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 Monday (1/18) North and Central California was getting hit by Swell #13 with surf 20 ft Hawaiian and consistent with 20-25 kt south-southeast winds pretty much ripping it apart except at the most protected breaks. Southern California was reasonably clean up north early in the chest high range on the sets but thigh to waist high down south and hacked with south winds in effect. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more energy from Storm #13 with surf 13-14 ft Hawaiian and clean with trades in effect. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for Swell #13 to be fading out on Tuesday and Wednesday but with local Swell # 14 hitting Tuesday followed by local Swell #15 on Wednesday and Swell # 16 Friday focused more on Southern CA with more behind that. all reaching into the 20-25 ft range Hawaiian but with horrible conditions through the period. Southern California is to see the same thing with Swell #13 peaking late Monday fading Tues and Wed but with local Swell # 14 hitting late Tuesday followed by local Swell #15 late on Wednesday and Swell # 16 Friday focused more on Southern CA and with more behind that. Size all in the 20 ft Hawaiian range outside the Channel Islands and 10-12 ft faces at better breaks nearshore. Horrible conditions. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see a slowly fading surf pattern with Swell #13 dropping from 12-13 ft faces on Tuesday down to 10 ft on Wednesday, 9 ft on Thursday and 7 ft on Friday. The East Shore is to have no easterly windswell other than a shot on Thursday (1/21) at 5 ft. The South Shore is in hibernation for the winter.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is trying to move into the Active Phase with the Inactive Phase still trying to hold onto the East Pacific. But it is of little concern given the dominance of El Nino and looking at the projected storm track. Storms # 14, 15, 16 and 17 are all queued up on the models expected to form and peak on average just 600 nmiles off the California coast over the next 6 days and all be so local that the swell they produce will likely be a totally unridable mess. Much weather and south winds is expected into the coast with the arrival of each storm system. Great for snow production but nothing for surfing. And all this energy is to develop well east of Hawaii, pretty much shutting them out of the action except for the last storm (#17) which might pushing some north fetch into their swell window with swell possible by the weekend.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Monday (1/18) the North Pacific jetstream was raging with 20-210 kt winds flowing hard east on the 36N latitude from off Japan ridging slightly over the dateline then dipping into a weak trough terminating 600 nmiles off Central California with the core of the jet just touching Pt Conception. Good upper level support for gale development off the California coast. Over the next 72 hrs this strong jetstream energy is to continue slowly seeping east with the core of the jet pushing directly into and over Southern CA on Tues (1/19) with 200-210 kt winds continuing north of Hawaii feeding into the mainland with a weak trough just off California, and then starting to build into a more defined trough late Wednesday into Thursday with 200 kts winds still in place. Most impressive. Great support for storm development just off the California coast then. Beyond 72 hours the core of that trough is to push directly over Central CA on Friday AM (1/22) with up to 190 kt winds still in control with a storm likely forecast pushing into the state. Further out to the west a big split in the jet is forecast on the dateline with the main flow pushing due north up into the Bering Sea and well north of there, but more 180 kt consolidated energy is forecast building over Southern Japan pushing flat east to the dateline by Sunday (1/24) on the 33N latitude with winds at 180 kts reaching to a point north of Hawaii by Monday (1/25) and a gentle trough starting to dig out on the dateline. There's no sign that the upper pattern is going to break anytime soon, typical of El Nino.
At the surface on Monday (1/18) swell from Storm #13 was hitting Central CA while the front from Storm # 14 was queued up just off the coast. Short details for all future storms this week are provided below. Otherwise a near calm pattern was present just over Japan, but starting on the dateline and pushing east on the 35-40N latitudes a series of 3 gales was present. The first barely noticeable on the dateline with 30 kts wes winds, the second northeast of Hawaii with 45 kts winds and the third just off California also with 45 kt winds. Weak high pressure was protecting HAwaii at 1016 mbs. Over the next 72 hours 3 separate storm systems (really gales) are forecast forming north of Hawaii and pushing rapidly east towards Central and Southern CA with large local raw swell expected to result for the US West Coast mainly from Central CA southward.
