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 Thursday (1/17) North and Central CA had surf maybe waist high on the biggest sets and clean with light offshore wind continuing. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were flat and clean. A beautiful day but no waves to be had. Southern California up north was flat and clean. Down south waves were knee to maybe thigh high and pristinely clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more rideable dateline swell with waves 8-9 ft on the face and fairly clean but still a persistent warble was running through it. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting local windswell with waves chest high and fairly clean.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
The focus is not on swell tracking across the North Pacific from 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 supposedly up to 60 ft seas, then fading Wednesday with seas dropping from 48 ft while stalled just west of the dateline. Solid long period swell is forecast for much of the North Pacific Basin. The Active Phase of the MJO remains in-effect in the equatorial West Pacific and adding some fuel to the storm track. As a result two more small gales are forecast, one falling southeast from the dateline passing just north of Hawaii Saturday (1/19) with up to 30 ft seas over a tiny area and a second tracking flat over the dateline Sunday (1/20) with 37 ft seas over a small area. More rideable well to result for the mainland and Hawaii.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (1/17) the jetstream was tracking flat east off Japan in a single flow with winds at 170 kts reaching to the dateline then splitting a bit east of there. The northern branch was tracking northeast through the Gulf of Alaska and into Central Canada. A bit of a trough continued just south of the Aleutians near the dateline supporting gale formation there. The southern branch was pushing southeast directly over Hawaii with winds fading to 100 kts continuing on towards mainland Mexico and of no interest. Over the next 72 hours winds to increase to 190 kts between Japan and the dateline and moving towards the dateline but ridging some over the dateline then falling into a very steep trough just north of Hawaii pushing east through Sunday (1/20) reaching to within 750 nmiles of the US West Coast before pinching off there. Some support for gale development possible in that trough. Beyond 72 hours a new broad trough is to start digging out off Japan and easing east with winds rebuilding to 170 kts on Thurs (1/24) near the dateline. Continued support for gale development in this area. It looks as if the storm cycle is not finished and the jet well positioned down at 30N.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (1/17) high pressure at 1028 mbs remained centered over the Pacific Northwest spilling into the Great Basin but still holding over waters directly off the US West Coast and nestled in the split jetstream flow aloft creating a storm blockade. The remnants of Storm #1 were circulating off Kamchatka just south of the Western Aleutians still producing a decent fetch of 40 kt west winds and seas fading from 36 ft at 47N 170E (see Storm #1 below). Over the next 72 hours Storm #1 is to be gone but limited energy from it is to coalesce in an upper trough north of Hawaii. By Friday PM (1/18) a small gale is to develop falling southeast producing northwest winds to 40 kts over a small area generating 28 ft seas at 34N 164W targeting Hawaii and open ocean east of there. The gale is to fall southeast on Saturday AM (1/19) with winds fading from 35 kts resulting in seas of 30 ft at 33N 156N targeting areas mainly east of the Islands. By the evening the gale is to fade with winds down to 30 kts and seas dropping fast from 26 ft at 28N 152W. Limited 14-15 sec period sideband swell possible for Hawaii, Southern CA and maybe Baja if all goes as forecast.
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 08Z and reported seas 40.0 ft with a peak reading to 41.7 ft where the model were predicting 46 ft seas. But in reality, the storm itself at 8Z had moved further east than the model indicated at 06Z. Again, the reading is a little suspicious.
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). The ASCAT satellite passed over it's eastern and western flanks and reported winds of 60 kts with some barbs to 65 kts. The extent of 50+ kt west wind covered 628 nmiles. By evening the storm was moderating some but still impressive with 55 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). The Jason-1 satellite passed directly over the core of the storm at 06Z and as usual failed to interpret the sea state once seas exceeded 40 ft. As it approached the core it correctly reported seas to 41 ft where the model indicated 42 ft seas. But of concern were the readings as it passed southeast beyond the core of the storm. It reported seas of 38.9 ft where the model suggested 47 ft seas. In fact, it flatlined at 39 ft over the entire stretch where the model had seas fading from 47 ft down to 36 ft. This suggests seas were actually 8 ft smaller than what the Jason-1 satellite reported. The suspicion was the satellite reading were polluted by extreme winds and surface noise in the area. But that is just a guess.
On Wednesday AM (1/16) the storm was fading with winds 50 kts over a solid area aimed east. Seas still modeled at 48 ft at 42.5N 175E (319 degs HI/296.7 degs NCal). In the evening west winds were fading from 45-50 kts while the system drifted north with seas fading from 41 ft at 45N 1742 (324 degs HI/299.5 degs NCal). The Jason-1 satellite made a good pass over the Eastern edge of the storm at 21Z and reported seas of 39 ft with one reading to 41.3 ft where the model suggested 37 ft seas. 2 more passes occurred at 5Z and 6Z with seas averaging 36.0 ft with one reading to 40.4 ft where the model suggested 28-30 ft seas. This was looking more like a normal pattern for the satellite. The ASCAT satellite reported winds of 45 kts with a core at 50 kts at 23Z.
40-45 kt west winds were modeled holding over a solid area Thurs AM (1/17) drifting north with seas fading from 36 ft at 47N 170E. The ASCAT satellite confirmed a solid fetch of 40-45 kt west winds covering 656 nmiles aimed due west. This system is to be effectively gone in the evening with winds fading fast from 40 kts and seas dropping from 30 ft at 47N 168E.
