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 (1/15) North and Central CA had residual background swell coming from the dateline producing waist high surf with some bigger sets and glassy with steady offshore winds. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were near flat and clean. Southern California up north was flat and clean. Down south waves were knee high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting rideable dateline swell with waves 7-8 ft but not real clean with light north winds in effect making for pretty unorganized and warbled conditions. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting local northeast windswell with waves 1 ft overhead and clean at spots with northwest wind.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A pair of tiny gales tracked over the dateline Monday (1/14) 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. The big story remains focused on a very strong storm that developed off Japan on Monday (1/14) producing 49 ft seas, ballooning Tuesday (1/15) as it tracked toward the dateline generating a solid area of up to 60 ft seas, then is expected to fade Wednesday while stalled just west of the dateline. Solid long period swell remains forecast for much of the North Pacific Basin. The Active Phase of the MJO is in effect and doing what it does best - namely fueling storm development.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (1/15) the jetstream was pushing solid flat east off Japan in a single flow with winds down to 150 kts reaching over the dateline then splitting just north-northwest of Hawaii. The northern branch was tracking due north then following the Alaskan coast before pushing inland over Canada. The southern branch was pushing southeast directly over Hawaii with winds fading from 120 kts then splitting again southeast of the Islands and becoming irrelevant. A bit of a trough was developing near the dateline fueling storm formation there. Over the next 72 hours winds to increase to 170 kts between Japan and the dateline fueling the trough there. But it is to shear off by Thursday (1/17) with support for gale formation fading. By Friday (1/18) winds to continue building to near 190 kts in this area but a ridge developing over the dateline then falling into a steep trough just north of Hawaii and pushing east through Sunday (1/20) reaching mid-way between Hawaii and the Baja. The trough there is to pinch off late Sunday with 180 kts winds feeding into it. Some support for gale development possible. But more importantly, as it moves east it is to push the split point in the jet to within 750 nmiles of the California coast. And back off Japan a new trough is to start digging out and easing east with winds rebuilding from 130 kts reaching 170 kts on Tues (1/22). Continued support for gale development in this area. It looks as if the storm cycle is not finished.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (1/15) high pressure at 1036 mbs was centered over the Pacific Northwest spilling into the Great Basin but still holding over waters directly off the US West Coast nestled in the split jetstream flow aloft and creating a storm blockade. Behind it Storm #1 was approaching the dateline and pretty much filling the West Pacific (see Storm #1 below). Over the next 72 hours Storm #1 to fade while stalled in the West Pacific. On Friday PM (1/18) a small gale is to develop in a pinched trough working it's way east from the dateline with northwest winds to 40 kts over a small area generating 28 ft seas at 37N 164W targeting open ocean east of Hawaii. The gale is to fall southeast on Saturday AM (1/19) with winds holding at 40-45 kts resulting in seas of 32 ft at 34N 156N again targeting areas east of the Islands. By the evening the gale is to fade with winds down to 35 kts and seas dropping fast from 28 ft at 31N 151W. Limited 15-16 sec period sideband swell possible for Southern CA and points south if all goes as forecast.
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 strong storm developed just off Japan Monday AM (1/14) with winds 55-60 kts nestled up along the Japan coast in the storms west quadrant and growing in size as it moved east. Seas were building quickly. Most satellites did not make a good pass over the core of the storm to report wind speeds but the ASCAT satellite confirmed solid 60 kt winds well away from the core with a few barbs to 65 kts. By evening the storm was expanding quickly and becoming impressive with winds modeled 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). The ASCAT satellite again reported winds at 60 kts well away from the core of the storm. Interestingly the Jason-1 satellite passed over the west quadrant of the storm at 06Z and reported seas 40.0 ft with a peak reading to 41.7 ft where the model were predicting 46 ft seas. By Tuesday AM (1/15) the storm was most impressive per the models with a solid fetch of 65-70 kt west winds in the storms south quadrant aimed east with seas 61 ft at 38N 163E (305 degs Hi/295.4 degs NCal). By evening the storm is to be moderating some but still impressive with 55-60 kt west winds in it's south quadrant as it lifts northeast with seas 60 ft at 41N 170E (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. Seas 52 ft at 44N 174E (320 degs HI/299 degs NCal). This is to furthest east this system will migrate. In the evening west winds to be fading from 45-50 kts while the system drifts north with seas fading from 43 ft at 45N 174E (324 degs HI/299.5 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to hold over a solid area Thurs AM (1/17) drifting north with seas fading from 38 ft at 46N 171E. This system is to be effectively gone in the evening with winds fading fast from 40 kts and seas dropping from 30 ft at 46N 170E.
This storm is developing very close to the projected track espoused by the models for days. If it continues on-track it will 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.
Hawaii: For planning purposes based mainly on modeled data expect swell arrival starting Thursday (1/17) near 1 PM with period 25 secs and size small but building quickly. Swell 6.6 ft @ 24 secs right before sunset (15 ft). Swell to start peaking near sunrise Friday (1/18) at 12 ft @ 20 secs (24 ft Hawaiian) growing slightly in swell size with period setting down to the 18 secs range late. Swell to continue Saturday (1/19) with swell 11.5-12.5 ft @ 17 secs early, fading to 16 secs late (20-22 ft Hawaiian). Sunday (1/20) solid residuals with swell in the 10-11 ft @ 15-16 sec range (15-17 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 305-313 degrees initially with energy shifting to 320 degrees later in the swell.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Wednesday (1/15) high pressure at 1036 mbs was centered 500 nmiles off Washington and tracking east into the Great Basin, setting up the classic winter offshore flow pattern relative to California. Wind was light east and most coastal locations. The high is to slowly ease east through the workweek continuing a light northeast to east flow over California eventually moving fully inland with winds turning light offshore (east) for the weekend continuing well into the following workweek. There's even suggestions of additional reinforcing high pressure moving into the area mid-next week. No rain or snow 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 late Saturday into Sunday (1/20) with a small area of 40-45 kt west winds and seas building to 28 ft for 24 hours. Maybe some small swell to result mainly for the Islands.
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 (1/15) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 2.74. The 30 day average was up to 0.07 with the 90 day average up slightly at -0.61. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) extending to the dateline with weak east anomalies just a bit east of there, 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 (1/23) moderate west anomalies in pockets are forecast over the Maritime Continent with near neutral wind anomalies to the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii and beyond, 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. There's even a suggestion of two anomalous low pressure systems just south of the equator on either side of the dateline, possibly helping to fuel more westerly anomalies there.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/14 suggest a solid version of the Active Phase of the MJO was in control over the Maritime Continent extending to the dateline with the Inactive Phase effectively gone. Both models remain in lock-step agreement indicating the Active Phase is to build some on the dateline for the next 15 days, 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 has begun, delineated by the formation of Storm #1 in the Northwest Pacific. More stronger systems are expected over the next 2-3 weeks. At the same time a strong Inactive Phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean. The dynamic model actually has it stalled there for the next 15 days while the more conservative statistical model has it edging towards the West Pacific. Regardless, 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 (1/15) it appears the MJO has made a legitimate return with the Active Phase now in control and the Inactive Phase building in the Indian Ocean. So we appear to be back in a more normal pattern.
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 (1/15) 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 pockets 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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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table