On Wednesday AM (1/13) another storm formed off Japan, this time a real one and positioned a bit more north than any of recent months. 50-55 kt west fetch was modeled at 44N 155W and seas on the increase. In the evening winds built to 55-60 kts at 43N 164E aimed up the 299 degree path to NCal and a bit east of the 315 degree path to Hawaii. Seas built to 37 ft at 43N 162E.
On Thursday AM (1/14) 50-55 kts pure west winds were covering a solid area at 43N 172E aimed right up the 298 degree path to NCal and reasonably well down the 315 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were modeled building to 47 ft at 43N 170E. In the evening 45-50 kt east fetch is to cover a solid area at 44N 175E aimed up the 298 degree path to NCal and 30 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii. 51 ft seas to continue at 44N 177E.
Friday AM (1/15) more 45 kt winds are to be holding in the same area though covering a smaller area at 43N 180W aimed right up the 296-297 degree paths to NCal and 40 degree east of the 326 degree path to Hawaii. 48 ft seas forecast at 44N 180W. In the evening 40 kt fetch is to be holding at 44N 177E aimed like before with seas fading to 43 ft at 44N 175W.
On Saturday AM (1/16) yet more 40-45 kts fetch is to hold sinking a little south at 43N 175W pushing right up the 295 degree path to NCal and mostly blowing 45 degree east of the 335 degree path to Hawaii, pretty much ending the fetch aimed there. Seas of 41 ft are forecast at 43N 174W all tracking due east. In the evening more 40 kt fetch is to be holding at the same location with 40 ft seas forecast at 43N 170W.
Even on Sunday AM (1/17) some limited 40 kt east fetch is forecast at 43N 160W aimed right up the 294 degree path to NCal. 38 ft seas are forecast at 43N 165W and on the move to the east. In the evening a small area of 40-45 kts west winds are forecast at 40N 153W generating more 35 ft seas at 41N 160W.
On Monday AM (1/18) fragmented 35-40 kt west fetch is to be moving on California at 38N 143W with residual 36 ft seas forecast at 38N 148W pushing east. In the evening that fetch is to be racing east at 40 kts and positioned 600-800 nmiles west of San Francisco up to the northern state border. More 32 ft seas are forecast at 35N 140W. Yet more 50 kts fetch is to be developing behind that.
On Tuesday the gale is to be just off North California with 34 ft seas at 43N 135W getting ready to push right into the coast with more 50 kts west winds building directly behind at 40N 150W aimed up0 the 285 degree path to NCal. By evening that fetch is to top 50 ks at 39n 140W aimed right at Central CA. More 38 ft seas are to be developing at 38N 142W and taking direct aim on Central CA building to near 40 ft on Wednesday. All this is to be very near the coast, within 600-800 nmiles and likely making a complete mess of local conditions and unrideable form a surfing perspective. And if anything the fetch is to be building with a solid fetch of 40 kts winds forecast pushing right into the CA coast from San Diego north to San Francisco.
Owners of beach front property should start considering preparations to protect property with a multi-day onslaught of high surf with longer periods likely coupled with much precipitation and a direct hit of southwest winds making cliffs very unstable. Our first taste of a real El Nino is to be experienced with this event if it develops as is currently forecast, something we have not seen in 12 or more years. But again, this is just a forecast and not even close to pushing anywhere near the mainland yet.
From a surf perspective large long period swell is expected to arrive along the North and Central California coasts early next week (1/18) but a full-on rain and south wind event is scheduled for Central and North CA starting mid-Sunday (1/7) reaching into Southern CA on Monday and continuing non-stop while building into Thursday (1/21) and possible longer. In short, expect no rideable surf except at the most protected breaks.
