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Pacific Storm and Surf Forecast
Updated: Thursday, January 7, 2016 5:03 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
4.5- California & 4.1 - 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 1/4 thru Sun 1/10

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   

Swell #3 Slams California
Steady But Not Impressive Storm Pattern to Continue

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 Sunday, January 10, 2016 :

  • Buoy 106 (Waimea Bay): Seas were 6.6 ft @ 14.3 secs with swell 5.1 ft @ 13.4 secs from 324 degrees.
  • Buoy 46025 (Catalina RDG): Seas were 11.5 ft @ 14.7 secs with swell 7.8 ft @ 14.1 secs from 281 degrees. Wind northwest 14-18 kts. Water temperature 59.4 degrees. At Santa Barbara swell was 10.5 ft @ 15.0 secs from 267 degrees. At Santa Monica swell was 6.8 ft @ 13.8 secs from 259 degrees. Southward from Orange County to San Diego swell was 6.3 ft @ 14.7 secs from 279 degrees.
  • Buoy 46012 (Half Moon Bay)/029 (Pt Reyes): Seas were 20.6 ft @ 15.4 secs with swell 16.1 ft @ 15.9 secs from 274 degrees. Wind northwest 10-15 kts. Water temp 56.5 degs.


    Buoy 46059, Hi-res Buoys

Current Conditions
On Thursday (1/7) in North and Central CA Swell #3 was hitting producing waves in the 20-25 ft range and a bit raw and lumpy but with clean surface conditions. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 10-12 ft and out of control but with no winds and clean conditions, but with lump running through it. In Southern California up north surf was estimated at 3 ft overhead and warbled but with no wind. Water was very dirty from runoff. Down south waves were 3 ft overhead and a mess even though winds were calm. The ocean moving sideways down the beach. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting surf from Swell #3 with waves 2-3 ft overhead and clean and lined up and nice looking. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting wrap around energy at waist high and chopped from east trades.

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

Meteorological Overview
Swell from solid Gale #3 was crushing North CA and working it way into Southern CA with reasonable local conditions but a rather jumbled sea state persisting from days of onshore winds. The same swell was fading in Hawaii but clean.

Another gale is to form on the dateline tracking east Fri (1/8) producing up to 44 ft seas into Sat (1/9) then fading in the Gulf. And a smaller system is to be right on it's tail producing 22-24 ft seas Sun-Mon (1/11). A more fragmented pattern to follow with no clearly defined gales projected per the 12Z run. But the 06z run of the model indicated a broader gale forming in the Northwest Pacific falling southeast Tues-Thurs (1/14) producing 34-35 ft seas over a broad area. The models have been flip-flopping regularly. The assumption is much more swell is on the way.

All this thanks to the Active Phase of the MJO currently over the intersection of the dateline and the equator energizing the El Nino base state fueling westerly winds and imparting much energy to the jetstream.

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

North Pacific

On Thursday AM (1/7) the jet was well consolidated flowing east off Japan with a huge area of 180 kt winds reaching to the dateline falling into a developing trough over the Western Gulf offering great support for gale development. The jet somewhat .cgiit east of there with a small portion of energy peeling off to the north pushing into west Alaska with the result of the wind energy tracking east, almost .cgiitting again, then consolidating and pushing over Baja at 160 kts. Over the next 72 hours winds to hold in coverage in the pocket off Japan on Sat (1/9) but down to 160 kts with a persistent trough in the Southwestern Gulf. The .cgiit is to fade briefly while moving east but then redevelop but di.cgiaced eastward at 142W pushing up into Alaska late. Great support for gale development to continue. The remaining energy to push diffusely into the region between Central CA and South Baja with this overall pattern holding through Sun (1/10). Beyond 72 hours things are to only get more impressive with winds building to 190 kts off Japan on Tues (1/12) with the trough regenerating more defined in the Gulf by Thurs (1/14) and the .cgiit barely hanging on near 140W. When the MJO decides to start easing east, it is expected that .cgiit will move east with it and the real storm door will open for California.

