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 Monday (1/21) North and Central CA had surf down a bit from previous days, but Swell #1 was still hitting very nicely with waves double overhead and clean with light offshore's and very lined up. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were head high and clean and well lined up when they came. Southern California up north was waist to chest high and clean. Down south waves were chest high and clean, but a little soft. Hawaii's North Shore was getting continued swell with waves 3-4 ft overhead and a bit jumbled, though not horrible. Up to double overhead at best spots that handle the west swell. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting local windswell with waves chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
As Swell #1 starts to wind down in Hawaii and the US West Coast the focus now turns to small storms on the dateline. The first in a series of three developed just east of the dateline Sunday with seas peaking out at 43 ft over a small area aimed due east. The next is forecast for the dateline Tuesday (1/22) with seas to 44 ft aimed more east-northeast. And a third smaller one is forecast west of the dateline Thursday (1/24) with seas 37 ft. In all these are to be small and short lived systems. Still, some fun sized surf is likely for Hawaii and the US West Coast, though a bit inconsistent relative to the West Coast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Monday (1/21) the jetstream was tracking flat east off Japan in a single flow with winds at 140 kts with a weak trough midway to the dateline, then ridging north of Hawaii with winds to 160 kts before falling into a very steep trough off the US west Coast and splitting heavily with the northern branch pushing inland over Alaska and the southern branch pushing east into Southern Baja. There was some limited support for gale development in the trough approaching the dateline. Over the next 72 hours winds the trough in the West Pacific is to push east and dissipate by Wed (1/23) while the trough off the US West Coast pinches off and a new split jet starts forming in it's place. Winds to build pushing off Japan to 170 kts the with a new split point developing just east of the dateline by Thurs (1/24). Maybe a small trough to set up near the dateline. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to build with winds to 190 kts over the weekend and pushing a slight bit tot he east-northeast with the split point holding just east of the dateline. No clear troughs developing and therefore no clear support for gale development indicated.
Surface Analysis - On Monday (1/21) weak high pressure was inland over the Great Basin (Idaho) and barely holding in close proximity to the US West Coast. Residual low pressure from a previous gale was circulating in the Western Gulf of Alaska (see First Small Dateline Storm below). Weak high pressure was directly over Hawaii. And a new gale was developing over the dateline (see Second Small Dateline Storm below). Over the net 72 hours yet a third small storm is to form just west of the dateline on Wed-Thurs (1/24) (see Third Small Dateline Storm below).
Strong Storm #1- West of Dateline
North California: Swell fading Tuesday (1/22) from 5.4 ft @ 15 secs (8 ft).Swell Direction: 295-296 degrees
South California: Swell fading Tuesday (1/22) from 3.2 ft @ 16 secs (5.0 ft). Long wait between sets. Swell Direction: 299-300 degrees
First Small Dateline Storm
A small gale started to develop on the dateline Saturday AM (1/19) with pressure 972 mbs producing 2 small fetch areas of 45 kt west winds in close proximity to each other. By the evening it had coalesced into a single fetch with winds 50 kts from the west at 41N 175W with seas building to 42 ft over a small area at 42N 177W. All fetch was aimed to the east. (294 degs NCal/326 degs HI). By Sunday AM (1/20) a small area of 45-50 kt west winds were holding at 42N 168W with seas building to 43 ft at 42N 169W (290 degs NCal/338+ degs HI). Most energy heading due east. Fetch faded quickly in the evening with winds down to 35 kts tracking flat east with seas 35 ft at 41N 162W (289 degs NCal/bypassing HI to the east).
A nice little pulse of 16-17 sec period swell for a short duration is expected for the US West Coast with some limited sideband swell for the Islands too.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Monday (1/21) near 4 PM with period 20 secs and size tiny but building fast. Swell to peak near 9 PM with pure swell 9 ft at 17 secs (15 ft). Swell fading at sunrise Tuesday (1/22) from 9 ft @ 15-16 secs (14 ft) dropping to 7 ft @ 14-15 secs late (10 ft). Swell Direction: 320 degrees
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Wed (1/23) at 1 AM with period near 20 secs and size tiny but building fast. Swell to start peaking near 10 AM as period drops to 18 secs holding well through 2 PM with period 17 secs. Pure swell 7.5-7.9 ft @ 17-18 secs (12.8 -14.2 ft). 15 sec residuals on Thursdays (1/24) at 7.0 ft @ 15 secs (10.5 ft). Swell Direction: 289-294 degrees
Second Small Dateline Storm
On Monday PM (1/21) another small storm is forecast developing on the dateline with a tiny a rea of 55 kt northwest winds forecast in it's south quadrant down at 38N 176E. Seas on the increase. By Tuesday AM (1/22) 55 kt west winds to hold in it's southern quadrant pushing northeast with 44 ft seas forecast at 41N 177W over a tiny area tracking east-northeast (325 degs HI/292 degs NCal). By evening the storm is to be fading with residual 45 kts west winds tracking west and seas fading from 41 ft at 43N 171W (336 degs HI/294 degs NCal). Residual 45 kt northwest winds forecast Wed AM (1/23) with seas 32 ft at 43N 166W (345 degs HI/293 degs NCal). In the evening fetch is to be fading from 40 kts with seas holding at 32 ft at 44N 164W (bypassing Hawaii/295 degs NCal). The gale is to be nearly gone Thursday AM (1/24) with seas fading fast from 30 ft at 44N 158W (296 degs NCal).
