New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 Monday (2/8) North and Central California was getting leftover northwest inconsistent swell from Storm #21 with waves double overhead and winds settling down, though still a bit of warble on the oceans surface. Southern California was getting the same northwest swell with waves waist high pushing chest high down south and a bit textured mid-day. Hawaii's North Shore was looking nice condition wise with no wind and surf in the head high or so range and a bit inconsistent, but fund and rideable. The East Shore was quiet. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for dropping 2 ft overhead surf Tuesday and then 2 ft overhead windswell on Wednesday. Chest high windswell and poor conditions expected later Thursday before things pick up for the weekend. Southern California is to see fading surf Tuesday at waist to maybe chest high and down to waist high windswell Wednesday dropping to thigh high on Thursday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see head high surf on Tuesday. Then larger Swell #22 arrives on Wednesday at 16 ft, dropping some to 14 ft Thursday and 12 ft on Friday. The East Shore is to maybe have some chest high east windswell on Friday too. The South Shore is actually expected to have swell by Thursday with waves to near head high and then chest high on Friday and fading.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is holding strongly in the Active Phase on the dateline pushing slowly east, still generating a solid Westerly Wind Burst and fueling the North Pacific storm track. Storm #22 has resulted with swell moving towards Hawaii and the US West Coast. Remnants of this system are to regenerate on the dateline Tuesday pushing more swell primarily towards the US West coast from the early weekend with sideband energy towards Hawaii. And a whole string of other gales are forecast developing behind that on the dateline pushing east. Winter isn't over just yet, at least if you're willing to believe the models.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Monday (2/8) the North Pacific jetstream was looking solid snaking west to east on the 33N latitude with a solid and large trough dug out over the dateline with 190 kts winds flowing under it and providing good support for gale development there. A bit of a ridge was over Hawaii, then a deep trough was carved out just off the US West Coast with the jet flowing under it and into Central Baja. Some support for gale development there, but more just helping ti suck cold air from the Canada down the coast. Over the next 72 hrs the jet is to loose much energy but still hold together, with the trough on the dateline pushing east and easing if not disappearing by Wednesday only tot try and reorganize off Oregon on Thursday, but a mere ghost of itself. The trough off the US West Coast is to dissipate and move inland. Two distinct cores of energy are to be present in the jet paralleling each other, one up at 43N and the other original one down at 30N and at 140 kts and poised to push into California. Beyond 72 hours on Friday a split is to form off Southern CA while the two parallel tongues of energy merge somewhat on the dateline with a bit of a trough forming there pushing east. The split is to hold if not build into the weekend and early next week while the dateline trough builds too pushing east, to a point north of Hawaii late Monday with 150 kts winds flowing down into it and offering good odds for gale development if not more. In all the winter season isn't over just yet, but the jet is definitely loosing some of it's strength as compared to a month ago.
At the surface on Monday (2/8) a new gale was starting to build on the dateline absorbing the remnants of Storm #22. Storm #22 tracked from Japan to the dateline over the previous week (see details below). The combination of Storm #22 and the new gale were filling 50% of the North Pacific with swell producing fetch aimed at Hawaii and the US West Coast. Otherwise high pressure system at 1024 mbs was in control off the California coast and ridging to Hawaii, stronger than expected and giving a definite feeling of spring-like winds to the California coast much like Sunday. Over the next 72 hours a new gale is to be forming on the dateline with pressure down to 960 mbs Monday evening (2/8) and a small fetch of 45-50 kts west winds forecast at 43N 175W aimed exclusively at NCal up the 295-296 degree path with sideband 35-40 kt wind energy pushing down the gales west quadrant at Hawaii down the 328 degree path. Seas to be on the increase. On Tuesday AM (2/9) the gale is to be easing east with 45 kt west fetch at 43N 169W generating seas of 41 ft at 44N 171W (2200 nmiles from NCal). In the evening the fetch is to rapidly dissipate dropping to 30 kts or less and having to swell generation potential. Seas from previous fetch to be 39 ft at 45N 163W pushing exclusively towards NCal up the 295-296 degree paths. Rough data suggest swell arrival in sync with Swell #22 in California.
