9) winds are to hold in the 180-190 kts range with a new broad trough setting up northwest of Hawaii offering good support for gale if not storm development. It looks like an improving pattern is to be setting up over the Pacific thanks to the MJO.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (12/2) swell from a gale that tracked from Japan to the dateline then lifted northeast was hitting Hawaii (see Japan Gale below). Also northeast swell from a gale off the California is also hitting Hawaii (see California Gale below). Over the next 72 hours a new gale is to develop in the Western Gulf on Thurs PM (12/4) with 45 kt northwest winds building over a small area with 26 ft seas building at 47N 173W aimed east. 35-40 kt northwest winds to push east and build in coverage Fri AM (12/5) with 29 ft seas at 44N 169W (337 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). 35 kt northwest fetch to push east in the evening with seas 27 ft at 42N 165W (345 degs HI, 292 degs NCal). Fetch fading after that. Assuming all goes as forecast some sideband swell is to result for Hawaii with more direct energy for the US West Coast.
On Fri AM (11/28) a new gale developed mid-way between Japan and the dateline generating 45-50 kt north winds and 34 ft seas at 35N 162E targeting only the Marshall Islands. Fetch held in the evening with 45 kt north winds and 35 ft seas at 35N 167E again targeting the Marshall Islands, but also making some headway towards Hawaii (299 degs). Winds were fading from 45 kts over a small area Sat AM (11/29) while the gale lifted northeast with 31 ft seas at 34N 172E (305 degs HI). Solid 35-40 kt northwest winds held in the evening with seas 28 ft at 38N 173E (310 degs HI). Sun AM (11/30) the gale was lifting northeast fast with fetch fading from 40 kts and seas 24 ft at 37N 180W (315 degs HI). Residual 40 kt northwest winds were just south of the Central Aleutians Sunday PM with 25 ft seas at 45N 177W (331 degs HI). Residual 35 kt west fetch occurred Monday targeting the US West Coast only with 24 ft seas at 49N 170W (304 degs NCal).
A decent pulse of swell is in the water targeting the Islands.
Hawaii: Residual energy fading on Wed (12/3) from 4.8 ft @ 13-14 secs (6.5 ft) from 300-310 degrees
A new semi cutoff gale started to form between Hawaii and California on Sun AM (11/30) with 30-35 kt west winds in it's north quadrant targeting primarily Hawaii. Seas building from 17 ft. Northeast winds built in the evening in coverage and strength to near 40 kts with 26 ft seas over a tiny area at 36N 142W targeting Hawaii down the 48 degree path. Fetch was fading from 35 kt Mon AM (12/1) and moving more to the gales west quadrant aimed south with 24 ft seas at 35N 142W (45 degs HI) and 1199 nmiles out. A secondary fetch of 35 kt northeast winds developed Mon PM (12/1) in the gales northwest quadrant generating 22 ft seas at 38N 140W (42 degs HI). The gale faded from there. Small northeast swell possible for Hawaii.
Hawaii: Swell has already arrived in Hawaii and is to continue on Wed (12/3) at 6 ft @ 13 secs (7.5 ft). Swell fading Thurs (12/4) from 5 ft @ 12-13 secs (6.0-6.5 ft). residual swell fading from 3.4 ft @ 11-12 secs early (3.5-4.0 ft). Swell Direction: 40 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
As previously modeled Typhoon Hagupit has formed Tues AM (12/2) 800 nmiles south-southwest of Guam with winds 85 kts and seas 28 ft. This system was tracking west-northwest and is to continue on that track, peaking Fri AM (12/5) with winds 130 kts (150 mph) 300 nmiles east of the Central Philippines and still pushing west-northwest. A slow fade is expected beyond with Hagupit stalling then drifting north while likely getting sheared by the strong jet north of there. Something to monitor.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (12/2) low pressure was 300 nmiles off the Central CA coast slowly easing east. Winds east north of the center or from San Francisco northward. Otherwise winds south 15-20 kts for the rest of the state. Rain was over most all of CA, heaviest early. Snow was developing late in Tahoe late afternoon with 18 inches of accumulation above 7000 ft and 1-2 inches down at 6400 ft. The low to fade off Cape Mendocino on Wed (12/3) with south winds fading from 20 kts early mainly for Central CA. Rain continuing through the day for the entire state. Continued light snow for Tahoe down in to the Southern Sierra. Thursday 10 kt southerly winds forecast for Central and North CA with scattered rain through the day (only early for SCal). Light snow showers for Tahoe. Friday a new batch of low pressure to be developing off the coast with south winds 20 kts only for Cape Mendocino and 10 kts down to Monterey Bay . Rain building from Cape Mendocino southward to Monterey Bay late. No precip for Tahoe. Saturday a light wind pattern and clearing is forecast. Wind turning southerly Sunday AM for San Francisco northward with showers for Cape Mendocino late. A light southerly flow is forecast for San Francisco northward through Tuesday (12/9). Rain for North and Central CA on Mon with showers for Tahoe late then clearing for Tuesday.
