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 (1/5) North and Central CA had residual swell from the dateline hitting but smaller than days previous producing surf in the head high to 1 ft overhead range and well lined up with south wind starting to take over making for some texture but not too torn up early. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were waist to chest high and getting pretty textured with southerly winds starting to build in. Southern California up north was getting the same dateline swell with waves waist to maybe chest high and clean and still pretty well lined up. Down south waves were waist to shoulder high, pristine clean and lined up though a bit soft. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northeast windswell with waves head high to 1 ft over and fairly clean but still kinda raw with brisk trades in effect. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting local windswell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and chopped by east-northeast wind.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A gale tracked east from Kamchatka Tues-Fri (1/4) with 30 ft seas initially moving over the dateline with seas down to 25 ft seas then fading in the Western Gulf with seas dropping from 22 ft. More mid-period swell to reach the Islands Saturday and California by late Sunday but nothing out of the ordinary. Just in the well rideable range. Beyond a poorly organized and small gale is forecast to track east through the Northern Dateline region producing 22-26 ft seas Sat-Mon (1/7) all aimed due east. Maybe some background swell mainly for the US West Coast. A stronger system is forecast developing on the dateline Fri (1/11) perhaps generating a tiny area of up to 40 ft seas by Saturday but mostly aimed east to northeast away from Hawaii with a secondary fetch producing 28 ft seas aimed at the Islands. Otherwise a fragmented gale pattern is expected even though the jet is well defined.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (1/5) the jetstream was pushing solidly east off Japan in a single flow with winds to 180 kts approaching the dateline, then splitting just east of there with the northern branch easing northeast tracking through the Gulf of Alaska with winds down to 140 kts, then falling into a small steep trough just off the Pacific Northwest before redirecting north and moving onshore over British Columbia. The southern branch was pushing southeast just west of Hawaii with winds not even 90 kts before tracking back northeast then falling south again tracking onshore over mainland Mexico. Overall no troughs of interested were indicated. But the general configuration especially in the West Pacific was supportive of gale development assuming a trough were to form there. Over the next 72 hours winds to fade then rebuilding in the jet in the west to 170 kts east of Japan with the split point easing west to the dateline. No clear troughs are forecast supportive of gale development. Beyond 72 hours wind energy in the jet west of the dateline is to build reaching 200 kts by Friday (1/11) with a broad trough starting to dig out on the dateline near 45N. Possible support for gale development improving there. But the split pattern to hold over the East Pacific.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (1/5) supposedly swell from a gale that moved off Kamchatka earlier this week was to be hitting Hawaii today. But there's no sign of it on any of the outer buoys (see Dateline-Kamchtka Gale below). Also a broad but weak low pressure system was trying to organize over the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutian Islands producing a fetch of 30 kt northwest winds and seas in the 20-24 ft range at 48N 177E aimed east. Over the next 72 hours that fetch is to track east with winds building to maybe 35 kts just east of the dateline on Sunday (1/6) with seas building to barely 26 ft at 48N 173W in the evening offering minimal background swell mainly for the US West Coast (from 2500 nmiles away relative to NCal) in the 4.7 ft @ 14-15 sec range from 304 degrees (arriving in NCal Thurs PM 1/10). e Dateline-Kamchatka Gale is to fade.
A broad fetch of 35-40 kt west winds started pushing off Kamchatka on Tues (1/1) resulting in up to 30 ft seas at 48N 157E tracking east. Winds faded in the evening down to 35 kts but covered a larger area resulting in 30 ft seas at 48N 162E with 20 ft seas stretching east to almost the dateline. 30-35 kt west winds were expanding Wed AM (1/2) stretching from Kamchatka to the Western Gulf of Alaska resulting in 20-25 ft seas centered near 45N 170E but filling the Northwest Pacific. Fetch is to hold on mainly over the dateline in the evening resulting in up to 26 ft seas at 42N 177W targeting mainly the US West Coast. 35 kt west winds to continue pushing east Thurs AM (1/3) with 24 ft seas at 40N 163W. Sideband swell pushing southeast towards HAwaii with most energy pushing towards the US West Coast. This system is to fade in the evening with 22 ft seas from previous fetch fading at 40N 158W.
Some degree of limited 15 sec period swell is expected for Hawaii by Sat (1/5) at 6 ft @ 15-16 secs (9 ft) and the US West Coast start late Sun (1/6) (Northern CA - 6.5 ft @ 15 secs (9.5 ft) from 285 degrees. See details in the QuikCASTs. But it's interesting that there's no sign of this swell at buoys well northwest of the Islands Saturday AM.
