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 (1/29) North and Central CA had local windswell with some underlying leftover Dateline swell producing waves in the 2 ft overhead range and pretty warbled with northwest winds in control. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were chest high and very warbled though local conditions were relatively clean. Southern California up north was waist high and lined up but still really warbled with some winds on it. Down south waves were chest high and lined up but really warbled and pretty weak looking. A bit if northwest wind on ti too. Hawaii's North Shore was getting solid local swell with waves still in the 15 ft plus range and clean with trades light. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting some wrap around local swell with waves shoulder high and lightly chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A gale developed just northwest of Hawaii on Saturday (2/26) with seas in the 32 ft range aimed right at the Islands. Solid but somewhat raw swell is hitting there now. Only sideband small energy expected fro the US West Coast. After that an ill-formed gale is to form and track east from off Japan Sun-Tues (1/29) then developing more cohesively by Wednesday on the dateline with seas to 45 ft pushing east-northeast. But again it to be very small in coverage. If all goes as forecast maybe some moderate long period swell will result mainly for the US west coast. Monday (2/4) yet another gale is to track off Japan pushing east with seas in the 34 ft range and making it to the dateline. In short, a continuation of the existing pattern is forecast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (1/29) the jetstream was tracking almost flat east off Japan in a single flow with winds still holding at near 190 kts with the strongest of those winds mid-way between Japan and reaching to the dateline. The jet then split heavily just northeast of Japan with the northern branch ridging hard north tracking into Central Canada and the southern branch pushing southeast just east of Hawaii then turning east and pushing into Southern Baja. No clearly defined troughs were present but the area between Japan and the dateline held the best promise to support gale development. Over the next 72 hours the strongest winds to push over the dateline briefly reaching 200 kts Wednesday then starting to form a ridge there rising northeast and pushing the split point mid-way between Hawaii and the US West Coast by Fri (2/1). Back to the west winds speeds to drop off some Wednesday with a decent trough developing midway between Japan and the dateline and pushing east. Support for gale development improving in the trough. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to fade once it hits the dateline Saturday with the jet almost trying to split off Japan over the weekend, moving to the dateline. Fortunately wind speeds to rebuilding some off Japan to 150 kts, but not exceeding that threshold and easing their way east. A weak trough to develop focused off the Northern Kuril Islands possibly supporting gale development, but nothing of particular interest.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (1/29) swell from a gale that built north of Hawaii (see Hawaiian Gale below) was hitting Hawaii well producing the second day of solid surf. Only sideband energy expected to reach the mainland. Another gale developed off Japan on Saturday (1/26) tracking east and is to redevelop over the next 72 hours tracking over the dateline (see Possible Dateline Gale below). So more swell is in the forecast.
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 held into the evening but turning more northwest targeting Hawaii well. Seas built to 32 ft at 33N 173W. On Sunday AM (1/27) fetch was fading from 40-45 kts aimed directly at the Islands and in close proximity. Seas holding and expanding some from 32 ft at 34N 170W. In the evening residual 35-40 kt northwest winds were targeting locations a bit east of the Islands. Seas fading from 28 ft at 35N 165W.
A short burst of solid swell impact the Hawaiian Islands. starting Monday AM (1/28) peaking mid-day at 9.9 ft @ 17 secs (17 ft) (Oahu) and then fading through the day Tuesday. Swell Direction: 325-332 degrees
Swell to not exceed 3 ft @ 16 secs when it arrives along the US West Coast from Central CA southward with most energy pushing well south of the mainland (see QuikCASTs for details).
Possible Dateline Gale
A broad but ill-defined gale developed off Japan on Saturday (1/26) producing 30-35 kt northwest winds easing east on Sunday AM (1/27) with winds more solidly 35 kts and seas building to 26 ft at 35N 160E. Additional 40-45 kt west fetch developed Sunday PM (1/27) to the northwest of the original fetch resulting in 27 ft seas at 38N 165E and a second area of 28 ft seas Monday AM at 41N 162E. All this was fading Monday evening with seas 25 ft at 37N 180W while a new more tropical looking fetch built southwest of the main fetch with winds to 40 kts. This is the real fetch of interest.
