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 Tuesday (1/13) North/Central California had nice clean-pristine chest high surf coming from the Gulf of Alaska with offshore's still blowing. Southern California was getting thigh to waist high Gulf waves wrapping into select breaks, with a light onshore breeze early afternoon. Hawaii's North Shore still had fun sized surf coming from that never ending gale the sat between Japan and the dateline all last week with waves still pushing up to head high. The South Shore was near flat. The East Shore was getting some leftover swell that originated from a gale just north of there on Sunday, but it was heading down fast.
For Central California swell is over for the next few days. Sure, some little waist high stuff or so, but nothing real. Southern California is to see even less with no real rideable surf forecast through Thursday. The North Shore of Hawaii is expected to start seeing real swell on Wednesday from Storm #3 with a pile of lesser-period follow-on swell behind it, but most of that is to be buried in chop with Konas kicking in. The South Shore of Hawaii is not expecting any surf. The East Shore is expected to be flat by Wednesday and stay there for quite a while. All the focus will be on the North Shore.
Longer term all eyes are on Storm #3. IT has pushed from Japan to the dateline and is now just east of there, getting ready to fade out north of Hawaii on Wednesday while the remnants of this system sit and stew there providing more fetch aimed at both Hawaii (though driving weather over the Islands too) and towards the US West coast. See all the details posted below. In short, if you live on the West Coast the swell we should have gotten over the Christmas/New Years vacation is coming now. Better late than never. And maybe more is forecast behind that. Feast while you can cause over the super longterm the trend is likely downward.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (1/13) the North Pacific jetstream was looking very nice, tracking at 200 kts flat off Japan reaching just over the dateline, then dipping into a slight trough just north of Hawaii before splitting with the northern branch tracking straight north into Alaska and the southern branch pushing directly over Hawaii bound for the equator. Good support for gale development on the dateline with strong high pressure likely between the split flows in the east. Over the next 72 hours through Friday (1/16) the flow is to unbelievable hold with 200 kts winds still pushing over the dateline forming a bit better of a trough north of Hawaii supportive of gale development there, and the same old split flow over the far Eastern Pacific. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to hold very solid through Sunday (1/18) then energy levels are to drop in the west with most winds limited to between the dateline and Hawaii and the split point pushing further east, reaching to within 600 nmiles of the Central CA coast. A small steep trough is to dig out just north of Hawaii on Tuesday (1/20) possibly supporting gale development there, while the split flow almost pushes onshore over Cape Mendocino CA, holding just 100 nmiles off the coast. Suspect a weather event is trying to take shape in the days beyond possible setting up precipitation for the mainland.
At the surface today Storm #3 was positioned just east of the dateline generating 45-50 kt west winds aimed well towards the US mainland with most fetch already having occurred relative to Hawaii. The models have stabilized and basically put 72 hrs of seas in the 36-38 ft range aimed well at both Hawaii and the US West Coast. See 'Storm #3' below for all the details. Otherwise high pressure at 1032 mbs was trying to hang-on over the Pacific Northwest but was getting battered and shunted east by an impressive consolidated jetstream building momentum across the width of the North Pacific. Enjoy the warm and sunny weather while you can. Over the next 72 hours Storm #3 is to fade and stall north-northwest of Hawaii filling the Central Pacific with moderate fetch rotating down it's west flank then pushing eat and up it's eastern flank into Alaska. See 'Storm #3 Follow-on' for details. The short story is more moderate period swell to result. into Monday for both Hawaii and the US West Coast.
Storm #3 (updated Wed PM)
A new strong gale was building just off Northern Japan Saturday AM (1/10) with pressure 980 mbs and 45 kt west winds modeled trying to get footing off the coast. The QuikSCAT satellite confirmed winds to nearly 60 kts over a tiny area at 39N 148E near noon PST. In the evening winds were modeled at near 50 kts over a tiny area and confirmed at 50 kts at 36N 153E. Seas were modeled at 32 ft at 39N 150E.
