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 (1/27) North and Central CA had the last of real swell from the dateline hitting producing waves pushing double overhead at top spots but blown to bits from northwest winds driven by building high pressure. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were head high or a foot more on the sets with a northwest warble running through it, but clean on the face. Southern California up north was fogged in. Best guess is waves were waist high and clean and well lined up with longer period energy starting to show. Down south waves were chest high and clean, well lined up with some power. Hawaii's North Shore was in the small range with waves chest high or maybe head high on the sets and clean. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting some wrap around swell from the dateline with waves near chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
The final real storm developed on the dateline Tuesday (1/22) with seas to 43 ft aimed east-northeast. Swell from it is hitting Central and North California under local northwest winds and chopped. And one more smaller one developed west of the dateline Thursday (1/24) with seas 35 ft and tracking purely northeast. A little sideband swell for Hawaii expected by Sunday (1/27) from it, but think should high. A new system is developing just northwest of Hawaii on Saturday (2/26) with seas expected to 34 ft late and aimed right at the Islands. Maybe a short blast of swell early week. After that an ill-formed gale is to form and track east from off Japan Sun-Tues (1/29) building nicely by Wed on the dateline with seas to 45 ft pushing flat east. But again it to be very small in coverage. If all goes as forecast maybe some more small long period swell mainly for the US west coast. A bit of a break after that.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (1/26) the jetstream was tracking flat east off Japan in a single flow with winds solid at 200 kts just off Japan and less as it reached to the dateline, then splitting heavily with a weak trough there offering a hint of support for gale development. At the split point the northern branch was ridging hard north tracking northeast over the Eastern Aleutians then dropping southeast through the Eastern Gulf before pushing into Oregon. The southern branch pushing southeast just south of Hawaii and the east from there into Southern Baja. Only the area west of the dateline held any support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours winds off Japan to hold in the 190-200 kt range with the weak trough on the dateline carving out more and lifting slowly northeast into Tuesday (1/29) providing decent support for gale if not storm development. Beyond 72 hours the pocket of 190 kt winds to push east to the dateline by Thurs (1/31) and ridging northeast with the split point moving back east to a point north of Hawaii. No real support for gale development indicated. Back to the west winds speed to really drop off down to 140 kts with the jet almost trying to split over Japan late Friday but then reorganizing over the weekend with 200 kt west winds rebuilding in the jet over Japan. It looks like the semi-decent upper pattern isn't over just yet.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (1/26) swell from the second dateline storm was pushing into California (see Second Small Dateline Storm below). A third gale tracked west in the West Pacific never making it across the dateline Tues-Thurs (1/24). Swell from it is pushing east (see Third Small Dateline Storm below). Another gale was building north of Hawaii (see Hawaiian Gale below). Over the next 72 hours yet another gale is forecast building off Japan tracking over the dateline (see Possible Dateline Gale below). For the immediate future, swell is still in the forecast.
Second Small Dateline Storm
On Monday PM (1/21) another small storm developed on the dateline with a tiny area of 55 kt northwest winds in it's south quadrant down at 38N 176E. Seas built to 32 ft over an infinitesimal area at 37N 175E. By Tuesday AM (1/22) 55 kt west winds held in it's southern quadrant pushing northeast with 44 ft seas at 41N 177W over a tiny area tracking east-northeast (325 degs HI/292 degs NCal). By evening the storm was fading with residual 40-45 kt west winds tracking west and seas fading from 41 ft at 43N 171W (336 degs HI/294 degs NCal). Wind rebuilt to 45 kts from the west Wed AM (1/23) with seas 35 ft at 43N 168W (346 degs HI/293 degs NCal). In the evening fetch is to be fading from 35-40 kts with seas holding at 32 ft at 43N 163W (bypassing Hawaii/294 degs NCal). The gale is to be nearly gone Thursday AM (1/24) with winds dropping from 35 kts and seas fading fast from 29 ft at 43N 156W (296 degs NCal).