On Tuesday AM (1/29) a tiny area of 45 kt west winds were building just west of the dateline with seas to 26 ft at 38N 170E. By Tues PM (1/29) a small area of 55 kt west winds are to be building in the core of the gale with seas up to 38 ft at 37N 178E aimed due east (310 degs HI, 288 NCal). On Wednesday AM (1/30) 55 kt west winds to continue with seas to 44 ft at 38N 175W (322 degs HI, 289 degs NCal, 293 SCal) aimed better at the mainland than the Hawaiian Islands. Residual 45 kt west winds to hold in the evening with 44 ft seas at 39N 165W (287 degs NCal, 293 SCal, and bypassing HI). 45 kt west winds to hold into Thurs AM (1/31) as the gale lifts northeast with seas fading from 40 ft sea at 42N 159W (290 NCal, 297 SCal). This system is to be fading but still producing 45 kt west winds in the evening and seas fading from 36 ft at 43N 155W (293 degs NCal, 300 degs SCal). Fetch dissipating Fri AM (2/1) with seas fading from 30 ft at 43N 152W.
At this time this remains just a fantasy of the super computer, but it is looking more like something of interest will develop. Assuming the models are correct, more small long period swell should be expected to target primarily the US West Coast with sideband swell possible for the Islands. Will monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/29) high pressure at 1038 mbs continued holding just 600 nmiles off the Central CA coast resulting in the usual local gradient and 20-25 kt north winds from Cape Mendocino down to Pt Conception. By Wednesday the high is to start edging inland over the Pacific Northwest with a lighter flow starting to take hold for all of California if not slight offshore tendencies. A full offshore pattern to hold build south of Pt Reyes Thursday then fading to near calm on Friday. Almost slight southerly winds possible Saturday turning back to offshores Sunday for North and Central CA. A light north flow possible for the North and Central Coast Monday with a weak front moving close to the coast Tuesday but likely disintegrating before moving into nearshore waters. Southern CA to remain in a light wind pattern Wednesday (1/30) onward. No precipitation forecast for the state.
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 a small gale is to wrap up well north of Hawaii on Sat (2/2) tracking northeast fast producing west winds at 45 kts and seas to 36 ft over a tiny area at 47N 150W (302 degs NCal) Sun AM (2/3). Maybe some northerly angeled swell for the US West Coast favoring the Pacific Northwest.
Another smaller gale is forecast developing just east of the dateline Sun AM (2/3) tracking east with winds 40 kts and seas to 26 ft at 37N 160W in the evening then fading from there. 20 ft seas reaching east to 37N 144W Monday PM (2/4). Maybe some 14 sec periods well for the US West Coast with fleeting sideband energy for the Islands.
At the same time on Sunday (2/3) a new broad gale is to be be building over the Kuril Islands producing west winds at 40 kts and seas to 28 ft over a moderate area at 38N 157E favoring Hawaii. Pockets of 45 kt west winds to continue east Monday (2/4) with 34 ft seas in the evening setting up at 42N 167E. Seas peaking Tuesday AM (2/5) at 37 ft at 42N 172E (over a small area), then fading as the gale move to the dateline.
Plenty of potential for swell development if one is to believe the models.
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 (1/29) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -3.15. The 30 day average was down to 0.45 with the 90 day average unchanged at -1.24. 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 slight east anomalies well south of California 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 (2/6) light west anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent turning almost neutral on the dateline then back to light west south of Hawaii, with with light east anomalies off of Central America. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be fading some and making only minimal easterly progress.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/28 suggest a moderate 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 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). This situation has not changed for weeks now. 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 (1/29) 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 appeared to be dissolving, but has returned. At the surface a near normal/neutral temperature profile covers the entire equatorial Pacific if not starting to trend towards negative temps. Perhaps a small Kelvin wave is building courtesy of the current Active Phase of the MJO but when and if it makes it to the Central America Coast, it will only warm surface water temps back to the normal range at best.
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: 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