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 (1/16) North and Central CA surf was head high and glassy and peeling and lined up and just good. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high and glassy and well lined up. In Southern California up north surf was thigh high with southwest texture and crumbled. Down south waves were thigh to maybe waist high and lined up with lightly textured conditions. Hawaii's North Shore was double overhead and on the increase with smaller wave spots closed out. A bit of warble was in the ocean bumping it up. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at waist to chest high and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A small but reasonably strong gale developed on the dateline Tues-Wed (1/15) with up to 41 ft seas targeting the Islands initially while a secondary fetch followed right behind falling further south producing 28-30 ft seas and targeting the Islands very well. Swell started hitting Hawaii today. Remnants of these two system to redevelop in the Gulf Fri (1/17) producing 32 ft seas aimed well at the US West Coast. Swell for later in the weekend for Central CA. And a stronger but compact storm to develop on the dateline pushing flat east late Fri (1/17) with up to 44 ft seas then turning northeast Sat (1/18) in the Gulf with 40 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 peaking early Tuesday with 54 ft seas tracking flat east reaching a point due north of Hawaii 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 Thursday (1/16) the jetstream was ridging slightly off Japan then falling into a developing trough east of the dateline with good circulation and 190 kt winds feeding into it dropping to a point 800 nmiles north of Hawaii. Good support for storm development. East of there the jet split with the northern branch pushing up into Alaska and the southern branch falling southeast over Hawaii and then down to the equator. This split flow only supported high pressure down at the oceans surface over the US West Coast. Over the next 72 hours the trough northwest of Hawaii is to dissipate and lift northeast with fading support for gale development. But back to the west the jet is to continue raging with 180 kts winds pushing flat off Japan reaching over the dateline and pushing to a point just northwest of Hawaii with a new trough developing in the same place as the last one later Sat (1/18) offering good support for storm development into late Sunday (1/19). And the split point is to get pushed slightly more to the east. Beyond 72 hours winds off Japan to build to 210 kts over the dateline with yet another trough developing north of Hawaii late Tues (1/21) into Thurs (1/23) again providing great support for storm development. Beyond that there's some signs of weakness building into the jet over Japan with winds down to 125 kts. But up to that point in time this is to be the best jet flow we've seen in a long time.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (1/16) residual swell from a non-descript fetch that was in the Western Gulf and Dateline regions Sat-Sun (1/12) producing 24-26 ft seas was fading, but far from out. Also swell from Hawaiian Storm #1 was hitting Hawaii (see details below). this swell was also pushing towards the entire US West Coast.
Hawaiian Storm #1 (Storm #2 for the Season)
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 built right behind the above fetch Tues PM (1/14) falling southeast and aimed more directly down the great circle tracks to Hawaii. Seas built from 29 ft over a tiny area at 40N 166W (310 degs HI). 40 kt northwest winds were 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 persisted falling south of the above storm aimed directly at Hawaii with 27 ft seas at 32.5N 175W (310 degs HI). 35-40 kt northwest winds were fading Thurs AM (1/16) north of Hawaii with 26 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.
Two swells are to arrive in the Islands at neatly the same time (compound swell) ranging 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: Swell from Part 1 started hitting on Thurs (1/16) with pure swell expected up to 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). Swell Direction: 318-320 degrees (Part 1) and 307-310 degrees (Part 2).
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Sat (1/18) AM with period 18-19 secs and building steadily though the day, pushing 5.1 ft @ 16-17 secs at sunset (8.5 ft). Swell to continue into Sun AM (1/19) at 7.5 ft @ 15 secs (11 ft) but then getting overrun by new swell coming from the Gulf (see Gulf Gale below). Swell Direction: 290-292 degrees (with minimal energy from 275 degs from Part 2).
Gulf Gale (Hawaiian Storm #1 Reorganizing in Gulf)
Remnants from Storm #1 are to reorganize in the Gulf of Alaska on Thurs PM (1/16) generating a solid fetch of 45-50 kt northwest winds aimed at Oregon southward generating 30 ft seas at 45N 160W (296 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to barely hold into Fri AM (1/17) lifting north targeting Washington south to Central CA resulting in 32 ft seas at 47N 159W (302 degs with 30 ft seas barely in the 296 degs window for NCal). Fetch is to be all but gone in the evening lifting north over the Eastern Aleutians with seas fading from 28 ft up at 49N 155W (307 degs NCal).
Assuming this one forms as forecast minimal significant classs well to result for Oregon and large utility class swell down into Central CA.
