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Pacific Storm and Surf Forecast
Updated: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 8:36 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
4.2 - California & 3.5 - Hawaii
Using the 'Winter' 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 12/14 thru Sun 12/20

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   

North Dateline Swell Moving Towards US West Coast
Weaker Storm Track for the Next Week

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.

Surf Heights for Hawaii should be consider 'Hawaiian Scale' if period exceeds 14 secs.


On Tuesday, December 15, 2015 :

  • Buoy 106 (Waimea Bay): Seas were 4.4 ft @ 9.1 secs with swell 3.2 ft @ 8.7 secs from 151 degrees.
  • Buoy 46025 (Catalina RDG): Seas were 5.2 ft @ 11.0 secs with swell 2.4 ft @ 12.4 secs. Wind north-northeast 10-12 kts. Water temperature 62.8 degrees. At Santa Barbara swell was 2.7 ft @ 11.4 secs from 269 degrees. At Santa Monica swell was 2.8 ft @ 12.2 secs from 277 degrees. Southward from Orange County to San Diego swell was 4.1 ft @ 12.2 secs from 276 degrees.
  • Buoy 46012 (Half Moon Bay)/029 (Pt Reyes): Seas were 11.3 ft @ 12.5 secs with swell 8.1 ft @ 9.0 secs from 311 degrees. Wind northwest 10-14 kts. Water temp 58.6 degs.


    Buoy 46059, Hi-res Buoys

Current Conditions
On Tuesday (12/15) in North and Central CA local northwest windswell was in control in the 2 ft overhead range and pretty warbled from brisk northwest wind generating lump just off the coast though local winds were light. Down in Santa Cruz surf was shoulder high and relatively clean though still a little warbled. Regardless, it was clean enough to ride. In Southern California up north surf was in the shoulder to head high range and reasonably clean and lined up. Not bad. Down south waves were head high to 1 ft overhead and clean with offshore winds but a raw character to the underlying swell. Hawaii's North Shore was chest high on the sets and clean early at best spots. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting east windswell with waves chest high at exposed spots and chopped by east trades.

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

Meteorological Overview
Residual windswell from the remnants of Local Storm #2 was fading in California and with sub optimal conditions. Of more interest is long period swell in the water starting to hit Hawaii and propagating towards US West Coast generated by a storm that developed over the North Dateline region Sat-Sun (12/13) producing 55 ft seas aimed east but positioned a bit north to be optimal for anyone but perhaps the Pacific Northwest.

Beyond the North Pacific is to settle down for a while. A small gale is forecast for the Northern Gulf on Thurs (12/17) generating 32 ft seas aimed east. Another gale is forecast for the Northern Dateline on Fri (12/18) generating 38 ft seas aimed east for a short window, then dissipating while moving east over the Eastern Aleutians. And more local fetch is forecast off North CA early next week generating 22 ft seas. But nothing of real significance is projected. Longer term the models continue to tease concerning the migration of the Active Phase of the MJO from the East Indian Ocean into the West Pacific, or at least the demise of the Inactive Phase over the Kelvin Wave Generation Area (co.cgied with an inactive Equatorial Rossby Wave - a double whammy). Either option will end destructive interference of the El Nino base state that is currently occurring and enable the El Nino base state to start firmly expressing itself, fueling an enhanced storm track and providing a more robust swell pattern to emerge.

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

North Pacific

On Tuesday AM (12/15) a pocket of 160 kts winds were building over Japan starting to push east into the West Pacific. But just east of there the jet was .cgiitting with the northern branch running east just south of the Aleutians eventually pushing into the Pacific Northwest. The southern branch was tracking east down at 35N then .cgiit again just north of Hawaii with the southern branch eventually moving into Baja. No real troughs were evident offering no real support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours wind energy is to build tracking northeast off Japan to 190 kts Wed-Thurs (12/17) consolidating the jet in that area while a .cgiit pattern prevails in the east. That winds energy is to move over the dateline and into the Gulf later Thursday. At the same time a trough is to start building in the North Gulf on Thurs (12/17) and deepening while falling southeast towards the US West Coast as wind energy from off Japan reaches it Fri AM (12/18). Good support for gale development possible at that time. The trough is to move online Saturday over North CA bring weather with it to that area. Beyond 72 hours starting Sun (12/20) a consolidated jet is to take over the western half of the North Pacific with winds 150 kts off Japan and a broad trough building there and holding position into Tues (12/22) offering good support for gale development. The .cgiit point in the jet is to be moving progressively eastward from 165W to the CA coast by Tuesday. A bit of ridge is to be over the Western Gulf with winds at 170 kts spilling southeast into the North CA/Oregon border and falling south. The weather firehose is to be targeting that area. In all a much improved pattern is to be developing.