By Sunday AM (1/11) pressure was 976 mbs with 45 kt west winds modeled and confirmed via the QuikSCAT satellite at 37N 157E aimed due east or 2700 nmiles from Hawaii aimed right up the 303 degree path there and 3700 nmiles from Central CA aimed up the 296 degree path. 36 ft seas were modeled at 38N 156E. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the eastern quadrant of this system and reported seas at 30.2 ft with a single reading to 31.9 ft where the model suggested seas should be 32 ft, which was pretty close though we'd suggest the models were overstated by about 1 ft. In the evening this system held if not expanded with 45 kt winds confirmed at 37N 169E producing 38 ft seas at 36N 163E (300 degrees HI, 293 degrees NCal, 297 SCal).
Monday AM (1/12) the center of this broad gale was straddling the dateline and jogging north slightly with an holding area of 40-45 kts west winds modeled in it's south quadrant at 37N 175E pushing towards both Hawaii and California and generating up to 38 ft seas at 36N 171E aimed towards Hawaii down the 304 degree path and 20 degrees south of the 290 degree path to NCal (295 SCal). Central pressure is to be dropping to 964 mbs. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the back edge of the fetch at 18Z and reported a 15 reading average of 31.6 ft with a peak reading of 39.7 ft where the model suggested 36 ft seas. This was about 2 ft smaller than expected. The system held in the evening with pressure at 964 mbs with fetch building some, confirmed by the QuikSCAT satellite at 45-45 kts at 41N 179E aimed almost due east or 20 degree east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii and 1600 nmiles out, and 15 degrees south of the 293 degree path to NCal 2700 nmiles out (298 SCal) with 38 ft seas modeled at 35N 178E (from previous fetch) all pushing very well towards both Hawaii and California.The Jason-1 satellite passed over the far western sector of this system at 06Z reporting seas of 24.9 ft with a peak at 30.2 ft were the model indicated 23-24 ft seas. This was right on track, but a ways away from the core of the fetch.
Tuesday AM (1/13) the gale continued east from the dateline with pressure at 968 mbs and shrinking fetch of 40-45 kt west winds confirmed by the QuikSCAT satellite at 41N 175W all aimed towards mainly the US West Coast now. A solid area of 36 ft seas were modeled at 37-41N 174W (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 296 SCal) 2400 nmiles out. At 18Z the Jason-1 satellite made a pass almost directly over the fetch and confirmed seas at 35.7over a 15 reading average with a peak reading at 37.7 ft where the model indicated 36-37 ft seas. In short, the model was right on track. In the evening this system started fading fast with 40 kts winds over a shrinking area at 43N 170W generating 36 ft seas at 40N 171W pushing east up the 292 degree path to Central CA (297 SCal), and mostly bypassing Hawaii.
The meat of this system is to have dissipated by Wednesday AM (1/14) with residual seas of 31 ft forecast at 41N 164W steaming towards the US West Coast. But much 30-35 kt fetch is to remain in the area in the evening with seas of 29-30 ft forecast at 38N 155W.
As of Wednesday PM the models are no longer of concern and whatever swell is going to be generated is in the water and pushing east and southeast. Yesterday the models appeared to stabilize (Tuesday), but the final (and most critical) sea height hindcast of 36 ft was less than the 38 ft forecast for that time period, meaning a little less swell was being put in the water closest to California. So that was a little disappointment piled on top of the general lackluster productivity of this storm. Hindcast seas were verified in the 36-38 ft range over this storms life as compared to original estimates of 40-44 ft, resulting in less size and period for everyone, but not a horrible downturn, just not a near over-the-top swell. This system was 1363-2552 nmiles out from the Islands. Virtual fetch was expected to have a big function in the swell for Hawaii in the 20 sec period band (the leading edge), with swell from all of Sun and Mon arriving exactly at the same time (2 PM Wed HST). Large number of waves per set expected. Unfortunately, the swell arrived about 6 hrs late and peaked about 6 hours later than forecast, resulting in little to no swell in the Islands on Wednesday during daylight hours. Looking back the one thing that was of most concern about this system (other than the decreased sea heights) is that winds never exceeded 50 kts for any duration of time. This resulted in less energy being transferred to the water, and therefore less period. So rather than the swell peaking at 20 sec (as the seas heights suggested), it peaked more at 18-19 secs (still monitoring Waimea Bay buoy (106) now to verify. Regardless, just one or 2 seconds error was the difference between the swell peaking during daylight versus during the evening.
