New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 Saturday (1/2) North and Central California was getting a short lived pulse of Swell #9 from a local gale that formed off the coast on Thurs/Fri (1/1) with surf pushing 15 ft and clean. Southern California was expecting to see this same swell (Swell #9) by late afternoon with waves pushing 3-4 ft overhead at exposed spots but a bit from the north, (300 degrees) limiting exposure at most breaks. Hawaii's North Shore was small with northwest windswell about waist high and chopped early. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for fading swell from Swell #9 on Sunday with waves 2-3 ft overhead dropping to waist high or so on Monday. Perhaps a little reinforcement is expected in on Tuesday from the dateline with waves chest high then fading to waist high on Wednesday. Southern California to see leftovers of Swell #9 on Sunday with waves chest high at exposed breaks then dropping to knee high on Monday. Perhaps a little increase in period on Tuesday with dateline swell limited to the knee high range then fading from knee high on Wednesday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to start seeing some more swell on Sunday coming from a gale that pushed over the dateline Thurs/Fri (1/1) with surf 3 ft overhead or so pushing to 4 ft overhead on Monday then dropping from 2-3 ft overhead on Tuesday as possible new swell from off Japan and the dateline builds late in the day. The East Shore is to have no easterly windswell. The South Shore is in hibernation for the winter.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is firmly in the Inactive Phase which should not add any fuel to help build the storm pattern for a few weeks. That said, the models are not backing down too much with a solid gale forecast pushing from Japan to the dateline and to a point north of Hawaii Sat-Wed (1/6) with seas up to 39 ft off Japan early, but fading to a more moderate 35 ft range later in it's life. This one is to again be on that very southerly track which favors HAwaii and Southern CA, but linda limits the energy into Northern CA. And yet another small one is forecast moving towards the dateline late in the week, likely resulting in more swell for all locations. But for now the big focus is waiting for the MJO to swing back into the Active Phase, which is expected later in January.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Saturday (1/2) the North Pacific jetstream was effectively unchanged from what is has been for weeks now, namely flowing hard off Southern Japan on a very southerly route near 34N tracking flat east at 200 kts reaching the dateline, then starting to loose steam before .cgiitting 600 nmiles north of Hawaii with two weak stream pushing west from there, one into Oregon and the other the southern tip of Baja. This .cgiit support high pressure at the surface in between the two streams. No troughs were present in the strong flow pushing off Japan, therefore not supporting low pressure development yet. Over the next 72 hrs a trough is to start building Sunday (1/3) north of Hawaii with winds in the jet pushing 220 kts (most impressive) then fading a little with energy dropping back to the 200 kts range on Monday focused on the dateline, with the trough getting better defined on the dateline Tuesday. Good support for gale development expected. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to dig out even more north of HAwaii on Wednesday with more energy building over Japan, and the .cgiit point in the jet pushing east to just 600 nmiles off the Central CA coast. But on Friday (1/8) the trough is to fall apart and the jet is to weaken over the East Pacific, but things are to remain quite solid over the dateline with winds energy in the jet still at near 200 kts and focused over the dateline, again surging east towards the US West Coast. Interesting, but the peak winds in the jet almost mirror exactly the position of the core of the warm pool in the tropical Pacific on the equator, on the dateline east to a point south of Hawaii. Suspect this is the pattern that will dominate the rest of the winter.
At the surface on Saturday (1/2) weak high pressure was over California at 1020 mbs, providing a bit of a drying spell. But the focus remained on the West Pacific with a new co.cgiex double barreled gale developing with one core just off Northern Japan and the other on the dateline. The stronger of the two was off Japan with winds modeled at 40-45 kts at 37N 150E. Seas were building. Over the next 72 hours and starting Saturday (1/2) evening 45 kt west-northwest winds from this system are forecast at 35N 160E aimed right up the 299 degree path to Hawaii and too south to be on any route to CA. Seas building to 39 ft at 35N 158E. On Sunday AM (1/3) a tiny area of 45 kt westerly winds are to hold at 35N 170E with seas forecast at 37 ft at 34N 168E aimed right down the 299 degree path to Hawaii and too far south to be of much use to CA. In the evening the gale is to reorganize some with a slightly broader area of 45 kt west winds building at 35N 180W on the dateline aimed right down the 310 degree path to Hawaii and 30 degrees south of the 285 degree path to NCal. Seas forecast at 35 ft at 33N 178E. On Monday AM (1/4) a decent sized fetch of 40 kt west winds are to hold at 35N 170W generating more 36 ft seas at 33N 172W, aimed about like before. In the evening this system is to be faltering with 35-40 kts west winds at roughly 35N 162W with 35 ft seas centered at 33N 164W pushing 60 degrees east of the 335 degree path to Hawaii and starting to favor the US West Coast, pushing right up the 275 degree path. On Tuesday AM (1/5) 40 kts west fetch is to be regenerating back at 35N 170W with 32 ft seas at 35N 160W aimed completely east of any path to Hawaii and 20 degrees south of the 277 degree path to NCal. In the evening the fetch is to consolidate and lift north some with 40 kts west winds at 36N 160W generating 32 ft seas at 32N 175W aimed down the 307 degree path to the Islands and barely up the 279 degree path to NCal. On Wednesday AM (1/6) 40 kts winds to continue at 38N 158W aimed entirely at the US West Coast with 35 ft seas at 30N 168W pushing up the 313 degree path to the Islands and not really up the 272 degree path to Central and North CA and the 275 degree path to SCal. This system is to be fading in the evening with residual 35 kt west fetch at 40N 150W generating seas of 32 ft at 30N 162W pushing up the 336 degree path to Hawaii and barely up the 269 degree path to North and Central CA and the 273 degree path to SCal.
