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Swell Classification Guidelines
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate/Utility Class: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft).
Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Thursday (1/1) in North and Central CA surf was waist high or so and clean but weak with not any real swell in the water and with an well entrenched offshore flow in control. Down in Santa Cruz surf was flat and clean. In Southern California up north surf was knee high on the sets and clean and lined up but very weak. Effectively flat. Down south waves were knee high on breaking on the beach. Hawaii's North Shore was getting a mix of windswell and ground swell with waves 8-10 ft on the face but very confused with onshore northwest winds and poor conditions. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting northerly proto-swell with waves 4 ft overhead and clean.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A cutoff low was just 200 nmiles north of Hawaii on Wed (12/31) generating 20 ft seas resulting in local raw proto-swell which is hitting the Islands now. Otherwise a gale developed off the North Kuril Islands on Tues-Wed (12/31) tracking northeast generating 37 ft seas but all tracking towards the Western Aleutians. Small sideband swell expected for Hawaii over the weekend. Two other far smaller gales are forecast for the same area on Thurs-Fri and Sun (1/4) with 30 and 32 ft seas respectively. Maybe a background pulse for Hawaii at best. Longer term a decent gale is forecast for the dateline on Wed (1/7) with seas to 41 ft targeting Hawaii well while another gale develops at the same time in the Gulf of Alaska with up to 28 ft seas projected, offering the potential for swell for the US West Coast. But all this is contingent upon the models being realistic, which is a bit of a reach at this early date. At least there something to tease us on the models now. Everything really hinges on the expected demise of the Inactive Phase of the MJO and the projected development of the Active Phase about 2 weeks out. Until then a rather weak storm pattern is to continue.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (1/1) the jet was pushing strong off Japan at 200 kts ridging slightly then tracking flat east to the dateline and .cgiitting some there with most energy falling southeast and tracking directly over Hawaii and then into Baja. The secondary flow tracked north from the dateline into the Bering Sea with yet a second .cgiit tracking north from Hawaii and into Northern Canada. The only trough of interest was directly over North Japan and mostly landlocked there. Over the next 72 hours winds off Japan are to push east some at 170 kts reaching over the dateline and falling into a broad trough with it's apex almost directly over Hawaii on Sat AM (1/3) offering support for gale development there. A secondary trough is to be back to the west over the Kuril Islands. But the jet is to remain .cgiit west of the dateline and again northeast of Hawaii, sapping the jet of much needed organization. Beyond 72 hours winds to fade some off Japan on Tues (1/6) then start building again by Thurs (1/8) with winds to barely 170 kts over Japan but the .cgiits are to weaken and a more cohesive flow is to start developing with the jet running reasonably flat to the east, from Japan to a point mid-way between Hawaii and Southern CA before really .cgiitting. Still a trickle of wind energy is to be peeling north off the main flow just off Japan, but nowhere near as fragmented as it currently is. This leads hope that a wholesale repair of the jet is to start taking shape fueled by the transition from the Inactive Phase of the MJO to the Active Phase over the West Pacific (see MJO/ENSO section below).
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (1/1) raw proto-swell associated with a local cutoff low just north of Hawaii was hitting the Islands. Otherwise a small gale developed just east of the Kuril Islands on Mon-Tues (1/30) generating a small area of 55 kt northwest winds Tues AM and a tiny area of 32 ft seas at 46N 160E. 50 kt west winds held there into the evening with 37 ft seas at 47N 165E tracking more northeast than east aimed somewhat at Hawaii (320 degs HI, 305 degs NCal)/ A quick fade set in Wed AM (12/31) with winds dropping from 35 kts while the gale lifted more to the north and seas faded from 31 ft at 49N 170E (326 degs HI, 306 degs NCal). Small background swell is expected for Hawaii on Sat AM (1/3) with swell 3 ft @ 17-18 secs (5 ft) building to 3.6 ft @ 16 secs late (5.5 ft). Swell fading Sun (1/4) from 3.5 ft @ 14 secs early (5 ft). Nothing real expected to reach the mainland.
Over the next 72 hours 2 far weaker systems are to develop off the Kuril Islands on Fri (1/2) and Sun (1/4) generating 30 and 32 ft seas respectively near 45N 162-167E with all energy aimed northeast. Little to no swell to result for Hawaii or the US West Coast. In short, a continuation of a slack swell pattern is expected.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/1) high pressure was in control of the extreme East Pacific with a .cgiit jetstream flow aloft. An offshore flow as in effect for all of California. The offshore flow to moderate for the entire state through the weekend (1/4) and into early next week. On Wed (1/7) low pressure from the Gulf of Alaska is to be pushing close to the state with a front and south winds at 20 kts reaching to the North CA coast and pushing south to Monterey Bay Thurs AM (1/8). Rain for the North Coast Wed PM pushing south and fading, with sprinkles down to Morro Bay later Thursday. A weak northerly flow to follow behind later in the day Thurs for all of North and Central CA. No snow expected for Tahoe.
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 two low pressure systems of interest are forecast developing, one in the Central Gulf on Mon (1/5) and another on the dateline on Tues (1/6). The Gulf gale is to produce 40 kt northwest winds on Tues AM (1/6) resulting in 27 ft seas at 43N 158W targeting the US West Coast then fading in the evening with winds dropping to 35 kts and seas fading from 27 ft at 41N 156W. Perhaps some decent swell to result for California with sideband energy for the Islands.
