New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 (1/15) North and Central California was getting a mix of windswell and dateline energy with waves occasionally up to the head high range or so, but northwest winds came up early. Southern California was getting the same westerly dateline swell with waves waist high up north and reasonably clean. Down south it was waist to chest high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover shoulder high dateline windswell with light trades in effect. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore is not being monitored for the winter and presumed to be asleep with waves 2 ft or less.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for sideband swell from a fast moving gale off the coast arriving on Sunday with waves to 6.5 ft (faces). Monday more windswell expected at 6.5 ft followed on Tuesday by real swell from a dateline gale at 13-14 ft. Wednesday that swell fades from 11-12 ft and 7.5 ft on Thursday. Southern California is to see windswell from a gale that was north of Hawaii for Sunday at thigh to waist high. Residual windswell to be in the waist high range Monday and building to head high Tuesday. New swell from a gale across the dateline to arrive for Wednesday at 1-2 ft overhead at exposed breaks fading from head high early Thursday The North Shore of Oahu is to see real swell from a close moving gale in for early Sunday pushing 19 ft then fading from 14-15 ft early Monday and 11 ft Tuesday with 1-2 ft overhead leftovers early Wednesday. Possible large swell in for Thursday at 21-24 ft (Hawaiian). The East Shore is to see easterly windswell at waist high Sunday and Monday and then a little more Tuesday before heading down on Wednesday. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
The last big push of the Active Phase of the MJO has taken hold on the dateline driving the gale production machine. On Thursday (1/13) a small storm formed (Storm #4) west of the dateline tracking east through Sat (1/15) with up to 41 ft seas pushing well towards and in close proximity to Hawaii, with swell expected to arrive sunrise Sun (1/16). Larger utility class energy possibly for the US West Coast by Tues-Wed (1/19). The models are starting to stabilize regarding development of large Storm #5 forming off Japan and tracking over the dateline Sun-Tues (1/18) with up to 51 ft seas. It's to be relatively close to Hawaii but a long way from the US West Coast, meaning much size for the Islands and much swell decay for the mainland. The good news is it's is to be huge in areal coverage. Certainly something to monitor.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Saturday (1/15) the jetstream was starting to rage off Japan with 200 kt winds tracking flat to the east almost starting to fall into a trough on the dateline, the wind speeds dropped off and the jet tracked gently northeast up into British Columbia. Only a small amount of energy peeled off over Hawaii, the weak but still evident split point. Overall this remained the best the jet has looked all season providing solid support for gale development from mid-way between Japan and the dateline eastward almost to Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours this consolidated flow is to continue pushing hard east from Japan while building in intensity with up to 210 kts winds extending from Japan to the dateline late Sunday with a trough building towards the dateline and getting better defined almost on the dateline late Monday into early Tuesday. Very solid support for storm development expected. The split point over Hawaii is to get better defined at the same time, providing storm protection for the US West Coast. Beyond 72 hours the single consolidated jet is to hold it's configuration with winds in the 180-200 kt range through the entirety of next week into Sun (1/23) with the split flow holding over the East Pacific. Good support for gale if not storm development possible, though no defined troughs are forecast. This remains the best jetstream flow we've seen all winter.
At the surface on Saturday (1/15) the remnants of Storm #4 were fading 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii (see Storm #4 below). High pressure at 1028 mbs was anchored 600 nmiles west of Point Conception and was trying to ridge northeast up into Oregon providing storm protection for the Southwest US but driving tropical moisture towards the Pacific Northwest. Also the first signs of what could become a major West Pacific storm were starting to take shape over Southern Japan. Over the next 72 hours swell from Storm #4 is to move into Hawaii and with lesser energy into the US West Coast. While that is occurring what is forecast to become huge and powerful Storm #5 is to start winding up off Japan (see Storm #5 below).
Dateline Storm #4 (Hawaii)
On Thursday AM (1/13) a new tiny storm formed well off Southern Japan producing 55 kt northwest winds at 31N 162E targeting Hawaii up the 294 deg path. Seas building. In the evening 55 kt northwest winds were falling slightly to the southeast at 30N 170E producing a tiny area of 36 ft seas at 30N 167E pushing up the 292 degree path to Hawaii and well south of any route to the US West Coast.
Friday AM (1/14) pure west winds were down to 50-55 kts with the gale tracking flat east almost on the dateline at 30N 178W generating 41 ft seas at 29N 177E (291 degs HI & 280 NCal). The system held in the evening with 45 kt west winds at 31N 170W pushing a bit east of the 301 degree path to Hawaii and better up the 280 degree path to NCal. Seas held at 40 ft over a tiny area at 30N 174W.
Saturday AM (1/15) 40 kt west winds continued at 36N 163W generating seas of 35 ft at 34N 166W mostly bypassing any great circle route the Islands to the east (279 NCal). Residual 35 kt west fetch is forecast in the evening at 38N 155W producing seas of 30 ft at 40N 160W (283 degs NCal).
