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 Sunday (1/13) North and Central CA had windswell producing waves at waist high with some bigger sets and glassy with light offshore winds early. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were near flat and clean. Southern California up north was flat and clean. Down south waves were 2 ft and clean breaking very close to shore with high tide in effect. Hawaii's North Shore was getting small northeast wraparound windswell at head high to 1 ft overhead and clean with light south winds in effect. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting local east windswell with waves 3 ft overhead and clean at spots with winds light south.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a nondescript gale on the dateline Sat-Sun (1/13) is to arrive Monday for Hawaii. A pair of tiny gales are forecast tracking over the dateline Monday (1/18) producing 24 ft seas over an infinitesimal area for 12 or so hours, good for more small but well rideable swell for the Islands by Wednesday (1/16), but nothing remarkable. But all eyes are on a very strong system forecast developing off Japan on Monday (1/14) ballooning as it tracks toward the dateline Tuesday (1/15) perhaps generating a solid area of 50-59 ft seas, then fading Wednesday while stalled just west of the dateline. Solid long period swell is possible for all forecast locations. The Active Phase of the MJO is having the desired effect.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Sunday (1/13) the jetstream was pushing solidly flat east off Japan in a single flow with winds to 190 kts (strong) dipping southeast as it crossed the dateline, then splitting hard with the northern branch tracking due north up into Alaska with winds down to 140 kts before doing a U turn and falling down the US West Coast moving onshore over Southern California. The southern branch was pushing southeast directly over Hawaii with winds fading to 80 kts and rejoining the main flow south of Southern CA. Overall, a bit of a trough was trying to organize near the dateline associated with the strong jet winds there, but not quite making the grade yet. Over the next 72 hours winds to increase to 210 kts off Japan early Monday pushing to the dateline digging out the dateline trough more with that trough trying to make slow eastward progress.But the trough is to get pinched off by early Tuesday on the dateline while a second trough tries to form behind pushing from Japan to the dateline through late Wednesday with winds 160 kts. Much improved support for gale development on the dateline during this timeframe. Beyond 72 hours wind energy in the jet is to hold with winds 180 kts but ridging over the dateline then falling into a steep trough just north of Hawaii by Friday (1/18) and pushing east through Sunday (1/20) reaching mid-way between Hawaii and the Baja. The split point in the jet is to move to within 600 nmiles of the California coast. Continued support for gale development in this trough.
Surface Analysis - On Sunday (1/13) strong high pressure at 1036 mbs was centered 800 nmiles west of Oregon setting up a 15 kt northerly flow for Oregon but a light northeasterly flow for California. It was also creating a storm blockade relative to the US West Coast, nestled in the split jetstream flow aloft. No clearly defined gale were present elsewhere in the North Pacific through disturbed weather and a steady northwest fetch at 25 kts was targeting the Hawaiian Islands, remnants from a previous weak gale (see First Hawaiian Gale below). Over the next 72 hours another pair of small gales are to develop over the dateline targeting Hawaii (see Second Hawaiian Gale below). Directly behind a very strong storm is forecast for the region just west of the dateline Mon-Wed (1/16) (see Storm #1 - West of Dateline below).
First Hawaiian Gale
On Thursday (1/10) low pressure was organizing just west of the dateline. It developed into a weak gale on the dateline in the evening with a tiny area of 40 kt west winds with additional northwest fetch behind it at 30 kts. By Friday AM (1/11) a tiny area of 45 kts west winds developed tracking northeast with seas building to 20 ft at 40N 173W (327 degs HI). A broad area of 30-35 kt northwest winds was behind it generating 18 ft seas near 35N 170E. The gale lifted rapidly northeast in the evening with winds fading from 40 kts and seas peaking at 26 ft up at 46N 171W (300 degs NCal and not aimed at HI) while the fetch behind it got a bit more organized producing 30-35 kt northwest winds over a broad area targeting Hawaii. Seas grew to 22-24 ft at 36N 175E (307 degs HI). By Sat AM (1/12) the gale itself wa gone but the fetch behind it was still producing 30 kt northwest winds targeting Hawaii with seas fading from 20 ft at roughly 35N 177E (306 degs HI). The fetch died in the evening but seas from previous fetch held more cohesively at 20-22 ft at 36N 175E (307 degs HI). This system was gone by Sunday AM (1/13)
Hawaii: Expect swell building through the day Monday (1/14) reaching 5.4 ft @ 13 secs (7 ft) from the original gale with secondary swell from the fetch behind it hitting by sunrise Tuesday (1/15) at 7.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (10 ft). Swell Direction: 307-311 degrees
Second Hawaiian Gale
Sunday evening (1/13) a pair of small fetches (not even closed isobar lows) are to start building in close proximity to each other on and just west of the dateline. Winds 35 kt in each. By Monday AM (1/14) The leading gale is to have winds barely 35 kts while the second hit 40 kts. Seas 20 ft at 34N 174W (310 degs HI) and 24 ft at 37N 174E (308 degs HI). By evening the gales are to merge but effectively dead with winds fading from 30 kts. Seas 22 ft in both at 34N 168W (325 degs HI) and 34N 178W (310 degs HI). Theses systems are to be gone by Tuesday AM (1/15).