Surface Analysis
On Tuesday (12/15) swell from a local storm formally off the US West Coast was still hitting but with size fading and quality less than desired. Otherwise longer period swell from a storm previously over the North Dateline region was moving into outer buoys off the Pacific Northwest and targeting the entire US West Coast, but not as large as one would expect (see North Dateline Storm below).

Over the next 72 hours a small gale is forecast developing in a upper level trough in the Northern Gulf Wed PM (12/16) with a small area of 45 kt northwest winds and seas building from 23 ft at 51N 153W. On Thurs AM (12/17) 45 kt northwest winds to build in coverage aimed well at the US West Coast with seas building to 34 ft over a small area at 52N 151W (315 degs NCal). In the evening the fetch is to start falling southeast still barely at 45 kts with seas 34 ft at 50N 148W (312 degs NCal). On Friday AM (12/18) fetch is to be fading from barely 40 kts off Vancouver Islands with seas fading from 32 ft at 50N 143W (317 degs NCal). This system is to be gone after that. No energy to be aimed at Hawaii. Very north angled swell is possible relative to the Pacific Northwest down it North CA maybe reaching to Pt Conception.

Also a broad gale is to developing off the Northern Kurils on Thurs AM (12/17) with 40 kt west winds starting to get traction. By evening 45 kt west to southwest winds to be just south of the Western Aleutians generating 27 ft seas at 50N 172E. On Fri AM (12/18) 45 kt west winds to be just barely south of the Aleutians generating 34 ft seas at 51N 175E. Residual 40 kt west winds to continue just barely south of the North Dateline region in the evening producing 32 ft seas at 50N 180W. This system is to be gone after that. If all goes as forecast some degree of north angled swell is expected for the US West Coast with sideband swell for Hawaii.


North Dateline Storm
gale formed off Japan on Fri AM (12/11) lifting fast to the northeast. In the evening 45 kt southwest winds were building and seas building from 28 ft. On Sat AM (12/12) 50 kt southwest winds and 45 kt northwest winds were building as it raced towards the North Dateline Region generating 28 ft seas mainly aimed northeast towards the Aleutians. In the evening hurricane force 65 kt northwest winds were just south of the Western Aleutians with 46 ft seas building over a solid area at 50N 180E (335 degs HI, 306 degs NCal) targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast. The Jason-2 satellite passed directly over the core of the storm at 04Z and reported a 15 reading average at 55.2 ft with one reading to 59.4 ft. By Sunday AM (12/13) 55 kt west fetch was positioned just barely south of the Aleutians at the intersection of the dateline with seas 50 ft at 51N 173W aimed due east targeting the US West Coast (308 degs NCal) and only sideband fetch targeting Hawaii (340 degs). In the evening 45 kt fetch was just barely south of the Aleutians with the core of the storm well up into the Bering Sea. Seas south of the Aleutians were 42 ft at 52N 168W (308 degs NCal, 311 degs SCal). This system was gone after that. Possible moderate sized decent long period swell to result for Hawaii and the US West Coast.

Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Tues (12/15) evening to 3 ft @ 19 secs at sunset (5.5 ft). Swell peaking Wed AM (12/16) at 5.6 ft @ 16 secs (9.0 ft Hawaiian). Swell fading Thurs AM (12/17) from 3.6 ft @ 13-14 secs (4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 325-330 degrees

North CA: Expect swell arrival Wed AM (12/16) building to 7.2 ft @ 17-18 secs (12.5 ft) and shadowed in the SF Bay Area. Swell continuing early Thurs (12/17) at 7.5 ft @ 16 secs (12 ft). Residuals on Fri (12/18) fading from 6.6 ft @ 14 secs (9 ft). Swell Direction: 305-308 degrees

Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Wed (12/16) building late to 1.5 ft @ 21-22 secs (3 ft). Swell peaking early Thurs (12/17) at 3.5 ft @ 18 secs (6 ft). Residuals fading Fri (12/18) from 3.2 ft @ 15-16 secs (5 ft). Fading energy Sat (12/19) fading from 2 ft @ 14 secs (2.5-3.0 ft). Swell Direction: 310-313 degrees


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


Tropical Update
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.

California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (12/15) north to northwest winds were 20-25 kts over outer waters generated by high pressure off the North CA coast, though wind was much less nearshore, but still making for a rather lumpy ocean state nearshore. Light winds and clear skies forecast Wed and Thurs (12/17) except for another front moving into the Cape Mendocino area late Thursday with southwest winds 15-20 kts there. Rain over Cape Mendocino at sunset Wednesday slowly building south to Pt Arena through the day Thursday. A light wind pattern is forecast Friday everywhere but North CA as a front with 20 kt southwest winds and rain push into Cape Mendocino. Residuals from that front to push south to the SF Bay area well after dark with southwest winds fading to 15 kts late. No rain for SF. High pressure and north winds take over on Sat (12/19) at 15 kts from SF northward building south to the Channel Islands late. Rain migrating south to Point Conception later. Light snow for Tahoe in the evening. Northwest winds 15+ kts forecast on Sunday except for a little window with lighter northwest winds between Pt Reyes and Cape Mendocino. Another pulse of rain is to be migrating south reaching San Francisco and Monterey Bay late evening. Steady snow for Tahoe developing in the evening. Monday a front pushes into North CA mid-AM with westerly winds reaching down to Pt Conception late. Reinforcing steady rain building to Pt Conception late. Continuous steady snow for Tahoe all day. More of the same wind and rain wise for all of Tuesday (12/22). Steady snow for Tahoe down to the Southern Sierras.

