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 (1/11) North and Central CA surf was 10-12 ft on the faces and fairly solid when the sets come. A light southeast winds was in effect and heavily textured at exposed breaks with a weak front getting ready to push through. Fog too. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high or maybe a little more on the sets but very soft. Clean conditions and no fog. In Southern California up north surf was doing much better with waves nearly head high and lined up with clean conditions. Real surf. Down south waves were head high and lined up with sheet glass conditions. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northerly windswell with waves 4 ft overhead on the face and clean with light southeast trades. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting the same north windswell at 3 ft overhead and chopped from southeast trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Sideband swell from a weak gale that developed on the dateline Mon-Tues with up to 28 ft seas aimed due east targeting mainly the US West Coast has reached Central CA and to hold for the weekend. Also a small gale off the Pacific Northwest on Thurs (1/9) with 30 ft seas aimed east, has hit Central CA northward. Local north windswell was hitting Hawaii. A stronger local gale produced a small area of 39 ft seas late Friday into Sat (1/11) setting up larger north angled swell for CA on Sunday. A broader but not stronger gale is forecast to develop on the dateline Tues-Wed (1/15) with up to 36 ft seas targeting the Islands initially, then fading some but turning east Thurs (1/16) with seas in the 28-30 ft range targeting all of California well. Possible weather with this system though for the mainland.
Note: NDBC has issued a schedule to start repairing buoys as of 11/12/13. Unfortunately no buoys of interest to California are scheduled through September 2014. TOA Array (El Nino Monitoring) buoys are set for maintenance in April 2014.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (1/11) the jetstream was pushing flat off Japan with winds 180 kts, then splitting on the dateline. The northern branch tracked through the Northern Gulf of Alaska with a small embedded trough was poised just off British Columbia offering support for gale development, before the rest of the jet pushed inland there. The southern branch was tracking southeast from the split point then split again just south of Hawaii with energy going towards the equator and also over Hawaii only the rejoin the main flow off Oregon. No clearly defined troughs were present over the West Pacific but there was still support for gale development there just based on wind speeds alone. Over the next 72 hours winds to build off Japan with a single flow driving east at 190 kts with the split point moving to a point north of Hawaii by late Tues (1/14) and a bit of a trough forming there too offering limited support for gale development. The northern branch east of the split is to push up into Central Canada and the southern branch is to track over Southern Baja. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to hold tracking dead flat off Japan with winds at 160 kts into Thurs PM (1/16) with a trough holding just west of the split point at 155W or just north of Hawaii. Increasing support for gale development there pushing towards the US West Coast. The jet is to finally impact the Us mainland pushing high pressure out of the way late on Friday (1/17) with the trough poised to move onshore over the Pacific Northwest while more energy builds towards the dateline from Japan at 180 kts. It finally is starting to look like winter in the upper atmosphere if this forecast holds.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (1/11) swell from the Dateline Gale (see below) Mon-Tues (1/7) was hitting the US West Coast. Also swell from a local gale off Oregon on Thurs (1/9) (see Oregon Gale below) was hitting California. And another gale was peaking off the Pacific Northwest Sat Am (1/11) generating yet more swell relative to California (see Second Oregon Gale below). Over the next 72 hours an ill defined 35 kt southwest fetch is to persist in the Northwestern Gulf Sat-Sun (1/12) producing 24-26 ft seas offering modest 14-15 sec period sideband swell for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA (starting Wed 1/15 - see QuikCASTs for details). Also a weak gale is to develop off the Kuril Islands on Sun (1/12) falling southeast and targeting Hawaii with 35 kt northwest winds and seas 24-26 ft over a modest sized area. Seas 26 ft Sun AM at 43N 169E (315 degs HI), falling to 24 ft at 41N 177E in the evening, and then 25 ft at 38N 176W (320 degs HI) Mon AM (1/13) before dissipating. Modest swell possible by Wed (1/15) from 315-320 degrees.
An ill formed gale developed off the Northern Kuril Islands late Sat (1/4) with winds to 35 kts in pockets and tracking east. This system reached the northern dateline region Monday AM (1/6) producing 35-40 kt west winds and seas of 24 ft at 45N 172E aimed east targeting the US West Coast mainly. By evening the fetch held still at near 40 kts with seas building to 28 ft at 44N 177E aimed east (325 degs HI, 297 degs NCal). By Tues AM (1/7) this system was dissipating with seas from previous fetch fading from 28 ft at 44N 175W (335 degs HI, 296 degs NCal).
