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 Thursday (1/31) North and Central CA had local windswell mixing with small Hawaiian sideband swell at 2.6-3.0 ft @ 14 secs producing waves in the chest high range and clean with offshores in effect. Some bigger sets at best breaks. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were thigh high and clean with a little warble in the water. Southern California up north was waist high, lined up and clean. A very pretty day. Down south waves were waist high with a few bigger sets, lined up and clean but pretty weak. Hawaii's North Shore had some leftover swell with waves shoulder high or so and clean but with a fair amount of warble and lump in the water and pretty crumbled. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting northeast windswell with waves chest to shoulder high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Sideband small swell energy from a gale that was north of Hawaii on Sunday (1/27) was hitting the US West Coast, but unremarkable. After that an ill-formed gale developed off Japan and tracked east Sun-Tues (1/29) producing 26 ft seas, then developed solidly Wednesday to storm status on the dateline with seas to 49 ft over a tiny area pushing east-northeast. It is expected to fade in the Gulf of Alaska Friday with seas dropping from 38 ft all aimed well to the east. Decent long period swell is expected for the US West Coast over the weekend with a good shot of sideband energy for Hawaii Friday fading into the weekend. Monday (2/4) a far weaker gale is forecast tracking east through the Gulf of Alaska with seas to 24 ft. And yet another gale is to track off Japan pushing east with seas in the 34 ft range and making it to the dateline but not much further. It seems the storm pattern is to start backing off consistent with an anticipated decay of the Active Phase of the MJO.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (1/29) the jetstream was tracking east off Japan in a single flow with winds 180 kts forming one trough midway between Japan and the dateline and a second trough on the leading edge of the wind energy pushing into the Western Gulf of Alaska. Both troughs were supportive of gale development, especially the one in the Gulf. The jet then .cgiit northeast of Hawaii with the northern branch ridging and tracking into Central Canada and the southern branch pushing southeast just east of Hawaii then .cgiitting again with some energy pushing into Southern Baja and the rest bound for Central America. Over the next 72 hours the strongest winds in the jet to ridge northeast reaching 190 kts and pushing into the Central Gulf, the first in a long time, then diving hard south forming a very steep pinched trough off the US West Coast Saturday with winds 130 kts falling into that trough. Maybe some support for gale development there, but doubtful. The jet to .cgiit north of that trough on Sunday while the cut off trough lingers well off Baja. Back to the west the jet is to almost .cgiit over the dateline with wind speeds dropping way off, down to 90 kts. A weak trough to form in the Western Gulf on Sunday too, offering limited support for gale development. In all energy levels to be dropping with the jet fragmenting. Beyond 72 hours the jet to .cgiit heavily on the dateline by Wed (2/6) with the northern branch tracking up to the Aleutians near the dateline then falling south along the Canadian Coast. Fortunately wind speeds to rebuild some off Japan to 150 kts at the same time, but not exceeding that threshold and easing east. A weak trough to develop focused off the Northern Kuril Islands pushing east to the dateline by Thurs (2/7) possibly supporting gale development, but nothing remarkable.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (1/31) a storm was pushing east through the Western Gulf of Alaska with west-northwest winds still 50 kts aimed well down the great circle paths to the US West Coast (see Dateline Storm #2 below). Weak high pressure was holding off the US West Coast at 1028 mbs with a separate high at 1020 mbs holding north of Hawaii. Yet a third high, much broader that the previous two, was building over Japan at 1032 mbs. Weak low pressure was trying to organize on the dateline. But no swell producing fetch was indicated at this time other that that associated with Storm #2. Over the next 72 hours Storm #2 is to fade out and the new low over the dateline is to try and develop while lifting northeast generating 35 kt west winds over a diffuse area Friday (2/1) perhaps coalescing into a weakly organized fetch in the Northwestern Gulf just south of the Aleutians on Sat AM (2/2) with winds briefly reaching 45 kts over a tiny area with seas to 26 ft at 47N 170W holding into the evening at 48N 168W. Winds to back of Sunday AM (2/3) but cover a larger area at 30-35 kts aimed mostly east with seas 20 ft at 40N 173W. In the evening 35 kt west winds to build in the Gulf targeting the US West Coast exclusively with seas building to 22 ft at 45N 164W. 35 kt west winds to hold tracking east Monday AM (2/4) with seas 24 ft at 45N 160W. The gale to fade in the evening with 22 ft seas fading at 43N 153W. Some limited sideband swell with period in the 12 sec range is expected for the Hawaiian Islands early next week with 13-14 sec period energy for the US West Coast early to mid-week.
Dateline Storm #2
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 built in the core of the gale with seas up to 41 ft at 37N 178E aimed due east (310 degs HI, 294 NCal). The Jason-1 satellite passed over the western flank of the storm at 06Z and reported average peak seas at 37.1 ft with one peak reading to 41 ft where the model suggested seas should have been 42 ft. Winds were confirmed at 55-60 kts per the ASCAT satellite at 23Z and 50-55 kts over a solid area at 8Z again per the ASCAT satellite. On Wednesday AM (1/30) 55 kt west winds continued with seas modeled to 49 ft at 38N 175W (322 degs HI, 287 degs NCal, 291 SCal) aimed better at the mainland than the Hawaiian Islands. Winds were confirmed at 50-60 kts at 20Z per the ASCAT satellite. Residual 50 kt west winds held in the evening with 47 ft seas at 38N 166W (285 degs NCal, 290 SCal, and bypassing HI). Winds were confirmed at 50 kts per the WindSAT satellite. 50 kt west winds pulsed again Thurs AM (1/31) as the gale lifted northeast with seas fading from 42 ft sea at 40N 160W (287 NCal, 292 SCal). The WindSAT satellite confirmed winds at 50 kts over a very small area. This system is to be fading but still producing 40 kt west winds in the evening and seas fading from 38 ft at 42N 155W (291 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Fetch dissipating Fri AM (2/1) with seas fading from 30 ft at 42N 152W (291 degs NCal).