Now in a dramatic change with the 12Z run of the GFS model on Monday (2/8), the models are suggesting another strong storm forming on the dateline on Wednesday (2/10) evening at 40N 170W pushing hard to the east with 50-55 kt west winds into late Thursday and moving to within 1000 nmiles of Northern CA. This could become Storm #23. This looks more like what was expected from this active phase of the MJO. But the models have been highly unstable, and appear to not have a good handle on the longer term view (72 hours out) so any details would be very premature in posting just yet.
A new large gale took shape off Japan on Sat AM (2/6) with 45 kt west winds taking the southern track at 33N 152E aimed at Hawaii down the 295 degree path and 35 degrees south of the 295 degree path to NCal. Seas building. In the evening the same somewhat fragmented area of 45 kt west winds held at 33N 155E with seas to 35 ft at 33N 152E.
The gale was gaining in coverage on Sunday AM filling the West Pacific with 45-50 kts west winds at 35N 162E aimed more purely to the east producing seas of 37 ft at 33N 160E. This could result in longer period very west swell for Hawaii (296-299 degrees - almost shadowed from the North Shore). This fetch was aimed 20 degrees south of the 290-292 degree path to NCal. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the trailing edge of the fetch area and confirmed seas at 32.4 ft with a peak reading to 39.7 where the models suggested 32 ft seas. Right on track. In the evening the fetch faded a little but held it's coverage with a broad area of 40-45 kt west winds at 35N 175E aimed at Hawaii down the 305 degree path to Hawaii and NCal down the 287 degree path with seas building to 39 ft at 33N 171E. The Jason-1 satellite tracked over the leaded edge of the seas and reported heights at 30 ft with a peak reading to 37 ft where the model indicated 36 ft seas solid. A bit less than hoped for.
An area of 40 kt west fetch was all that was left on the dateline Monday AM (2/8) at 35N 180W aimed 30 degrees east of the 312 degree path to Hawaii and right up the 285 degree path to NCal. 38 ft seas were modeled at 34N 177E. In the evening all fetch is to be gone and absorbed in a new gale to the north. 35 ft seas from previous fetch is forecast at 35N 175W pushing exclusively at NCal up the 286 degree path.
This system has developed much weaker than originally anticipated, though still covering a good area. Winds have only been in the 45 kts range and positioned way south of the better tracks into California, but providing ample opportunity for a decent west swell to push into Hawaii. And all the energy from this system is to occur mostly west of the dateline with only one last little push to reach over the dateline. This again favors Hawaii (1130-2678 nmiles away) since they are closer to the fetch (meaning less swell decay) where NCal is 2531-4043 nmiles away (meaning much more decay). All this suggests good odds for larger longer period swell possible for Hawaii on Wed (2/10) then pushing smaller longer period energy into the US West Coast for late week. Unfortunately current data suggest poor local conditions for both Hawaii and Northern CA upon swell arrival though Southern CA might do alright.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Wed (2/10) at 1 AM with period 20 secs and size small but coming up fast. Swell to start peaking between 6-9 AM HST with swell reaching 9.3-9.7 ft @ 17 secs (16-17 ft Hawaiian) coming from 296-303 degrees. Swell to hold solid through the day with period slowly easing it's way down, dropping to 16 secs late. Still solid energy is expected on Thursday with swell hovering at 9.5 ft @ 15-16 secs range (14-15 ft Hawaiian) with perhaps a little more northerly component 296-307 degrees). Period dropping to 13-14 secs on Friday.
