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 (2/7) North and Central CA had residual energy from the Gulf was producing waves to maybe double overhead with almost clean conditions, but wind off the coast was making it pretty lurpy. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were head high and clean but with a little lump running through the outside. Southern California up north was chest high and pretty well lined up but with some texture building over it. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and clean and well lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was waist to maybe chest high and clean, looking fun and easy. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting northeast windswell at waist to chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A stronger gale tracked off Japan Tues (2/5) pushing east with seas in the 34 ft range targeting Hawaii well, then reorganizing to the north on Wed (2/6) with seas in the 42 ft range approaching the dateline with all fetch aimed east and targeting the US West Coast coast, then fading while tracking over the dateline Thursday with seas dropping from 32 ft. Utility class swell for the Islands and US West Coast. Remnants of this system to reorganize in the Northwestern Gulf Saturday (2/9) with seas to 32 ft again targeting primarily the US West Coast from Central CA northward. A series of far weaker system to follow tracking mainly northeast from the dateline into the Gulf. But it's way to early to have any faith even in that. The Inactive Phase of the MJO is setting in.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (2/7) the jetstream was flowing flat off Japan but weak with winds only 140 kts reaching east to a point just beyond the dateline then splitting with most energy funneling into the northern branch which was traveling northeast up into the Gulf of Alaska then turning abruptly south and flowing effectively down the Canadian Coast finally turning inland over Oregon. A bit of a trough was just off the coast there. Otherwise no trough of interest were indicated offering no real support for gale development. The southern branch was tracking flat east over Hawaii and into Baja. Over the next 72 hours a bit of a ridge is to develop on the dateline falling into a steep short lived trough in the Western Gulf Saturday (2/9) with winds 130 kts flowing into the trough, offering a short window to support gale development, then pinching off. Beyond 72 hours wind speeds to rebuild off Japan to 160 kts over the weekend into early next week pushing east and reaching the dateline Tues (2/12), with a bit of a trough trying to develop just south of the Aleutians 24 hrs late tracking northeast into the Western Gulf. Maybe some support for gale development there. But overall the jet is to remain basically unchanged for the next week, with only little flashes of short lived trough development and therefore gale generation indicated.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (2/7) swell from the North Dateline Gale (see below) was tracking towards Hawaii and the US West Coast. Over the next 72 hours remnants of this system are to redevelop in the Western Gulf of Alaska over the weekend (see Gulf Gale below). And yet one more small system is to develop off the Kuril Islands on Friday evening producing a small area of 50 kt west winds and seas building from 36 ft at 43N 154E. Winds to be fading from 45 kts Sat AM (2/9) with seas peaking at 38 ft over a tiny area at 44N 160E (313 degs HI) and too far away fro the mainland to be of interest. Winds fading from 40 kts in the evening with seas fading from 32 ft at 44N 165E (314 degs HI).If all plays out as forecast some small inconsistent utility class swell could result for Hawaii.
North Dateline Storm
On Monday (2/4) a new broad gale was building off Japan tracking east with winds to 45 kts late over a small area. Seas built from 18 ft off Japan late. Tuesday AM (2/5) the core of the storm was lifting rapidly northeast while fetch from earlier in the storm life was still producing 50-55 kt west winds well off Japan with seas to 32 ft over a small area at 38N 162E. In the evening the core of the gale was approaching the Aleutian Islands just west of the dateline with winds 55 kts up at 45N 170E and seas 42 ft over a tiny area associated with the core of the storm at 45N 172E aimed due east (322 degs Hi, 300 degs NCal). The core of the gale was just south of the Aleutians on the dateline Wed AM (2/6) with 50 kt west winds resulting in a small area of 41 ft seas at 45N 177E targeting mainly the US West Coast (325 degs Hi, 300 degs NCal). In the evening west winds were fading from 45 kts with seas fading from 36 ft at 45N 180W. Thursday AM (2/7) fetch was fading from 40 kts with seas dropping from 32 ft at 45N 177W mostly bypassing Hawaii (331 degrees) and aimed best at the US West Coast (298 degs NCal). Fetch to be fading in the evening from 35 kts with seas down to 26 ft at 46N 174W (296 degs NCal) and fading from there. Some solid utility class swell is expected to result for Hawaii and the US West Coast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Friday (2/8) with period 18 secs and building through the day reaching 7.5 ft @ 16-17 secs late (12.5 ft). Swell to be fading Saturday (2/9) from 8.4 ft @ 15-16 secs (13 ft). Swell Direction: 312 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (2/9) near sunset with period 20 sec and size tiny, building through the night. Swell to peak Sunday (2/10) just past sunrise with pure swell 5.5-6.0 ft @ 18 secs (9.0-10 ft) with period dropping to 17 secs through the day. Swell partially shadowed in the SF Bay area. Swell Direction 297 degrees
Additional fetch from the North Dateline Storm (above) is to redevelop in the Western Gulf of Alaska Friday AM with winds building from 40 kts over a small area pushing near 45 kts in the evening with seas to 28 ft at 43N 167W (294 degs NCal). On Sat AM (2/9) pressure to drop to 968 mbs with west winds holding at 45 kts wrapping best into the gale south quadrant with seas building to 34 ft at 46N 160W (298 degs NCal). This system to be gone by the evening.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (2/7) high pressure was barely being held off (positioned just 750 nmiles west of San Francisco) by low pressure sinking south off Oregon. This was making for a rather light northerly winds flow along Central CA. Friday the low is to move inland over Central CA with lingering precipitation clearing from North down to Southern CA late. High pressure is to build in as the low tracks southeast setting up a pressure gradient and brisk north winds at 20 kts for most of the coast (including Southern CA). Maybe 3-5 inches of snow for Tahoe Thursday through late Friday. Wind is to slowly fade Saturday but not out (even for Southern CA) at 15 kts everywhere early. Finally Sunday a light offshore flow to build for the entire state continuing (or at least being light - less than 10 kts) into Thursday (2/14) other than north winds over Cape Mendocino.