Surface Analysis
On Thursday (1/7) swell from Gale #3 was fully hitting California with impressive size in the North-Central part of the state and a break in the local weather pattern making for improved conditions, at least for a short window (see Gulf Gale - Swell #3 below). Sideband energy from this system was also still hitting Hawaii but on the way down.

At the surface residual wind energy from Gale #3 was fading off California. A broad gale was trying to organize in the Western Gulf. And another gale was developing west of the dateline.

Over the next 72 hours the Western Gulf gale is to organize more while lifting north to the Northwestern Gulf on Thurs PM (1/7) generating 40 kt northwest winds and seas starting to develop. By Fri AM (1/8) 40 kt northwest winds to be holding with seas to 26 ft over a small area aimed east at 47N 150W targeting mainly the Pacific Northwest with sideband energy down to Central CA. Winds to be fading from 35 kts in the evening with seas dropping from barely 26 ft up at 50N 144W targeting only Canada. A small pulse of swell could result for the Pacific Northwest but will likely get buried in far stronger swell originating from another gale pushing over the dateline.

Also another small gale is to start develop on the southern Dateline region Thurs PM (1/7) with west winds building from 45-50 kts over a tiny area. By Fri AM (1/8) it is to be producing 55 kt west winds over a tiny area while tracking east with seas 36 ft seas at 37N 172W targeting Hawaii reasonably well (325 degs). 55 kt west winds to continue tracking east in the evening reaching a point 900 nmiles north of Hawaii with seas building to 45 ft at 36.5N 163W (350 degs HI, 280 degs NCal). This system to track east-northeast and start fading Sat AM (1/9) with winds 45 kts with seas 41 ft at 37N 155W bypassing Hawaii and targeting mainly California (279 degs NCal, 287 degs SCal). This system to be lifting north by nightfall with winds 40 kts from the northwest and seas fading from 37 ft at 39.5N 150W (286 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). Swell possible for Hawaii for the weekend with smaller longer period energy for CA beyond.

Hawaii: Rough data suggest swell arrival at sunset Sat (1/9) building quickly to 9 ft @ 18 secs at sunset (16 ft). Swell peaking overnight but still solid by Sun AM (1/10) at 10.8 ft @ 15 secs (16 ft Hawaiian), then fading some late. Swell fading Mon AM (1/11) from 7.5 ft @ 12-13 secs (9 ft). Swell Direction: 325-330 degrees

NCal: Rough data suggest swell arrival on Mon AM (1/11) with period 20 secs and size steadily building. Swell to start peaking near 2 PM at 11.3 ft @ 18 secs (20.5 ft). Swell holding through the evening then fading Tues AM (1/12) from 10.4 ft @ 15-16 secs (16 ft). Residuals on Wed AM (1/13) from 6 ft @ 13-14 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 279-286 degrees

SCal: Rough data suggest swell arrival on Mon evening (1/11) starting at sunset with period 22 secs and size steadily building. Swell to peak near sunrise Tues (1/12) at 6.1 ft @ 18 secs (11.0 ft). Swell holding through the day as period drops to 17 secs. Swell fading Wed AM (1/13) from 4.4 ft @ 15 secs (6.5 ft). Swell Direction: 287-294 degrees


Gulf Gale - Swell #3
Another gale developed on the dateline Sun PM (1/3) at 45 kts with seas building from 28 ft over a tiny area at 43N 178E. On Mon AM (1/4) 45 kt west winds were falling east-southeast in the Western Gulf generating 31 ft seas at 41N 173W. In the evening a small area of 45 kt west winds continued east generating 31 ft seas at 40N 161W. Tues AM (1/5) fetch was fading from 40 kts with seas holding at 31 ft at 39N 151W 1300 nmiles west of San Francisco with 20 ft seas filling the Southeast Gulf of Alaska set to impact the entire US West Coast. 40 kt northwest winds are forecast in the evening off the North CA coast with 31 ft seas at 38N 143W targeting all of CA. On Wed AM (1/6) winds to be fading from 35 kts over a broad area off California with 30 ft seas at 38N 135W just 600 nmiles off Central CA. In the evening fetch is to fade from 30 kts with 27 ft seas at 37N 130W, just 400 nmiles off San Francisco and Monterey Bay. On Thurs AM (1/7) this system is to be fading while 20 ft seas impact the entire CA coast. Large raw swell and weather is expected for all of California during swell arrival with sideband energy for Hawaii.

