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 Thursday (1/10) North and Central CA had locally produced northwest windswell producing waves at 1-2 ft overhead and blown to bits. An unrideable mess. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were head high and reasonably clean but only at the most protected breaks. Otherwise northwest winds were ripping it apart. Southern California up north was getting the same local windswell/bad wind scenario with waves thigh high and trashed. Down south waves were chest high and maybe a little more and blown by northwest wind. Hawaii's North Shore was getting clean little lined up waist to chest high surf with light trader and clean conditions. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting local east windswell with waves head high and chopped by east trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A low pressure system developed in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska and fell down the immediate coasts of Canada and the Pacific Northwest Wed-Thurs (1/10) producing 18-20 ft seas. Raw north angled windswell from that system is currently hitting the California coast. Beyond 3 small gales are forecast for the dateline. The first is forecast to develop on the dateline tracking northeast Fri-Sat (1/12) with seas peaking at barely 30 ft with most energy pushing northeast targeting the US West Coast, but well decayed upon arrival. Think barely rideable for Hawaii and California. A smaller system to fall southeast from the Northern Dateline region Sat-Sun (1/13) producing 28-30 ft seas aimed best at Hawaii, but again tiny in coverage. A stronger system is forecast developing on the dateline Tues (1/15) perhaps generating a small area of up to 42 ft seas by Wednesday again aimed east to northeast away from Hawaii and pretty well north of the US mainland too. But overall it seems to be a better pattern than what's been occurring the past week or so. The assumption is the MJO (which is trying to turn Active) is to start having more of an influence for the better.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (1/10) the jetstream was pushing solidly east off Japan in a single flow with winds to 210 kts (strong) approaching the dateline, then splitting with the northern branch easing northeast tracking through the Northern Gulf of Alaska with winds down to 130 kts in pockets, then falling down the US West Coast moving onshore over Santa Barbara County. The southern branch was pushing southeast just southwest of Hawaii with winds fading to 80 kts and rejoining the main flow over Southern CA. Overall, a weak trough was trying to organize off Kamchatka associated with the strong jet winds south of there, but not quite making the grade yet. Over the next 72 hours winds to hold near 200 kts off Japan with a bit more of a trough trying to organize over the Northern Dateline region with that trough trying to make slow eastward progress, but getting a bit steeper moving to just east of the dateline by Sunday (1/13). Improved support for gale development on the dateline. Beyond 72 hours wind energy in the jet is to fade some down to 150 kts by Tuesday (1/15) with the trough on the dateline starting to pinch off, only to reorganize and look stronger by Thurs (1/17) with 160 kt winds pushing off Japan and the dateline trough rebuilding. Decent support for gale development in that trough. But the jet is to remain split over much of the East Pacific. Gale development to remain confined to the Dateline and points west of there.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (1/10) strong high pressure at 1040 mbs was 750 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino driving a steady fetch of 25-30 kt north winds down the US west coast. Weak low pressure was moving inland over Nevada helping to feed the pressure gradient between the two systems helping to generate the northerly winds. Seas were at 18 ft off Oregon tracking towards Central CA and the Pacific Northwest. The net result is to be raw windy and warbled northerly windswell for Northern CA later Thurs into Fri (1/11) from 310+ degrees. A real mess. Strong local north winds forecast during that time period.
Also a small low was trying to organize west of the dateline tracking northeast.
Over the next 72 hours that low is to organize into a gale on the dateline with a tiny area of 45 kt west winds Thurs PM (1/10) and seas building. By Friday AM (1/11) a small area of 45 kts west winds is forecast tracking northeast with seas building to 26 ft at 41N 175W (327 degs HI, 292 degs NCal). The gale is to rapidly lift northeast in the evening with winds fading from 40 kts and seas peaking at 28-30 ft at 47N 172W (300 degs NCal and not aimed at HI). This system to be gone by Sat AM.
Assuming all goes as forecast maybe some tiny small 15 deg period sideband swell could result for the Islands by late Sun (1/13) (1.5 ft @ 1.5 secs - 2.0-2.5 ft) building to 5 ft @ 12-13 secs (6 ft) later Monday.
Infinitesimal 16-17 sec period but well decayed swell for the US West Coast (starting Tues AM 1/15 - 1.5 ft @ 16 secs - 2.5 ft ).
In all pretty meager. Will monitor.