This is a very small system in terms of areal coverage, but it has produced confirmed solid winds in the 50-60 kts range, consistent with what the models were suggesting. there has been only 1 decent Jason-1 satellite pass and it was a little disappointing. The issue is whether it's reading is legitimate, or whether it was experiencing the typical anomaly it does once seas reach the 40 ft range. Regardless, this storm has moved very close to it's projected path with winds tracking exactly to what was forecast. The assumption is the seas are close to the projection too. What's of most importance is this storms ability to generate virtual fetch relative to the US West Coast. At each point along the storm track all of the energy that would generate say 17 sec period swells is to arrive at exactly the same time along the US West Coast. This theoretically should result in a large number of waves per set, and given the storms close proximity (1500-2400 nmiles) the frequency of those sets should be fairly regular. Hawaii conversely was not on the direct path with less dense sets and fewer waves per set expected. Still, we're just past the heart of winter and any swell of note should be taken for all it's worth.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival late Thurs (1/31) afternoon with period 20+ secs and size small and building fast. Swell to peak well before sunrise Fri (2/1) with pure swell 12 ft @ 17 secs dropping to 10.2 ft @ 16 secs and sunrise (16 ft Hawaiian) and fading steadily through the day, down to 7.5 ft @ 14 sec late (11 ft). Swell Direction: 311 degrees.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival Friday after sunset with period 25 secs and size tiny but building steadily through the evening. Swell to continue upwards through the day Saturday (2/2) starting to peak near 4 PM as swell period hits 18 secs with pure swell 9.0 ft @ 18 secs (16 ft) with larger sets. Large number of waves per set. Experienced riders only. Swell to hold well overnight with swell still solid Sunday (2/3) at 9.0-9.5 ft @ 16-17 secs (14.5-16.0 ft), holding through the day. Swell Direction: 285-290 degrees
Southern CA (nearshore): Expect swell arrival Saturday just before sunrise with period 25 secs and size tiny but building steadily through the day. Swell up to 4.0 ft @ 20 secs (8 ft) late at exposed breaks. Swell to continue upwards through the evening peaking well before sunrise Sunday (2/3). At sunrise swell to be 4.5 ft @ 18.5 secs (8.5 ft) holding through the day as period slowly backs off to 17 secs by sunset. Monday AM (2/4) swell still to be 4.5 ft @ 16 secs (7.5 ft) and slowly fading through the day. Swell Direction: 289-294 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (1/31) high pressure at 1030 mbs was edging inland into the Pacific Northwest with a light offshore flow taking hold for all of California. This to fade to near calm on Friday continuing Saturday with a light northern tendencies in the afternoon. More of the same Sunday. A light north flow possible for the North and Central Coast Monday and Tuesday with stronger high pressure building in Wedendsay with north winds to 15 kts for all of North and Central CA building stronger Thursday (20 kts late).
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 on Monday (2/4) a new broad gale is to be be building off Japan tracking east with winds to 45 kts late over a small area. Tuesday AM (2/5) this system is to peak with 45-50 kt west winds developing over a fragmented area and the core of the storm lifting northeast fast.Seas to 34 ft over a small area at 40N 163E. In the evening the core of the gale is to be approaching the Aleutian Islands near the dateline with winds 45 kts and seas 35 ft at 39N 171E from the original fetch. The core of the gale is to be over the Aleutians Wed AM (2/6) with 45 kt northwest fetch puhsing south of there resulting in a small area of 36 ft seas at 50N 178E targeting mainly the Aleutians. 45 kt west winds to build in the gales south quadrant in the evening free and clear of the Aleutians resulting gin 33 ft seas at 50N 178W. Fetch to be fading Thurs AM (2/7) from 40 kts with seas down to 32 ft, and fading from there.Will be interesting to see if this develops as 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.cgianet. 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 .cgiit 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 Thursday (1/31) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -6.87. The 30 day average was down to -0.56 with the 90 day average down some at -1.49. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated very light westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) turning neutral over the dateline then a little stronger south of Hawaii before turning to light east anomalies off Central America. This suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was still hanging on over the West Pacific and dateline region, but not overtly strong. A week from now (2/8) least anomalies are to be building strong just south of the equator over the Maritime Continent and brisk west on the dateline then neutral the rest of the way to Central America. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be fading over the West Pacific and barely holding on over the dateline.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/30 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 10 days, fully in control. But at the same time the strong Inactive Phase is building in the Indian Ocean and pushing east. The dynamic model has it easing into the Maritime Continent 12-13 days out with the more conservative Statistical Model having it in the same.cgiace 10 days out. It looks like the end of the Active Phase is near.
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 (1/31) 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 and expected to ease east. 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 (1/31) a pocket of 3 degree above normal waters has built under the dateline pushing east, and a pocket of equally cold -3 deg C cooler than normal water is blocking it's eastward progress south of Southern CA on the equator and 150 meters deep. At the surface a near normal/neutral temperature profile covers the entire equatorial Pacific other than a thin thread of cooler than normal temps off Central America. It really looks like a mini-La Nina is trying to organize, very much like what the CFSv2 model predicted months ago. Even if the small Kelvin wave building courtesy of the current Active Phase of the MJO were to push east and makes it to the Central America Coast, it would 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. 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.cgiace 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table