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 (12/9) in North and Central CA surf was 10 ft and lined up and clean with a little haze in the air. Overall a pretty solid swell was hitting. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 3-4 ft overhead on the sets at better breaks and clean and lined up but a bit on the soft side. In Southern California up north surf was chest high and lined up with alot of waves pushing through. Clean conditions. Down south waves were head high with perhaps a few bigger sets and clean but inconsistent. Hawaii's North Shore was getting new dateline swell with waves 10-12 ft if not a little bigger and clean and lined up, but not as big as expected. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting wrap around dateline swell with waves 1 ft overhead and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from the first in a series of 3 MJO fueled gales that formed in the Western Gulf on Fri-Sat (12/6) tracking east-southeast with 26-30 ft seas was hitting California. Swell from a second stronger storm that developed on the dateline Sat (12/6) with up to 43 ft seas then faded while pushing into the Western Gulf Sunday was hitting Hawaii and bound for the US West Coast. And a third less organized gale developed north of Hawaii pushing east-northeast Mon-Tues (12/9) with 30-32 ft seas moving into the Eastern Gulf with a broad area of 22-25 ft seas filling the Gulf behind on Wednesday fading from 20 ft Thursday. Swell to result for Hawaii and the US West Coast into the weekend. And yet another storm is forecast tracking from the dateline into the Western Gulf region Wed-Sat (12/13) with 44 ft seas initially. A run of solid surf has started and looks to continue well into next week. Thanksgiving is here, just a little late.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (12/9) the jet was pushing solid off of Japan with winds 180 kts sinking into a broad flat trough starting near the dateline to a point just off the California coast with winds still 170 kts and on the 37N latitude line poised to push onshore over the US West Coast. Good support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere was indicated. Over the next 72 hours this energy is to track east and become focused in a developing trough off the US West Coast. Winds to build to 190 kts winds later Wed (12/10) then fading some as the trough gets steeper while moving over Central CA on Fri (12/12) with it's apex tracking over Big Sur late in the evening. More support for gale development there. Back over the Central Pacific winds speeds in the jet and to back off some with a modest trough tracking through the Gulf Fri-Sat (12/13) offering some support for gale development. But of more interest is to be another pocket of 170 kts winds building over Japan. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to continue running east-northeast with speeds to 190 kts by Sun (12/14) over the dateline but weakening some into Tues (12/16) with the main flow flattening out with a broad trough starting to develop on the dateline pushing towards the Western Gulf. Limited support for gale development expected in that region.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (12/9) swell from the first in a series of gales that tracked through the Western Gulf of Alaska (see First Gulf Gale below) was hitting California. Swell from the second system, a small but solid storm (see Dateline Storm below) was hitting Hawaii. A third system is developing in the Gulf (see 3rd Gulf Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is to develop west of the dateline on Wed AM (12/10) producing 55 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase. In the evening 55 kt northwest winds to be approaching the dateline with 46 ft seas at 36N 172E (304 degs HI). On Thurs AM (12/11) 50 kt northwest winds to be on the dateline with 42 ft seas over a modest area at 38N 180W (315 degs HI, 290 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). The storm is to be fading in the evening with winds barely 50 kts and seas 39 ft pushing due east at 40N 171W (312 degs, 289 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). 45 kt northwest winds to continue holding solidly north-northwest of Hawaii Fri AM (12/12) with near 40 ft seas at 42N 164W (292 degs NCal, 297 degs SCal). Winds fading from 40 kt from the northwest over a solid area in the evening with 36 ft seas at 40N 158W (286 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). The gale to solid fad and continue east into Sat PM fading from 30 ft at 44N 149W (302 degs NCal). This is certainly one to monitor.
First Gulf Gale
A new gale developed in the Western Gulf on Thurs PM (12/4) with 40 kt northwest winds building over a small area with 23 ft seas building at 42N 173W aimed southeast. 40 kt northwest winds pushed east and built in coverage Fri AM (12/5) with 26 ft seas at 43N 170W (336 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). 40 kt northwest fetch pushed east in the evening and lost some coverage with seas 30 ft at 43N 164W (350 degs HI, 292 degs NCal). 35 kt northwest winds were fading Sat AM (12/6) with seas fading from 28 ft at 41N 157W (290 degs NCal). Fetch dissipating after that. Some decent sideband swell is to result for Hawaii with more direct energy for the US West Coast.
