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 Saturday (2/8) in North and Central CA surf was waist to chest high and chopped except at breaks protected by south wind. Rain. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to chest high and a chopped mess due to south wind. Rain too. In Southern California up north surf was waist high or so and lined up and clean. Not too bad. Down south waves were waist high and clean and lined up. Just a little texture early. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting some dateline swell with waves 1 ft overhead and realtievly clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at waist high and chopped from Kona wind at 10 kts.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Minimal sideband dateline swell that developed Sun-Mon (2/3) falling southeast towards Hawaii with 28 ft seas was fading in California on Saturday (2/8). A weak and diffuse cutoff gale developed in the Gulf on Fri (2/7) falling south but only generating 18 ft seas targeting mainly Hawaii on Sat (2/8). It's to turn to the east on Sunday with more 18 ft seas targeting the US West Coast. Perhaps some secondary fetch from this system to generate 22 ft seas well off Oregon late Mon (2/10) into Tuesday offering more small swell for the US West Coast with luck. A broader gale is forecast for the Gulf Fri-Sat with 26 ft seas building off Oregon and North CA. Looks like much weather to impact the California too (which isn't such a bad thing).
Note: NDBC has updated their buoy maintenance plan. 46012, 46013 and 46014 are scheduled for maintenance in May 2014. There is no schedule for 46059 or 46006.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (2/8) the jetstream was unchanged and split directly east of Japan with the split flow pushing up the Kuril Islands and into the Bering Sea and still heading north, stealing energy from the remaining flow that was tracking flat east on the 25N latitude line over the dateline with winds barely 100 kts. The return flow from the Arctic was falling south into the Gulf at 100 kts forming a trough north of Hawaii offering a little support for gale development with that return flow starting to join the main flow just north of Hawaii. The consolidated jet then ridged slightly and pushed into North CA at 130 kts brining weather to the north end of the state. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast with the split continuing off Japan pushing up into the Bering Sea with a return flow falling south over the dateline and joining the main flow just northwest of Hawaii forming a cutoff upper low of sorts though the period. The trough to offer limited support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. The just to rise as it pushes into the US West Coast, up to Washington on Tues (2/11). Of interest, the main flow is to be down at 20N, very far to the south, and picking up tropical moisture heading east. Beyond 72 hours the split is to continue off Japan but not tracking as far north up into the Bering Sea, eventually only reaching the Aleutians by late Friday (2/14). energy levels in the return flow to build to 130 kts on Saturday (2/15) offering better energy in the trough still in place in the Gulf offering more support for gale development. The jet over the US West Coast to start falling south some on Sat (2/15) down to Northern CA.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (2/8) mini swell from a gale that developed on the dateline earlier in the week was hitting California, but only with 2-3 ft faces at better breaks and buried under local windswell and chop. An upper level low developed over the Gulf of Alaska helping to support formation of a diffuse and weak gale in the Western Gulf of Alaska Fri (2/7) generating 30 kt north winds early and into the evening but not getting much traction on the oceans surface until Saturday AM (2/8) when 18 ft seas were indicated at 35N 159W (350 degs HI, 277 degs NCal). 35 kt west winds to continue into Sat PM with a tiny area of 18-20 ft seas are forecast at 36N 151W (270 degs NCal). This system is to be gone by Sun AM (2/9). Maybe some background swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast (see QuikCASTs for details).
Another limited fetch of 35-40 kt north winds to be falling south of the Eastern Aleutians Sat PM into Sun AM (2/9) generating 24 ft seas at 47N 173W barely aimed at Hawaii (337 degs HI). By evening this fetch is to be fading with winds down to barely 35 kts and seas 20 ft at 48N 164W (350 degs HI). Maybe some more background swell for Hawaii.
Another fetch of 35-40 kt west winds to develop off Oregon associated with this gale on Mon PM (2/10) generating 20 ft seas at 43N 147W (295 degs NCal) aimed mainly at Vancouver Island. 35 kt west winds to hold into Tues AM (2/11) with 22 ft seas near 46N 139W (308 degs NCal) offering more potential direct swell down to Oregon or so with indirect energy into North and Central CA. Something to monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (2/8) south winds continued in control of North and Central CA associated with low pressure in the Gulf pushing east. Rain was in play from Pt Conception northward while southern CA had light winds and clear skies with light high pressure over the area. Snow was falling over higher elevations of the Sierra with 24 inches having fallen the past few days. The bulk of the next front is to push inland through the day Saturday with a long trail of tropical moisture still extending from Hawaii into California. The south wind regime at 15 kts is to continue Sunday from Morro Bay northward. Solid rain for Central and North CA on Sunday extending south to maybe Morro Bay. Our model suggest 40 more inches of snow for Tahoe from Sat AM into Mon AM (2/10) but only for the highest elevations, and even that is likely overhyped. But another 20 inches would not be unreasonable. This is all very welcome. High pressure and a clearing pattern to build in behind for Southern CA Monday up into Pt Conception with northwest winds 15-20 kts over the Channel Islands perhaps reaching Monterey Bay. But a lighter wind pattern is suggested for San Francisco northward and holding Tuesday (2/11). 6 inches of snow for Tahoe Monday before the front clears out. Low pressure to continue to lock down the Gulf of Alaska reaching south to Oregon Tuesday. A series of small weather systems to try and impact Northern CA Wed-Thurs but mostly getting shunted north by high pressure holding off Central CA. San Francisco to be the dividing line between low pressure, south winds and rain to the north and north winds, clearing skies and high pressure to the south. Light rain, even in high elevations is forecast from maybe Monterey Bay northward with the dividing line moving north of San Francisco and Tahoe Fri AM (2/14). Light rain to be north of San Francisco on Friday. A large gale is to be approaching California Saturday with south winds to Monterey Bay mid-day and rain building from the north to Pt Reyes late morning.
