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 Tuesday (1/18) North and Central California was getting a good hit from Swell #4 and a bit stronger than expected with waves in the 15 ft range and from a very westerly direction, but north wind on it early. Southern California was getting the early arrivers from Swell #4 late with wave pushing 1 ft overhead and long powerful lines. Down south it was head high and clean, but not as impressive. Hawaii's North Shore was getting day 2 energy from Swell #4 with waves 10 ft plus on the face and a little warbled, but with trades trying to build in. 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 on Wednesday is for Swell #4 fading from 11-12 ft on the face and then down to 8.0 ft on Thursday. Residual swell of 5.5 ft expected on Friday. Swell #5 to arrive for Saturday at pushing 15-16 ft then fading on Sunday from 14 ft. Southern California is to see more of Swell #4 on Wednesday at 1-2 ft overhead at exposed breaks fading from head high early Thursday dropping to waist high Friday. Swell #5 expected in for Saturday at 3 ft overhead at better deepwater breaks fading from 1 ft overhead on Sunday The North Shore of Oahu is to see 2 ft overhead leftover swell From Storm #4 early on Wednesday. Then Swell #5 arrives for Thursday at 20 ft (Hawaiian) fading from 16 ft Friday and 15 ft Saturday. 11 ft leftovers on Sunday. The East Shore is to see no easterly windswell till Friday when trades try and return, but that windswell will be buried in wrap around energy from Swell #5. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
The Active Phase of the MJO has had a dramatic affect on the atmosphere driving a reasonably active storm pattern focused on the dateline slowly migrating east. First up was Storm #4 that formed west of the dateline on Thurs (1/13) tracking east into Sat (1/15) with up to 41 ft seas pushing well towards Hawaii with large utility class/minimal Significant class swell hitting the US West Coast on Tues-Wed (1/19). Also large Storm #5 has developed off Japan tracking slowly east over the dateline Sun-Tues with up to 48 ft seas. It's was relatively close to Hawaii (1527-1986 nmiles out) but a long ways from the US West Coast (2518-3001 nmiles). The good news is it has developed with a large fetch and easing east, meaning larger but rawer swell for the Islands starting on Thurs (1/20). But it is to be dying a long ways from the US West Coast meaning smaller but better organized long lined up swell for the mainland. And it's to hold some form of swell generation potential into nearly Thursday. Something well worth monitoring.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (1/18) the jetstream was holding solid with 200 kt winds tracking flat off japan falling into a bit of a trough on the dateline then making it a bit further east before splitting just 700 nmiles northwest of Hawaii. the northern branch was tracking up towards the Eastern Aleutians then turning southeast and pushing into the Pacific Northwest. Overall this remained the best the jet has been configured all season providing solid support for storm development from mid-way between Japan and the dateline eastward to the dateline. Over the next 72 hours almost no change is forecast with wind holding near 200 kts into Friday (1/21) but the trough on the dateline fading some, with the split point holding just north of Hawaii. More energy is to be tracking up and on a more direct path to the Pacific Northwest. Solid support for gale development expected again on the dateline. Beyond 72 hours the split point is to be on the move, heading east. A single consolidated jet is to hold it's configuration with winds slowly moderating to the 160 kt range into Tuesday (1/25) with the split flow moving to within 700 nmiles of the Central and Southern CA coast. Good support for gale development possible if a defined trough were to develop. This remains the best jetstream flow we've seen all winter. but with the split point moving east, it seems just a matter of time before the storm machine moves into the CA coast.
At the surface on Tuesday (1/18) Storm #5 continued circulating with it's center just barely west of the dateline producing a huge fetch of 30-35 kt west and northwest winds extending from Northern Japan to the dateline and then some (confirmed). Large swell was likely already in the water tracking east and southeast towards Hawaii and the US West coast (see details below - Storm #5). Swell from Storm #4 was still hitting Hawaii and pushing into the US West coast (see Storm #4 below). Otherwise high pressure at 1028 mbs was locked 600 nmiles west of San Francisco generating north winds at near 20 kts along the Central CA coast pretty much making a mess of things. Over the next 72 hours swell from Storm #4 is to be slowly dissipating along the Hawaii and CA coasts with large swell from Storm #5 starting to impact Hawaii. High pressure is to hold control off the CA coast if not retrograde west some.