North CA: Swell peaking near midnight and size holding decently at sunrise Tues (12/9) at 6.8 ft @ 15 secs (10 ft faces). Period dropping to 14 secs later in the afternoon. Swell getting overrun by Dateline Swell (see below) on Wednesday (12/10). Swell Direction: 288 degrees
Also tropical energy was migrating northeast off Japan on Thurs (12/4) and started forming into a legitimate gale Fri AM (12/5) with 45 kt northwest winds south of the Aleutians and west of the dateline with seas building. It bloomed in the evening with 50-55 kt west-northwest winds and seas building from 41 ft at 46N 170E. The Jason-2 satellite passed over the core of the storm at 1:40Z and confirmed a 15 reading average of 39.5 ft with one peak reading to 42.6 ft. The model was right on track. 50 kt west winds held over a small area Sat AM (12/6) with 43 ft seas building over a small area at 45N 177E (326 degs HI, 299 degs NCal). But, the Jason-2 satellite miraculously passed directly over this area and confirmed 45.2 ft seas with one reading to 50.8 ft. Impressive. 45 kt west winds tracked east-southeast over the dateline and into the Western Gulf in the evening with 40 ft seas at 44N 175W (334 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). Again we were favored with a satellite pass directly over the leading edge of the core of the storm with seas 41.3 ft and one reading to 45.3 ft again exceeding the models expectations. 45 kt west winds continued Sun AM (12/7) with 36 ft seas at 43N 166W (347 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). Winds were fading in the evening from 35 kts with seas fading from 30 ft at 41N 158W (288 degs NCal).
Hawaii: Swell to peak at 8.7 ft @ 16 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) first light Tues AM (12/9) fading some through the day. Residuals fading Wed AM (12/10) and being overrun by potential new more local and rawer swell. Swell Direction: 327 degrees
North CA: Swell arrived earlier and larger than expected on Tues (12/9) near 2 PM with period 21 sec and size pushing 3-4 ft (@ 21 secs) and building pushing 5.7 ft @ 20 secs by 6 PM. Solid size was hitting the coast. Swell to peak on Wed (12/10) near sunrise with pure swell 7.7 -8.4 ft @ 18 secs (13.5-15.0 ft) with much lesser period local energy overrunning that in the 8 ft @ 14-15 secs period range. Total seas 12 ft @ 17 secs. Swell Direction: 292-297 for long period energy with lesser period energy 288-290 degrees
3rd Gulf Gale
Another broad gale started developing in the Western Gulf on Sun PM (12/7) with a modest fetch of 45 kt west-northwest starting to get traction on an already roughed up ocean surface with a tiny area of 29 ft seas developing at 41N 180E. The gale started moving into the Central Gulf on Mon AM (12/8) with 45 kt west winds 1000 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii and seas 34 ft over a building area at 39N 168W (336 degs HI, 287 NCal, 293 degs SCal). Fetch raced east still at 45 kts in the evening with seas 32 ft at 39N 154W targeting only the US West Coast (284 degs NCal, 292 degs SCal). 40 kt west winds were lifting northeast on Tues AM (12/9) off Oregon with 30 ft seas at 44N 138W (302 degs NCal). The core gale to fade after that. But a broad area of 30-35 kt northwest to west winds to be in.cgiace Tues AM stretching from the dateline into the Gulf aimed at Hawaii and the US West Coast with 26 ft seas at 35N-39N 163W (347 degs HI, 280 degs NCal, 287 degs SCal). Secondary swell possible. A large area of 30 kt west winds to continue into the evening with 25 ft seas moving roughly to 38N 153W targeting Hawaii but also targeting the US West Coast (281 degs NCal, 288 degs SCal). This fetch to hold into Thursday AM (12/11) producing 23 ft seas at 35-40N 148W (270-292 degs NCal, 280-295 degs SCal).