Hawaii: Swell to be slowly dropping off on Tuesday (1/19) with swell 9.0-9.5 ft @ 14-15 secs (13-14 ft Hawaiian). Trades forecast in the 12-15 kt range through the swell arrival window.
This system formed just 600 nmiles west of Central California on Monday AM (1/18) with 45 kts west winds producing 36 ft seas at 18Z at 38N 133W. Pure swell of 15 ft @ 17 secs (25 ft) is expected to hit the Central CA coast at 5 AM Tues (1/19) from 280 degrees. Swell to be very raw and unrideable
This system was forming on Monday (1/18) 1200 nmiles west of Central CA with 40-45 kts west winds expected to building to 45 kts on Tuesday just 600 nmiles off the coast. 41 ft seas forecast on Tuesday AM at 38N 135W. Swell of 15.5 ft @ 17-18 secs (26 ft) is expected to hit Central CA on Wed at 3 AM from 280 degrees.
Yet another gale is forecast developing in a more southerly location on Thurs (1/21) with a broad area of 40-45kt northwest winds generating seas up to 37 ft at 10 Pm at 31N 125W targeting primarily Southern CA. Swell outside the Channel Islands to reach 16.5 ft @ 17 secs by 9 AM Friday (1/22) with swell inside the Channel Islands at 8.6 ft @ 17 secs (12-14 ft faces) from 260 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (1/18) the local Storm Door had opened with the first of a long series of rain events occurring over Northern and Central CA and expected to build into the South end of the state later in the day. South winds were in full effect up north and building in Southern CA. the short story is non-stop south winds and rain is expected through Wednesday-Thursday up north and Friday down south with a bit of a break possibly on Saturday and Sunday before the next system pushes into Central Ca northward on Monday (1/25). Winter is here. Good snowfall accumulations expected in the Sierra when this is all over, but until then stay away. High winds are expected to keep the upper mountains closed for the balance of the week and the resorts have taken storm preparations.
At the surface no swell producing fetch was occurring and none is forecast for the next 72 hours.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs the models suggest a new storm is to be forming 900 nmiles northwest of Hawaii on Thursday (1/21) with winds building to 45 kts aimed well to the south targeting Hawaii well initially, building to 50 kts by late Friday at 37N 155W targeting Hawaii directly with seas building to 36 ft over a small area aimed again right at the Islands. Possible swell developing and heading south. By late Saturday the fetch is to move into the storms south quadrant at 45 kts and 1200 nmiles west of Central CA with seas building to 41 ft Sunday AM (1/24). Another raw local swell likely for California too.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Monday (1/18) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was moving weakly into the Active Phase, though the Inactive Phase was not giving up just yet. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -6.64 (13 days in a row negative). Of note: The Inactive Phase's impact only raised the SOI to positive values for 11 consecutive days). The 30 day average was up to 5.15 with the 90 average up to -8.64.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicating a weak area of east anomalies over the dateline and Central America typical of late stages of the Inactive Phase with weak westerly anomalies covering a good part of the Indian Ocean pushing east over Indonesia and almost reaching New Guinea. This is the start of the new Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely being neither helped or hindered at this point by the MJO but El Nino of and by itself was driving the storm track now.The Active Phase and it's weak westerly wind anomalies is expected to seep east holding near New Guinea through 1/27, then jog east to the dateline by 2/1 and hold there through at least 2/6. If anything this should gently push the storm track into even more of a favorable mode.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/18) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator from the Galapagos Islands west to the dateline and even west of there, and holding. A new strong Kelvin Wave (see below) has erupted along the coast and some evidence of it can be seen with a most solid warm anomaly signature present over and just west of the Galapagos Islands. It is expected that water temps will continue to increase yet more over the coming weeks as this Kelvin Wave and a new one (see below) continues impacting the coast there. This is classic El Nino. Overall the warm water signature remains non-exceptional from a historical El Nino perspective, but clearly in the moderate category and slowly but steadily building. This appears to be a late blooming ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator things continue to look favorable. A steady flow of warmer than normal subsurface water continues tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America as it has for months now. As of 1/14 the Kelvin Wave we've been tracking with a core of 5-6 deg C warmer than normal sub-surface water was fully impacting the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast and has peaked out. This is fueling a modest increase in the warm water surface pool as it continues impacting the coast there. This pool is expected to continue building while eventually tracking back west on the surface along the equator driven by trades. This Kelvin Wave first appeared under the dateline on 9/17 and tracked steadily east through 12/1 and was the result of a prolonged persistent westerly surface wind flow that had been in-place west of the dateline from 9/8 and continued into 11/5. Of additional interest was a new pocket of warm water that pushed west from the dateline, with anomalies now up to 4-5 deg C above normal and effectively merging with the previously existing Kelvin Wave, forming a continuous pool of warm subsurface water at 4-5 deg C above normal extending from 150W into South America. Pretty impressive, especially considering we are about ready to enter a new Active Phase of the MJO with the potential to produce yet anther Kelvin Wave. This will only add more fuel to the developing El Nino.