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 has already hit the Hawaiian Islands from a very westerly direction, with large utility class swell impacting CA also expected and from a very westerly direction on Tuesday (1/18).
North CA: Swell arrived starting Tuesday (1/18) mid-AM with period 20 secs and size steadily building, peaking before 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
Large Storm #5
A low pressure system started to organize off Japan on Sun (1/16) with a fetch of 50 kt west winds setting up at 35N 158E in the morning trying to get traction on the oceans surface. Winds were confirmed by the ASCAT satellite at 45-50 kts at 10Z a bit south of where the models projected at 32N 152E. 30 ft seas modeled building at 34N 158E. In the evening the storm wrapped up with 55-60 kt west winds building at 40N 167E 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). The ASCAT satellite confirmed a solid sized area of 50 kt west winds at 22Z at 40N 165E covering 625 nmiles aimed due east, right on track with the models. A small area of 35 ft seas were modeled building at 36N 167E.
The storm lifted a little northeast into Monday AM (1/17) and grew in areal coverage with a solid fetch of 50-55 kt west winds at 42N 172E (294 degs NCal & 310 degs HI) with 48 ft seas pushing east from 42N 171E (315 degs HI & 296-297 degs NCal) and a much broader area of building seas growing southwest of it. The ASCAT satellite confirmed winds at 10Z at 45-50 kts solid over a large area at 41N 170E covering at least a 600 nmiles fetch area aimed due east. This was on track with the models. In the evening 45 kt west and northwest winds were modeled dropping south some at 36N 170E getting excellent traction on a well roughed up oceans surface with 47 ft seas building and expanding coverage at 40-41N 175E (294 degs NCal & 317 degs HI). The ASCAT satellite confirmed winds fading at 22Z at from 40-45 kts over a huge area dropping south from 32N-42N and 170E and covering at least a 720 nmile fetch aimed due east, right on track with the models. The Jason-1 satellite made a pass over the east quadrant of the storm just east of it's core and reported a 15 reading sea height average 39 ft with a peak to 41 ft where the model projected 44-45 ft. This was suspicious. We've actually seen instances where the Jason-1 satellite sensors appear to peak out at about 40 ft and suspect this is the case here.
The storm started to back-off in intensity while easing east Tuesday AM (1/18) with 35-40 kt west winds modeled at 41N 175E and 43 ft seas modeled at 36 178E (310 degs HI & 287 NCal) embedded in a large area of 30+ ft seas. The ASCAT satellite passed over this area and reported west to northwest winds at 35 kts covering a huge area from Northern Japan to the dateline and even a bit east of there. The Jason-1 satellite made a pass over the west quadrant of the storm and reported a max sea reading of 39.7 ft where the models suggests 34 ft. This was on track. Fetch to start fading from 35-40 kts in the evening at 40N 175E with seas down to 39 ft centered at 35N 175E and 30 ft+ seas covering a large area from 160E to 170W (304 degs HI & 288 degs NCal) with 20+ ft seas filling the entire Northwestern Pacific and crossing east over the dateline. Impressive.
A persistent fetch 35-40 kt west fetch to continue on Wednesday AM (1/19) at 35N-40N 175E with 39 ft seas continuing at 34N 178E (306 degs HI & 285 degs NCal). No real change in fetch expected in the evening with seas fading to 32 ft at 35N 175W (316 deg HI & 283 NCal).
Fetch fading but not dissipating in the 30-35 kt range on Thursday AM (1/20) with 30-32 ft seas at 35N 178W (316 degs HI & 289 degs NCal) and a huge area of 20 ft+ seas radiating east and southeast nearly filling the entire North Pacific. This system is to try and dissipate Thursday PM.