Limited well decayed background swell is expect for NCal from 296-297 degrees starting on Sat AM (1/11) with period 15 secs but likely buried in other more local swell.
A gale developed in the Gulf on Wed PM (1/8) producing 40 kt northwest winds over a small area and seas building from 24 ft at 46N 158W - bypassing any route into Hawaii. By Thurs AM (1/9) 45 kt west winds were in-play with the gale tracking due east and seas building to 30 ft at 49N 147W (309 degs NCal). By evening the gale was pushing into North Vancouver Island with 40 kt west winds and seas 28 ft over a tiny area up at 50N 136W just east of the 319 degree track to NCal. Swell is already in the water mainly focused on the Pacific Northwest.
Sideband energy is forecast pushing into Northern CA on Sat AM (1/11) with pure swell 6.5 ft @ 16 secs (10 ft faces but shadowed in the SF Bay Area) from 308 degrees.
Second Oregon Gale
Another gale developed Fri (1/10) just off the Pacific Northwest building quickly generating northwest winds to 55 kts in the evening and seas 37 ft at 47N 147W (307 degs NCal). A tiny area of 50 kt northwest winds was just off North Oregon on Sat AM (1/11) generating 38 ft seas at 45.5N 137W (308 degs NCal). The storm to move onshore over North Oregon in the evening with 30 ft seas impacting the coast there. Based on current data some degree of larger raw swell is expected for the Pacific Northwest with very north angled and somewhat raw swell for NCal.
Expect very north angled swell arriving in North CA on Sun near 7 AM at 13 ft @ 16 secs (20 ft) but completely shadowed by the Farallons relative to the San Francisco area. Surf likely to 15 ft still in the SF Area. Swell Direction: 308+ degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/11) near calm if not light southeast winds were in control in Central Ca with a weak front trying to push south into the area. But northerly winds were over Pt ConCeption at 15 kts. Southern Ca was under a calm pattern. High pressure to build in behind the front on Sunday (1/12) ridging into South Oregon setting up north winds for Central CA at 15 kts early (up to 25 kts Pt Conception) and on the increase late. The high to start pushing inland Monday with winds turning offshore for the whole state continuing into Tuesday and Wednesday. Perhaps a light northerly flow on Thursday (1/16) but not exceeding 5 kts north of Pt Conception while a broad area of low pressure finally starts challenging high pressure that's been locked over the US West Coast for months now. More of the same on Friday as the low starts to move into the Pacific Northwest. Light south winds on Saturday (1/18) for Central CA with new low pressure trying to organize off the US West Coast. This could finally be the break we've been looking for in terms of snow and precip, but it would also mean the end of clean conditions and offshore winds north of Pt Conception. Something to monitor.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were in play. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing gale activity is forecast aimed up into our forecast area.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 another gale remains forecast tracking from the Southern Kuril Islands east approaching the dateline late Mon (1/13) with 40 kt west winds and seas 26 ft near 42N 164E (312 degs HI). On Tues AM (1/14) a small area of 45 kt west winds to develop embedded in a broader area of 40 kt northwest winds with seas building to 33 ft over a moderate sized area at 39N 171E (312 degs) targeting Hawaii. Fetch to hold at 40-45 kts while pushing southeast in the evening with seas to 36 ft at 39N 177E (317 degs HI/291 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading from 40 kts Wed AM (1/15) with seas fading from 36 ft at 37N 173W (323 degs HI/287 degs NCal). Fetch to hold in the 35 kt range from the west into Thurs AM (1/16) with 29-31 ft seas at 36N 161W (bypassing Hawaii) and pushing east but on the 275-280 degree path to NCal and 282 degree path to SCal). More of the same is forecast in the evening with 35 kt west winds and 27 ft seas northeast of Hawaii aimed east at 37N 152W (279 degs NCal, 286 degs SCal). Remnants to push east with 26 ft seas reaching 40N 138W on Fri PM (1/17) (285 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). 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 Saturday (1/11) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 2.50. The 30 day average was up to 1.55 and the 90 day average was down some at 1.53. The nearterm trend based on the SOI was indicative of a neutral phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was just about dead neutral suggestive of an overall neutral MJO pattern. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends, so the move into positive readings is not unexpected.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated modest west anomalies over the far western Maritime Continent turning weak easterly over the Eastern Maritime Continent then neutral on the dateline. A weak easterly flow was holding south of Hawaii fading to neutral east of there and on into Central America. A week from now (1/18) strong west anomalies and forecast building over the Western Maritime Continent turning moderately east over the dateline fading some south of Hawaii then turning neutral and continuing into Central America. In all this suggests a neutral Phase of the MJO is currently over the West Pacific but potentially turning very Active a week out.