Significant class swell has been generated and is expected into the Hawaiian Islands from a very westerly direction, with large utility class swell for CA also expected and from a very westerly direction. Period expected in the 17 sec range at both locations.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on the North Shore of Oahu Sunday AM (1/16) at 3 AM HST peaking near 8 AM at 10.7-12.2 ft @ 17 secs (18-20 ft Hawaiian) from 304 degrees. Longer period energy to also be arriving from 293 degrees, shadowed by Kauai from breaks south and west of Waimea. Size settling down some late afternoon, but not much. Residual swell of 10 ft @ 14 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) expected early Monday (1/17) and slowly fading through Tuesday. Swell Direction (293-304 degrees)
North CA: Expect swell arrival starting Tuesday (1/18) late afternoon with period 20 secs and size steadily building, peaking well after sunset at 7.5-8.0 ft @ 17 secs (12-13 ft). Residual energy to continue Wednesday AM at 7.5 ft @ 15 secs (11 ft) and slowly settling down. Swell Direction 278-283 degrees
Possible Huge Storm #5
A huge lumbering low pressure system is forecast trying to organize off Japan on Sun (1/16) with a broad fetch of 50 kt west winds setting up at 37N 160E in the morning trying to get traction on the oceans surface. In the evening the storm is to wrap up with 55-60 kt west winds building at 42N 166E embedded in a broader area of 40+ kt fetch aimed due east or pushing right up the 299 degree path to NCal (but a long ways away) and well down the 313 degree path to Hawaii (and much closer). A small area of 34 ft seas building at 37N 167E.
The storm is to hold stationary into Monday AM (1/17) and grow in areal coverage with a solid fetch of 50-55 kt west winds at 42N 168E (296 degs NCal & 312 degs HI) with 44 ft seas pushing east from 43N 169E and a much broader area of building seas growing southwest of it. In the evening 50-55 kt west winds to continue and dropping south some at 39N 170E getting excellent traction on a well roughed up oceans surface with 46-47 ft seas building and expanding coverage at 39N 173E (293 degs NCal & 312 degs HI).
The storm is to back off some in intensity while easing east Tuesday AM (1/18) with 50 kt west winds at 43N 173E and 51 ft seas building at 38 178E (314 degs HI & 290 NCal) imbedded in a huge area of 30+ ft seas. Fetch to start fading from 40-45 kts in the evening at 42N 180E with seas down slightly at 48 ft over a large area centered at 43N 178W (327 degs HI & 296 degs NCal) and 20+ ft seas filling the entire Northwestern Pacific and crossing east over the dateline. Most impressive.
A persistent fetch 35-40 kt west fetch to continue on Wednesday AM (1/19) at 35N 160E-180W with 38 ft seas continuing at 35-45N 170W (310 degs HI & 289+ degs NCal). No real change in fetch in the evening with seas from previous fetch fading to 32 ft at 35-37N 165E-160W.
Fetch fading but not dissipating in the 30-35 kt range on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (1/22) but still covering a large area with seas holding in the 26-30 ft range extending from just off Japan to the dateline and beyond.
If this system forms as forecast, large long period swell is expected to propagate to all reaches of the Eastern Pacific (North and South). The models previously had been unstable as this system first was being projected by the models, but has since stabilized and is remaining reasonably consistent from one run to the next over the past 24-36 hours. It still is too early to know with any certainty what will develop, but odds continue improving with each model run. This storm should be closely monitored.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/15) high pressure was in control 500 nmiles west of Pt Conception at 1028 mbs ridging northeast up into Oregon and trying to make additional headway in that direction. A modest north wind pattern as trying to get established along the Central CA coast, typical of fresh building high pressure. Low pressure continued streaming from Hawaii northeast targeting northern Oregon and points north with this same basic macro pattern is to hold into early Monday (1/17). The high pressure system is to be generating northerly winds at 15 kts over Pt Conception with lighter north wind north of there to San Francisco on Sunday and building north to the Oregon border late on Monday (1/17). The high is slowly lift gently north and build in coverage with north winds covering North and Central CA waters Tuesday and Wednesday, though there is hints of a nearshore offshore flow from SF southward. The high is to back off on Thursday and Friday (1/19) and with it north winds, but then it's to surge some on Saturday with north winds returning to all of North and Central CA.
At the oceans surface no swell producing fetch was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast with no swell producing weather systems modeled.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
72 hrs residual winds and swell energy from possible Storm #5 are to continue circulating on the dateline from Wed- Sat (1/22) generating varying degrees of seas in the 26-30 ft range centered on or just west of the dateline. This provides the potential for an extended duration of 14-16 sec period well organize swell pushing towards the US West Coast and somewhat bigger swell for the Hawaiian Islands.
Suspect this will be the last big push of this current Active MJO pulse before it washes east and eventually into the US West coast and the Inactive Phase takes over, pretty much putting an end to the 2010-2011 Winter storm cycle.
