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 Tuesday (1/14) North and Central CA surf was 8 ft on the face at better breaks and well lined up with offshore winds and clean long lines. Another perfect day. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high and glassy and well lined up. In Southern California up north surf was thigh to waist high and clean with nice lines. Down south waves were waist high and lined up with lightly textured conditions. Hawaii's North Shore was head high to 1 ft overhead and soft but fun looking with a little warble intermixed but not bad. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting east windswell at 3 ft and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Mixed nondescript fetch in the Western Gulf and dateline regions produced 24-26 ft seas Sat-Sun (1/12) aimed east. That swell is poised for California on Wed-Thurs (1/16). A small but reasonably strong gale developed on the dateline Tues-Wed (1/15) with up to 41 ft seas targeting the Islands initially with a secondary fetch following right behind falling further south producing 28-30 ft seas and targeting the Islands very well. Remnants of these two system to redevelop in the Gulf Fri (1/17) producing 39 ft seas aimed well at the US West Coast. And a far stronger but compact storm to develop on the dateline pushing flat east Fri-Sat (1/18) with up to 53 ft seas then turning northeast early Sun (1/19) in the Gulf with 44 ft seas, all targeting the US West Coast with sideband energy for Hawaii. And yet a third system is to develop Mon (1/20) on the dateline with 55 ft seas tracking flat east with possibly larger swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast.
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 Tuesday (1/14) the jetstream was ridging just slightly off Japan with winds raging at 200+ kts pushing over the dateline then gently falling into a weak trough developing just east of the dateline. Limited support for gale development in the trough. From there the jet split at 165W with the northern branch tracking hard northeast up into Alaska and the southern branch falling southeast to the equator. The jet was most impressive energy wise. Over the next 72 hours winds to gradually fade slightly to 180 kts while tracking dead flat off Japan pushing over the dateline and then falling into the developing trough repositioned east at a point 1500 nmiles north of Hawaii. Excellent support for gale development projected in this trough. Beyond 72 hours the trough above to lift northeast into early Sat (1/18) while another trough builds in the same area Sat-Sun (1/19) with winds holding at 180 kts pushing over the dateline. Yet another trough is to build right behind just east of the dateline Mon (1/20) and building solidly being fed by 190-200 kts winds from the dateline. Great support for storm development if one is to believe the models. Best we've seen in a long time.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (1/14) non-descript swell from the Western Gulf and Dateline was starting to hit Central California in the late afternoon. This swell resulted from an ill defined 35 kt southwest fetch that persisted 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. The size of the 18 sec energy that started hitting on Tues PM suggests this fetch was better organized than the models previously indicated (see QuikCASTs for details). Also a gale fell southeast from the Kuril Islands on Sun-Mon (1/13) targeting Hawaii with swell arrival expected on Wed (1/15) (see Hawaiian Gale below). On Monday a small storm developed west of the dateline targeting Hawaii (see Hawaiian Storm #1 below)
Also a weak gale developed 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 were 24 ft Sun AM at 44N 169E (317 degs HI), building to 25 ft at 39N 175E in the evening, and then fading from 23 ft at 38N 176W (320 degs HI) Mon AM (1/13) before dissipating. Modest swell of 6.9 ft @ 15 secs (10 ft) expected for Hawaii Wed AM (1/15) from 315-320 degrees.
Hawaiian Storm #1
Part 1 - On Monday (1/13) a mini-storm developed well west of the dateline with 55 kt west winds over a tiny area tracking east approaching the dateline late. Seas built to 38 ft at 41N 171E (313 degs HI). 45 kt winds built in coverage on the dateline Tues AM (1/14) with seas to 41 ft over an infinitesimal area at 39N 177E aimed due east (315 degs HI, 289 degs NCal) and aimed better at NCal than HI. Fetch is to be fading from 40 kts in the evening east of the dateline aimed due east targeting CA better than HI with 40 ft seas fading at 40N 175W (326 degs HI, 290 degs NCal). The gale is to be gone Wed AM (1/15) with seas from previous fetch fading from 30 ft at 41N 168W (291 degs NCal and not pushing towards HI at all). In all Hawaii to receive decent swell not so much because they are on the great circle tracks, but due to their proximity to this storm.
Part 2 - An additional fetch of 40 kt northwest winds is to be building right behind the above fetch Tues PM (1/14) falling southeast and aimed more directly down the great circle tracks to Hawaii. Seas building from 29 ft over a tiny area at 40N 166W (310 degs HI). 40 kt northwest winds to be falling southeast on Wed AM (1/15) with 30 ft seas at 37N 172E (307 degs HI) merging with fetch from the above storm. In the evening 40 kt northwest fetch to persist falling south of the above storm aimed directly at Hawaii with 28 ft seas at 32.5N 175W (310 degs HI). 35-40 kt northwest winds to be fading Thurs AM (1/16) north of Hawaii with 27 ft seas fading at 30N 163W 600 nmiles from Oahu and on the 331 degree path. All fetch to be east of the Islands by the evening.