North CA: Residuals fading Fri (1/8) from 10.1 ft @ 14 secs early (14.0 ft). Swell Direction: 275-280 degrees

South CA: Solid swell to continue overnight then fading Fri AM (1/8) from 7.0 ft @ 15-16 secs (10.5 ft). Residuals fading Sat AM (1/9) from 4.2 ft @ 13-14 secs (5.5 ft). Swell Direction: 280 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 Thurs AM (1/7) weak low pressure was just off Oregon with high pressure off Baja trying to ridge into South CA coast generating northwest winds 20 kts there, but a far weaker flow if not calm wind nearshore over Central and North CA. By Fri AM (1/8) light winds to continue for the Central Coast with northwest winds fading late for Southern CA but south winds building for the north end of the state as another front approaches. rain building from north to south starting at 10 PM. By early Saturday that front is to be impacting the North and Central coasts with 15 kt south winds possible pushing as far south as maybe Santa Barbara then fading out. Rain fading from from Morro Bay northward by 10 AM. Light rain for all of Southern CA through Saturday then fading at sunset. 6-7 inches of snow for the Sierra. Sunday southeast winds return at 15 kts by 4 PM from San Francisco northward with a front pushing into the coast down to Monterey Bay overnight. Light rain overnight for the same area. Otherwise light winds south of that area. Monday southwest winds expected at 15 kts from Pt Conception northward as a secondary weak front pushes over the coast but fading late. Modest rain all day Monday from Pt Conception northward. Calm and dry south of there. 4 inches of snow for the Sierra mainly focused on Tahoe. Tuesday light winds and clear skies set up from Pt Arena southward as high pressure tries to get a nose in the door. Otherwise south winds north of there as another front approaches the coast. Wednesday south winds to continue reaching south to San Francisco at 15 kts with modest rain down to Morro Bay through the day. A dusting of snow for Tahoe. North winds for the North and Central coasts on Thursday (1/14) as high pressure tried to get a toehold, but not lasting long with more weather queuing up off the coast.

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 small gale is forecast developing over the Southern Dateline region on Sun (1/10) but producing only 35-40 kt west winds and 26 ft seas over a tiny area at 38N 175W targeting Hawaii. Fetch and seas fading in the evening racing east in the Southern Gulf from 24 ft at 35N 153W. Maybe small swell to result for the Islands and creating another spike tagging on the the end of swell expected into California on Mon (1/11).

No other clearly defined gales are to follow. But the previous run of the model had a solid system developing in the West Pacific early next week. Will be willing to bet that system will rematerialize a day or two out. Something to monitor.


South Pacific

Beyond 72 hours noswell producing fetch of interest is forecast.  

More details to follow...


December MEI Values Released: 2015 3rd Strongest El Nino since 1950
Does NOT Reach 'Super' Status

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 Wed (1/6) down at the surface, the TOA array (hard sensors reporting with a 24 hr lag) indicated moderate west winds from 160E to 155W south of the equator. Moderate to strong east winds were north of the equator from 155E eastward. Inspecting the 00hr frame from the GFS model, west winds at 20+ kts were south of the equator from 170E eastward. East winds were 12 kts north of the equator north of 3N from 155E eastward. Anomalies were strong from the west from 180W to 145W on and south of the equator and neutral everywhere else. El Nino was robustly expressing itself.
1 Week Forecast: GFS anomaly model indicates west anomalies started 12/21, and built to WWB status on 12/27, and built in velocity and coverage through 1/3, then backed off a little only to restart 1/5 and were solid as of today. This pattern is to build more from here forward to 1/10, peaking with strong west anomalies from 180W east to 140W through 1/12, then fading some but still solid through 1/14. This indicates a legit WWB is to continue for at least the next week. Actual winds per the GFS model are to continue from the west in the southern KWGA slowly lifting north, getting good positioning in the central KWGA and holding on the dateline through Sat 1/9 at 13 kts. They are to fall south some and rebuild Wed (1/13) to 18 kts through Thursday. A true El Nino pattern is in effect now. The only east anomalies that occurred this year in the KWGA were from 12/7-12/17, thanks to the Inactive Phase of the MJO. Fortunately that short bout ended with westerly anomalies back in.cgiay and building now.

