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 Thursday (1/21) North and Central California was getting hit by Swell #16 with surf about 15 ft Hawaiian with winds turning hard offshore as a local low pushed into Monterey Bay. Southern California was a few feet overhead and ripped to shreds by strong to southwest winds. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more sideband energy from Storm #16 with surf 8-9 ft on the face 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 #17 to hit mid-afternoon Friday (1/22) building to 16 ft and ripped apart by northwest winds, then fading on Saturday in the 14 ft range, and dropping more on Sunday to 9 ft. New swell is expected in on Monday late afternoon again near 16 ft followed by a bit of a downward trend. Southern California is to see the same thing with Swell #17 hitting late Friday at 9 ft or so, holding into early Saturday then heading down with surf about 1-2 ft overhead on Sunday and chest high Monday. Another swell is possible on late Monday afternoon up north but that remains yet to be seen. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see slowly fading surf with waves 8-9 ft on Friday dropping to head high or so Saturday. New local windswell is expected in on Sunday at 4 ft overhead from the northwest dropping from head high or so Monday. The East Shore is to have no easterly windswell. The South Shore is in hibernation for the winter.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is moving into the Active Phase while El Nino pretty much continues to control the storm track, meaning more weather and storm taking a southerly route towards the US West coast. Another gale is forecast for the Southwestern Gulf of Alaska starting Monday (1/25) tracking northeast with 32-24 ft seas developing Tues/Wed offering sideband swell generation potential for the Islands and a more directly aimed swell for the US West Coast. Another gale is forecast for the dateline behind that.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (1/21) the North Pacific jetstream continued raging with 210+ kt winds flowing into a solid trough over the Southern Gulf of Alaska and into Pt Conception CA providing good support for gale development there. Additional 190 kt winds were building over Southern Japan flowing east on the 35N latitude by splitting just west of the dateline with some energy tracking north up to the Bering Sea and some dipping a little south, then regrouping on the dateline feeding the trough in the Gulf mentioned above. At this point it looks like a small break in the gale cycle at the oceans surface near the split point, but the El Nino enhanced jet is to start fueling more gales over the long haul once the energy over Japan migrated east. Over the next 72 hrs the strong trough pushing into CA is to continue easing it's way east into Sunday (1/24) then energy level fading as it moves entirely into the interior US continent while 140-150 kt winds start rebuilding off Japan reaching over the dateline to a point about 600 nmiles north of Hawaii. Improving odds for gale development out there. Beyond 72 hours a new trough is to start building over the dateline pushing east almost reaching that point north of Hawaii by Tuesday (1/26) providing improving odds for gale development there. That trough to fade a little while pushing up to the California coast late Thursday (1/28) while a new trough starts building on the dateline. In all, energy levels are to be down some from the past week or so, but the trend is still for the energy to be flowing pretty far south on the 32N latitude and mostly flat towards the east. Looks like El Nino.
At the surface on Thursday (1/21) swell from Storm #16 was hitting Central CA with surf still in the 15 ft+ range while the core of the low that produced it was circulating just south of Monterey Bay, making for offshore winds north of there. But surf was still quite raw with much lump from previous days fetch still in the water. Storm # 17 was fading off California (see details below) driving more rain into the coast there. A new small local gale low was circulating over the dateline generating near 40 kt north winds and moving towards Hawaii. More low pressure was building over the Kuril Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula. Over the next 72 hours the dateline gale is to push east with 40 kt west early Friday dropping to 30 kts in the evening at 32N 165W about 600 nmiles north of Hawaii with 23-24 ft seas at that location. Windswell is expected to reach Hawaii on Sunday AM (1/24) at 7 ft @ 12-13 secs (9 ft faces) from 315-320 degrees. Remnants of that system are to regroup off Northern CA on Sat PM (1/23) with 45 kts west and northwest winds forecast at 40N 145W and seas on the increase. By Sunday AM (1/24) the gale is to make it to storm status with 50 kts west winds at 42N 140W aimed directly an Central CA down the 292 degree great circle path with seas quickly jumping to 35 ft at the same locale. In the evening 45 kt west winds to be fading at 43N 135W (308 degrees relative to Central CA) with seas peaking at 38 ft at 43N 135W. Larger raw swell is to be pushing towards North and Central CA with lesser energy into Southern CA. If all goes as forecast this will be Storm #18.