As of Saturday (1/15) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) data was not updated. But all indications were it was heading back up. The daily SOI on 1/12 was 38.87 and was in the 27+ range the past 5 days. The 30 day average was up to 24.75 with the 90 day average up slightly at 20.62. Overall, averages remained high, just barely below the peak in mid-to-late October (90 day average near 22.0). The 30 day average peaked on Dec 30 at 26.79, the highest average reading in over 2 years.
Wind anomalies as of Friday (1/14) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated weak easterly anomalies retreating east of the dateline with the Active Phase of the MJO near peaking-out in the West Pacific with westerly anomalies (Active Phase) pushing hard from the Central Indian Ocean over the southern Philippines reaching just to the dateline. The intensity was strong. The forecast for these anomalies has them starting to cross over the dateline 1/19 then straddling the dateline 1/24-29 slowly loosing power and areal coverage but still in place on the dateline through 2/3. The remnants of the Active Phase will push on east into Central America starting 1/27 on through 2/7 with all data continuing to suggest this Active Phase is moving slower and stronger than previously expected. Since the Active Phase supports the development of low pressure in the Northern Pacific, this remains the best shot for swell in Hawaii and the US West Coast swell window through at least mid-January and likely till late Jan. Starting Jan 19 a more vigorous version of the Inactive Phase is expected to start building over eastern Africa pushing across the Indian Ocean, slowly tracking east and starting to enter the extreme Western Pacific on 2/1, likely shutting down gale development potential from 2/7-3/1 as it tracks east across the tropical Pacific. Sometime in the middle of that north winds should start building along the US West Coast as Springtime high pressure builds in much stronger and earlier than usual (early March).
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/13) continues to indicate that cold waters (-2 C degs or cooler) had a grip on the equator covering solidly from South America west to the dateline and beyond, and solidifying it's coverage. Colder than normal waters covered the equator from Ecuador west to New Guinea with feeder bands originating off the US West Coast and South America sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, only serving to reinforce what is already a solid La Nina pattern. These colder waters are a reflection of stronger than normal high pressure built in over both hemispheres causing upwelling in the Gulf of Alaska and off South America, though it looks like the upwelling effect was stronger in the southern hemi than in the north. Regardless, it looks like a classic La Nina setup.
Below the surface on the equator no Kevin Wave activity was present and if anything colder than normal water was strong on the equator south of Hawaii and locked in position (sort of like a stationary cold Kelvin Wave). Previously this pocket was down to 7 degs below normal in mid- Sept, then warming to 6 degrees below normal on 10/18 and up to 3 degs below normal on 12/9 and moving east while not getting any colder through of 12/16. But then on 12/25 it dropped back to -4 degrees located at 120W and nearly 5 degs below normal on the 27th, expanding coverage on 12/31. With the advent of the Active Phase of the MJO in January, it seemed to be pushing it east some, with temps remaining at -4 on 1/5-1/8 but backing off and looking to be fading while pushing east on 1/10-1/15. Current data suggests this is likely the peak of this La Nina event.
Over the entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to the Philippines and beyond. From a historical 'normal' perspective these easterly winds were fully anomalous, blowing harder than normal from the east to the west, as would be expected looking at all the other data. And if anything there were only getting worse (on 12/31). This occurred starting in late Sept, with only normal winds indicated prior to 9/11.
Looking at the Pacific equatorial current: On 12/5, it was running slightly anomalously west to east, completely contrary to it's previous flow and a bit unusual for a La Nina year. It actually started this pattern in early November. But with East winds on the rise, it was expected to fall back in-line with expectations. And sure enough, data as of 1/5 indicates a full east-to-west anomaly present, typical of La Nina.
Of note: The Pacific current that runs along the equator turned abruptly from flowing towards South America to flowing towards the Philippines in mid-March (2010), right as the SOI started it's impressive drive into positive territory and the North Pacific winter storm machine abruptly shut down. And it did not waiver until Oct 2010. But trades never wavering from the normal range. This suggests trade wind anomalies might be a byproduct of the Pacific equatorial current change and not the other way around i.e. the trades do not drive the temperature change initially, but the current change does. And then the atmosphere responds in kind to the change, building high pressure and reinforcing the flow and water temps. Said a different way, the change in the current might actually foretell a coming change in the trades, and then with the advent of the trade wind change, it only serves to reinforce the current in a self amplifying loop, until such time as the cycle runs it's course and the self feeding system collapses over a multiyear period. At that time the current then switches direction, and a whole new self-enforcing cycle stars anew. Something to consider (regarding the formation and El Nino/La Nina). But for now, a La Nina dominated current is firmly in control.
A moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) is in control and momentum from it is expected to hold well into 2011 (and likely to early 2012). In short, it's going to be tough for surfers on west facing shores in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, though east facing shores of the West Pacific and Atlantic might do well from the Inactive Phase's dominance, especially in summer months. That is not to say there will be no storms, in fact, there could be short periods of intense activity when the Active Phase gets an opportunity to come to fruition, but that will be the exception rather than the rule, with the Inactive Phase trying to keep a cap on storm activity.
See more details in the El Nino update.
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