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 Saturday (1/18) in North and Central CA surf was 1-2 ft overhead early and on the way up with no wind, glassy conditions and well lined up. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high and clean and well lined up. In Southern California up north surf was waist high with up to chest high sets and clean and well lined up. Down south waves were waist high and clean coming from the south and lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was 10 ft (Hawaiian) and clean but a bit unruly and warbled. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at chest high and clean with trades suppressed.
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 42 ft seas pushing due east while a secondary fetch followed right behind falling southeast producing 28-30 ft seas and targeting primarily the Islands. Swell starting to hit the US West Coast. Remnants of these two systems redevelop in the Gulf Fri (1/17) producing barely 30 ft seas aimed well at the US West Coast. Swell arrival for California on Sunday (1/19). A stronger but compact storm to develop on the dateline pushing flat east late Fri (1/17) with up to 46 ft seas then turning northeast Sat (1/18) tracking up into the Gulf with 42 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 52 ft seas tracking flat east reaching a point due north of Hawaii before dissipating with possibly larger swell radiating out for Hawaii and the US West Coast. The storm pattern to falter after that.
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 Saturday (1/18) the jetstream was pushing flat off Japan with winds peaking at 190 kts just west of the dateline. The jet continued flat east over the dateline to a point north of Hawaii where a small trough was starting to develop. This trough offered some support for gale development. The jet held together a bit east of Hawaii, then finally split at 150W with the northern branch pushing up into Alaska and the southern branch falling south 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 build fed by 190 kts winds into Sunday (1/19), offering good support for storm development, then pinching off Monday (1/20) with support for storm development fading. But back to the west the jet is to continue solid with 180 kts winds pushing flat off Japan reaching over the dateline and starting to form another trough on Monday building into Tues (1/21) with 200 kt winds building over the dateline and feeding the trough. Good support for storm development. The trough is to start pinching off on Wed north-northeast of Hawaii and gone by Thursday with support for gale development dissipating. Beyond 72 hours winds to start fading off Japan and the dateline but holding together reaching east to 145W before splitting. No troughs of interest are forecast with no support for gale development indicated.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (1/18) swell from Hawaiian Storm #1 was starting to hit California (see details below). Also swell fro the Gulf Gale (see below) was pushing towards the US West Coast. Over the next 72 hours Storm #3 and #4 are forecast forming (see below).
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 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 6.5 ft @ 16-17 secs at sunset (10.5 ft). Swell to continue into Sun AM (1/19) at 6.5 ft @ 15 secs (9.5 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 reorganized in the Gulf of Alaska on Thurs PM (1/16) generating a fetch of 45 kt northwest winds aimed at Oregon southward generating 28-30 ft seas at 45N 160W (296 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds held into Fri AM (1/17) lifting north targeting Washington south to Central CA resulting in barely 30 ft seas up at 49N 163W (305 degs with 27 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 50N 157W (307 degs NCal).
Minimal significant class swell is possible for Oregon and large utility class swell down into Central CA.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival near 1 PM Sun (1/19) with period 16 secs and overrunning Hawaiian Storm #1 by 11 AM. Swell 6.5 ft @ 16 secs (10 ft) holding through sunset, then on the decline. Swell Direction: 296 degrees
On Thurs AM (1/16) another tiny system was winding up west of the dateline tracking flat east and was approaching the dateline in the evening with 45-50 kt northwest winds and seas on the increase. By Fri AM (1/17) this system was growing in areal coverage with 55 kt northwest winds in it's south quadrant aimed east and 38 ft seas at 35N 180W (310 degs HI, 285 degs NCal). 55-60 kt west winds held into the evening with seas building to 48 ft at 36N 170W (323 degs HI and pushing somewhat east of those paths, 283 degs NCal, 293 degs SCal). 50 kt west winds held into Sat AM (1/18) tracking flat east with 41 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 45-50 kt west winds still in-play resulting in 42 ft seas at 42N 155W targeting NCal up the 292 degree path and SCal up the 297 deg path. Fetch fading from 45 kts Sun AM with seas fading from 42 ft up at 47N 152W targeting only Canada.