Hawaii: Combo swell from the Dateline Storm above and this gale to arrive Tues PM (12/9) pushing 9.1 ft @ 15-16 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) on Wed AM (12/10) holding through the day. Swell to continue on Thurs (12/11) at 9.9 ft @ 14-15 secs (14 ft Hawaiian), biggest early. Swell fading Fri (12/12) from 7.2 ft @ 13 secs (9.5 ft). Swell Direction: 325-330 degrees
North CA: Rough data suggest swell arrival Thurs (12/11) building to 11.8 ft @ 14 secs (16 ft). Swell to continue on Fri (12/12) at 10 ft @ 14-15 secs (14.5 ft). Swell fading Sat (12/13) from 9.1 ft @ 14-15 secs (13 ft). Swell Direction: 180-185 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Hagupit was tracking through the China Sea on Tues AM (12/9) with winds 40 kts expected to move over South Vietnam on Fri (12/12). No recurvature to the northeast is forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (12/9) low pressure was building in the Eastern Gulf with a weak south flow just off the ahead of it but calm winds were nearshore. That front is to be queuing up hitting Cape Mendocino Wednesday AM with south winds 25 kts pushing into San Francisco late (30 kts) and Pt Conception Thurs afternoon while holding for all of North and Central CA. Heavy rain for North CA Wed PM reaching San Francisco Thurs AM (and still heavy) and blasting Big Sur at sunset and overnight. Heavy snow for Tahoe starting Thurs AM working into the Southern Sierra and continuing for the entire Sierra overnight then slow fading through the day Friday. Winds turning from hard south to lighter westerly. Light winds Saturday and clearing with a new front moving into North and Central CA on late Sunday with south winds 20 kts. Rain starting in North CA Sun PM late working down to Southern CA Monday night with modest snow for Tahoe and continued rain and snow for all locations into Tuesday PM.
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 a series of small and weak gale are to be generating spurious areas of 30 ft seas focused ont he dateline-Western Gulf region. But the overall pattern is to not be as strong as what is forecast over the next 96+ hours.
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 (12/9) the daily SOI was up some at -7.11. The 30 day average was rising from -4.72 and the 90 day average was steady at -7.07. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weak Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO with the 90 day average near -8 since 10/20. A weak pressure pattern was south of Tahiti and expected to hold in some fashion for the foreseeable future. 30 and 90 day averages expected to rise some and then.cgiateau. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies over the Central Maritime Continent turning to modest easterly anomalies over the dateline to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued into the Galapagos. A week from now (12/17) modest east anomalies are to redevelop over the Central Maritime Continent fading to neutral over the dateline turning moderate west south of the Hawaiian Islands turning neutral on to the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated neutral anomalies over the equatorial Pacific.
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 impacted the Galapagos (11/3-11/30) 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 12/8 are in sync. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was pushing east over the far West Pacific. The Statistic model depicts the a solid version of the Active Phase slowly easing into the West Pacific over the next 15 days reaching the dateline. The Dynamic model has the Active Phase pushing east and into the West Pacific but fading quicker, and turning neutral 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 12/8 depicts a weak Inactive Phase developing over the West Pacific on 12/13 tracking east and fading quickly through 1/2. A modest Active Phase to follow 1/2-1/17.
The troubling development is that an Inactive Phase that produced legitimate easterly anomalies occurred and is now being followed by an Active Phase. The presence of any Inactive Phase at all would not occur if El Nino were in effect. 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. But since this is a very weak El Nino to start with, maybe it should not be surprising that the MJO is making a showing. 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 (12/8) 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 continuously 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 and appears to be pushing east. Warm water is clearly present on the surface in the NINO 3.4 region based on TAO and hi res imagery.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water. There are virtually no signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California. Warm water remains entrenched along the California coast suggesting the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weaker relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is also starting to build in warmth with only on small cool pocket well off Chile, not reaching even north to 10S and in decline. A warm regime has the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 12/9 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with a broad embedded pocket of +4 deg anomalies centered near 120W pushing east and starting to reach the Galapagos embedded in with a steady stream of +2.0 deg anomalies pushing east from the dateline into the Galapagos. The +4º C anomalies are the second in a pair of recent Kelvin Waves in-flight. Satellite data from 11/29 depicts a broad area of 0-5 cm anomalies are covering the entire equatorial Pacific from New Guinea to the Galapagos, with +5-10 cm anomalies midway between Hawaii and 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 (11/29) 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 12/1 remains improved. The current is pushing moderately west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. It is strongest north of New Guinea. There was one pocket of easterly anomalies south of Hawaii. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 125W. This data continues to suggest an improved picture is continuing to evolve and supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 12/9 for the Nino 3.4 region are down a little from preovious optimistic forecasts. 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 +1.5 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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