Northern CA: For Planning purposes expect swell arrival near 8 AM Sun (1/19) with period 17 secs and overrunning Hawaiian Storm #1 by 11 AM. Swell 7 ft @ 16 secs (10-11 ft) holding through mid-afternoon, then on the decline. Swell Direction: 296 degrees
Possible Storm #3
On Thurs AM (1/16) another tiny system was winding up west of the dateline tracking flat east and is to be approaching the dateline in the evening with 50 kt northwest winds and seas building from 24 ft over a tiny area at 35N 170E. By Fri AM (1/17) this system is to start growing in areal coverage with 55 kt northwest winds forecast in it's south quadrant aimed east and 36 ft seas projected at 35N 180W (310 degs HI, 285 degs NCal). 55 kt west winds to hold into the evening with seas building to 41 ft at 36N 172W (323 degs HI and pushing somewhat east of those paths, 283 degs NCal, 293 degs SCal). 50 kt west winds to hold into Sat AM (1/18) tracking flat east with 42 ft seas holding at 37.5N 163W (bypassing the 344 deg 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 kt west winds still in-play resulting in 39-40 ft seas at 41N 157W targeting NCal up the 287 degree path and SCal up the 295 deg path. Fetch fading from 40 kts Sun AM with seas fading from 30 ft at 45N 150W (297 degs NCal).
Secondary fetch to develop Sun AM (1/19) in the west quadrant of the gale at 40 kts generating 31 ft seas near 40N 167W targeting the US West Coast (332 degs HI, 288 degs NCal). In the evening 40 kt northwest winds to fall southeast with seas 32 ft at 37N 162W (281 degs NCal, 288 degs SCal). This system to be gone Mon AM (1/20).
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 Thursday (1/16) a light offshore wind pattern continues in play for all of CA. A calm pattern is forecast Friday as low pressure starts stacking up in the Gulf of Alaska. Light north winds to 5 kts are possible later Saturday (1/18) off North and Central CA with low pressure backing down slightly off the coast. More calm winds forecast through Sunday, then turning light southerly for Central CA from Monterey Bay northward as a front tries to organizes over outer waters. That front to die before Tues AM with light winds Tuesday th CA on Tues into Wed, while low pressure again tries to build well off the coast. Still, a light wind pattern to hold into Thursday (1/23). The suspicion is once the high pressure system breaks down, if it does, a wetter and stormier pattern will break through and hold. But that is far from certain.
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 stronger and broader storm is forecast developing west of the dateline with 60 kt west winds Mon AM (1/20) and seas building from 46 ft at 35N 176E. In the evening the storm is to cross the dateline with 60 kt west winds holding and seas building to 54 ft at 36N 177W (306 degs HI, 285 degs NCal). 55 kt west winds to hold Tues AM (1/121) as the storm pushes northwest of Hawaii with seas building to 56 ft at 38N 169W pushing most east of the 333 degree path to Hawaii and right up the 287 degree path to NCal (293 degs SCal). Fetch is to collapse in the evening from 45 kts with seas fading from 48 ft at 38N 165W (bypassing HI, 285 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). Fetch fading from 40 kts Wed AM (1/22) with residual seas from previous fetch 36 ft at 38N 158W (283 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal). Hawaii to mainly see sideband energy from this one with the US West Coast getting the prime energy, but further away affording more swell decay (longer period, less size). Hawaii to see much size though, just based on proximity. Certainly something to monitor.
There's even suggestions of another small storm forming on the dateline Thurs (1/23) with 41 ft seas aimed east.
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 (1/16) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down slightly but still high at 26.39. The 30 day average was up to 4.80 and the 90 day average was up at 3.19. this spike is unexpected. The disparity was due to low pressure over Darwin (likely a local storm). The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of an Inactive 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 weakening but still in-play to the Eastern Maritime Continent then reversing and turning light easterly over the dateline holding south of Hawaii then fading to neutral east of there and on into Central America. A week from now (1/24) weak to moderate west anomalies and forecast over the entire Western Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline then turning neutral and continuing south of Hawaii on into Central America. In all this suggests a possible Active Phase of the MJO is currently over the West Pacific but is to potentially turn more active a week out.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/15 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 the Active Phase is to collapse in the next 5 days with a neutral pattern taking hold for the next 15 days. 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, building to moderate strength. This is the preferred option and has not changed for a week now. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/16 has upgraded suggesting a stronger Active Phase is over the West Pacific and tracking east, expected to evaporate in the Central Pacific on Jan 31. In parallel a new moderate Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Feb 2 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 2/25 while a new weak Active Phase builds behind it. 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 (1/15) 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 extending west to the dateline, 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 imagery, 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 have built more from the previous image, suggesting some positive effect caused by a Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there. This almost look like a weak El Nino signature, but that is a very premature analysis. The California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California remains in-place but has lost some grip. It has been driven by offshore winds and upwelling. The wall of warmer than normal water just off the North CA coast looks to be pushing east towards North CA. And 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 more hints and 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 dead neutral pattern in play, with all warm water from the previous Kelvin Wave now east of the buoys and off the chart, presumably impacting Central America. 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. But there is no sign of any other Kelvin Waves in development.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 1/16 have trended upwards again. 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 +1.2 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. If anything, those increase are starting to appear on the current water temp plots. 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