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/10 are completely out of sync. Both suggest a neutral pattern in play today with tendencies towards the Inactive Phase north of New Guinea. The statistic model suggests an Inactive Phase building 5 days out over New Guinea moving towards and pushing over the dateline 15 days out, but generally pretty weak and not large in coverage. Conversely the dynamic model suggests a weak Active Phase building 5 days out over New Guinea increasing in coverage and strength over the next 15 days while moving towards the dateline. This is the preferred option. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/11 suggests a very weak Active Phase is over the West Pacific and tracking east, expected to evaporate in the Central Pacific on Jan 28. In parallel a new modest Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Jan 31 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 2/15 while a new weak Active Phase builds behind it starting 2/13. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of now (1/9) a completely neutral water temp pattern covers the equator from Central America to the Philippines other than one pool of slightly negative water temps south of Hawaii, and even that is fading. Other than that, equatorial water temps are biased on the warm side of neutral (+0.25 degs C). It remains similar to previous updates over the past 2-3 weeks (since 12/12/13). This pool of warm equatorial water started developing over the East Pacific mid-October in sync with a building Active Phase of the MJO. This pocket of warmer water continues over Chile and all of Peru too, but has eroded slightly over the past week. The California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California remains in-place and unchanged, driven by offshore winds and upwelling. The wall of warmer than normal water just off the North CA coast remains displaced west, held off by high pressure and local upwelling all the result of much offshore winds. Still, thousands of nmiles of warmer water is lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast. In short, there's no sign of a legitimate warm pattern developing yet, but there are some interesting suggestions of such a pattern trying to develop. And certainly there's no troubling cool water on the charts and if anything, warm water is getting the upper hand. We remain in a pure neutral pattern (as neutral as it can get). It will take at least 3 months from the time the cool eddy ended off the Galapagos and a fully neutral pattern developed (mid-Sept) till anything helpful to the jetstream manifests in the upper atmosphere (mid-Dec).
Subsurface waters temps on the equator indicate a pocket of warm water 2 deg C above normal is pushing into equatorial South America from a point at 50 meters depth near 95W. This is the tail end of an eastward moving Kelvin Wave. This is good news in that it is expected to provide slight warming to the already neutral to warm surface warm pool near the Galapagos (a good thing) over the next 30-45 days. The hope is this will add some fuel to the jetstream over the next 2 months.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 1/11 are holding steady. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb-March 2014 building to + 0.75-1.0 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs have backed to the low end of that scale with temps projected to +0.6-0.7 C by Aug 2014. For the immediate future (this Winter) a neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering near 0.0 deg C through late January, then a slow but steady increase is to set in. A consensus of other models suggests slow warming, but not passing beyond mildly positive territory till Spring of next year.
Overall the immediate outlook remains nothing stellar, but trending towards something that would be considered right on the threshold of warm, by Summer 2014, assuming one were to believe the models. All this is good news. If anything the ocean is in a recharging mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures gradually on the rise again in fit's-and-starts. We are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014 with perhaps a slightly warmer pattern by early 2014. The weak presence of the Inactive Phase of MJO in the summer of 2013 still seems to be biasing the weather global pattern. But with the ocean turning neutral, we suspect the atmosphere will make the turn as well over the next few months (into march 2014). This is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. It is becoming apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. Longer term the expectation is there will be at least one to two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). 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 Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
Details to follow...
External Reference Material: El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Kelvin Wave
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table