If all goes as forecast Hawaii is to see another solid pulse of significant class swell (Swell #10) starting 10 AM Tuesday (1/5) with period 20 secs and size slowly building, with swell peaking starting at 5 PM and holding through 11 PM, with pure swell 11-12 ft @ 17 secs (19-20 ft Hawaiian) then settling down some on Wed (1/6) sunrise from 11 ft @ 15-16 secs (16-18 ft Hawaiian) from the 300-315+ degree routes. Southwest winds to be a problem on the North Shore of Oahu. A very local and westerly second pulse is to possibly arrive in the Islands on Thurs (1/7) starting at 3 AM HST with [period 20 secs and building quickly, peaking from 7-11 AM at 12 ft @ 17 secs (20 ft Hawaiian) from 307-315 degrees then simmering down in the later afternoon. Kona winds expected early turning trades late. But all the above surf forecast is pure conjecture based solely on significant sea heights from the wave models (highly unreliable).
California is expected to see only utility class surf from this system. Latest updates from the models have this system tracking even further south than previously expected, putting less energy onto the great circle tracks into the state (277-287 degrees NCal/280-290 SCal). And given that this data is based mostly on modeled projections, expect even less.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/2) light east to calm winds were in control of Central and Southern CA, with clean conditions taking hold. This pattern is expected to hold into Tuesday (1/50 with maybe only light north winds setting up over Point Conception Wed-Thurs (1/7) at 15 kts, then retreating into the weekend. In short, weak high pressure and a calm winds pattern is forecast for the next week with only Cape Mendocino expected to see maybe some weak south winds Sun-Mon then they too are to move into a calm regime. There is hint of light rain maybe as far south as the North SF Bay area on Wed (1/6), but that's it.
At the surface no swell producing fetch was occurring and none is forecast for the next 72 hours.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs a secondary gale is to build in the Gulf of Alaska from the remnants of Storm #10 producing 30 ft seas for about 24 hours on Thurs (1/7) near 40N 155-160W aimed well at the US West Coast. More solid utility class swell could result. And yet another broad but generally weak gale is forecast forming off Japan on Wednesday (1/6) building some on Thursday with 35 kts west winds forecast in it's southern quadrant aimed due east and again favoring HAwaii. 40 kt west fetch is forecast on Friday down at 36N 170E with 30-32 ft seas building late in the same locale. This system is to fade some while pushing fast to the east, with winds barely 40 kts Saturday (1/9) 900 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii and seas 29 ft then regenerating some on Sun (1/10). Another pulse of small significant class swell could result for the Islands with less for the US West coast.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Saturday (1/2) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) had moved pretty solidly into the Inactive Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was near neutral with the Daily SOI at 0.15. The 30 day average was up slightly at -10.82 while the 90 average was down to -11.02.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicating easterly anomalies in control from Eastern Indonesia over Northern Australia to the dateline and pushing east from there. This is likely helping to suppress storm development some,. but not too much with El Nino now fully in control of the storm pattern both at the surface and up at the jetstream level. This area is about peaked out and is expected to slowly fade on the dateline through 1/6, then with remnants drifting east into the east equatorial Pacific into Jan 11 and gone by the 16th. This pattern is to not support storm formation in this region though these timeframes. At the same time a new version of the Active Phase is already forming in the western Indian Ocean and expected to seep east to New Guinea through 1/16, then fading some while trying to push to the dateline Jan 21 and beyond. But for now the Inactive Phase is likely suppressing storm formation continuing through 1/16/2010.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (12/31) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator from the Galapagos Islands west to the dateline and even west of there, and holding. A new strong Kelvin Wave (see below) has erupted along the coast and some evidence of it can be seen with a most solid warm anomaly signature present over and just west of the Galapagos Islands. It is expected that water temps will continue to increase yet more over the coming months as this Kelvin Wave and a new one (see below) continues impacting the coast there. This is classic El Nino. Overall the warm water signature remains non-exceptional from a historical El Nino perspective, but clearly in the moderate category and slowly but steadily building. This appears to be a late blooming ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator things continue to look favorable. A steady flow of warmer than normal subsurface water continues tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America as it has for months now. As of 1/2 the Kelvin Wave we've been tracking with a core of 5-6 deg C warmer than normal sub-surface water was fully impacting the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast, but pretty much peaked out. This is fueling a modest increase in the warm water surface pool as it continues impacting the coast there. This pool is expected to continue building and eventually tracking back west on the equator driven by trades. This Kelvin Wave first appeared under the dateline on 9/17 and tracked steadily east through 12/1 and was the result of a prolonged persistent westerly surface wind flow that had been in.cgiace west of the dateline from 9/8 and continued into 11/5. Of additional interest was the development of a new pocket of warm water on the dateline, with anomalies now up to 5 deg C above normal and effectively merging with the previously existing Kelvin Wave, forming a continuous pool of warm subsurface water at 4-5 deg C above normal extending from 165W into South AMerica. Pretty impressive.