Over the Equatorial Pacific solid trades were blowing, but only in the normal range for the time of year and not of any real concern yet. At some point in the next 2 months we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down and fully normal trade pattern to take over. But that will likely not happen until sometime after the next Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe mid-February (at the earliest). Previously a Westerly Wind Burst continued very obvious starting on 11/30 with fully blowing west winds near 165E, and strong. This Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) continued on 12/2 through 12/8 with a most solid area of west winds pushing almost to the dateline. On 12/6 strong west anomalies pushed to 170W and held solid through 12/15, with fully blowing west winds reaching to the dateline and anomalies to 170W. This WWB started fading by 12/17 but was still present pushing to 175E with neutral (normal) winds east of there. Fully blowing West winds were evidenced on Sat (12/19) and Mon (12/21) reaching to the dateline with westerly anomalies pushing well southeast of Hawaii. This configuration fed the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east from the dateline (see above), and is helping to fuel the development of El Nino. If anything, subsurface water temps are expected to increase as the WWB continues pushing warm water into the depths on the dateline, feeding the developing Kelvin Wave there. And the Kelvin Wave currently hitting Ecuador was formed from a prolonged bout and multiple pulses of westerly winds and westerly anomalies that occurred from 9/8 through 11/2.
El Nino is affecting the global atmospheric weather pattern at this point in time and is expected to continue having an impact into the Summer of 2010. This suggest that not only will the winter and spring storm pattern be enhanced in the North Pacific, but also the early summer storm track in the South Pacific too. All data suggests this will not be a strong El Nino, more likely a solid moderate one. A solid accumulation of warm surface water in the equatorial East Pacific and a solid pool of warn subsurface water is evidence in-favor of continued development of El Nino. As long as there continues to be WWB's, then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold if not build, and the atmosphere above it will respond in-kind to the change (towards El Nino). We expect one last shot at another Kelvin Wave from the current Active Phase in-play now (Jan 2010) and then the slow degradation will begin in the ocean. But the atmosphere is already be strongly influenced by the warm water buildup over the past 6 months, and it will not return to a normal state for quite some time. This El Nino it is already larger and strong than any other in the past 12 years.
Strong El Nino's bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast along with the benefit of increased potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides that storm and swell enhancement, but more of a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. As of right now things are looking to be in the middle to high-end of a moderate event. Since anomalous water temps on the equator have not exceeded 3 degrees (nor are they forecast to) and the SOI remains unremarkable, this all suggests a modest El Nino is all we're going to see. This is clearly already enough to provide storm enhancement, and a better than average winter surf season for the North Pacific (that is already in evidence with 13 significant class storms on the record) , and still likely better than anything in the past 10 years. Better yet, if it's not too strong (as this event appears to be) perhaps it will not degrade into La Nina the year after (which typically happens after stronger El Nino's), but hold in some mild El Nino-like state for several years in a row. This would be an even better outcome.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest no swell producing fetch is to develop.
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