Surface Analysis - No swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hours the models hint tropical energy is to be migrating northeast off Japan on Thurs (12/4) and start forming into a legitimate gale Fri AM (12/5) with 35 kt west winds south of the Aleutians and west of the dateline. It is to bloom in the evening with 50 kt northwest winds and seas building to 38 ft at 46N 171E. 45-50 kt west winds to hold into Sat AM (12/6) with 41 ft seas building over a small area at 45N 178E (326 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to be tracking east-southeast and over the dateline in the evening with 40 ft seas at 44N 173W (334 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to continue Sun AM (12/7) with 39-40 ft seas at 43N 166W (347 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). Winds to be fading in the evening from 35 kts with sea fading from 34 ft at 42N 158W (290 degs NCal). Something to monitor.
And yet another broad gale is forecast developing in the Central Gulf on Mon AM (12/8) with 45 kt west winds and seas 28 ft at 36N 171W (327 degs HI). Fetch is to race east still at 45 kts in the evening with seas building to 32 ft at 39N 158W targeting only the US West Coast (285 degs NCal). 45 kt west wins to lift northeast on Tues AM (12/9) with near 36 ft seas building at 43N 151W (293 degs NCal). The gale to fade after that.
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.cgianet. 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 .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).
(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 Tuesday (12/2) the daily SOI was up some at -7.89. The 30 day average was falling at -8.81 and the 90 day average was falling at -7.71. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weakening Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO with the 90 day average near -8 since 10/20. A weak trough was south of Tahiti and expected to hold in some fashion for the foreseeable future. 30 and 90 day averages expected to.cgiateau. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated modest west anomalies over the Central Maritime Continent turning to light to modest easterly anomalies just west of the dateline. Neutral anomalies extended from a point south of Hawaii turning light easterly from there to the Galapagos. A week from now (12/10) weal to modest west anomalies are forecast over the Central Maritime Continent dying to neutral over the dateline with neutral anomalies east of there to the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated modest easterly anomalies (12/1) on the dateline to 160E. The first easterly wind event of the year appears to be fading (duration 11/18-12/1).
Looking at the trend over the past year there has not been a extended period of enhanced trades, other than the one occurring now. 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 10/12-10/31 (WWB) on the dateline. More weak west anomalies occurred 11/11-14. Neutral anomalies filled the gaps. A modest Kelvin Wave is impacting the Galapagos (11/3-11/22) associated with westerly anomalies during June, July into mid-August. And another Kelvin Wave is in flight under the 160W region being fed by westerly anomalies in late October there. We're in great shape for the 2014 year into early 2015. The question now becomes what, if any, effect the easterly wind event that ran 11/18-12/1 will have.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/1 are in sync. They both suggest a modest Inactive Phase of the MJO was fading between the dateline and a point south of Hawaii with the Active Phase of the MJO in the East Indian Ocean pushing east and reaching into the far West Pacific. The Statistic model depicts the Inactive Phase pushing slowly east and fading to nothing over the next 15 days with a solid version of the Active Phase slowly easing into the West Pacific over the same period. The Dynamic model has the Inactive Phase gone 8 days out with the Active Phase pushing east and into the West Pacific but fading steadily. The ultra long range upper level model run on 12/2 depicts a strong Active Phase over the West Pacific tracking east and fading through 12/22. A strong Inactive Phase to follow 12/22-1/11 with another Active Phase behind that starting 1/6/15.
The troubling development is that an the Inactive Phase (and now and Active Phase) is present at all. This means the MJO is returning, which in turns suggests El Nino might be giving up some ground. Normally the MJO fades away during El Nino events. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
Surface Water Temps: The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of the most recent low res imagery (12/1) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific (up some since early Sept) and still building. A clear but weak El Nino signature is holding. Warm water (not just pockets) has gotten good traction while tracking east between 90W to 160W, likely the result of the first of a pair of Kelvin Waves impacting the Galapagos region (as expected). This weak El Nino signature has stabilized but is not getting any stronger, TAO data suggests +1.0 deg C anomalies are present over a continuous area on the equator from the Galapagos to the far West Pacific. Warm water is clearly 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. Warm water remains entrenched along the California coast suggesting the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weaker relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is also starting to build in warmth with only on small cool pocket well off Chile, not reaching even north to 10S and in decline. A warm regime has the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 12/2 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with a broad embedded pocket of +3 deg anomalies centered near 120W pushing east embedded in with a steady stream of +2.0 deg anomalies pushing east from the dateline into the Galapagos. The +3º C anomalies are the second in a pair of recent Kelvin Waves in-flight. Satellite data from 11/24 depicts a broad area of 0-5 cm anomalies are covering the entire equatorial Pacific from New Guinea to the Galapagos, with +5 cm anomalies south of Hawaii to 2/3rds of the way to the Galapagos indicative of a Kelvin Wave in flight pushing east. Other models collaborate the presumption that a Kelvin Wave is in flight. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (11/24) indicates the second of a pair of recent modest Kelvin Waves started building back at 145E-160W in Sept and is now pushing east reaching to 100W and is the second strongest Kelvin Wave of this ENSO event.