South Pacific

Surface Analysis  
No swell producing weather systems were occurring in the South Pacific.

Over the next 72 hours 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

North Pacific

Beyond 72 hours another broad gale is to start building over the Kuril Islands/Kamchatka on Sun-Mon (12/21) producing a fetch of 30 kt northwest winds targeting Hawaii with seas to 19 ft and one pocket to 30 ft up at 50N 178E. Something to monitor.

Also a fetch of 30-35 kt westerly winds is to develop north of high pressure off Southern CA on Mon (12/21) with 23 ft seas at 46N 145W targeting Oregon down into North CA.


South Pacific

Beyond 72 hours noswell producing fetch of interest is forecast.  

More details to follow...


Nino 3.4 Index Temps Sliding Off
MJO Situation Continues to Destructively Interfere with El Nino - Hints of Kelvin Wave #5 Materialize

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:
Analysis from TAO Buoys: As of Mon (12/14) down at the surface, the TOA array (hard sensors reporting with a 24 hr lag) indicated no winds from 135E to 175E south of the equator but east winds North of the equator from 160E eastward. Inspecting the 00hr frame from the GFS model, east winds 12-15 kts were in control of the entire northern portion of the KWGA from 3N northward. Anomalies were neutral everywhere west of 160W. West anomalies were moderate east of there to 125W focused on the equator. These west anomalies were loosing traction.
1 Week Forecast: The CFS model indicates east anomalies are all but gone as of today. From Wed (12/16) forward weak west anomalies are to take over from 160E eastward and building over the next 7 days. Actual winds per the GFS model are to be fading in coverage from 3N northward at 14 kts on Wed (12/16) but never disappearing, only to rebuild Mon (12/21) and holding. No east anomalies had occurred this year in the KWGA through 12/7, then materialized no thanks to the Inactive Phase of the MJO and are holding today and forecast to continue in some form for the next week per the GFS model, but not per the CFS model. We are siding with GFS at this point, because the CFS has been continually claiming the impending demise of the Inactive Phase, yet it never happens.

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 (#3), the strongest of the year, started on 6/26 peaking near 7/4 then 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 #3, 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 then strong west winds redeveloped in the Northeast KWGA on 10/1 and held through 10/18, resulting in a yet another defined WWB event (#4) rivaling WWB #3 in June-July. And another small WWB started further east on 10/22 through 10/30. But by By 10/31 the Inactive Phase of the MJO appeared with west anomalies dead through (11/23). This slackening of the anomalies will likely usher in the Upwelling Phase of the Kelvin Wave Cycle after Kelvin Wave #4 terminates its eventual eruption in the vicinity of the Galapagos starting 2.5 months later or near 1/15/16. Starting 11/20 a weak west anomaly pattern started to redevelop near the dateline and that was holding through today. 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 wind monitoring model: West and East New!

Comparison of 2 Strong Westerly Wind Bursts (WWB)

On left the massive WWB in late June/July that created large Kelvin Wave #3. On right the current WWB that is generating Kelvin Wave #4.
Scales are a little different but notice anomalies in the July event at 12-14 m/s est (24-28 kts) and now in Oct at 13-14 m/s (26-28 kts)
(Click to Enlarge Images)