A second system is to develop over the Northern Dateline region Friday evening (1/11) with a tiny area of 45 kt northwest winds forecast by Saturday AM (1/12) and barely 30 ft seas at 43N 172E targeting Hawaii down the 317 degree great circle path. A tiny area of 40-45 kt fetch to persist in the evening with 30 ft seas holding at 42N 175E (318 degs HI). Sunday AM (1/13) a tiny area of 40 kt northwest wind are to be fading falling southeast with seas 28 ft at 38N 179E (316 degs HI). Winds to fade from 35 kts over a tiny area in the evening with seas fading from 26 ft at 38N 174W (321 degs HI). This system to be gone by Monday AM (1/14).
Possibly well rideable swell by mid-Tues (1/15) for Hawaii
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/10) high pressure at 1040 mbs was centered just 750 nmiles off the North CA coast while low pressure exists east over Nevada, setting up a pressure gradient between the two systems generating north winds at 20-25 kts pushing down the entire California coast. A smattering of rain occurred Wednesday evening coastside in Central CA resulting in 3 inches of snow for Tahoe. North winds to hold at 20-25 kts over North and Central CA on Friday and 20 kts early in Southern CA but pulling back the Channel Islands mid-AM. Maybe a few scattered showers mainly off the North and Central CA coast. North winds still in effect on Saturday for Central CA at 10 kts early, but quickly moderating as the day goes on if one is to believe the models. A light wind pattern forecast for Southern CA. By Sunday a new local low is to push down the coast turning winds east as it passes south of Central CA late AM and winds east for Southern CA by the mid afternoon. Light rain for the North Coast Sat PM and the Central Coast Sunday AM. Maybe 1/2 an inch of snow for Tahoe. A light wind flow to continue through the workweek.
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 a third small gale is to develop just west of the dateline Tues PM (1/15) with a small area of 45 kt west winds and seas building from 24 ft. By Wednesday AM (1/16) winds to be 50-55 kts lifting east-northeast with seas to 34 ft over a tiny area at 41N 175W. The gale is to hold in the evening with 55 kt west winds over a small area resulting in seas near 42 ft at 45N 169W aimed well towards the US West Coast (297 degs) and due east of the great circle paths to Hawaii (342 degs). 45 kt west winds to hold into Thursday AM as the gale tracks northeast with seas 41 ft at 50N 167W (306 degs NCal and bypassing any track to Hawaii). No additional swell development is forecast with the gale moving into the Bering Sea. No guarantees but 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 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 Thursday (1/10) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 5.75. The 30 day average was up to -4.03 with the 90 day average down some at -1.10. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated modest westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) with weak east anomalies barely holding over the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii, then giving way to much lighter east anomalies continuing the rest of the way to Central America. This suggest a weak version of the Inactive Phase was in control of the balance of the Pacific with potential for the Active Phase building in the far West Pacific. A week from now (1/18) neutral to weak west anomalies are forecast building from the Maritime Continent to the dateline with neutral anomalies west of the dateline the rest of the way across the Pacific. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be building in the West Pacific with the Inactive Phase tracking east and fading out over the East Pacific.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/9 suggest a modest Inactive Phase was in-play just south of Hawaii with the Active Phase of the MJO building while tracking east over the Western Maritime Continent. Both models remain in lock-step agreement indicating the Inactive Phase is to slide east over the next 7 days and dissipate or at least lift north over Hawaii while the Active Phase builds over the dateline 8 days out, fully in control by then and holding 15 days out. 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. The exact start of the storm cycle is hard to predict, but some sign of it could become evident by 1/13. At the same time a strong Inactive Phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean. So whatever benefit we get from the Active Phase, we will pay for with the trailing Inactive Phase.
Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in the year, we believed a return to a normal MJO cycle would occur with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. But the pattern collapsed/stalled in November and December. As of now (1/10) it seems the MJO is scheduled to make a legitimate return with a normal pattern setting up in the next week. 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). As of now (1/10) no warm water is in the subsurface pipeline and if anything surface water temps over the entirety of the equatorial Pacific have cooled to the normal range. Virtually no warmer than normal 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. Regardless, the warm spurt in July 2012 was just a false start. 2012-2013 is a neutral year.
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 but it looks doubtful. Longer term the expectation is this winter will be followed by at least one year of slightly warmer temps (2013-2014) 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table