Yet another gale formed in a more southerly location Wed PM- Thurs AM (1/21) off Southern CA with a broad area of 35-40 kt northwest winds generating seas up to 30 ft at 32N 132W targeting primarily Southern CA. Swell outside the Channel Islands to reach 10.6 ft @ 16 secs by 9 AM Friday (1/22) with swell inside the Channel Islands at 5.4 ft @ 16 secs (8.5 ft faces) from 266 degrees. Swell expected into Central CA too at 10 ft @ 16 secs (16 ft faces) about noon on Friday (or sooner) from 260-270 degrees with much residual bump on top.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/21) the last of the immediate string of local winter storms was pushing into the California coast, focusing mainly on Southern CA. Southwest winds and a large fetch of northwest winds was stacked well out into the Gulf of Alaska, with an offshore flow setting up in Northern CA on the north side of the core of the low driving the winds and precipitation. By Friday (1/22) low pressure is to still be in control locally but slowly easing into the coast with northwest winds at near 20 kts in the north and west winds at 25 kts in the south and rain slowly thinning out. By Saturday weak high pressure is to try and get a foothold later in the day with light winds forecast over the entire state and the first dry day in a week forecast. But that will not last with a new gale brewing just beyond. On Sunday that gale is to be impacting the extreme North CA coast with south winds and rain building down to Pt Conception late and continuing over the entire Central Coast on Monday. Southern CA to be spared any wind effect. Yet more secondary low pressure to build in behind on Tuesday pushing south winds and rain down into Southern CA. And beyond yet more wind and rain is likely in association with another large gale filling the Gulf and easing into Central CA by Thurs (1/28). No rest for the weary.
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 just west of the dateline on Sunday AM (1/24) with 55 kt northwest winds far to the south at 33N 167E aimed at Hawaii up the 290 degree path. Seas 30 ft over an infinitesimal area at 33N 167E. It is to push east with more 55 kts winds holding in the storm west quadrant but aimed south of any route to Hawaii, with 40-45 kts winds in the storm south quadrant still aimed towards the Islands at 32N 178E pushing down the 300 degree path to Hawaii. 29 ft seas at 30N 172E. On Monday (1/25) the storm is to start regrouping with 40 kts winds at 32N 175W pushing towards Hawaii down the 305 degree path with 29 ft seas at 31n 178W. In the evening 50-55 kt west winds are forecast rebuilding at 37N 164W with seas up to 26 ft at 34N 168W aimed at Central CA up the 285 degree path with sideband energy towards Hawaii. Tuesday AM (1/26) 45 kt west winds to hold at 40N 160W with 30 ft seas building at 38N 160W pushing towards Central CA up the 285 degree path. Winds to be fading from 40 kts at 43N 155W in the evening with seas at 35 ft at 41N 155W pushing directly towards Central CA up the 287 degree path. 40 kt west winds to hold Wednesday AM (1/27) at 45N 155W with more 32 ft seas forecast at 45N 150W pushing towards the Pacific Northwest. If all goes as forecast another smaller but solid swell could develop for the Hawaii and the US West Coast.
Any yet another small gale is forecast pushing east off the Kuril Islands Wed/Thurs (1/28). Certainly no lack of activity in the North Pacific, but nothing over the top in terms of size or wind speed, though a plentiful supply of smaller systems.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (1/21) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -13.18 (16 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was up to -3.92 with the 90 average up to -8.24.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicating a moderate area of westerly anomalies covering the eastern part of the Indian Ocean pushing east over Indonesia, New Guinea and almost reaching the dateline. This is the start of the new Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely to be helped slightly by this phase, with El Nino of and by itself driving most of the storm track now. The Active Phase and it's weak westerly wind anomalies is expected to seep east holding over the dateline and part east of there through 1/30, then fading on the dateline by 2/4 and gone by 2/9. If anything this should gently push the storm track into even more of a favorable mode. A very weak version of the Inactive Phase is to be trying a getting a foothold in the Indian Ocean by 1/25, but making no real headway to the east.
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 though settling down from weeks previous. 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. The Kelvin Wave which has been impacting the the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast has peaked out with 3-4 degree warm anomalies still present from 150W into the coast there but slowly loosing it's warm advantage. Still, it continues fueling a modest increase in the warm water surface pool in the East equatorial Pacific as it continues impacting the coast there. We're looking for one more Kelvin Wave with luck before this El Nino producing event is over.
Over the Equatorial Pacific solid trades were blowing, but only in the normal range. And a small area of fully blowing western winds were starting to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline. This is maybe what is needed to generate another Kelvin Wave. 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 this Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe mid-February (at the earliest). Previously Westerly Wind Bursts produced Kelvin Waves that resulted in the subsurface warm pool currently present in the tropical East Pacific .
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