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 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 set up near the dateline and held to 12/7, then fading with weak east anomalies taking hold till 12/17 courtesy of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. West anomalies started redeveloping on 12/17 and were building 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

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 Wed (1/6) the Active Phase of the MJO signal was in control of the West Pacific and dateline regions with a strong Inactive Phase easing east from a point south of India. The Statistic model forecasts the Active MJO slowly easing east fading some south of Hawaii 2 weeks out while a weaker Inactive Phase moves from over Indonesia to the extreme West Pacific. The dynamic model has the Active Phase holding steady over the dateline for the next 2 weeks with the Inactive Phase locked over Indonesia. From an El Nino standpoint, the Active Phase has begun expressing itself on the dateline and is super charging El Nino by constructively interfering with it. This is very good news (for now, until the Active Phase Move east and the Inactive Phase returns 4-6 weeks out).  
Phase Diagrams 2 week forecast (ECMF and GEFS): The ECMF model indicates a moderate Active MJO signal in the West Pacific racing east and fading over the Indian Ocean 2 weeks out. The GEFS depicts the Active Phase holding it's position weakening slowly with no movement for the next 2 weeks. The preferred outcome is that of the GEFS.
40 Day Upper Level Model: This model depicts an Active MJO over the dateline easing east and gone by 1/17. That is not believable. We are ignoring this model.
CFS Model beyond 1 week (850 mb wind): The Active Phase of the MJO is in control of the dateline today and is to continue to make steady eastward progress with it peaking near Jan 12. West wind anomalies are strong in the KWGA area with no Rossby Wave in.cgiay and are to hold through 1/18 at WWB status, then fade as the Active Phase fades out on 1/23. But west anomalies to to rebuild 1/22-1/30 eastward di.cgiaced (near 160W) courtesy of a Rossby Wave. The Inactive Phase to set up 1/27 holding into 2/22, with west anomalies weakening but not gone. The Active Phase is to return 3/2 with west anomalies again in control but weaker and holding through 4/6 but di.cgiaced east near 140W having no Kelvin Wave generation potential, typical of the mature phase of El Nino. that is, westerly anomalies slow track east until they migrate tot he East Equatorial Pacific.

It is obvious that the MJO is not dead, regardless of theories which suggest it should be during strong El Ninos. That evidence is the presence of the Inactive Phase that destructively interfered with the El Nino base state (12/7-12/17) and now the Active Phase that enhanced it starting 12/27.