Hawaii: Expect swell from these system to merge with leftover energy from the First Hawaiian Gale (above) arriving Wednesday AM (1/16) at 7.8 ft @ 13-14 secs (10 ft) then fading Thursday from 7.5 ft @ 12-13 secs (9 ft). Swell Direction: 307-311 degrees
Strong Storm #1- West of Dateline
A new storm is to build just off Japan Monday AM (1/14) with winds 55-60 kts nestled up along the Japan coast in the storm west quadrant and glowing in size as it moves east. Seas building quickly. By evening the storm is to expand quickly and become impressive with winds forecast at 65-70 kts (hurricane force) over a small area in the southwest quadrant and seas to 48 ft at 34N 153E (297.5 degs HI/295.6 degs NCal). By Tuesday AM (1/15) the storm is to be most impressive with a solid fetch of 70-75 kt west winds projected in the storms south quadrant aimed east with seas 59 ft at 38N 163E (305 degs Hi/295.4 degs NCal). By evening the storm is to be moderating some but still impressive with 60-65 kt west winds in it's south quadrant as it lifts northeast with seas 59 ft at 41N 171E (313 degs HI/295.3 degs NCal). On Wednesday AM (1/16) the storm to be fading with winds 50-55 kts over a solid area aimed east with a core to 60 kts. Seas 49 ft at 44N 174E (320 degs HI/299 degs NCal). In the evening west winds to be fading from 45-50 kts while the system drifts north with seas fading from 42 ft at 45N 177E (324 degs HI/299.5 degs NCal). This is to furthest east this system will migrate. 45 kt west winds to hold over a solid area Thurs AM (1/17) with seas fading from 36 ft at 47N 168E. This system is to be effectively gone in the evening with winds fading fast from 40 kts and seas dropping from 32 ft at 47N 169E.
If this storm were to develop as forecast it would be the strongest storm we've seen in 3 years. Most fetch to be aimed due east and given it's far western location would push energy right down the great circle paths to both Hawaii and the US West Coast. And it's position in the far West Pacific (1956-2789 nmiles from HI/2743-3983 nmiles from NCal) will allow ample room for the swell to unwrap as it pushes east. But it's lack of much forward progress will limit virtual fetch and therefore the number of waves per set. And the rather long travel distance will mean long waits between sets, especially for the US West Coast. Still, make no mistake, a storm with 65-70 kt winds and near 60 ft seas over a solid area for 24 hours will not go unrecognized. Solid long period swell should result for the entire Pacific Basin if this system develops as forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (1/13) high pressure at 1038 mbs was centered 800 nmiles off Southern Oregon, generating a generally light northeast flow for all of California. The high is to slowly ease east-northeast through the workweek continuing a light northeast flow over California eventually moving fully inland with winds turning light offshore (east) for the weekend. But by Sunday (1/20) there's some concern that a front associated with the approaching split point in the jetstream could move close with winds turning more southeast than east. No rain forecast.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hours another small gale is to develop on the dateline Sunday (1/20) with a small area of 40 kt west winds and seas building to 32 ft for 12 hours. Maybe some tiny swell to result.
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 Sunday (1/13) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 6.55. The 30 day average was up to -0.64 with the 90 day average up slightly at -0.83. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) extending barely to the dateline with weak east anomalies just south of Hawaii, then giving way to neutral anomalies continuing the rest of the way to Central America. This suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the West Pacific. A week from now (1/21) weak to modest west anomalies in pockets are forecast over the Maritime Continent to the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii with light east anomalies off Central America. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be holding and building east with the Inactive Phase effectively gone or at a minimum fading fast over the East Pacific.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/11 suggest a solid version of the Active Phase of the MJO was in control over the Maritime Continent extending almost to the dateline with the Inactive Phase fading south of Hawaii. Both models remain in lock-step agreement indicating the Inactive Phase is to slide east over the next 2 weeks and and dissipate or at least lift north over Hawaii while the Active Phase builds to the dateline 15 days out, fully in control. 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, previous considered hard to predict, is clearly delineated by the formation of Storm #1 in the Northwest Pacific. More stronger system are expected over the next 3 weeks. 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 (1/13) 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 with a small pocket of negative anomalies off Ecuador. 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