This system has formed reasonably close to the forecasts, though significant sea heights are down from the original projections - originally estimated at 52-53 ft but coming in at 47-48 ft. The ASCAT satellite confirmed wind speeds about in-sync with what the GFS wind model was suggesting (GFS drives the NOAA Wavewatch Wave model). The Jason-1 satellite made on good pass over the western edge of the fetch near it's peak and reported a fetch size about similar to the model, but peak wave size was reported at 39-41 ft where the model expected 44-45 ft for the same area. We are assuming this is a problem with the satellite sensor possibly reaching it's max capabilities, and have seen evidence of this error occurring previously. There is also the issue of the rather large fetch area and the lack of history of mapping larger fetch areas to expected swell size. So it is possible, especially for the US West coast, that the forecast estimates below might be a little low. But given the unknowns regarding the Jason-1 sensor, these risks likely balance each other out. Though the peak of the storm has passed and large swell is presumably radiating southeast and east, there more to come from this system with a second pulse scheduled for Tues PM-Wed AM with seas holding at 39 ft. This should set up a second pulse of smaller swell for all locations, extending the swells life nicely. It still is too early to know exactly how this will play out, but preliminary forecast are now being issued. This storm should be closely monitored.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Wed (1/19) near 3 PM with period in the 21-22 sec range and size small but on the increase. Period to drop to 20 secs near 11 PM with size starting to come up fast. Swell to peak starting about 6 AM Thurs (1/20) with pure swell 11.5 ft @ 17 secs (20 ft Hawaiian) and holding through most of the day with seas to 16 ft @ 17 secs (lesser period energy building-in given the Islands close proximity to the storm core (1527-1986 nmiles). A little bit on the raw side. Swell Direction: 310-317 degrees The forecast second pulse of the swell is to hit on Friday (1/21) at 10 AM with pure swell 9-10 ft @ 17 secs (16-17 ft Hawaiian) and seas 14 ft @ 16-17 secs. Swell Direction: 305-313 degrees
NCal: Expect swell arrival on Friday (1/21) at 3 PM with period 20 secs and size steadily building getting large well after sunset. Swell to peak starting about 11 PM and holding steady through sunrise Saturday with pure swell 9.0-9.5 ft @ 18 secs (16-17 ft) then period dropping and holding in the 17 sec range solid through daylight hours (9.0-9.5 ft @ 17 secs (15-16 ft) with larger sets likely. Swell fading overnight with residual energy down to 8.5 ft @ 15-16 secs early and fading (14 ft). Possibly more energy to follow. Swell Direction: 287-294 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/18) high pressure was in control 700 nmiles west of San Francisco at 1032 mbs ridging northeast up into British Columbia. North winds at 20 kts were modeled in control just off the entire Central CA coast and easing up into Northern CA as well. Southern CA was protected with no wind of interest occurring there. The high is slowly lift gently northeast and build in coverage with north winds covering North and Central CA waters Wednesday with winds to near 30 kts over Cape Mendocino late, then starting to break down early Thursday with the gradient limited to extreme North CA and an offshore flow possibly starting to set up over Central CA. A light winds flow is forecast for all of Central CA Friday (other than 15 kts up a Cape Mendo). Saturday a new gradient is to build over Cape Mendo with 20 kt north winds there and lesser winds down over all of Central CA. But that is to quickly fade Sunday 91/23) with light if not offshore winds forecast and holding that was till Tuesday (1/25).
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 fetch associated with Storm #5 is to continue circulating on the dateline with a newly defined fetch building by Friday (1/21) at 40 kts on the dateline and building in areal coverage while pushing east to northeast into Sunday AM (1/23) generating seas modeled up to 41 ft at 42N 165W targeting California and the US West coast with sideband energy down into Hawaii. Again, this is just a projection but suggests the end it not here yet. Some limited amount of 35 kt westerly fetch is forecast developing north of Hawaii on Mon (1/24) too. But at this early date, none of this is completely believable just yet, but it is not out of the question.
As of Tuesday (1/18) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained unchanged. The daily SOI on 1/17 was 23.75 and was at this level or higher the past 10 days. The 30 day average was up to 26.21 with the 90 day average up slightly at 20.66. 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 Monday (1/17) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated easterly anomalies had dissipated east of the dateline with the Active Phase of the MJO peaking-out in the West Pacific with westerly anomalies (Active Phase) pushing hard from the Eastern Indian Ocean over the southern Philippines reaching to the dateline and extending a bit east of there. The intensity remained was strong. The forecast for these anomalies has them straddling the dateline 1/22-2/1 slowly loosing power and areal coverage but still in place. By 2/6 they are to totally dissipate with their remnants pushing east into Central America through about 2/12. 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 late Jan. A more vigorous version of the Inactive Phase is already starting to build 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. But that remains just a guess with the models not extending that far into the future. 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 (late Feb).
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (1/17) 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 1/10-1/17. 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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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