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

Subsurface Waters Temps
TAO Array: (1/6) Actual temperatures remain decent (all sensors on-line). A small pocket of 30 deg temps were at depth at 170W (shrinking) with the 28 deg isotherm line retreating from 121W. Anomaly wise +2 deg anomalies are barely hanging on from the dateline eastward. +4 deg anomalies are from 133W eastward (steady today) and delineated the core of the remaining and weakening subsurface reservoir. No +5 deg or greater anomalies remain. The core regions are mostly steady for the moment, but are fading in intensity and easing east. Per the hi-res GODAS animation posted 1/3 the reservoir is in steady decline but with warm water still flowing into it from near the dateline and a modest core of +5 deg anomalies in it's heart from 88W-122W (easing east and shrinking). This is a good scenario but no longer great, with the core of the warm pool shrinking. This is typical of the mature phase of El Nino. No +4 deg anomalies were erupting west of the Galapagos. Cool water is continuing to undercut the warm pool down at 125 meters and reaching east to 120W and building in coverage. The beginning of the end is in sight.
Sea Surface Height Anomalies (SSHA):  (1/3) Heights are fading and moving east, but still at moderate levels. 0-+5 cm anomalies are retracting east and covering the entire equatorial Pacific starting at 170W (fading). Peak anomalies at +15 and +20 cm have all but vanished. one tiny pocket of +15 cm anomalies are fading fast at 105W. +10 cm anomalies are between 90W-145W and steady. The subsurface warm pool is discharging or at least substantially shrinking
Upper Ocean Heat Content: (1/3) is shrinking fast. But +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies have rebuilt west from 141W to 156W possibly an early result of the current WWB and extending east to the Galapagos. +1.0-1.5 degs anomalies are moving east from 133W attributable to WWB #4. +1.5 deg anomalies are tracking east from 124W (fading). The formally large pocket of +2.0 deg anomalies are gone now as are +2.5 deg anomalies. The Downwelling Phase of Kelvin Wave #4 is over and the Upwelling phase is taking hold. This El Nino remains westward di.cgiaced. The Upwelling Phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle is 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 lasted from 10/31 through 12/17 (6 weeks). The current thinking is that the warm subsurface reservoir is discharging, or at at least fading commensurate with a pending Upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle. But the Active Phase of the MJO is building over the KWGA with a solid WWB underway and might result in another Kelvin Wave. But it would not reach the reservoir for 2 months or about March 1. This might only extend the life of El Nino, or slow it's demise, but not add substantially to it. The peak of El Nino from a subsurface warming perspective has already passed.

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.  Perhaps with the building Active Phase of the MJO on 12/27 another weak Kelvin Wave might result, but it's almost meaningless at this point in the year.

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: (1/4) The latest image indicates temps were solid and building in coverage mainly north of the equator up into Central America. No +4.0 deg anomalies were present. +2.25 anomalies covered from Ecuador to the Galapagos in building patches on up into Costa Rica, but not overtly impressive. 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: (1/4) The latest image depicts slowly fading coverage of +2.25 anomalies. Still a very impressive footprint remains from the Galapagos to 160W and at least 2-3 degs north and south of the equator. No +4.0 degs anomalies were depicted. Overall the pattern remains solidly impressive, but continues a slow decline from it's peak. All this warm water is attributable to Kelvin Wave #4. Temps between 160W-180W are fading in width near 160W but are still solid. +2.25 deg anomalies reach west to 170W, though they previously were to the dateline on 12/14. No +4 deg anomalies are present. This warm pool is advection west of warm water resulting from eruption of Kelvin Waves #3 and #4. 
Hi-res 7 day Trend (1/6): Modest warming is occurring over a broad but spotty area north of the equator near the Galapagos up into Central America and a bit more concentrated area west of the Galapagos from 90-105W.
Hi-res Overview:
(1/6) The El Nino signal is unmistakable but fading. Interesting but the main focal point which has been the eruption ports west of the Galapagos are coming back on line with +4.0 degree anomalies between 107W to 120W and another pocket from 90W to 98W. Those ports peaked first on 9/19, then more broadly on 11/19, then faded with no +4 deg anomalies remaining on 1/4, only to rebuild today. The mid-zoomed image depicts the vent port area rebuilding today with weak +4 deg anomalies from 115W to 120W and from 90W to 100W. For a normal year, this remain most impressive.

Kevin 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. A slow fade is occurring now as Kelvin Wave #4 dissipates.