June/July WWB October WWB


Longer Range MJO/WWB Projections:  
OLR Models: As of Mon (12/14) a modest Inactive MJO signal was locked over the dateline equatorial region with the Active Phase over the East Indian Ocean. The Statistic model forecasts it fading to weak status 15 days out with a solid Active MJO Pattern over the East Indian Ocean moving into the West Pacific 15 days out.  The dynamic model depicts much the same but at a slower pace. Everything from an El Nino standpoint hinges on the demise of the Inactive Phase of the MJO over the dateline. And that hinges of the eastward propagation of the Active Phase from the Indian Ocean, or at least the complete collapse of both. As it stands right now, the Inactive Phase of the MJO is destructively interfering with the El Nino base state eliminating the west anomalies required to fuel the jet. The assumption is that as the Active Phase fades in the Indian Ocean, so too will the Inactive Phase over the KWGA, and west anomalies will start rebuild driven by the El Nino base state. But the timing of this remains elusive. But if the Active Phase moves east, that would not be bad either as it would fuel yet a stronger jetstream over the NPac.    
Phase Diagrams 2 week forecast (ECMF and GEFS): The ECMF model indicates some form of modest 'MJO-like' active signal in the East Indian Ocean and it is to build some and move steadily east into the West Pacific 2 weeks out. The GEFS now is picking up on that pattern too with it moving to the far West Pacific 2 weeks out. Still any exact outcome is a bit up in the air right now but the possibility of the Active Phase of the MJO moving into the West Pacific is looking better (60/40 odds). Still we will remain skeptical till we see some evidence on the 1 week GFS model that westerly anomalies are forecast to return. If the Inactive MJO signal that is dominating the Pacific fades as the Active Phase fades in the Indian Ocean or moves east, this would allow the more typical El Nino base state to re-emerge. But for now, we're still waiting for one of those options to materialize.
40 Day Upper Level Model: This model depicts a dead neutral pattern over the Pacific (which is not happening). No real change is forecast. This model is not believable.
CFS Model beyond 1 week (850 mb wind): The Active Phase of the MJO is trying to build on the dateline, but not quite fully there yet. West anomalies are light in the area with no Rossby Wave in.cgiay. More of the same is to continue through 12/24 until the MJO pushes harder east. The core of the MJO is to activate on the dateline 12/25 with westerly anomalies redeveloping stronger and holding to 1/29. By 2/5 the Active Phase of the MJO is to fade with the Inactive Phase in control, then reactivating 2/23. It is obvious that the MJO is not dead, regardless of theories which suggest it should be during strong El Ninos. that evidence is th presence of the Inactive Phase currently destructively interfering with the El Nino base state. So it makes sense that at some point the Active Phase should return. Still, the El Nino base state should be the primary driver of Westerly Anomalies from here forward. We are now supposedly in the core of the El Nino cycle (Oct-Dec), but the westerly anomaly pattern is still not where we think it should be given the other atmospheric signals. That is expected to change shortly if one believes the models, but they've been teasing with no actual manifestation in reality. The core of westerly anomalies are already easing east, and are to continue to do so into the Jan timeframe, when they are expected to push to 165W and out of the the KWGA. This would shut down the warm water conveyor, with the warm pool in the east starting to decay after draining all the warm water present in what is now a massive reservoir. But, if that were to not happen, the life of this years El Nino would be extended. Something to watch for. Still the above scenario is typical timing for an El Nino from a gross level perspective. A more detailed timing estimate is provided below. 

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

Subsurface Waters Temps
TAO Array: (12/15) Actual temperatures remain impressive and believable with all sensors back on-line. A broad area of 30 deg temps were at depth from 140E to 151W (holding) with the 28 deg isotherm line retracting some at depth from 123W. Anomaly wise +2 deg anomalies are from the dateline eastward. +4 deg anomalies are from 152W eastward (steady). +6 degs anomalies are from 132W eastward (steady) with a core at +7 degs starting at 119W and points east of there. These core regions are steady for the moment, but are expected to continue tracking east. Per the hi-res GODAS animation posted 12/9 the reservoir is in great shape with warm water still flowing into it from near the dateline and a large core of +5 deg anomalies in it's heart from 85W-135W (shrinking some). This is a great scenario. Warm water also appears to continue erupting west of the Galapagos at +4 degs from 105W to 122W but now retracting from the Galapagos/Ecuador region subsurface. Cool water is starting to undercut the warm pool though down at 125 meters and reaching east to 130W.
Sea Surface Height Anomalies (SSHA):  (12/9) Heights are fading and moving east, but still at high levels. 0-+5 cm anomalies are over the entire equatorial Pacific starting at 180W (steady). Peak anomalies at +20 cm have returned at 105W. +15 cm anomalies extending from the Galapagos at 90W to 135W and reaching from 5N to 5S (expanding). +10 cm anomalies are pushing to Ecuador and tracking north along the Central America Coast, typical of El Nino.
Upper Ocean Heat Content: (12/9) is shrinking but still at very impressive levels indicating +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies are rebuilding significantly moving from 152W now to 173W and extending east to the Galapagos). +1.0-1.5 degs anomalies are easing east from 141W eastward attributable to WWB #4/Kelvin Wave #4. +1.5 deg anomalies are easing east from 135W and points east (steady). A large pocket of +2.0 deg anomalies are steady if now moving west from 131W into Ecuador. And +2.5 deg anomalies remain present and are shrinking between 118W->102W. 2.0-2.5 anomalies are showing signs of retracting from Ecuador. The Downwelling Phase of Kelvin Wave #4 is underway in the east. This El Nino remains slightly westward di.cgiaced. The Upwelling Phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle is also evident in the west (just east of the dateline) with the eastward retreat of of all temperature bands, the result of the Inactive Phase of the MJO cycle which started 10/31 and continues to date but is fading. But there is also some signs of a new Kevin Wave developing near the dateline. So thoughts that the warm subsurface reservoir might be discharging are at least for now on hold, pending more data on the supposed strength of this new Kelvin Wave #5. Still the peak of El Nino from a subsurface warming perspective has already passed and any additional warming will serve mainly to extend the life of El Nino.