Hawaii: For planning purposes swell is to build through the day Thursday (1/24) with period dropping from 18 secs peaking near sunset with pure swell 4.5 ft @ 15 secs (6.8 ft). Swell fading overnight. Residuals on Friday AM (1/25) fading from 5.1 ft @ 13-14 secs (7 ft). Swell Direction: 315-325 degrees
Northern CA: Rough data suggest swell arrival on late Friday (1/25) with size building into Saturday. Swell Direction: 292-294 turning to 296 degrees
Third Small Dateline Storm
On Wednesday evening (1/23) yet a third small storm is forecast building just west of the dateline with a small area of 55 kt northwest winds developing aimed reasonably well at Hawaii. 36 ft seas forecast at 39N 167E. On Thursday AM (1/24) this system to lift rapidly northeast with winds fading from 50 kts. Seas fading from 36 ft at 42N 175E. A tiny area of 50 kt west winds to hold in the evening with seas fading at 36 ft at 45N 173E. This gale is to be fading out Friday AM (1/25) with winds dropping from 40 kts and seas fading from 32 ft at 46N 178E. If this materializes small swell could result for the Islands and the US West Coast. But it is to be a long ways from the mainland and aimed well northeast of the Islands.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (1/21) high pressure at 1036 mbs was centered over the Great Basin (Idaho) with energy continuing to extend just barely west off the US West Coast with a winter offshore flow pattern relative to California holding on. Wind was light east at most coastal locations. The high is to slowly ease east through Tuesday (1/22) with winds starting to turn southerly over outer waters north of Pt Conception and perhaps nearshore at sunset. A weak front and south winds possible into Wednesday AM from Pt Conception northward but falling apart fast through the day returning to near calm winds. Light rain down to Monterey Bay. Maybe a dusting of snow for Tahoe. Possible light northeasterly winds forecast north of Pt Conception Thursday and Friday but giving way to brisk north winds by Saturday as a new reinforcing high pressure system moves into the North and Central coast and evening well into Southern CA on Sunday completely chopping things up. No change into at least mid-next week.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
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 high pressure is to build strong off the US West Coast setting up a windy scenario there. And a broad but ill-defined gale is forecast developing off Japan on Friday (1/25) easing east over the weekend with winds 30 kts. At this time it's doubtful and meaningful swell to result from it.
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 Monday (1/21) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -1.27. The 30 day average was up to 2.00 with the 90 day average down slightly at -0.74. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) building slightly over the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continuing the rest of the way to Central America. This suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the West Pacific. A week from now (1/29) light west anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent to a point south of Hawaii, with with light east anomalies off Central America. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be holding and building east. There's continued suggestion of two anomalous low pressure systems just south of the equator near the dateline, possibly helping to fuel more westerly anomalies there.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/20 suggest a solid version of the Active Phase of the MJO was in control over the dateline working its way back over the Maritime Continent and extending to a point south of Hawaii with a strong Inactive Phase building in the Indian Ocean. Both models remain in close correlation indicating the Active Phase is to hold on the dateline for the next 15 days, fully in control. Theoretically this should support the formation of stronger and longer lasting storms and is very similar to the pattern that developed last year at this time. The storm cycle has begun, delineated by the formation of Storm #1 in the Northwest Pacific. More stronger systems are expected over the next 2-3 weeks. At the same time a strong Inactive Phase is forecast building in the Indian Ocean. The dynamic model actually has it stalled there for the next 15 days while the more conservative statistical model has it edging into the West Pacific about 10 days out. Let's hope the dynamic model is right. Regardless, whatever benefit we get from the Active Phase, we will pay for with the trailing Inactive Phase.
Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in the year, we believed a return to a normal MJO cycle would occur with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. But the pattern collapsed/stalled in November and December. As of now (1/15) it appears the MJO has made a legitimate return with the Active Phase now in control and the Inactive Phase building in the Indian Ocean. So we appear to be back in a more normal pattern.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). As of now (1/21) a pocket of 2 degree above normal waters is building under the dateline but a pocket of -2 deg C cooler than normal water is blocking it's eastward progress south of Southern CA on the equator and 150 meters at depth. At the surface a near normal/neutral temperature profile covers the entire equatorial Pacific. No help here.
The Fall season started with what initially appeared to be a strengthening MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) suggested a return to a neutral ENSO pattern. But that collapsed in Nov-Dec 2012. And now the models appear to suggests a return of a normal MJO cycle for January 2013. Projections from the CFSv2 model are not supporting any form of El Nino development but almost a return to La Nina with -0.4 deg C water temps by late January into April, then slowly returning to normal if not slightly warmer by July 2013. But virtually all the other ENSO models predict a slow decline from El Nino threshold temps into Spring 2013, but never dipping into negative territory. Regardless, the warm spurt in July 2012 was just a false start. 2012-2013 is a neutral year.
We are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than the previous 2 years under the direct influence of La Nina. Based on current data the outcome for this Winter is not looking good or bad, just normal. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell, but the total lack of any real activity so far had us thinking of downgrading that projection. With the projected return of the MJO, a barn buster Jan and Feb are required to make up the short fall. Will monitor but it looks doubtful. Longer term the expectation is this winter will be followed by at least one year of slightly warmer temps (2013-2014) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). 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 Finally updated 10/6/12
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 has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
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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