New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
Significant: Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead)
Advanced: Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Intermediate: Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft)
Impulse/Windswell: Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
On Thursday (1/8) North/Central California had northwest swell coming from the Gulf of Alaska in the 1-2 ft overhead range and reasonably clean, maybe a little textured. Certainly rideable compared to weeks past. Southern California was in the waist to chest high range at better breaks on the sets, still wrapping in from the Gulf of Alaska and reasonably clean at the right breaks. Hawaii's North Shore was in the head high to 2 ft overhead range and holding with pristine conditions. This swell is coming from a second broad gale off Japan pushing towards the dateline. The South Shore was near flat. The East Shore was getting more moderate trade induced east windswell in the waist to chest high range.
For Central California Gulf weak swell is to revive some Friday from a weak gale that was off Washington Wednesday, then short period pulse on Friday, then fading through the weekend. Fun sized surf but nothing of real interest. Southern California is to see fragments of this swell only at the most exposed breaks, but most of it is to be shadowed and fading out through the weekend. Don't expect anything more than waist high Friday into early Saturday. The North Shore of Hawaii is on the downswing with surf expected to drop to the head high range Friday and hold there into the weekend. This swell is residuals from a modest but broad gale that rebuilt Wednesday-Thursday (1/8) just west of the dateline pushing more 23+ ft seas towards the Islands. The South Shore of Hawaii is not expecting any surf. The East Shore is to get a little more weak easterly windswell into Sunday (1/11) then fading away.
Longer term the models continue suggesting a broad gale forming off Japan Sunday pushing to the dateline by Tuesday (1/13) with up to 43 ft seas then fading slowly through Wednesday providing possible significant class surf for both Hawaii and California. The models are holding well so that is encouraging, but that's still remains a long ways away.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (1/8) the North Pacific jetstream was doing well with a solid consolidated flow of winds to near 170 kts pushing flat off Japan reaching to the dateline, then weakly splitting with the northern branch ridging northeast and pushing into Northern British Columbia. The southern branch was drifting over Hawaii bound for the equator. At the oceans surface high pressure was likely in between the split flows while lower pressure was north of the jet between Japan and the dateline. Over the next 72 hours this same basic pattern is to hold but by Friday (1/16) a steep trough is to be developing on the dateline with wind energy up to 190 kts feeding into it from over Japan by Sunday, possibly setting up good conditions for gale development in the region. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to fade some but hold it's position just east of the dateline with up to 200 kt winds flowing into it by Tuesday (1/13) offering more potential for gale development and holding while drifting east through Thursday (1/15). Very interesting if it occurs and supportive of surface level storm development.
At the surface today a broad but fading low pressure system was over the dateline, remnants of the 2nd Japan Gale (see details below). A secondary gale was tracking northeast from it into the Gulf of Alaska generating a small area of 40 kt west winds at 47N 162W and 25 ft seas at 46N 165W. This area to push northeast through the evening with up to 26 ft seas at 48N 159W with fetch aimed towards the Pacific Northwest and north of there, likely good for some small swell of 5.5 ft @ 15 secs at sunset Sunday in the SF Bay Area from 308 degree. Otherwise high pressure at 1028 mbs remained centered 900 nmiles west of San Francisco as it has for a while now, and trying to ridge into the North CA coast but not making it resulting in a weak winds flow over the Central CA coast. East winds at 15-20 kts were being generating off this highs south quadrant pushing almost to the Hawaiian Islands generating limited windswell along east facing shores. Over the next 72 hours the Japan system is to try and reorganize Fri/Sat (1/10) just east of the dateline generating 35 kt winds and a tiny area of 25 ft seas (late Fri) at 40N 170W good for more background swell for Hawaii 2.5 days out and CA 4.5 days out, but hardly worth discussing.
Of more interest is the expected formation of another gale a mere 800 nmiles north west of HAwaii on Saturday PM (1/10) with 35 kt northwest winds aimed right at the Islands and coming very close to Kauai, building to 45 kts over a tiny area Sunday AM and producing 25 ft seas at 30N 164W, holding into the evening at 28N 161W (500 nmiles out). This is too close to the Islands to be good, but could result in large raw proto-swell of 10 ft @ 15 secs (15 ft faces+) arriving on north facing shores near noon on Monday (1/12) from 325-335 degrees.
A weak fetch formed off Washington Tuesday (1/6) generating a fetch of 30-35 kt west to southwest winds near 47N 140W generating 20 ft seas at 47N 140W aimed a bit north of the 308 degree path into Central CA. Another limited swell of 6 ft @ 13 secs is excepted in to Central CA (SF Bay area) on Friday AM (1/9) from 308 degrees. Follow-on fetch of near 30 kts is forecast in the area aimed better towards Central CA late Wed into Thursday (1/8) generating more 17 ft seas pushing to 44N 138W (800 nmiles from CCal) likely good for more swell of 5.0 ft @ 12 sec (6 ft faces) for Central CA starting near 10 PM Friday (1/9) coming from 302 degrees, fading Saturday.
2nd Japan Gale
On Wednesday (12/31) a new gale started building off Northern Japan producing a broad fetch of 35 kt west winds with an imbedded core to near 45 kts at 37N 162E aimed well down the 305 degree path to Hawaii but lifting northeast in the evening. A solid area of 29-30 ft seas were modeled in the evening at 37N 169E aimed right at the Islands. On Thursday AM (1/1) the gale started to loose organization with residual 30-35 kt west winds fragmented over the same area with a small area of 30-33 ft seas aimed briefly 30 degrees northeast of the Islands at 42N 173E, then pushing too far north in the evening. The gale got marginally better organized late Friday into Saturday (1/3) with 35 kt northwest winds imbedded in a broad area of 30 kt winds centered at 40N 160E producing 25 ft seas by Saturday AM at 35N 165E and holding into Sun PM with 25 ft seas at 32N 170E aimed at Hawaii down the 295 degrees (almost shadowed from the North Shore of Oahu), then fading Monday with seas down to 21 ft late at 39N 175W (305 degrees relative to Oahu).