A strong Kelvin Wave impacted the Ecuador Coast in May-June with a second somewhat weaker one impacting it in June. The third and strongest so far is erupting, but somewhat westward di.cgiaced just west of the Galapagos and not as overtly strong as one would expect, being rather a steady bleed rather than a gully washer. In fact, a careful analysis indicates it has peaked. 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 suggested there were 2.5+ months of warm water in the reservoir (till Dec 15) and some of that water is extremely warm (7 degs above normal). And now Kelvin Wave #4 is developing, expected to extend the life of the reservoir. The peak of Kelvin Wave #3 was forecast to occur roughly on 10/4.  We revised it a few times since then, but looking back we've determined it was correct if not a little late (more below). But another equally strong WWB occurred peaking in 10/10 resulting in Kelvin Wave #4, which should peak 2.5 months later, or near 12/25 (nice Christmas present) and advecting west a month after that into Nino3.4 on 1/25. But it appeared to start erupting west of the Galapagos on 10/28 peaking 11/17. Typical of the character of this El Nino event, it is maddeningly slow and under whelming if viewed on a daily basis. But the overall impact, is marked and historically strong. With the WWB/Kelvin Wave #4, a more aggressive face of this El Nino appeared during the Oct-Nov timeframe. But the Inactive Phase of the MJO took over on 10/31, and with it the subsurface warm pool started discharging, with no significant westerly anomalies nor warm surface water left in the West Pacific to be driven to the east in the form of a Kelvin Wave.  

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. All data is from blended infrared and microwave sensors.
Satellite Imagery
Hi-res Nino1.2: Per the latest image (12/14) temps were solid but loosing some coverage. No +4.0 deg anomalies were present. +2.25 anomalies covered from the Galapagos to Ecuador with decent width, but not overtly impressive. Peak temps are down some in the past week.
This continues to indicate the Kelvin Wave eruption area is westward di.cgiaced, with occasional pockets of warmer water sneaking in, but not steadily. Warming in this area peaked on 7/14 then crashed and has been trying to rebuild ever since.
Hi-res Nino 3.4: (12/14) The latest image depicts building coverage, and still impressive. Coverage of +2.25 deg anomalies has built out towards 140W, where is formally shrank some. Peak temps are loosing a little coverage at +4.0 between 100W to 118W. Overall the pattern remains solidly impressive, but is down some from it's peak. All this warm water is now mostly attributable to Kelvin Wave #4. This remains unbelievable on a historical level and still breaks records set in the '97 El Nino. Temps between 160W-180W are building more, with +2.25 deg anomalies reaching west to the dateline now and building broader than a few days ago. And +4 deg anomalies are now starting to show at 158W. This warm pool is advection west of warm water resulting from eruption of Kelvin Waves #3 and #4. 
Hi-res 7 day Trend (12/13): Moderate warming is occurring over a broad area down the South American Coast off Chile and Peru south of the equator out to 100W. Also temps are on the increase on the equator from 110W to 142W and between 160W to 160E.
Hi-res Overview:
(12/11) The El Nino signal is unmistakable and the strongest since 1997 and it even beats '97 in the Nino3.4 region. The main focus continues to be eruption ports that developed starting 10/28 west of the Galapagos and continue today. Those ports peaked on 11/19, not as intense as a previous peak on 9/19, but covering a larger area. Today the warmest temps have less coverage than the November peak. As of 12/13 there is a nearly unbroken string of +4 deg anomalies from 100W to 138W. The mid-zoomed image depicts the vent port area migrating west and loosing some intensity, but gaining areal coverage. A broad pocket of solid +4 deg anomalies is from 100-122W and continuing west from there to 137W but thinner and not as intense. +4.0 anomalies exist just west of the Galapagos too. Very impressive. No embedded areas at +5 degs were present. And this warm water is advected west. Kelvin Wave #3 peaked on 9/19 with mult.cgie pockets of +5 degs anomalies occurring. The number and intensity of those vent ports faded, then redeveloped and increased significantly starting 10/28 and peaked on 11/23. That peak was attributable to Kelvin Wave #4. We can't stress enough the importance of this upgrade and the effect this will have a few weeks out as it advects west into Nino 3.4 proper.