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 forecast developing midway between Japan and the dateline on Tues (2/12) producing a tiny area of 45 kt west winds lifting steadily east-northeast. Seas 26 ft over a tiny area at 37N 168E (305 degs HI) Tues AM and tracking east-northeast not changing through Wed AM (1/13) repositioned at 40N 172W (330 degs HI). Maybe small sideband swell pushing towards the Islands. Wednesday evening the gale is to race northeast repositioned just south of the Eastern Aleutians with northwest winds 45 kts over a building area and seas to 30 ft at 48N 165W targeting primarily the Pacific Northwest. All fetch to take aim on Alaska after that with seas to 36 ft at 50N 162W maybe providing some additional sideband energy for Oregon northward, but that's it.
Another small system is forecast developing just west of the dateline on Thurs (2/15) but that's so far off as to not be believable.
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 Thursday (2/7) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained down hard at -24.26 (10 days negative and 7 of them at -20 or more). The 30 day average was down to -6.94 with the 90 day average down some at -4.04. this negative spurt is associated with low pressure directly over Tahiti and the Active Phase of the MJO centered just north of there. Overall this is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino but certainly reflects the effects of the Active Phase of the MJO.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) turning westerly over the dateline to a point south of Hawaii before turning neutral and continuing that way into Central America. This suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was centered near or just west of the dateline. A week from now (2/15) east anomalies are to be building strong just south of the equator from the dateline to the Maritime Continent and starting to make inroads over the equator itself and building from the dateline to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies are forecast the rest of the way to Central America. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is to be fading fast if not completely gone with the Inactive Phase starting to build over the West Pacific. The end of the pattern supportive of gale development is likely.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/6 suggest a fading and small version of the Active Phase of the MJO was barely hanging on south of Hawaii. Of more interest was a moderate Inactive Phase migrating east from Indonesia making inroads well into the West Pacific. Both models are in close agreement regarding the long term outlook with the Active Phase fading away south of Hawaii 5 days out and a solid Inactive Phase building over the Maritime Continent 5 days out (2/11) and then moving to the dateline 14 days from now (2/20). We'll be moving well into a dateline centered gale drought by then if the models are to be believed.
Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in 2012, 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 (2/4) it appears the MJO has made a legitimate return with the Active Phase fading and a legit Inactive Phase building in the West Pacific. 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 (2/7) a pocket of 3 degree above normal waters has built under the dateline (centered at 180W) 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 (120W) on the equator and 150 meters deep. At the surface an almost La Nina like pattern is starting to take hold over the equator covering from the dateline eastward to Ecuador. 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 something below the normal range.
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. A return of a normal MJO cycle developed January-February 2013. Projections from the CFSv2 model are not supporting any form of El Nino development but almost a return to slight La Nina conditions with -0.25 deg C water temps from now into May, then slowly returning to normal if not slightly warmer by August 2013. Virtually all the other ENSO models are on a similar track now with near normal water temps into Spring and early Summer 2013.
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. AS of 2/7/13 the trend for this Winter has not been good or bad, just something less than normal. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell, but the reality is the storm have been small and the swell generally small and short lived, though with decent frequency. This season is more of a 4 rating than the 5 that was predicted. 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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The Mavericks Invitational Big Wave Surf Contest is scheduled to air on CBS on Thurs (2/7) at 7 PM (PST) replaying again on Sunday (2/10) at 7 PM. Set your DVR.
'CBS This Morning' with the Mavericks Invitational Surf Contest - See a nice morning TV show piece on the Mavericks Contest held Sun 1/20/13. The show aired Wed 1/23. Interviews with Colin Dwyer, Jeff Clark, Mark Sponsler and Grant Washburn: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50139546n
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Props from the Pros: Stormsurf was mentioned over the past week in two different media sources. One was in an interview Kelly Slater did with the New York Times and another was in a promotional piece Ramon Navarro did for the Big Wave World Tour. Many thanks to Curt Myers from Powerline Productions for alerting us and of course thanks to Kelly, Ramon and the Tour for using our service. Here's the links:
Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
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".
Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
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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