The second gale is to start developing on the dateline Tues AM (1/6) with 45 kt northwest winds and seas on the increase. 50 kt northwest winds are projected by evening with 36 ft seas at 38N 175E. Winds are to be fading Wed AM (1/7) from 45 kts from the west with seas peaking at 41 ft at 38N 180W. A nice modest pulse of swell for Hawaii is possible with far less size for the US West Coast. At least it's something to monitor.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather cycle that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized in it's Inactive Phase by enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is in control of, and in it's Active Phase by slack if not an outright reversal of trade winds and enhanced precipitation. The oscillation occurs in roughly 20-30 day cycles (Inactive for 20-30 days, then Active for 20-30 days) over any single location on the.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 Thursday (1/1) the daily SOI was rising from -5.04 with weak low pressure still present over Tahiti. The 30 day average was rising from -7.22 and the 90 day average was steady at -8.03. 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 (2.5 months). A weak low pressure pattern is to hold near Tahiti for the next week keeping the SOI somewhat negative. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning to weak east anomalies over the dateline reaching to a point south of Hawaii then weakening, but still easterly over the Galapagos. A week from now (1/9) solid west anomalies are to be building over the Maritime Continent turning modestly easterly over the dateline continuing south of the Hawaiian Islands and reaching the Galapagos. This suggests the Inactive Phase is to be pushing east with a new Active Phase trying to get a toehold over the far West Pacific. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated light west anomalies over the Maritime Continent with light east anomalies mainly in the far east equatorial Pacific. This suggests the Inactive Phase is still in control but is shifting east with the Active Phase trying to make inroads over the West Pacific.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/31 are in sync. They both suggest the active Phase of the MJO was over the Maritime Continent with a weak Inactive MJO pattern over the equatorial Pacific south of Hawaii. The Statistic model depicts this weak Inactive Phase fading away while moving east over the next 15 days. The Dynamic model depicts the same thing but with the Inactive Phase strengthening slightly and not easing east as fast or as far. Both depict the Active Phase of the MJO building over the Maritime Continent and easing east into the West Pacific 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 12/31 depicts the Active Phase over the West Pacific today and tracking very slowly east and progressively fading over the East Pacific through 1/20. A modest Inactive Phase is to follow in the west starting 1/20 pushing east into 2/9 while a new Active Phase builds in the East Indian Ocean.
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 (1/1) a modestly warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific (up some since early Sept) but not getting any warmer recently. A clear but weak El Nino signature is barely holding on. Warm water has traction just west of the Galapagos while tracking west between 90W to 160W, likely the result of the eruption of the last of a pair of Kelvin Waves impacting the Galapagos region (peaking 12/21). But that warm water is starting to rapidly decline. TAO data suggests only +0.5-1.0 deg C anomalies are present over a continuous area on the equator starting at the Galapagos (previously up to +1.5 deg C) with 1.0 deg anomalies reaching into the far West Pacific. 1.0 deg anomalies are rebuilding near 160E. Warm water is present on the surface in the NINO 3.4 region based on TAO and hi res imagery, but down from previous heights. The CDAS NINO 3.4 Index suggest water temps down to +0.2, previously peaking late Nov at about +1.0.
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 1/1 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with a embedded pocket of +3 deg anomalies pushing east from 95W. The +3º C anomalies is the last remnants of a second in a pair of recent Kelvin Waves erupting over the Galapagos. Satellite data from 12/24 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies over the entire equatorial Pacific with a small pocket of +5 cm anomalies just west of the Galapagos indicative of the Kelvin Wave there. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (12/24) indicates the second Kelvin Wave was fading near 110W. Interesting but +1 deg anomalies are continuing to develop between 130-140E reaching east to 180W, suggestive that another Kelvin wave might be in the early stages of development. Theoretically the peak of El Nino occurred (12/21) with no more Kelvin Wave development expected if this is to be a single year event. If it is a true multiyear Midoki El Nino event, then it would not be unexpected to see another Kelvin Wave develop in the Jan-Feb 2015 timeframe. See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
Now that the second Kelvin Wave has arrived in the east (about Dec 21) we should 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 12/11 is mixed. 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 and again south of Hawaii. But on the equator a steady modest east to west flow was in control over the width of the Pacific. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 115W. East anomalies were on the equator, strongest at 170E. This data continues to suggest a mixed pattern but generally supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 1/1 for the Nino 3.4 region are stable. It suggests water temps are down some at +0.75deg C and are to fade some to between +0.5-0.6 through April 2015. But the interesting part remains that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in June 2015, pushing +1.9 degs C by late 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: Mult.cgie downwelling Kelvin Waves generated by suppressed trades and occasional Westerly Wind Bursts occurring through 2014 in the West Pacific. Those Kelvin Waves have warmed waters over the Eastern equatorial Pacific, but not sufficiently to declare an official El Nino. Still some degree of teleconnection or feedback loop between the ocean and the atmosphere is in.cgiay. 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.
The focus now becomes whether it will persist into 2015 and transition into a multi-year event, or fade in the March-June 2015 timeframe. At this time we're assuming the situation with move to a multiyear, Midoki event (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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table