Secondary fetch to develop Sun AM (1/19) in the west quadrant of the gale at 40 kts wrapping into the south quadrant in the evening at 45 kts generating seas of 32 ft at 47N 161W (304 degs NCal). 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.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival before sunrise on Sun (1/19) with period 20 secs and size on the increase. Swell to peak near sunrise at 10.7 ft @ 17 secs (18 ft Hawaiian and then slowly fading through the day with period down to 15 secs at sunset. Swell Direction: 310-320 degrees
North CA: Rough data suggest swell arrival Monday (1/20) late afternoon with period 20+ secs and size tiny. Swell to peak before sunrise Tues (1/21) at 7.4 ft @ 18 secs with swell fading from 7.4 ft @ 17 secs at sunrise (13 ft Hawaiian). Period down to 15-16 secs late. Swell Direction: 283-285 degrees with lesser energy to 292 degrees.
Southern CA: Rough data suggests swell arrival after sunset Mon (1/20) with period 22+ secs and size building. Swell building from 2.6 ft @ 20 secs Tues AM (1/21) peaking near 3.6 ft @ 19 secs late (6.8 ft). Swell to hold overnight fading Wed AM (1/22) from 3.8 ft @ 15-16 secs (5.8 ft faces). Swell Direction: 287-291 degrees
Possible Storm #4
Yet a fourth stronger and somewhat broader storm is forecast developing west of the dateline with 55 kt west winds Mon AM (1/20) and seas building from 36 ft at 36N 176E. In the evening the storm is to cross the dateline with 60 kt west winds holding and seas building to 46 ft at 37N 173W (321 degs HI, 285 degs NCal). 50-55 kt west winds to hold Tues AM (1/121) as the storm pushes northwest of Hawaii with seas building to 52 ft at 37N 168W 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 45-50 kts with seas fading from 48 ft at 37N 163W (bypassing HI, 285 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). Fetch fading from 45 kts Wed AM (1/22) with residual seas from previous fetch 38 ft at 39N 158W (285 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). Hawaii to mainly see sideband but raw local 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.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/18) a calm to light offshore wind pattern continued in play for all of CA. More calm winds are forecast through Sunday, then turning light southerly for Central CA from Monterey Bay northward Monday as a front tries to organizes over outer waters. That front to die Tues AM with light winds through the day. Then Wed high pressure is to get a toe in the door off Central CA with a light north winds patter is forecast (to 15 kts near Pt Conception) building some Thursday (1/23) with 10 kt northwest winds for all of North and Central CA. Those winds to fade a little on Friday but still northerly late in the afternoon. Finally the high to push onshore over the PAcific Northwest on Sat (1/25) with winds turning offshore again for North and Central CA.
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 a weak and unorganized gale is to move to the dateline Fri-Sat (1/25) generating a small area of 26 ft seas. Otherwise a relatively calm pattern to set up while the jet reorganizes.
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 Saturday (1/18) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding up at 23.75. The 30 day average was up to 5.69 and the 90 day average was up at 3.86. This is an ominous spike and unexpected. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of an Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was moving towards the Inactive Phase. 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 moderate west anomalies over the extreme western Maritime Continent weakening to neutral over the Eastern Maritime Continent then reversing and turning light easterly over the dateline falling to neutral south of Hawaii and continuing that way on into Central America. A week from now (1/26) neutral anomalies and forecast over the entire Maritime Continent turning westerly on the dateline and building to moderate strength south of Hawaii. Neutral Anomalies to hold into Central America. In all this suggests a possible very Active Phase of the MJO is developing over the West Pacific but and is to track east. This is good news if it happens.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/17 are coming more into sync. Both suggest a modestly Active pattern in play today with the Active Phase of the MJO over the extreme West Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to slowly fade over the next 15 days while moving to the dateline. Conversely the dynamic model suggests a moderate Active Phase building 5 days out over New Guinea increasing in coverage and strength and holding there the next 15 days. This is promising and the projection has not changed for a week now. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/18 has downgraded suggesting the Active Phase is over the West Pacific and tracking east, expected to evaporate in the Central Pacific on Jan 28. In parallel a new modest Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Feb 2 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 2/27 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 appears 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. But there is now a cool pool developing on the equator in the Atlantic, from Africa to South America. If there's any sort of global teleconnection, this same pattern might develop in the Pacific. Something to monitor. 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 troubling scenario with cooler than normal water (-2 deg c) setting up 75m down near 110W (off Central America). This cool patch was blocking any warm flow trying to move east. Otherwise all warm water from the previous Kelvin Wave was now east of the TOA 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 and the cool pool above could be a sign of things to come (not so good).
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 1/18 have trended upwards yet 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 up to the +1.7 deg C range by Oct 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. But, the cool water in the Atlantic, and the developing cool pool at depth off Central America give us cause for concern. 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