When this second Kelvin Wave arrives in the east (about Dec 30) we will be set for the winter. Of course what is good enough to feed storm develop and what constitutes an official El Nino are two different things. We are focused on the former. The quandary now is whether this will be a one year event, or something longer.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 11/16 remains improved. The current is pushing moderately strong west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. It is strongest from New Guinea to 120W 's moving into the moderate to strong category over the entire area from the West Pacific to a point southeast of Hawaii. There were two pockets of easterly anomalies, both on the equator at 170E and 80W-120W. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 110-130W. This data suggests a improved picture is continuing to evolve and supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 12/2 for the Nino 3.4 region are holding in an upgraded position. It suggests water temps are up to +1.0 deg C and are to fade some to between +0.8-0.9 through April 2015. But the real interesting part is that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in May 2015, pushing +1.9-2.0 degs C by early August 2015.
This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year warm event, and not a weak one either. See the chart based version here - link. A consensus of other models are not as optimistic.
Analysis: A downwelling Kelvin Wave was generated and pushed east starting in Aug 2013, followed by a stronger one in Oct-Nov, and a massive one in Jan-April 2014. A weaker one followed in July with yet a modestly stronger one building under the dateline in October. The only interruptions have been attributable to the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle. Water temps in the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle have held remarkably consistent from May 2014 onward, even during upwelling phases. Continued suppressed trades with embedded weak westerly anomalies have held in the West Pacific all year so far producing the aforementioned Kelvin Wave with +3 degs C in flight now. There has been no signs of easterly anomalies or a shut down of the Kelvin Wave pipe for better than a year now. This is a huge step forward. See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
At this point a teleconnection or feedback loop between the ocean and the atmosphere is in.cgiay. Evidence includes a total breakdown of the Gulf of Alaska high pressure system this summer, resulting in very high water temps off California. Also the early season recurving of mult.cgie tropical low pressure systems tracking northeast off Japan bound for the dateline. And the pulse of tropical activity near Hawaii on the week of 8/4 and those systems continued evolution in the West Pacific is most telling. And then the near record pulse of tropical activity off Mexico (8/18-9/20) resulting in Lowell, Super Hurricane Marie, followed by Odile and Polo (though these last 2 produced no swell) and finally Rachel. And then even a few inches of snow in the Sierra on Sept 27 and again on Oct 15 and 6 inches on Oct 31. The last time any of this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. And mult.cgie recurving tropical systems pushed off Japan reaching the Gulf of Alaska in October (Fengshen and Vongfong). And then one more recurving tropical system in November (Super Typhoon Nuri). And even the Pacific Counter Current is now falling in line.
About 3 months of undisturbed heating is required for the atmosphere to start responding on a global level where the point of 'no return' could be achieved from our perspective. The warm pool starting forming in earnest on 5/1, and so the atmosphere would not trip over the 'no-return' point till 8/1. We have passed that threshold. As of 9/2, all the arguments against a feedback loop being in.cgiace were gone.
Note that what we consider 'teleconnected' and what NOAA considers threshold El Nino conditions are two different things and serve different purposes. We are focused on monitoring weather events that contribute to the production of open ocean storms (and therefore swells) mainly in the Pacific Basin that may or may not have the same impacts as a full blown El Nino. So our criteria is certainly less than the threshold of NOAAs. That said, considering the size and duration of the westerly wind bursts in Jan-April, and the Kelvin Wave that preceded it, it seem hard to believe that at least some Pacific Basin wide 'change' was not already well entrenched even early this year, and had been developing since perhaps as early and Aug of 2013 (when the first Kelvin Wave of the series started taking shape). We will continue monitoring westerly wind anomalies and warm subsurface water buildup in and under the Kelvin Wave Generation area. Also monitoring of the NPac jetstream (which has already been productive) and Atlantic hurricane activity (which was nonexistent) are key. But at this time odds continue stacking up in favor that a global teleconnection is now established. If that's true, the focus then becomes estimating how deep the ENSO cycle will become, or whether it will stay shallow but transition into a multi-year event. At this time we're predisposed to the multiyear, Midoki scenario. And that is actually the better of all options.
Officially we are still in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in.cgiay. But given all current signs, from a winter storm and swell production perspective, atmospheric transition is well underway and we are in a far better.cgiace than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
Details to follow...
External Reference Material: El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Kelvin Wave
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