Northern CA: Swell arrived on Friday (1/25) peaking on Saturday (1/26) near noon at 6.0 ft @ 16-17 secs (10.0 ft) (1 ft smaller pure swell than expected). Swell fading Sunday from 7 ft @ 14-15 secs (10 ft). Swell Direction: 292-294 degrees
Third Small Dateline Storm
On Wednesday evening (1/23) yet a third small storm started building just west of the dateline with a small area of 55 kt northwest winds developing aimed reasonably well at Hawaii. 35 ft seas modeled at 40N 167E. On Thursday AM (1/24) this system lifted rapidly northeast with winds fading from 50 kts. Seas fading from 34 ft at 43N 175E. A tiny area of 45 kt west winds held in the evening with seas hanging on at 35 ft way up at 47N 174E. This gale faded out Friday AM (1/25) with winds dropping from 40 kts and seas fading from 32 ft up at 50N 178E and starting to impact the Aleutian Islands. Small sideband swell could result mainly for the Islands with background energy for the US West Coast. But it is to be a long ways from the mainland and aimed well northeast of the Islands. Expect small size at best.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival Sunday (1/27) with pure swell 3 ft @ 15-16 sec early (4.7 ft) and fading slowly through the day. Swell Direction: 307 degrees
On Saturday AM (1/26) a small gale started to wrap up just east of the dateline with pressure 984 mbs resulting in a small fetch of 45 kt north winds targeting areas west of Hawaii. Seas building from 26 ft over a tiny thin area aimed due south at 34N 178W. Those winds to hold into the evening but turning more northwest targeting Hawaii well. Seas building to 34 ft at 33N 174W. On Sunday AM (1/27) fetch is to be fading from 40-45 kts aimed directly at the Islands and in close proximity. Seas fading some from 32 ft at 33N 168W. In the evening residual 35-40 kt northwest winds to be targeting location a bit east of the Islands. Seas fading from 27 ft at 35N 165W.
Assuming all the above to be accurate, a short burst of solid swell to impact the Hawaiian Islands. Expect swell arrival Monday AM (1/28) peaking mid-day at 9.9 ft @ 17 secs (17 ft). Swell Direction: 325-332 degrees
Possible Dateline Gale
A broad but ill-defined gale is forecast developing off Japan on Saturday (1/26) producing 35-40 kt northwest winds easing east on Sunday AM (1/27) with seas forecast to 27 ft at 35N 160E. Additional 40-45 kt west fetch expected Sunday PM (1/27) to the northwest of the original fetch resulting in 30 ft seas at 39N 165E and a second area of 30 ft seas Monday AM at 41N 160E. All this to be fading in the Monday evening with seas 25 ft at 40N 180W while a new more tropical looking fetch builds southwest of the main fetch with winds to 40 kts. By Tuesday AM (1/29) a small area of 45 kt west winds is to be building just west of the dateline with seas to 29 ft at 38N 170E. By Tues PM (1/29) a small area of 45-50 kt west winds to be building in the core of the gale with seas up to 42 ft at 39N 175E aimed due east. On Wednesday AM (1/30) 50 kt west winds to continue with seas to 45 ft at 40N 177W aimed better at the mainland than the Hawaiian Islands. Residual 40 kt west winds to hold in the evening with 42 ft seas at 42N 170W. 40 kt west winds to hold into Thurs AM (1/31) with 34 ft sea at 42N 164W. This system is to be fading with 35 kt west winds in the evening and seas fading from 30 ft at 43N 158W. This is all just a fantasy of the super computer at this point, but it looks somewhat promising to produce more small long period swell targeting primarily the US West Coast with sideband swell possible for the Islands. Something to monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (1/26) new high pressure at 1032 mbs was building just off the coast with the leading edge making inroads into nearshore locations resulting in 20 kt northwest winds everywhere north of Pt Conception. That pattern is to only get more ingrained Sunday as it moves into the North and Central coasts with chop fully in control and even encroaching into Southern CA late likely starting to chop things up there too. The high pressure and north winds regime is to become more entrenched Monday extending well into Southern CA offshore waters (Channel Islands) with northwest winds 20-25 kts everywhere and continuing at 25 kts Tuesday. Southern CA to become fully protected on Tuesday though. Finally Wednesday the high is to start pushing inland over the Pacific Northwest with a light offshore flow starting to take hold for all of California. The offshore pattern to hold south of Pt Reyes into Friday then another small reinforcing high is to move dangerously close to CA pushing into Oregon Saturday. Increasing odds of north winds for the weekend.
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 no other swell producing weather systems of interest are forecast.
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 (1/26) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 1.09. The 30 day average was down to 0.79 with the 90 day average down slightly at -1.28. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) turning neutral over the dateline with a slight east tendency east of there extending the rest of the way to Central America. This suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was still hanging on over the West Pacific. A week from now (2/3) light east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent turning slightly west on the dateline to a point south of Hawaii, with with light east anomalies a little east of there turning dead neutral on into Central America. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be fading some and making no easterly progress. That small area of east anomalies forecast building in the extreme West Maritime Continent might signal the end of the Active Phase of the MJO.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/25 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 east 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 with 3 smaller system behind it and maybe 1 or 2 more. At the same time a strong Inactive Phase is 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 (2/4). 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. But 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 (1/26) a pocket of 3 degree above normal waters has built under the dateline pushing east, and a pocket of -2 deg C cooler than normal water that was blocking it's eastward progress south of Southern CA on the equator and 150 meters at depth appears to be dissolving. At the surface a near normal/neutral temperature profile covers the entire equatorial Pacific. Perhaps a small Kelvin wave is building courtesy of the current Active Phase of the MJO.
Fall of 2012 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-February 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