Assuming all the above to play out as forecast, the net result is that 2 swells are to arrive in the Islands at neatly the same time (compound swell) from 315-326 degs and 307-310 degs with possible energy up to 327 or so degs. The local nature of the second system will add a rather raw component to this swell but will also afford it more size.
Hawaii: Rough data for planning purposes suggests swell from Part 1 to start hitting on Thurs (1/16) with pure swell 9 ft @ 17 secs late (15 ft Hawaiian) with the raw more local component (Part 2) arriving at sunrise Fri (1/17) pushing 9.7 ft @ 16 secs (15-16 ft Hawaiian) with seas to 13.5 ft @ 15 secs (20 ft Hawaiian) holding well into mid-afternoon. Swell fading from 9 ft @ 15 secs on Sat (1/19) (13-14 ft Hawaiian).
Possible Storm #2 (Hawaiian Storm #1 Reorganized in Gulf)
Remnants from Storm #1 are to reorganize in the Gulf of Alaska on Thurs PM (1/16) generating a solid fetch of 50-55 kt northwest winds aimed at Oregon southward generating 33 ft seas at 45N 161W (296 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to hold into Fri AM (1/17) targeting Washington south to Central CA resulting in 39 ft seas at 46N 157W (297 degs with 36 ft seas barely in the 296 degs window for NCal). Fetch is to be all but gone in the evening with sea fading from 30 ft down to 45N 150W (298 degs NCal).
Assuming this one forms as forecast small significant class swell could result for Oregon down into Central CA.
Possible Storm #3
On Thurs AM (1/16) another tiny storm is to wind up west of the dateline tracking flat east and approaching the dateline in the evening with 55kt northwest winds and seas building from 34 ft at 35n 170E. By Fri AM (1/17) this system is to start growing in areal coverage with 60 kt northwest winds forecast in it's south quadrant aimed east and 44 ft seas projected at 37N 180W (312 degs HI, 286 degs NCal). 55-60 kt west winds to hold into the evening with seas building to 53 ft at 37.5N 174W (320 degs HI and pushing somewhat east of those paths, 286 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). 50-55 kt west winds to hold into Sat AM (1/18) tracking flat east with 52 ft seas holding at 37.5N 166W (bypassing the 340 degs route to HI, 284 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal). The storm to hit the split in the jet and start tracking northeast in the evening with 45-50 kt northwest winds still in-play resulting in 43 ft seas at 41N 158W targeting NCal up the 287 degree path and SCal up the 295 deg path. Fetch fading from 45 kts Sun AM with seas fading from 43 ft at 45n 150W (297 degs NCal).
If this storm results as forecast solid swell could result for the US West Coast and Hawaii.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/14) a solid offshore wind pattern was in play for all of CA. More of the same is forecast Wednesday. A calm pattern is forecast Thursday (1/16) and Friday as low pressure starts stacking up in the Gulf of Alaska. Light north winds to 5 kts are forecast on Saturday (1/18) for all of North and Central CA with low pressure backing down slightly off the coast. More calm winds forecast through Monday, then trying to turn southerly for extreme North CA on Tues with low pressure trying to make inroads. Still, high pressure and a split jet to hold steady likely not letting low pressure move onshore.
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 hours yet a fourth strong storm is forecast developing west of the dateline with 60 kt west winds Mon (1/20) and seas in the 54 ft range on the dateline near 36N 178W (312 degs HI, 286 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal) holding together into Tues PM (1/21) with 45 kts seas over a solid area all aimed east targeting Hawaii with sideband energy and the US West Coast with prime energy, but further away affording more swell decay (longer period, less size). Certainly 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 Tuesday (1/14) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up hard at 44.71. The 30 day average was up to 2.95 and the 90 day average was up at 2.27. The disparity was due to low pressure over Darwin (likely a local storm). 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 extreme western Maritime Continent turning neutral over the Eastern Maritime Continent then modestly easterly over the dateline holding south of Hawaii then fading to neutral east of there and on into Central America. A week from now (1/22) strong west anomalies and forecast building over the Western Maritime Continent turning light westerly over the dateline fading some south of Hawaii (but still westerly) 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 1/13 are coming into sync. Both suggest a neutral pattern in play today with the Active Phase of the MJO over Indonesia heading east. The statistic model suggests all is to collapse in the next 5 days with a neutral pattern taking hold for the next 15 days. This is a complete reversal from 3 days ago when it suggested the Inactive Phase was to build strong. Conversely the dynamic model suggests a moderate 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 and has not changed. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/14 suggests a stronger Active Phase is over the West Pacific and tracking east, expected to evaporate in the Central Pacific on Jan 29. In parallel a new weak Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Feb 2 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 2/18 while a new weak Active Phase builds behind it starting 2/15. 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 (1/13) 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). The slightly warm pool on the equator in the Eastern Pacific might have lost a little coverage as compared to previous runs, but not bad. 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, and appearers to be building some, likely driven by a Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there. 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 1 deg C above normal is still 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 1/14 have trended upwards. 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 are back up to the +1.1 deg C range 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