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 (1/28) in North and Central CA surf was running in the 10 ft range with bigger sets at exposed breaks as best as can be deciphered and clean, but fogged in. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 2 ft overhead on the sets and clean and well lined up. In Southern California up north surf was good again with waves head high with bigger sets and clean and well lined up. Down south waves were head high and lined up and clean with overcast. Hawaii's North Shore was getting raw locally generated swell at 3 ft overhead and effectively chopped from northeast wind. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at shoulder to head high and chopped from northeast wind.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a small gale off Northern CA and Oregon on Sun (1/26) was hitting Central CA. Limited small background dateline energy is right behind expected to reach North and Central CA on Wed (1/29). After that things settle down for the US West Coast. A cutoff gale is forecast developing just east of the dateline on Fri-Sat (2/1) with 26-28 ft seas targeting Hawaii. And another smaller system to develop on the dateline Sun-Mon (2/3) falling southeast again targeting Hawaii with 28 ft seas. But the pattern is weak compared to the previous sea state. Get what you can now if you are in California.
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 (1/28) the jetstream was weak tracking effectively flat off Japan at 140 kts reaching over the dateline then falling into a steep but weak trough with it's apex 100 nmiles west of Kauai. Winds were only 100 kts falling into the trough offering no real support for gale development. From there the jet ridged northeast with winds to 140 kts before pushing into Oregon. Also a weak split in the jet was occurring over the dateline with limited energy peeling off to the north tracking up into the Bering Sea. Overall there was no real support for gale development with weak winds and no troughs of interest indicated. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast but with winds building to 160 kts off Japan and the split on the dateline continuing, and a secondary split developing over Hawaii with additional energy bleeding off heading south to the equator, but with the main flow tracking flat from 600 nmiles north of Hawaii into Northern CA. Still no troughs of interest are forecast meaning no support for gale development is likely. Beyond 72 hours a new split in the jet is forecast starting just off Japan tracking hard north up into the Bering Sea on Sat (2/1). 130 kts winds to continue west from there reaching to a point 350 nmiles north of Hawaii then splitting again with more energy bleeding off to the south bound for the equator with the remaining weak energy tracking into Northern CA. A variant of this pattern to hold into Wed (1/5) but with the point where the jet enters the US West Coast lifting a bit north, moving over Oregon. And a weak trough to set up northwest of Hawaii, in the lee of the split off Japan rendering it weak and ineffective at supporting gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (1/28) swell from a gale that was in the Gulf on Sun (1/26) was arriving in California (see Gulf Gale below). Additional swell energy from a small gale on the dateline on Sat (1/25) was queued up right behind for Wed (1/29) (see Second Dateline Gale below). Over the next 72 hours a weak fetch in the Western Gulf to generate 35 kt westerly winds and 22 ft seas Wed PM (1/29) at 48N 164W targeting the US West Coast somewhat. Maybe some very small and weak 13 sec period swell to result for the weekend for CA. And an equally weak gale to develop off the Kuril Islands Wed PM-Thurs AM (1/30) with 40-45 kt northwest winds and 24 ft seas at 43N 162E (312 degs HI) perhaps good for well decayed background swell for the Islands 4 days out (Sun PM - 2/2). But overall things to be real quiet.
On Sun AM (1/26) a small gale developed off Northern California in the Eastern Gulf lifting northeast with 40 kt northwest winds and seas building from 26 ft at 38N 147W (280 degs NCal). Winds built to 45 kts in the evening aimed at the US West Coast with seas up to nearly 30 ft at 44N 145W (296 degs NCal). By Mon AM (1/27) all fetch was pushing up into Alaska with no seas of interest aimed south of British Columbia.
North CA: Expect swell arrival near 11 AM Tues (1/28) with period 14 secs. Swell 7-8 ft @ 14 secs (10.5 ft). Swell Direction: 285-295 degrees
Second Dateline Gale
On Friday PM (1/24) a new small gale built on the dateline producing 45 kt northwest winds aimed a bit at Hawaii with seas on the increase. On Sat AM (1/25) 40 kt northwest winds held tracking just east of the dateline with 32 ft seas at 33N 174W (310 degs HI, 281 degs NCal, 286 degs SCal). The fetch fell southeast towards Hawaii on Sat evening fading to 35 kts with seas fading from 26 ft at 30N 168W (315 degs HI, 280 degs SCal). This system was gone Sun AM with seas from previous fetch 22 ft just 550 nmiles northwest of Hawaii.