North California: Expect swell arrival on Thurs (2/11) at 10 PM with period 20 secs and size building steadily. Swell to be solid on Friday morning (2/12) up to 6 ft @ 18 secs mid-morning and peaking at 7.3 ft @ 17 secs in the early afternoon (12-13 ft Hawaiian). Swell holding decently even into Saturday (2/13) with swell 7 ft @ 15-16 secs (11 ft Hawaiian) then slowly fading. Swell Direction: 285-291 degrees
Southern California: Expect swell arrival on Friday (2/11) at 7-11 AM with period 20 secs and size building steadily. Swell to creep up through the day then starting to peak late evening (after sunset) and into early Saturday morning (1-3 AM) at 6.6-7.0 ft @ 17 secs outside the Channel Islands (11-12 ft) and 3.4-3.6 ft @ 17 secs inside the Channel Islands (5.8-6.1 ft faces). Swell to hold solid through the day Saturday with period dropping only to 16 secs late. Swell to continue on Sunday (1/14) too at 3.5 ft @ 15 secs (5.3 ft faces) inside the Channel Islands then drifting down after sunset. Swell Direction: 288-291 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (2/8) a light northerly flow was over California waters with a weak small area of low pressure dropping south from the Pacific Northwest, breaking up the north winds and perhaps putting southerly winds into Central CA late in the day. But no rain just yet. The low pressure system itself is to be moving southeast and onshore, dissipating over south Central CA Tuesday (2/9) with north winds from high pressure just offshore making for north winds along the coast from Pt Arena down into the Channel Islands. Light rain is expected moving from SF early south into Southern CA late. A short break from the wind on Wednesday (2/10) (though still some rain in Southern CA early) while a large gale pattern starts building in the Northeast Pacific - remnants of Storm #22.. By Thursday 2 solid gales are to be poised off the US West Coast, one off Washington heading north and a second barreling straight east on the 40N latitude with 55 kt west winds. A front from the first gale is to be hitting Central CA late in the day with 20 kt south winds and moderate rain pushing into Monterey Bay late and continuing south winds and rain into early Friday. Then a break is forecast on Saturday as high pressure tries to take root but the whole Gulf of Alaska is to be under a broad weak gale. But at this time light winds and no rain is forecast for almost all of California Saturday (2/13) into early the following week.
At the surface no swell producing fetch was occurring and none is forecast for the next 72 hours.
On Wed PM (2/3) a decent gale formed southeast of New Zealand generating 32 ft seas at 59S 180W lifting hard to the north with 32 ft seas continuing into Thursday evening at 49S 165W. Some degree of decent southern hemi swell looks likely for Hawaii's South Shore starting late Wed (2/10) after sunset and pushing to 2.6 ft @ 17 secs midday on Thursday (2/11) with maybe some head high sets. Swell dropping from 2.6 ft @ 15 secs early Friday (2/12) (4 ft faces). Swell Direction: 187 degrees.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs yet more activity is possible behind Storm #23, with much 40-45 kt west winds forecast from nearly the dateline pushing east to a point just off Northern CA on Friday (2/12) and easing into the Pacific Northwest on Saturday (2/13).
And beyond that another gale is forecast forming near the dateline (40N 180W) pushing east with 45 to 50 kts winds Sun/Mon with more 35-40 kt west fetch behind that. And beyond a stronger storm is forecast developing off Northern Japan on late Monday with up to 55 kts and lifting Northeast. Looks like the GFS model has maybe started to get a handle on the effects of the MJO, or maybe not. Things are very dynamic and expect much more change coming in the days ahead.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Monday (2/8) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was still strongly in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was still negative with the Daily SOI at -44.24 (up from the previous days unbelievable -80.41) (34 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was down to -22.85 (the lowest of this entire El Nino event) with the 90 average down to -12.38.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models continued to indicate a solid area of westerly anomalies covering from North Australia east over the dateline and then pushing into Central America. A core of very strong westerly winds extended from New Guinea to the dateline reaching to a point south of Hawaii. Best anomalous winds so far in this El Nino event. This was a certified Westerly Wind Burst. It was occurring right on-time as we reach into the core of a new Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely being helped by this phase in the coming 2 weeks. The Active Phase and it's solid westerly wind anomalies are expected to seep east holding over the dateline and parts east of there through 2/12, then easing on the dateline through 2/17 before fading out entirely 2/22. A new stronger Inactive Phase is already developing in the far Western Indian Ocean and is expected to start reaching the West Pacific about 2/17 and heading east from there reaching the dateline by 2/22 and into the East Pacific on 2/27. Suspect if there is going to be a big last push from El Nino, it will occur during the next 2 weeks while the Active Phase is in control. After that, with the Inactive Phase taking control, the storm pattern is to fall apart for 3 weeks. And with the phases of the MJO starting to look stronger rather than weak, this suggests that the MJO is coming back into dominance and El Nino will start to deteriorate in the months ahead. Still, the effects on the atmosphere are already well entrenched, and that momentum will be very slow to dissipate over the coming next 6 months. In fact, we will be monitoring the MJO for signs of Active Phase dominance in the critical March-May timeframe to see if this Midoki El Nino can hang on for another year, or whether we fall back into a La Nina Pattern.