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 Tuesday (1/21) in North and Central CA Swell #2 was hitting with surf triple overhead and clean and powerful. It was fogged in at some locations. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 2 ft overhead and clean on the sets and lined up but kinda washing around a bit. In Southern California up north surf was 2-3 ft overhead and lined up breaking way outside and looking like real surf. Down south waves were head high or so and sheet glass and lined up when they come. Hawaii's North Shore was 4 ft overhead and clean and looking very good. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at 1-2 ft overhead and clean with south winds in effect ahead of an incoming front.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A stronger but compact storm (Storm #3) developed on the dateline pushing flat east late Fri (1/17) with up to 48 ft seas then turned northeast Sat (1/18) tracking up into the Gulf with 42 ft seas, all targeting the US West Coast with sideband energy for Hawaii. This swell is hitting California now. And yet another system (Storm #4) developed Mon (1/20) on the dateline peaking early Tuesday with 57 ft seas tracking flat east and is to reach a point due north of Hawaii before dissipating with large swell radiating out for Hawaii and solid energy for the US West Coast. The storm pattern to falter after that with virtually nothing of interest to follow. Get what you can now.
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 Tuesday (1/21) the jetstream was ridging slightly off Japan with winds a strong 210 kts then falling into a broad trough with it's apex 1200 nmiles northwest of Hawaii. There was great support for storm development. The jet held together to a point northeast of Hawaii at 150W, then split with the northern branch meandering up into Central Canada while the southern branch felling south down to the equator. This split flow was supporting high pressure down at the oceans surface over the US West Coast. Over the next 72 hours the trough northwest of Hawaii is to hold into Wed AM with winds to 220 kts developing over the dateline and feeding the trough then the trough is to start pinching off on Thursday (/23). Beyond 72 hours winds to start fading off Japan and the dateline but holding together reaching east to 145W before splitting on Saturday (1/25). A bit of a trough is to try and develop in the Gulf from this remnant energy on Sun (1/26) but back to the west the jet is to start splitting cutting off all energy from the developing trough. Early next week the jet is to be weak and trying to split, but not really doing it. Theoretically more energy is to be building in the jet south of Japan with winds to 130 kts. Perhaps a better pattern to follow.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (1/21) swell from Storm #3 was hitting California (see details below). Storm #4 was peaking northwest of Hawaii (see details below). Over the next 72 hours no swell producing weather system of interest are forecast.
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 hit the split in the jet and started tracking northeast in the evening with 45-50 kt west winds still in-play resulting in 44 ft seas at 43N 157W targeting NCal up the 292 degree path and SCal up the 297 deg path. Fetch was fading from 45 kts Sun AM with seas fading from 42 ft up at 47N 152W targeting only Canada.
Secondary fetch developed 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 30 ft at 45N 161W (296 degs NCal). This system was gone Mon AM (1/20).
If this storm results as forecast solid swell could result for the US West Coast and Hawaii.
North CA: Swell holding at 7 ft @ 14-15 secs through Wednesday (10 ft faces) then fading. Swell Direction: 283-285 degrees with lesser energy to 292 degrees.
Southern CA: 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
Yet a fourth stronger and somewhat broader storm developed west of the dateline with 55-60 kt west winds Mon AM (1/20) and seas building from 41 ft at 36N 176E. The Jason-2 satellite passed over the west quadrant of the storm at 18Z and reported seas at 39.3 ft with one readying to 44.8 ft where the model suggested 42-43 ft seas. Suspect the model was running a little on the high side. In the evening the storm crossed the dateline with 60 kt west winds holding and seas building to 54 ft at 37N 176W (317 degs HI, 285 degs NCal). 50-55 kt west winds held Tues AM (1/121) as the storm pushed northwest of Hawaii with seas building to 58 ft at 37N 167W pushing most east of the 329 degree path to Hawaii and right up the 283 degree path to NCal (287 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 36 ft at 40N 156W (285 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). Hawaii to mainly see sideband raw local energy with much size given it's close proximity to the storms core from this one with the US West Coast getting the prime energy, but further away affording more swell decay (longer period, less size).
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Wed (1/22) near sunrise with swell building fast with period 22 secs. Swell possibly 10 ft @ 22 secs (22 ft Hawaiian). Swell building steadily through the day peaking at sunset at 20 ft @ 18 secs (36 ft Hawaiian). Swell to fade some overnight as the period drops. Swell still 16 ft @ 16 secs early (26 ft Hawaiian) fading through the day down to 14 ft @ 15 secs late (21 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 313-325 degrees
Northern CA: Preliminary data suggests swell arrival on Thurs afternoon (1/23) with period 23 sec but size small pushing 4 ft @ 23 sec late (9 ft sets and inconsistent). Swell building steadily overnight. Swell to peak starting mid-morning at 9.4 ft @ 18-19 secs (17 ft Hawaiian with bigger sets). Good consistency with virtual fetch in play in the 18-20 sec period frequencies. Swell hold as period drops to 17 secs late (9.3 ft @ 17 secs (16 ft Hawaiian). Swell fading from 7.8 ft @ 16 secs early (13 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 282-286 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/21) a light offshore wind pattern was in play early but has given way to a light north flow driving by high pressure ridging into the Pacific Northwest Coast. Wednesday that high pressure system is to build off Central CA with a weak north gradient setting up generating 15 kt north winds for all of Central CA early and then tracking north with 20 kts north winds over North CA later. The gradient to lift north more on Thursday effectively off Oregon with light winds for Central CA. Friday a southeast wind flow is forecast off the Central Coast pushing near 20 kts then fading Saturday but turning almost south-southeast early. Calm winds return on Sunday. High pressure again starts to build Monday off Central CA with a light northerly flow forecast building to 15+ kts for all of North and Central CA on Tuesday (1/28). southern Ca to remain protected through the period.
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 gale is to move over the dateline Thurs (1/23) generating a small area of 36 ft seas reaching to 37N 176W targeting Hawaii and California moving to a point north of Hawaii Fri AM (1/24) with seas 30 ft at 35N 154W. The models have been a bit sporadic concerning this system, especially in the wake of the strong Storm #4 currently in-play. 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 Tuesday (1/21) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down but still up at 8.63. The 30 day average was up to 7.28 and the 90 day average was up at 4.44.This appears to be the end of what was an ominous spike and completely 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 entire Maritime Continent weakening to neutral over the the dateline the returning to weak westerly south of Hawaii and continuing half way to Central America before turning neutral. A week from now (1/29) neutral anomalies are forecast over the entire Maritime Continent holding on the dateline and south of Hawaii. Neutral Anomalies to hold into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is in control over the West Pacific but is to fade while tracking east.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/20 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, gone at the end of the run. Conversely the dynamic model suggests a moderate Active Phase is already in play just west of the dateline and is to hold there the next 15 days nearly unchanged. This is promising and the projection has not changed for a week now. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/21 suggests the Active Phase is over the Central Pacific and tracking east, expected to move inland over the East Pacific on Jan 31. 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 (1/20) 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. 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 appears to be losing a little coverage as compared to previous imagery, but not bad. This pocket of warmer water actually originates over Chile and 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. Warm water from off the south American coast is getting driven west along the equator by trades. The California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California appears to be fading with warm waters starting to build along the North CA coast. 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, which it appears to be doing. Something to monitor. We remain in a pure neutral pattern (as neutral as it can get).
Subsurface waters temps on the equator indicate a troubling scenario with cooler than normal water (-2 deg c) setting up 75m down from 155W to 110W (off Central America). This cool patch is 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 cooler things to come (not so good).
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 1/21 have stabilized. 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 +1.8 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