Sideband energy for North CA expected arriving Wed (1/29) pushing swell back to 5 ft @ 15 secs (7.5 ft) from 275-280 degrees
Southern CA to see swell building later Wed (1/29) to 2.7 ft @ 16 secs (3.0-3.5 ft) fading Thurs AM (1/30) from 2.7 ft @ 14-15 secs (4.0 ft). Swell Direction: 280-285 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 (1/28) a light wind pattern was in play for all of California other than north winds near Pt Conception. Light rain for Northern CA. High pressure tries to build off Central CA Wednesday to 15 kts from the north near Pt Conception and far later over the rest of North and Central CA but with rain overrunning it from the Golden gate northward. Northwest winds continuing Thursday (1/31) and getting better traction up into North CA. Light rain early for the SF Bay Area with up to 10-12 inches of snow for Tahoe. Southern CA to remain protected. The north wind flow is to get better defined on Fri (1/31) with 20 kt north winds along the entire Central and North Coasts early. Light rain possible for the SF Bay Area with an additional 2-4 inches of snow for Tahoe, mainly early. By Saturday those north winds to start backing off as a new local low sets up off the North CA coast and even south winds are possible on Sunday for Central CA. Rain too on Sunday for all of North and Central CA pushing into Southern CA late but that precipitation is not to reach inland enough except for maybe a dusting of snow for Tahoe. By Monday some form of northwest winds to set up for North and Central CA driven by weak high pressure building off the coast. Northwest winds continue Tuesday at 15 kts for all of 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 cutoff gale is to develop just east of the dateline on Fri AM (1/31) generating 40-45 kt north winds building to 45 kts in the evening. most fetch is to be aimed southwest to south or at open ocean through the wave model suggests 28 ft sea at 35N 172W aimed due south or sending sideband energy down the 321 degree path to Hawaii. Sat AM (2/1) supposedly 35-40 kt northwest winds to wrap into the gales southwest quadrant generating 26 ft seas at 33N 172W (317 degs HI). By evening winds to fade from 35 kts with seas fading from 22 ft at 30N 168W (313 degs HI). If all goes as forecast some nice 15 sec period swell could result for Hawaii.
Yet another small gale is forecast developing Sun PM (1/2) on the dateline with 40 kt northwest winds over a small area aimed at Hawaii and falling south-southeast into Tues AM (1/4) with winds fading to 35 kts. Seas are forecast in the 26-30 ft range over a very small area. Perhaps more small swell to result for Hawaii.
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 (1/28) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was steady at 6.36. The 30 day average was up to 9.87 and the 90 day average was up at 6.47. This appears to be the end of what was an unexpected upward spike in the SOI. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of a neutral phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of 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 strong west anomalies still over the far Western and Central Maritime Continent weakening to neutral anomalies over the the dateline and holding that way south of Hawaii. Weak east anomalies were barely present from there almost into Central America. A week from now (2/5) modest west anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent turning weak westerly on the dateline continuing south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is in control over the West Pacific and trying to get better footing moving east but not quite making it yet with a weak version of the Inactive Phase still holding over the East Pacific. Of note, this westerly wind burst over the far West Pacific is peaking now, and has been in play since Jan 9th (11 days) and is to continue in some form for the next week. This is prime conditions for development of another Kelvin Wave.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/27 are reasonably in agreement where it counts. Both suggest a modestly active pattern was in-play today with the Active Phase of the MJO over the West Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to hold into the next 10 days while easing east, then slowly start fading 15 days out while moving east of the dateline. Conversely the dynamic model remain stubborn suggesting a moderate Active Phase is already in play just west of the dateline and is to hold there the next 15 days and building steadily to a moderate if not weakly strong status. This is most promising if it materializes and the projection has not changed much (other than getting stronger) for a week now. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 1/28 is picking up on this now too suggesting a moderate Active Phase is over the West Pacific and tracking east, expected to move inland over the East Pacific on Feb 22. This continues to upgrade from previous runs. In parallel a new weak Inactive Phase is to set up in the west on Feb 15 easing east and moving into the East Pacific 3/6 while a new weak Active Phase builds behind it starting 2/27. 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 (1/27) 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 slightly warmer water on the equator and north of there off Ecuador. Overall 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 continues 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 images, suggesting some positive effect caused by a Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there. This almost looks 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 previous California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California is all but gone with warm waters starting to build along the North CA coast. Thousands of miles of warmer water lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast is moving east and almost reaching the coast. A sympathetic cool pool that had developed off Africa appears to be loosing ground too. 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. For now we remain in a pure neutral pattern, with tendencies towards a warmer state.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator indicate a somewhat concerning scenario with cooler than normal water (-2 deg c) setting up 100m down at 110W (off Central America). This cool patch is blocking any warm flow trying to move east. But it covered a much larger area a week ago and is down to just a small concentrated patch now. At the same time warm water +2 deg C is building under the dateline. This could possibly be the start of a new Kelvin Wave, especially seeing how there has been 11 days of modest to strong westerly anomalies west of the dateline (A Westerly Wind Burst) with another week of such anomalies expected to continue. All warm water from a previous Kelvin Wave was now east of the TOA buoys and off the chart, presumably impacting Central America. This warm pool 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. And the westerly wind burst over the Maritime Continent might force yet another Kelvin Wave adding yet more fuel to what is at this time some smoke of a potentially developing fire. But it's far too early to know with any certainty.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 1/28 have stabilized. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 building to + 0.75-1.0 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs are up to the +1.4 deg C range by Oct 2014. For the immediate future (this Winter) an effective neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering below +0.5 deg C through April. But 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