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 far broader fetch associated with the same trough in the Western Gulf is to develop on Thurs (2/13) generating 35 kt northwest winds aimed mainly at Hawaii initially with a decent sized area of 20 ft seas expected Fri AM (2/14) near 42N 163W (347 degs HI) offering potential 13 sec period swell for the Islands. Winds to build Fri evening (2/14) to 35-40 kts over a solid area with a core to 45 kts turning towards the US West Coast with 24 ft seas at 42N 155W (293 degs NCal). Fetch to hold into Sat AM (2/15) and pushing towards the US West Coast with 26 ft seas at 42N 148W (292 degs NCal). Certainly interesting but likely a weather producer relative to Central CA too.
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 Saturday (2/8) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 9.32. The 30 day average was down slightly to 13.80 and the 90 day average down to 7.23. This is a continuation of what is an unexpected upward spike in the SOI but is perhaps related to the backside of the Kelvin Wave impacting South America (more below). The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of a Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of the Inactive Phase. We're still waiting for the SOI to turn negative in response to a strong Westerly Wind Burst that recently occurred in the West Pacific. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated neutral to slightly easterly anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning to weak westerly anomalies over the dateline continuing south of Hawaii then fading to neutral there to a point off Central America. These westerly anomalies are the remnants of a strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started 1/8, peaked 1/28 and then faded while moving over the dateline. A week from now (2/15) weak easterly anomalies are forecast over a small area of the Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline continuing south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the dateline and is easing east but is to be fading over the next week. Of most interest is the previous WWB which has created prime conditions for development of another Kelvin Wave.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/7 are reasonably in agreement. Both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was rebuilding over the far West Pacific with the Inactive Phase over the Central Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to ease east and fade 4-5 day out on the dateline then hold there at a weak status through the 15 day run of the model. The dynamic model suggests much of the same but with the Active Phase weakening quicker 8 days out and all but gone 15 days out. Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected, which is good news. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 2/8 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the Central Pacific and is to track east while fading, moving inland over Central America on Mar 5 or almost a month away. A neutral pattern to hold till 3/10 when a modest Inactive Phase is to start developing in the far West Pacific. This model has been all over the place lately, so no particular outcome is favored. 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 (2/6) a cool water regime that unexpectedly developed on the equator south of Baja reaching to almost the dateline remains in play. This is likely the source of the rising SOI (above). What is even more perplexing is that a Westerly Wind Burst was occurring at the same time this cool regime developed. Water temps are -0.5 deg C below normal over that region, moderating some from a week ago. Slightly warmer water remains on the equator nestled up to and off Ecuador, Chile and Peru, but appears to be weakening some as compared to previous images, suggesting a previous Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there is spent. Any previous suggestion of what looked like a weak El Nino signature has been erased in the mid-Pacific. The previous California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California is gone with warm waters continuing just off 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 remains dissipated. Current thinking is the cool pool on the equatorial Pacific is tied to the upwelling (backside) of the Kelvin Wave currently impacting South America, and that as that portion of the wave moves inland, temperatures will rise again. There's no sign of a legitimate warm pattern developing. For now we remain in a pure neutral pattern, with tendencies towards a cooler state as of 2/4, a downgrade from previous suggestions of a warming pattern developing.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator are improving. Cooler than normal water (-2 deg c) that was 100m down at 110W (off Central America) has moderated to -1 C and there's continued signs the entire pool is still loosing it's grip. But for now this cool patch is continuing to block any warm flow trying to move east. But at the same time a large area of warm water nearly +3 deg C is building under the dateline and increasing in temp and coverage with it's leading edge moving east now to 125W (+1 deg C). This is the start of a new large Kelvin Wave generated by 24 days of modest to strong westerly anomalies west of the dateline (a Westerly Wind Burst). All warm water from a previous Kelvin Wave is now east of the TOA buoys and off the chart with the cool pool behind it a normal response to the previous warm wave. The warm pool off Central America 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 still ab it too early to know with any certainty (especially considering the cooler surface water temps discussed above).
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 2/8 are holding steady. 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 +1.2 deg C range by Oct 2014 (down from 1.3-1.4 C earlier). 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