Over the Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing, but only in the norma range and not of any real concern yet. At some point in the next 2 months we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down and fully normal trades to take over. But that will likely not happen until sometime after the next Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe mid-February. Previously a Westerly Wind Burst continued very obvious starting on 11/30 with fully blowing west winds near 165E, and strong. This Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) continued on 12/2 through 12/8 with a most solid area of west winds pushing almost to the dateline. On 12/6 strong west anomalies pushed to 170W and held solid through 12/15, with fully blowing west winds reaching to the dateline and anomalies to 170W. This WWB started fading by 12/17 but was still present pushing to 175E with neutral (normal) winds east of there. Fully blowing West winds were evidenced on Sat (12/19) and Mon (12/21) reaching to the dateline with westerly anomalies pushing well southeast of Hawaii. This configuration fed the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east from the dateline (see above), and is helping to fuel the development of El Nino. If anything, subsurface water temps are expected to increase as the WWB continues pushing warm water into the depths on the dateline, feeding the developing Kelvin Wave there. And the Kelvin Wave currently hitting Ecuador was formed from a prolonged bout and mult.cgie pulses of westerly winds and westerly anomalies that occurred from 9/8 through 11/2. At one point towards it's end the anomalies reached the whole way from the West Pacific to almost Ecuador. Embedded in that run were Typhoons Dujuan, Choi-Wan, Parma, Melor and Nepartak. All this helped to deepen the surface warm pool in the tropical Eastern Pacific. Typhoon Nida and Storm #5 was associated with the most recent WWB. So at this time two Kelvin Waves are in the pipe. Impressive.
El Nino is expected to affect the global atmospheric weather pattern at least through Spring of next year if not into the middle of summer. All data suggests this will not be a strong El Nino, more likely a moderate one. NOAA's last update (11/5) forecasts the same outcome, though hints at some uncertainty. In short, all the best models aren't exactly sure how this is going to.cgiay out. Regardless a solid accumulation of warm water in the equatorial East Pacific is evidence in-favor of continued development. As long as there continues to be WWB's (as there obviously is), then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold if not build, and the atmosphere above it will respond in-kind to the change (towards El Nino). At this point there is no evidence to suggest this El Nino will stall or dissipate. The only remaining question is whether it will hold, or grow. And current data indicates that the warm pool will hold if not slowly build. And historically it is already larger and strong than any other in the past 12 years.
The current El Nino is gaining strength, with a 2 degree water temp anomaly in the tropical East Pacific the likely outcome. Coverage is pretty solid for this event, but the lack of really high water temp anomalies will likely limit it's strength. Strong El Ninos bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast, along with the potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides storm and swell enhancement, a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, but without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. As of right now things remain better than anything the Pacific has seen in the past 12 years regarding anomalous sea surface temperatures, besting anything since the big El Nino of 1997. That is very good news. But the lack of anomalous water temps exceeding 3 degrees and an unremarkable SOI suggests a modest El Nino at best. Still, it should be enough to provide storm enhancement, and a better than average winter surf season for the North Pacific, and still likely better than anything in the past 10 years. Better yet, if it's not too strong (as this event appears to be) perhaps it will not degrade into La Nina the year after (which typically happens after stronger El Ninos), but hold in some mild El Nino like state for several years in a row. This would be an even better outcome.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest no swell producing fetch is to develop.
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