In regards to what one should expect for California, the second half of this storm looked weaker than originally forecast, and the last seas height reading was less than expected. This system was 1576-3712 nmiles away from the West Coast. Virtual fetch should have a bit of an impact in the 20 sec period band near the leading edge of this swell, improving the wave count per set. But the big issue (if Hawaii is any indication) is whether there will be sufficient size at 20 secs to be of any concern. Suspect most size will be in the 18-19 sec range, basically duplicating the problems experienced in Hawaii, namely most swell hitting during darkness (Fri PM). With no buoys or other means to verify this immediately, it's all pure educated speculation.
In total 72 hrs of 45-50 kt fetch occurred aimed well down the great circle paths towards both Hawaii and California which should result in some form of solid moderately long period significant class swell for Hawaii and California.
Hawaii: Expected swell arrival was Wednesday (1/14) at 8 AM with period 21 secs and size coming up fast. Swell was to start peaking near noon with swell of 8.7-9.5 ft @ 20 secs (17-19 ft Hawaiian) and excellent consistency. Unfortunately peak period was at 18-19 secs, after sunset Wed. Period drop to 17 secs overnight (1-6 AM) with swell to 8.0-9.0 ft @ 15-16 sec early Thursday (12-14 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 301-310 degrees. Wind southwest 20 kts Thursday into first light Friday, with the front coming through late AM and wind turning west at 20+ kts, then to northwest 20 kts early Saturday (1/17) and fading while turning north. Finally cleaning up on Sunday with trades moving in.
North CA: Swell to start getting solid at 5 PM Friday (1/16) with pure swell 8.0-8.3 ft @ 19 secs (14-16 ft faces) and period slowly fading to the 18 sec range later evening but with more consistency. Decent wave count in the sets but not great set consistency especially early since the swell is coming from so far away. Period drops to 17 secs near 3 AM Sat. Limited size of 7.0-7.7 ft @ 16 secs (11-12 ft faces) expected all day Saturday (1/17). Swell Direction: 286-292 degrees
South CA: Swell arrival indicated Friday (1/16) sunset with period 21 secs and size tiny but building fast. Swell to start peaking near 11 PM with swell 3.7-4.2 ft @ 19 secs (7.0-8.0 ft faces) and holding. Outside the Channel Islands swell to be 7.3-8.4 ft @ 19 secs (13-16 ft faces). Period to be down to 18 sec at sunrise Saturday (1/17) and size still solid. Period drops to 17 secs 11 AM-5 PM with swell 3.4-4.0 ft @ 17 secs (5.8-6.8 ft faces) and 7-8 ft @ 17 secs outside the Channel Islands (12-14 ft faces). 14-15 sec residuals dropping through Sunday. Swell Direction: 292-296 degrees
Storm #3 Possible Follow-on Energy
The remnants from Storm #3 are to continue circulating in the Gulf of Alaska Wednesday through early Saturday (1/17) with a generalized fetch of 30-35 kt winds in-play dropping south along the dateline producing 23-25 ft seas aimed right at Hawaii with occasional pulses of condensing winds tracking east and pushing up the southeastern sector of what is to basically be a big gale and targeting the US West Coast from a very westerly direction. The best pulse is expected Wednesday (1/14) generating 40 kt east winds with seas to 30 ft by Thursday AM at 33N 161W and again in the evening at 33N 163W, then fading from 25 ft Fri AM at 33N 157W.
The net result is to be continuous steady swell for Hawaii in the 10 ft @ 14-15 sec range (14-15 ft faces) through Saturday from 310-320 degrees, then dropping on Sunday as the winds clean up.