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (2/4) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator more towards the dateline and less in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. Interestingly a strong Kelvin Wave (see below) that had erupted along the Ecuador coast in Dec and early Jan was expected to build surface temperatures there, but it appears trades are blowing that warm water quickly west. This is looking more like a Midoki El Nino than one of the classic variety. Overall the warm water signature remains non-exceptional from a historical El Nino perspective, but clearly in the moderate category and holding, not building. Suspect we are at or near the peak of this ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator things are starting to resurge a little thanks to the Active Phase of the MJO. A steady flow of warmer than normal subsurface water continues tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America as it has for months now. But the two Kelvin Waves which that had been impacting the the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast the past month have peaked out, with only 3-4 degree warm anomalies/residuals still present from 125W dribbling into the coast there and loosing their coverage. Still, it continues fueling the warm surface anomalies associated with El Nino in the East equatorial Pacific as it continues impacting the coast there. Signs of a new Kelvin Wave started becoming obvious on 2/1 with a patch of 3 degree warmer than normal water starting to develop under the equator on the dateline and expanding some on 2/4. Anomalies to 4 deg C were indicated at 170W on 2/6 and had migrated to 165W on 2/8. This could possibly help fuel or at least extend El Nino symptoms into summer, but is likely the last Kelvin Wave we are going to see.
Over the Equatorial Pacific solid trades were blowing in the East and continuing north of the equator all the way to almost the Philippines, but only in the normal range and maybe weaker than day previous. Still, this looks like the Springtime transition typical for this time of the year. But a solid area of fully blowing westerly winds which started to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline on 1/20 were covering a larger area on 1/23, and in full bloom on 1/25-1/29, looking very much like a real Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) event. And even on 1/30- 2/8 solid Westerly Winds were occurring just south of the equator to 155W with solid anomalies to 145W. This is what is needed to generate yet one more Kelvin Wave and is likely the peak of this event. Regardless, at some point in the next month or so we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down completely and a normal trade pattern to take over even enhanced trades (which could result in La Nina). But that will likely not happen until sometime after this Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe late-February/early March. Previously Westerly Wind Bursts produced Kelvin Waves that resulted in the subsurface warm pool currently present in the tropical East Pacific that have formed El Nino.
El Nino is affecting the global atmospheric weather pattern at this point in time and is expected to continue having an impact into the Summer of 2010. This suggest that not only will the winter and spring storm pattern be enhanced in the North Pacific, but also the early summer storm track in the South Pacific too. All data suggests this is not a strong El Nino, more likely a solid moderate one. A respectable accumulation of warm surface water in the equatorial East Pacific and a solid pool of warn subsurface water remains in place, but seems to be eroding some suggesting El Nino has maxed out. But as long as there continues to be WWB's, then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold, and the atmosphere above it will respond in-kind to the change (towards El Nino). We expect this one last shot at another Kelvin Wave from the current Active Phase in-play now (Jan/Feb 2010) and then the slow degradation will begin in the ocean. But the atmosphere is already being strongly influenced by the warm water buildup over the past 6 months, and it will not return to a normal state for quite some time. This El Nino it is already larger and strong than any other in the past 12 years.
Strong El Nino's bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast along with the benefit of increased potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides that storm and swell enhancement, but more of a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. As of right now things are looking to be in the middle to high-end of a moderate event. Since anomalous water temps on the equator have not exceeded 3 degrees (nor are they forecast to) and the SOI remains unremarkable, this all suggests a modest El Nino is all we're going to see. This is clearly already enough to provide storm enhancement, and a better than average winter surf season for the North Pacific (that is already in evidence with 13 significant class storms on the record) , and still likely better than anything in the past 10 years. Better yet, if it's not too strong (as this event appears to be) perhaps it will not degrade into La Nina the year after (which typically happens after stronger El Nino's), but hold in some mild El Nino-like state for several years in a row. This would be an even better outcome.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest no swell producing fetch is to develop.
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