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 Saturday (1/3) in North and Central CA surf was waist high and clean but weak with no real swell in the water. Down in Santa Cruz surf was flat and clean and swamped by tide early. In Southern California up north surf was flat and clean and weak. Down south waves were knee high and clean and breaking on the beach with high tide in control. Hawaii's North Shore was getting local northwest windswell at 2 ft overhead with longer period Kuril Islands swell building underneath, but onshore kona winds prevailed. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting northwest wrap-around windswell with waves thigh high and clean.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A cutoff low was just 1200 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii on Sat (1/3) generating 18 ft seas targeting the Islands with sideband windswell energy expected to arrive on Mon (1/5). Also sideband swell from a gale that developed off the North Kuril Islands on Tues-Wed (12/31) tracking northeast generating 39 ft seas was starting to hit Hawaii, and expected to peak later today but buried in windswell and with poor local conditions. Two more small gales developed or are forecast off the Kurils, the first on Thurs-Fri and the second on Sun (1/4) with 32 and 41 ft seas respectively. But all energy is to be aimed well north of the Islands and too far away from the mainland to be of real hope. Maybe background swell for Hawaii at best. Longer term a gale is projected to develop in the Gulf of Alaska Mon-Tues (1/6) with 28 ft seas projected aimed east, offering potential swell for the US West Coast and northerly sideband swell for Hawaii. A second more decent gale is forecast for the dateline on Wed (1/7) with seas to 39 ft targeting Hawaii well. But all this remains contingent upon the models being accurate, which remains a bit of a reach. Right now the storm pattern is being hampered by a poor jetstream configuration driven by the Inactive Phase of the MJO. The hope is the Active Phase is scheduled to come on-line 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 Saturday (1/3) the jet was pushing off Japan ridging slightly northeast at 180 kts reaching the dateline and .cgiitting a little energy tracking north into the Central Bering Sea but most energy falling southeast and falling into a tight trough with it's apex directly over Hawaii. From there the jet ridged south and .cgiit again only to regroup and push into Baja, joined by the Bering Sea flow that was falling down the US West Coast. The only trough of interest was that one over Hawaii and perhaps a secondary trough that was directly over North Japan and mostly landlocked there. Over the next 72 hours winds off Japan are to weaken some with the jet becoming even more muddled by Tues (1/6) but generally tracking flat east off Japan at 140 kts forming a weak trough halfway to the dateline and .cgiitting with a finger of wind energy pushing north into the Bering Sea, but most energy continuing east and supporting the pre-existing trough that was over Hawaii, but now repositioned mid-way to the US West Coast with 150 kt winds feeding it. Limited support for gale development mainly in the Gulf. Beyond 72 hours winds to fade some in the Gulf trough on Wed (1/7) as it moves east eventually pushing over Oregon on early Fri (1/9) while winds start rebuilding over and pushing off Japan to 200 kts early Sat (1/10) reaching almost to the dateline. The good news is a consolidated jet is to be in control reaching east to 170W offering improved odds for gale development long term in the West Pacific and into the Western Gulf. 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 Saturday (1/3) windswell associated with a local cutoff low north of Hawaii was still hitting the Islands along with northwest winds and poor local conditions. Small long period swell from the first of 3 gales was arriving in the Islands too (see 1st Kuril Gale below).A second tiny swell is right behind relative to Hawaii (see 2nd Kuril Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours a 3rd gale was developing Sat AM (1/3) off Japan tracking northeast generating 40-45 kt west winds and 26 ft seas on the 310 degree path. By evening it is to reach storm status with 55 kt west winds building while the storm lifts north with seas building to 39 ft at 43N 166E (315 degs HI). Pure west fetch is to be fading from barely 55 kts Sun AM (1/4) with seas fading from 42 ft at 45N 170E (319 degs HI, 302 degs NCal). West winds to be fading in the evening from 40 kts with seas 30 ft at 47N 171E (323 degs HI). Rough data suggests swell arrival in Hawaii at sunset Tues (1/6) with period 18 secs and size tiny. Swell peaking on Wed AM (1/7) at 4.5 ft @ 15 secs (6.5 ft). Swell Direction: 310-320 degrees
1st Kuril Gale
A small gale developed just east of the Kuril Islands on Mon-Tues (1/30) generating a tiny 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).