Additional smaller utility class follow-on energy is possible for Central CA Sunday (1/18) at 6 ft @ 14-17 secs from 269-273 degrees.
Lesser energy to push down into Southern CA starting mid-day Sunday at 3.2 ft @ 17 secs (5.5 ft faces) from 275+ degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/13) high pressure at 1032 mbs was sitting right over Washington and bulging off the coast while sagging south to nearly the equator, continuing to form a deflective storm barrier extending up to 1100 nmiles off the coast. Light offshore winds were in control. The high is to continue to slowly work it's way inland through Sunday (1/18) expected to hold over local waters with light winds the norm. Perhaps some reinforcing high pressure energy is to move in on Tuesday (1/20) but should serve only to continue the light wind pattern. Conditions to hold and just don't get much better.
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 the storm track is to remain active. Yet another solid gale is forecast to push off the Kurils on Friday (1/16) with 40 kt winds and 32 ft seas initially targeting Hawaii well and tracking non-stop to the dateline and then north of the Islands into Tuesday (1/20) with 35+ kt winds producing 28-30 ft seas all the while. More significant class swell expected for the Islands if this holds up with solid utility class action for the US West Coast from a very westerly direction.
And yet one more gale to follow right behind, pushing off the Kuril's on Tuesday (1/20) with 45 kts winds and 32 ft seas. Looks nice.
Clearly the jet is being influenced by the Active Phase of the MJO, which in-turn is fueling gale development and producing swell.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (1/13) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was still in the Active Phase, strongly so. The Daily SOI index was down to -1.5 and hovering near 0 for 6 days now. The 30 day average was down to 12.88 and the 90 day average was down too at 13.74. La Nina was still well dug-in, but the MJO might make a little headway against it. Wind anomalies at the surface and the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated a most solid area of west winds starting at Indonesia pushing east to the Solomon Islands and the dateline, then pushing a little east of there. These were associated with the Active Phase of the MJO, and a most active one it is. These winds are expected to push east and hold, straddling the dateline by 1/17-22 and then fading, almost gone by 2/1. At the same time the inactive phase is to be building over Africa pushing east through the Indian Ocean, reaching north Australia by 1/27 and pushing into the far Eastern Pacific by 2/1.. The active phase is supportive of development of storms in the North Pacific, specifically the gale pattern that was off Japan late December and now Storm #3 and more behind it. 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, and the strength of this active phase of the MJO, 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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Story About Stormsurf: The folks at SurfPulse (and specifically author Mike Wallace) have written up a really nice article about Stormsurf, complete with some good pics. Learn about how we came to be and a little of where we are going. Check it out here: http://www.surfpulse.com/2009/01/visceral-surf-forecasting-with-mark-sponsler/
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Swell #2 Mavericks Videos from Powerlines Productions: Check out the action on both Saturday and Sunday (11/30) from that massive swell of 12-13 ft @ 25 secs. Filmed by Curt Myers and Eric Nelson. Really thick! See this and more plus the movie Ride-On 12/11 at the Old Princeton Landing or the Red Vic Moviehouse in San Francisco 12/19-23. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA57cIBkA0o & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37SCR9kDm60
Stormsurf Video: Just for fun - here's a clip about Stormsurf that ran on Bay Area TV a while back. Thought you might enjoy it: http://vimeo.com/2319455
Pictures from Swell #1 - The first real significant class swell of the season produced a bit of action at Mavericks. See pictures here http://www.mavsurfer.com
Big Surf Up North - the First swell of the Fall 2008/2009 season brought a few large raw waves to the North CA Coast. Check out the details here: http://www.towsurfer.com/default.asp
The Kelly Slater Project - A group of dedicated surfers from Cocoa Beach are working to construct a statue of the the home town legend and set it up for all to enjoy near the break where Kelly grew up surfing. Take a look at the statue and read all about it here: http://www.thekellyslaterproject.com/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table