Historical Comparison of Strong El Nino's
Updated! Images built using 2 data sets - Monthly OISSTv.2 (left) & ERSSTv4 (right) This years data valid through November.
Both images/datasets suggest this is the warmest the NINO3.4 region has ever been. Now the question becomes: Will that translate in weather and swell? If the theory that temps in this area translate in stormier weather, then the answer is obvious.
Requisite Disclaimer - Current performance is no indication of future performance.
(Click to enlarge)

OISSTv2 data ERSSTv4 image


Kelvin Wave #3 Eruption Evolution
(click to enlarge)


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 (expanding west to 165E). We're monitoring the +0.0 anomaly line on the equator to see if it's moving east. Today its off the charts but was formally at 140E (steady and well west). +1.5 deg anomalies are building to the west reaching unbroken to 173E. There is also a solid area of +2.0-2.5 deg anomalies extending from the Galapagos to 180W. A pocket of +3.0 deg anomalies is building from 107W-163W. A former pocket of +3.5 anomalies is gone. Overall the warm water signature is steady and impressive.
Nino1.2 Daily CDAS Index Temps: (12/15) Temps are falling some at +2.088, Down from +2.387 12/11, holding there since 11/30, up from +1.708 11/19, down from +2.106 (11/5), down form +2.422 on 11/1. Previously temps peaked for 5 days at +2.581 near 10/8 and previously spiked at +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.
Nino 3.4 Daily CDAS Index Temps: Today (12/15) temps are down at + 2.416, falling slowly but steadily from +3.022 (12/3) and up from +2.967 (12/1), steady from +2.980 (11/27), up slightly from +2.900 on 11/23, down 15 hundredths from 11/20 at +2.915, down one tenth of a degree from the all time peak of +3.041 on 12z 11/19. This temp beat the previous all time high of +3.028 degs (12Z 11/17), up from + 2.986 as of (12Z 11/15) Nov 15. Overall temps have not been below +2.0 degs since 8/21. and are right at +2.9 or greater since 11/13. Very Impressive. This continues the upward trend with previous peaks at +2.780 (12z Nov 12) up from +2.704 (11/5 12Z). And more previous peaks for this event were: +2.512 (10/24 06z) besting the previous record of +2.468 (10/20), up from +1.824 on 10/8, and beating the previous peak of +2.44 on 10/3. The thought is Nino 3.4 temps are about peaked out now (until Kelvin Wave #4 starts to erupt and advect west). Previously temps were up from +2.037 on 10/1 and +2.077 on 9/17. The previous all time peak for this event was +2.24 degs on 8/23 (one day). That was crushed on 10/3 at +2.44, and now bested on 10/20 at +2.4678. By any standard we are at a Strong El Nino levels. We expect these temps to continue upward for the foreseeable future.
Nino3.0 CDAS Index Temps: The '97 El Nino peaked in this region at 3.6-3.7 degs mid-Nov to mid-Dec (OISSTv2). That is the goal. Today's value was +2.655, down from +2.882 (12/12), steady since (12/10) when it was +2.942, down some from (12/8) when it was +2.988 and stead compared to the 12/6 value of +2.989, up slightly form +2.919 (12/3), up from +2.905 (12/1), down slightly from +2.990 (11/28) up from +2.855 (11/23), up some from + 2.799 on 11/21, and down from +2.957 on 11/19. So we have some distance to go to be comparable to '97 in this region.
Nino3.4 Weekly Temps (OISSTv2 - 1981-2010 base period - centered in Jan 3 1990): On 12/9 continued down slightly at +2.8 (Nino3.4) and +2.9 (Nino3). On 12/2 they were +2.9 (in both Nino3.0 and 3.4), down from 11/25 when they were +3.0 (in both Nino3.0 and 3.4), and down from the peak of +3.1 on 11/18, up from 11/11 when temps in Nino3 and 3.4 were both +3.0 degs. On 11/4 they were both +2.8. In '97 (11/26) peak temps in Nino3.4 reached +2.8. So we have beat that mark. But Nino3 temps in '97 reached +3.6-3.7 degs. We still have +0.6 degs to go. Insert Subsurface/Surface image here This years event is westward di.cgiaced somewhat like the '82/83 super El Nino event, but not as strongly so. The main evidence for this is the continued eruption of Kelvin Wave #3 west of the Galapagos with weakened warming east of there.  This suggests the Walker circulation is not di.cgiaced as far east as in '97 but more like '82/83. Best analysis from upper level charts suggests it's core is at 110W. 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. 
Nino3.4 Monthly Temps (November) The centered Nino3.4 temps for the month of November were released 12/3 and came in at +2.34 degs C (ERSSTv4), beating the highest temp recorded in '97 (Nov - +2.32 degs) and beating the peak of the '82 El Nino (Dec +2.21 degs). And this years Oct temps were adjusted upwards to +2.0 degs. See updated graphs above. As of right now for a one month average, this put this years El Nino stronger than '97 and therefore the strongest ever (based on a one month SST reading). The ONI uses a 3 month running average. That is the final determiner. Very interesting.