A secondary fetch from it developed off Washington state on Friday AM (1/4) producing a short lived area of 40-45 kt northwest winds over a tiny area and seas to 28-30 ft from 4-10 AM at 47N 148-144W (308-310 degs NCal).16 sec longer period swell to arrive with the above swell for NCal - but shadowed in the San Francisco Bay Area.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/5) high pressure inland producing offshore winds on the coast appears to be a thing of the past. A weak trough was just off the CA coast with light south winds becoming evident from Pt Conception northward. The low is to track over the Central Coast Saturday evening producing light rain for the entire state into early Sunday AM. By Sunday AM clearing high pressure and brisk north winds at 15-20 kts are to be in control from Cape Mendocino down over the Channel Islands. Rain gone in Southern CA by sunset. 2 inches of snow for Tahoe by 4 PM Sunday. Southern CA to remain mostly protected wind wise. High pressure to hold producing northerly winds through Tuesday, then relenting Wednesday as a new massive high at 1038 mbs builds in the Gulf of Alaska. It's actually to have a mini-front ahead of it, with that front pushing down the Central Coast late Wednesday, with 20 kt north winds in effect by 10 PM down to Pt Conception. Light rain for North CA extending south to maybe San Francisco Thurs AM. Maybe 6-8 inches of snow for Tahoe. North winds to continue Thursday building down into even Southern CA nearshore locations by late afternoon at 20 kts. North winds to build to 30 kts over North and Central CA on Friday and 20+ kts in Southern CA. North winds still in effect on Saturday for all locations, but moderating as the day goes on.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change 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 another small gale is to develop just west of the dateline Fri AM (1/11) with a tiny area of 40 kt west winds building to 45 kts in the evening lifting northeast with a secondary fetch of 40 kt northwest wind behind it. Seas in the evening to 26 ft over a tiny area at 39N 180W with secondary seas to 22 ft at 37N 168E. The gale is to build Saturday AM (1/12) with 50 kt west winds over a small area and secondary fetch of 40 kts from the northwest under it resulting in seas near 40 ft at 42N 177W aimed well towards the US West Coast and 26 ft seas at 36N 175E aimed well at Hawaii. Perhaps a little more development forecast by the evening before this system falls apart. No guarantees but something at least 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 planet. 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 split 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).
As of Saturday (1/5) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -5.08. The 30 day average was down to -8.93 with the 90 day average down some at -0.21. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated modest westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) with modest east anomalies starting just west of the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii, then giving way to neutral anomalies continuing the rest of the way to Central America. This suggest a weak version of the Inactive Phase with potential for the Active Phase building in the far West Pacific. A week from now (1/13) modest west anomalies are forecast building from the Maritime Continent to the dateline with east anomalies starting on the dateline turning lighter but still east anomalies to a point well south of Baja. This suggests a continuation of Active Phase of the MJO building in the West Pacific with the Inactive Phase tracking east and moving to the East Pacific.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/4 suggest a modest Inactive Phase was in-play just east of the dateline with the Active Phase of the MJO building while tracking east over the Maritime Continent. Both models remain in lock-step agreement indicating the Inactive Phase is to slide east over the next 15 days and dissipate while the Active Phase builds over the dateline 15 days out, fully in control by then. Theoretically this should support the formation of stronger and longer lasting storms and is very similar to the pattern that developed last year at this time.
Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in the year, we believed a return to a normal MJO cycle was occurring with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. But the pattern collapsed/stalled in November and December. But as of now (1/2) it seems the MJO is scheduled to make a legitimate return with a normal pattern setting up. The interesting part is that a singular jetstream flow aloft is in play, symptomatic of the Active Phase even though the Inactive Phase is currently in-play. This suggest that if the Active Phase does appear, the jetstream will roar with it's arrival.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). A Kelvin wave developed due to a prolonged WWB event in the West Pacific between Sept 2 and Oct 9. That Kelvin Wave had 2-3 deg C warmer than normal subsurface water and was located in pockets under the equator. It reached the Central America coast in December and provided a little boost to water temps, but nothing dramatic. As of now (1/2) no additional warm water is in the pipeline and if anything water temps over the entirety of the equatorial Pacific have cooled to the normal range. Virtually no warmer than norma water exists over the equatorial Pacific. But the good news is no colder than normal water is in play either. Dead neutral.
The Fall season started with what initially appeared to be a strengthening MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) suggested a return to a neutral ENSO pattern. But that collapsed in Nov-Dec 2012. And now the models appear to suggests a return of a normal MJO cycle for January 2013. Projections from the CFSv2 model are not supporting any form of El Nino development but almost a return to La Nina with -0.4 deg C water temps by late January into April, then slowly returning to normal if not slightly warmer by July 2013. But virtually all the other ENSO models predict a slow decline from El Nino threshold temps into Spring 2013, but never dipping into negative territory. The CFSv2 model is a minority opinion, if not a complete outlier. Regardless, the warm spurt in July 2012 was just a false start. This appears to be a neutral year.
It appears we are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than the previous 2 years under the direct influence of La Nina. Based on current data the outcome for this Winter is not looking good or bad, just normal. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell, but the total lack of any real activity so far had us thinking of downgrading that projection. With the projected return of the MJO, a barn buster Jan and Feb are required to make up the short fall. Will monitor. Longer term the expectation is this winter will be followed by at least one year of slightly warmer temps (2013) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Finally updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch 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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Chasing Mavericks - The Jay Moriarty Movie: Two trailers for the new movie about Jay, Frosty and Mavericks has been posted. Movie opens on 10/26/12. Here's the link: http://www.mtv.com/videos/movie-trailers/818957/chasing-mavericks.jhtml & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNdYoX9Vfxg&feature=relmfu
Props from the Pros: Stormsurf was mentioned over the past week in two different media sources. One was in an interview Kelly Slater did with the New York Times and another was in a promotional piece Ramon Navarro did for the Big Wave World Tour. Many thanks to Curt Myers from Powerline Productions for alerting us and of course thanks to Kelly, Ramon and the Tour for using our service. Here's the links:
Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
Chasing the Swell has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
Buell Wetsuits - When surfing in Santa Cruz, we've been seeing a new wetsuit in the line-up worn by many top flight surfers. They're getting good traction and are well respected. Take a look: http://www.buellwetsuits.com/
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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table