The gale slowly faded while drifting west, but not totally dissipating, regenerating some Tuesday PM (1/6) producing more 30 kts northwest winds and 23 ft seas at 38N 160E (2400 nmiles out from HI) not quiet reaching the dateline on Wednesday (1/7) with more 30 kt winds and 21 ft seas (at 36N 170E) aimed at Hawaii and pushing east into Thursday PM (1/8) while dissipating. Fetch was aimed down the 315 degree path to Hawaii.
The final pulse of swell from this system to likely to arrive on north facing shore of Hawaii down the 305-315 degree path starting early Sunday AM (1/11) at 5.0 ft @ 13 secs (6.5 ft faces) but getting buried in larger locally generated swell.
Tiny Dateline Gale
A secondary fetch near the core of the dateline gale rebuilt Wednesday PM (1/7) with pressure 972 mbs producing 40 kts winds at 40N 177W with seas to 23 ft at that locations over a tiny area aimed at Central CA (and the US West Coast) down the 295 degrees. Winds held into Thursday AM (1/8) at 45N 170W (296 degrees relative to CCal) with 25 ft seas at 47N 162W. 35 kt winds to hold into the evening with 26 ft seas at 48N 158W - 1700 nmiles from San Francisco (303 degrees).
This could possibly set up small inconsistent longer period swell for Central CA arriving at sunset Sunday (1/11) at 5.5 ft @ 15 secs.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/8) high pressure at 1030 mbs was 800 mbs west of Cape Mendocino ridging into Central Canada generating a fetch of 20 kt north winds off the Central Ca coast. This high is to start pushing into the Pacific Northwest Friday with the north fetch moving over the North and Central CA coast then, making a mess of things. Southern CA to remain protected. This high is finally to make a push onshore over Oregon Saturday (1/10) turning the gradient offshore and offshore winds to be in control of the entire state, holding at least into Monday. Light winds to settle in thereafter with good conditions expected into Thursday (1/15).
No tropical activity of interest was occurring.
At the oceans surface no swell producing fetch was occurring aimed at US targets. 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 high pressure is to hold off Central CA ridging into the Pacific Northwest providing a virtual wall of protection from a building storm pattern across the North Pacific. Just east of Japan an new strong gale is forecast building Saturday with pressure 980 mbs and 45 kt west winds trying to get footing off the coast. By Sunday AM (1/11) pressure is to be 976 mbs with 45 kt west winds at 37N 154E aimed due east or 2700 nmiles from Hawaii aimed right up the 303 degree path there and 3900 nmiles from Central CA aimed up the 300 degree path. 36 ft seas forecast at 38N 154E. In the evening this system is to hold with 45-50 kt winds at 37N 163E producing 42 ft seas at 37N 160E (300 degrees HI, 296 degrees NCal, 301 SCal).
Monday AM (1/12) 40-45 kts west winds are to continue at 37N 172E pushing towards both Hawaii and California and generating more 43 ft seas at 36N 169W. The system is to jog north and reorganize some in the evening with 45 kts winds forecast at 40N 180W with 42 ft seas at 39N 178E all pushing very well towards both Hawaii and California.
The gale is to continue east from the dateline Tuesday AM (1/13) with 40-45 kt west winds at 40N 180W and building in coverage with 41 ft seas over a solid area at 40N 176W (328 degrees relative to Hawaii and moving out of their swell window but moving better into the the 292 degree path for Central CA and 297 SCal). In the evening more of the same is forecast with 40-45 kts winds over a huge area at 40N 173W generating 41 ft seas pushing east up the 290 degree path to Central CA (295 SCal), and mostly bypassing Hawaii.
This system is to dissipate on Wednesday north of Hawaii.
Assuming all this comes to pass some form of solid long period significant class swell is expected for Hawaii starting late Wednesday (1/14) peaking Thursday though weather to be an issue. California to see this swell by later Friday (1/16) and weather too could be an issue if the high pressure ridge breaks down off the coast (a likely possibility). Of course this system is just a figment of the models imagination, and not one molecule of wind is blowing on the oceans surface in association with it. So don't hold your breath.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (1/8) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was still in the Active Phase, much stronger than previous estimates. The Daily SOI index was down to 3.68. The 30 day average was steady at 14.37 and the 90 day average was down some to 14.57. This and other evidence suggests that La Nina was well dug-in and the MJO is making no significant headway against it. Wind anomalies at the surface and the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated a solid area of west winds over Indonesia out east to the dateline and extending a bit beyond. These were associated with what is a new pulse of the Active Phase of the MJO. Looks like we skipped the Inactive Phase altogether. These winds are expected to push east and slowly fade, straddling the dateline by 1/12-17 and then dissipated by 1/25. At the same time the inactive phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean, reaching north Australia by 1/22. The active phase is supportive of development of storms in the North Pacific, specifically the gale pattern off Japan and maybe a stronger version of that in the next 5 days. Note that warm waters that had built up off Central America starting last summer due to what appeared to be the start of an El Nino have been totally erased now and cooler than normal waters have taken over the equator from the dateline east to almost Ecuador. And subsurface waters in the East PAcific equator have moved very negative, all very much a symptom of La Nina. Given the relative strength of this resurgence of La Nina, longterm swell generation potential could be enhanced.
No swell producing fetch forecast for the next 7 days.
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