Hawaii: 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). Swell Direction: 326 degrees
North CA: The most optimistic forecast suggests swell arrival on Sat 9 PM (1/3) with period 20 secs and size minimal. Swell to peak Sun (1/4) near noon at 2.0 ft @ 17-18 secs (3.5 ft). residuals on Monday at 2.3 ft @ 15-16 secs early (3.5 ft). Swell Direction: 306 degrees
2nd Kuril Gale
A second far weaker system developed off the Kuril Islands tracking fast to the northeast on Thurs (1/1) generating 32 ft seas at 44N 163E late then fading producing barely 30 ft seas Fri AM (1/2) at 50N 170E. Swell to arrive in Hawaii on Mon (1/5) pushing 2.7 ft @ 15-16 secs late (4 ft). Residuals on Tues at 4 ft @ 13-14 secs (5 ft). Swell Direction: 310 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/3) high pressure was in control of the extreme East Pacific with a .cgiit jetstream flow aloft. An weak offshore flow as in effect for all of California. The offshore flow is 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 15 kts reaching to the North CA coast and pushing south to San Francisco Thurs AM (1/8) at 10 kts. Rain for the North Coast starting Thurs AM pushing south and fading, with sprinkles down to Monterey Bay later Thursday with light sprinkles lingering over extreme North CA into later Friday. A weak northerly flow to follow behind later in the day Thurs for all of North and Central CA. No snow expected for Tahoe. North winds building to 15 kts Friday holding into Saturday.
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 start organizing on Mon AM (1/5) generating 40 kt northwest winds in it's southwest flank in association with a core low di.cgiaced up in the Northern Gulf. Seas building. By evening a growing fetch of 40 kt northwest wind is to be at 40N 160W producing 28 ft seas at 40N 162W (353 degs HI, 287 degs NCal). fetch is to be fading from 30 kts from the northwest Tues AM (1/6) resulting in 26 ft seas at 37N 158W targeting Hawaii (358 degs) and the US West Coast (280 NCal, 285 SCal) then dissipating in the evening. Perhaps some rideable 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 40 kt north winds and seas on the increase. 50 kt northwest winds are projected by evening with 34 ft seas at 39N 175E. Winds are to be fading Wed AM (1/7) from 45 kts from the west with seas fading from 37 ft at 38N 180W (316 degs HI, 290 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds to hold into Wed PM with 32 ft seas moving to 37N 177W (315 degs HI, 286 degs NCal). 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 Saturday (1/3) the daily SOI was rising from 0.81 with very weak low pressure still present near Tahiti. The 30 day average was rising from -6.77 and the 90 day average was steady at -8.17. 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 build some near Tahiti over 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 continuing over the dateline reaching to a point south of Hawaii then turning very lightly easterly. Neutral anomalies are indicated from there to the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated the same thing. 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. A week from now (1/11) strong 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 strong Active Phase trying to get a toehold over the far 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 1/2 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 1/2 depicts a solid Active Phase over the West Pacific today and tracking slowly east and progressively fading as it reaches the East Pacific through 1/22. A modest Inactive Phase is to follow in the west starting 1/17 pushing east into 2/11 while a new Active Phase builds in the West Pacific.
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 1/1 is still 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 from 85W to the dateline. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just on the equator over the West Pacific west of the dateline then north of the equator in pockets into the East Pacific, with pockets of stronger east anomalies just south of the equator from the Galapagos to almost the dateline. 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 1/3 for the Nino 3.4 region are stable. It suggests water temps are down some at +0.7deg C and are to fade some to +0.4 degs through April 2015. But the interesting part remains that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in late June 2015, pushing +1.8 degs C by Sept 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