Historical Comparison of Strong El Nino's
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 (retracting to 172E). We're monitoring the +0.0 anomaly line on the equator to see if it's moving east. Today its near 140E. +1.5 deg anomalies are steady reaching unbroken to 180W. There is also a solid area of +2.0-2.5 deg anomalies extending from the Galapagos to 175W. A pocket of +3.0 deg anomalies is holding at 138-162W. No +3.5 anomalies are present. Overall the warm water signature is fading slightly but still impressive.
Nino1.2 Daily CDAS Index Temps: (1/7) Temps are rebounding to +1.608 degs, up from +1.314 on 1/5, down hard from +1.836 on 12/27, down from +1.950 (12/22), down from +2.088 (12/15), 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 (1/7) temps are steady at at +2.397, down form +2.429 (1/2), up slightly at +2.466 on 12/27, down from +2.708 (12/22), up from + 2.517 (12/19), up from +2.416 (12/15), 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 but it will never be reached. Today's value was at +2.630 (1/7), down from +2.858 (1/2), down from +2.732 (12/31), compared to +2.697 on 12/27, down from +2.753 (12/22), up from +2.671 (12/19), up barely from +2.655 (12/15), 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 12/30 temps were falling in Nino4: +1.5, Nino34: +2.7 (steady), and falling in Nino3: +2.6. On 12/23 temps were falling in all regions: Nino4: +1.6, Nino3.4: +2.7 and Nino3: +2.7 degs. On 12/16, temps were steady at +2.9 degs in both Nino3 and 3.4 and +1.7 in Nino 4. 12/9 was 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 (December) The centered Nino3.4 temps for the month of December was +2.37. November was adjusted up to +2.36 degs, 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 +2.03 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.
ONI For 2015 for the 3 month period centered on Sept, Oct and Nov the values are: +1.8, +2.0. +2.3. For the same period in '97 the values were: +2.0, +2.2, +2.3. And for '82 the values were: +1.5, +1.9, +2.1. This make this years El Nino the second strongest on record since 1950.

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 depicted peak temps to +2.95 degs on Nov 5, then fading slightly to early December, then falling to +2.6 degs Jan 1 and projected on a steady decline from there falling and stabilizing at +0.5 degs in Aug-Sept. That's still minimal El Nino threshold level.
IRI Consensus Plume: The mid-Dec Plume depicts temps peaked in early Nov, at +2.9 degs. the consensus suggests temps to fall steadily from here forward, down to 0.0 by August and then going slightly negative from there.
See chart here - link. 

Atmospheric Co.cgiing Index's (lagging indicators rather than driving oceanic change):   
Daily Southern Oscillation Index (1/7): Was rising some at -38.40. 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 at -11.84. 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 falling some at -11.56 and is expected to continue falling. 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. 
SOI Trend - Darwin (looking for high pressure here): A neutral pressure pattern was near Darwin on 1/7 and is to hold for the next 5 days with signs of high pressure building over the area by Thurs (1/14). It is relative 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 1/7 weak but broad low pressure was over and west of Tahiti. This pattern is weaken slightly then restrengthen starting Wed (1/13) and build significantly from there with a tropical system over Tahiti by late Thurs (1/14). This is the Active Phase of the MJO having the desired effect. The SOI should start falling 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 negative SOI attributable mainly to low pressure over Tahiti. The Inactive Phase of the MJO in the Indian Ocean should eventually set up high pressure over Australia contributing more to the SOI going negative.        
ESPI (like SOI but based on satellite confirmed cloud cover): (1/7) Today's value was building at +2.07 up from +1.67 12/27, and has been on a steady rise for 4 weeks now. This is a good sign. On 12/15 it was 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) (Dec) These numbers were released Jan 5th and indicate the index dropped by 0.19 to +2.12, putting it the third highest since 1950 behind the '82/83 and '97/98 El Ninos. Since it has not reached the +3.0 standard deviation level, it is NOT considered a Super El Nino, nor is it expected to reach that status. The Nov ranking was +2.31, up barely from +2.23 (Oct), down from it's peak of +2.53 in Sept, and from +2.37 in Aug. The top 6 events since 1950 in order are: '97, '82, '15, '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.
North Pacific Jetstream (1/7) Detailed analysis is in the NPac Short Term Forecast above. The jet looks very good and is forecast to only become more so as the Active Phase of the MJO gains a stronger foothold.

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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