SST Anomalies on 9/14/2015 and what is driving them from below
(Click to enlarge)

SST Image

Given the westward di.cgiacement in this years El Nino, we are interested in the relative effect on the jetstream as compared to previous strong ENSO events.  That's is, how does one compare eastward versus westward di.cgiaced El Nino events. This years El Nino has relatively weak Nino1.2 anomalies compared to '82 and '97, but much warmer in Nino4.  Do Nino3.4 temps accurately take that difference into account? We decided to find out. First we made an assumption: It is the total volume of warm water in the equatorial East Pacific, not just in Nino3.4 that defines the magnitude of the resulting El Nino atmospheric response. Whether that water is eastward or westward di.cgiaced, it makes no difference, as long as one can measure the total heating footprint, the bulk atmospheric response should be the same, just the center of core storm production would be either more east or west di.cgiaced.Next we needed to determine how to measure total heating footprint. There is a good historical record for anomalies in Nino1.2 (spanning 10 degrees longitude - 80W-90W), Nino3 (spanning 60 degrees - 90W-150W) and Nino4 (50 degrees - 150W to 150E).  If one performs a weighted average of the SST anomalies for the 3 zones, a composite anomaly can be obtained. So we did that for recent strong El Nino events. The results indicate a pattern very similar to si.cgie Nino3.4 analysis, that this years event is in the top 2 for this time of year and the top 3 of all time (discounting the more historically correct 'centered' data). Here's the data:

Note: ERSSTv4 'centered' data is not available for Nino1, 3 and 4 regions, only Nino3.4.

Pacific Counter Current:  As of 12/6 the current was strong from the west north of the equator from 125E to 130W with solid pockets on the equator at 130-160E and 170W. Anomaly wise - One pocket of solid west anomalies were between the dateline to 160W on the equator. Otherwise everything was normal. There were no pocket of east anomalies indicated.  This is somewhat impressive as long as one does not compare it to '97, because if you do, there is no comparison. In '97 the current was solidly east from 170E to 130W mostly north of the equator with anomalies very strong from 165E to 120W on the equator.    

SST Anomaly projections
CFSv2 model - PDF Corrected:
 This data is worthless. We are not reporting on it anymore.
Uncorrected Data is also worthless depicting peak temps to +2.95 degs Nov 5, and fading slightly to early December then falling to +2.45 degs Jan 1. In reality, temps are holding steady at near peak levels.
IRI Consensus Plume: The mid-Nov Plume has upgraded again, suggesting peak monthly temps between +2.4 degs (Statistical models), +2.6 degs (Dynamic) with the CPC consensus at +2.5 occurring during Dec. The mid-July consensus was spread between +1.5-2.0 degs, the mid-Aug between +2.0-2.5 degs and the mid-Sept between +2.1-2.5 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 now a valid comparison. '97 imagery had all the warmth crammed up along Ecuador. This years event is focused west of there, with more warmth in Nino4 than in '97 (see analysis above).

Atmospheric Co.cgiing Index's (lagging indicators rather than driving oceanic change):   
Daily Southern Oscillation Index (12/12): Was rising from -8.90. Of note: The 97 El Nino had daily values at -40 to -50 in early Nov with one spurt to -76 Jan 30-31st. A peak reading so far in this 2015 event was -49.70/-46.60 on Oct 3 & 4 and then -42.20 on 10/14 and -47.50 on 12/3. 
30 Day Average: Was falling from -10.56. The peak low was recorded on 10/9 at -22.72, beating the previous peak low of -20.95 on 8/21, with the previous lowest at -20.49 on 7/18/15. This is exactly where we want to be (at -20 or lower).  
90 Day Average: Was rising some at -14.12. A record low of -19.28 occurred on 10/16 and was matched on 10/20. The previous record low was -18.56 on 9/16. This is the critical threshold we've been anticipating (values -18 or lower), providing yet more evidence of strong atmospheric co.cgiing. We want to see it hold there, and that goal is looking more possible. It has been at or below -10.0 since early July and -15.0 since 9/4 and on a steady fall ever since. The 90 day SOI bottomed out at a low reading on 8/5 at -14.17, then beat it on 9/2 at -15.23, beating that on 9/16 at -18.56 and now -19.28 on 10/16. 
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 steady El Nino base state being negatively affected the Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady state El Nino base state.
SOI Trend - Darwin (looking for high pressure here): Weak low pressure was over Southwest Aust on 12/15 as it has been for weeks, with no immediate change forecast through Tues (12/22). We're dying to see high pressure take over East Australia. But the Active Phase of the MJO in the East Indian Ocean needs to fade or move east and be r.cgiaced by the Inactive Phase for that to occur. It is high pressure over Australia in NHemi winter months that is the preferred pattern for El Nino development in the Pacific.
SOI trend - Tahiti (looking for low pressure here): On 12/15 weak high pressure was barely getting a grasp south of Tahiti. This pattern is to hold through Tues (12/22). The SOI should hold steady based on the Tahiti contribution. If a Super El Nino is in development one would want to see continuous local lows near or over Tahiti. We're seeing perhaps a start of that pattern.  
SOI 1 week Forecast: The net result is to be a steady state SOI with values holding weakly negative. The Inactive Phase of the MJO in the West Pacific has been having significant impact. Hopefully that is poised to change a week out.        
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 co.cgiing though not great, 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.
ESPI (like SOI but based on satellite confirmed cloud cover): (12/15) today's value was steady at +1.17, down from +1.25 (12/10), after rising through 12/8 to +1.37, up from +0.89 (12/1), up from +0.57 (11/23), down from +0.97 (11/15). This is a good trend suggesting that perhaps we're recouping from the lowest we've seen it on 12/1. Maybe the Inactive MJO in the Pacific is fading. But it is also typical for the ESPI to start falling as we move into Winter. This is primarily a summer and early Fall index during El Nino years. The most recent high value was +2.40 on Sat (10/17). It had been holding in the +1.95-2.20 range for weeks (thru 10/13) with only minor fluctuation. 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, then down to 2.02 on 9/29. 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. Monthly ESPI values are as follows: July 3.76, Aug 2.34, Sept 2.1, Oct 2.3. '97 had two peak values at +2.99 in Aug and +3.06 in Sept.  2015 had +3.7 in July followed by +2.33 and +2.20 in Aug and Sept and 2.3 in Oct. to complete with '97.
Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) (Nov) The current ranking is up some, at +2.31, up barely from +2.23 (Oct), down from it's peak of +2.53 in Sept, and from +2.37 in Aug. Still this MEI value has the 2015 event as the second 3rd strongest El Nino ever, and equivalent to 1982 for this time of year. So we continue mid-way between the '82 and '97 events, 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 (12/15) Detailed analysis is in the NPac Short Term Forecast above. The jet looks decent but not exceptional constrained by when the Inactive Phase of the MJO took over and has had a dampening effect and will continue to do so till the Inactive Phase is over.   