This storm developed very close to the projected track espoused by the models for days prior. It is the strongest storm we've seen in 3 years. Most fetch was aimed due east pushing energy right down the great circle paths to both Hawaii and the US West Coast. 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 has limited virtual fetch to almost nothing and therefore the number of waves per set will be lower than one would expect. And the rather long travel distance will mean long waits between sets, especially for the US West Coast. There remains some concern about exactly how strong this system was. No clear wind satellite pass occurred over the core of the storm. And the Jason-1 satellite as usual failed when it did make a good pass, and then provided questionable data near the edges of the core. And this was not a particularly large storm, with the fetch limited to about 600-650 nmiles aimed up the great circle paths east. So there is some concern about exactly how much swell will result. out suspicion is the models were a bit exaggerated. Still, make no mistake, a storm with 65-70 kt winds and near 60 ft seas over a solid area for 24 hours (even if that is overhyped) will not go unrecognized. Solid long period swell is expected for the entire Pacific Basin. And early data from buoy 51101 northwest of Hawaii reported small initial energy of 27 kts Thurs AM with energy to 28.6 sec at Waimea Bay a bit later (6 inches). By 2 PM HST pure swell slammed buoy 51101 at 13.0 ft @ 22 secs.
Mavericks Invitational Contest Forecast: Swell Sunday AM (1/20) first light at 7.9 ft @ 19 secs (15.0 ft Hawaiian - 30 ft faces) holding through the day, with period fading to 18 secs late. Long wait between sets. 3-4 waves per set. Some sets arriving bigger than expected.
Swell Direction: 295-296 degrees
Wind: East 5+ kts all day.
Hawaii: 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 11.7 ft @ 20 secs (23.4 ft Hawaiian) growing slightly in swell size with period setting down to the 18 secs range late. Swell still 11.7 @ 18.5 secs (21 ft). Swell to continue Saturday (1/19) with swell 10.8-12.0 ft @ 17 secs early, fading to 16 secs late (18-20 ft Hawaiian). Sunday (1/20) solid residuals with swell in the 10-11 ft @ 15-16 sec range (15-17 ft Hawaiian)with possibly local swell from another gale intermixed. Swell Direction: 305-313 degrees initially with energy shifting to 320 degrees later in the swell.
North California: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (1/19) with period initially 23 secs building through the day to 7.5 ft @ 21 secs late (15.5 ft). Swell starting to peak over night holding to early Sunday. Swell Sunday AM to 7.9 ft @ 19 secs (15.0 ft) holding through the day, with period fading to 18 secs late. Residuals on Monday at 7.4 ft @ 17 secs (12.5 ft). Long wait between sets. 3-4 waves per set. Some sets arriving bigger than expected. Swell Direction: 295-296 degrees
South California: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (1/19) building slowly through the day to 2.0 ft @ 24 secs late (5.0 ft). On Sunday (1/20) swell starting to peak early afternoon at 3.9 ft @ 20-21 secs (7.9 ft) holding through the evening. Maddening waits between sets. Swell still very solid on Monday (1/21) at 3.8 ft @ 17-18 secs (6.5 ft). Swell fading Tuesday (1/22) from 3.2 ft @ 16 secs (5.0 ft). Long wait between sets. 3-4 waves per set. Some sets arriving bigger than expected. Swell Direction: 299-300 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/17) high pressure at 1040 mbs was centered over the Great Basin (Idaho) with energy continuing to extend west off Washington and down the US West Coast setting up the classic winter offshore flow pattern relative to California. Wind was light east at most coastal locations. The high is to slowly ease east through the weekend continuing a light northeast to east flow over California eventually moving fully inland by Tuesday (1/22) with winds turning light north. A new reinforcing high pressure system is to move into the area Wednesday (1/23) setting up brisk north winds 15 kts nearshore for all of North and Central CA and holding into Thursday (1/24). Maybe a trace of rain for the Cape Mendocino area on Wed too. Otherwise 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 with pressure 976 mbs producing a small fetch of 45 kt west winds. By Sunday AM (1/20) with a small area of 45-50 kt west winds are forecast at 43N 176W with seas building to 35 ft at 43N 175W. Most energy heading due east. Fetch is to fade quickly in the evening with winds down to 40 kts tracking flat east with seas 35 ft at 43N 167W. Residual 30 kt west winds to hold Monday AM over a broader area with seas fading from 28 ft at 43N 160W. Additional 35 kt west wind forecast in the evening momentarily holding seas at 25 ft at 44N 158W, then quickly fading out. A nice little pulse of 15-16 sec period swell could result for the US West Coast if all plays out as forecast. Even some limited sideband swell for the Islands too.
Beyond another developing gale small gale is forecast for the dateline region Thursday (1/24) with yet another building directly behind off Japan by Friday (1/25). 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 Thursday (1/17) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 10.32. The 30 day average was up to 1.87 with the 90 day average up slightly at -0.42. 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 and a bit east of there. 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 (1/25) modest west anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent to a point south of Hawaii, with with light east anomalies off Central America. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be holding and building east. There's continued suggestion of 2-3 anomalous low pressure systems just south of the equator straddling the dateline, possibly helping to fuel more westerly anomalies there.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/16 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 hold 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 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