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

Conclusion: WWB #3 peaked on July 4, with the resulting Kelvin Wave peaking on Sept 19 west of the Galapagos, or a roughly 2.5 month travel time.  Likewise those warm waters advected into Nino3.4, peaking about one month later, or 10/19. Peak atmospheric influence should occur approximately 2 months later or 12/20. Then WWB #4 developed of near equal strength, peaking on 10/15, which resulted in formation of Kelvin Wave #4. Using the same te.cgiate, peak eruption of Kelvin Wave #4 is expected on 12/30/2015 (westward di.cgiaced), and advecting into Nino3.4 and peaking roughly 1/30/2016 with peak atmospheric influence on approx 3/30/2016. This suggests peak atmospheric perturbation will occur in the window from 12/2/2015-4/2/2016, or well di.cgiaced later in the Winter as compared to the '97/98 event, and somewhat like the '82/83 event. The Inactive Phase of the MJO took control 10/31, and is expected to usher in the Upwelling Phase of the Kelvin wave Cycle starting 1/31/16. The resultant slackening of peak water temps won't reach Nino3.4 till 3/1, and won't hit the atmosphere till 5/1.  By then, the effective lifecycle of El Nino for the Winter of 2015-2016 will be over. And any westerly anomalies projected for the KWGA in the Dec-Jan 2016 timeframe will contribute nothing to Kelvin Wave production and jetstream a.cgiification just due to the time it will take for a resulting Kelvin Wave to migrate east. But those anomalies could help the atmosphere like the Active Phase of the MJO does, fueling jetstream energy. That is the primary contribution of westerly anomalies from here forward. 

In terms of comparative strength based on Nino3.4 temps, 2015 is in the same ballpark based on OISSTv2 weekly data. Based on ERSSTv4 data (a more conservative data source) '97 peaked at +2.32 degs with 4 months of +2.0 degs anomalies and '82 at +2.21 degs with 2 months temps greater than +2.0 degs. 2015 is looking to produce a +2.1 degree one month average based on very rough data today, with a huge reservoir of anomalies still venting to the surface and Kevin Wave #4 still migrating east.  But, coverage of warmer than normal water and it's affect on the atmosphere is not limited to just the Nino3.4 area. Nino3 and Nino1.2.cgiay a role. It's is the total areal coverage of the warm water footprint that defines the impact on the atmosphere. Temps in Nino3 in this years event are at +3.0 degs, but peaked at +3.7 degs in '97. Conversely temps in Nino 4 in this years event beats temps in '97. All graphed out, one gets the sense that '97 and 2015 are very different events, but similar in total atmospheric effect. It's not just magnitude of the peak temps that make a difference atmospherically, but also the duration of those anomalies. The longer and stronger the anomalies, the greater the atmospheric response. At this time the expected atmospheric affects should be significant, though di.cgiaced somewhat later in the season. 

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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