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 (2/11) in North and Central CA surf was surf was waist to chest high and clean. Down in Santa Cruz surf was knee to thigh high and clean, but weak. In Southern California up north surf was knee high and clean but weak and gutless. Down south waves were thigh high and clean but foggy. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting rideable surf with waves head high to maybe 1 ft overhead and clean and lined up. Certainly better than the mainland. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at waist high and chopped from trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a weak and diffuse cutoff gale in the Gulf of Alaska over the weekend was still hitting Hawaii but on the way down. Limited energy from this system was to start hitting Central CA later today (Tues 2/11). Secondary fetch from this system to generate fleeting pockets of 18 and 20 ft seas off Oregon Wed and again Thurs (2/13) offering more small swell for the US West Coast. But of more interest is a broader gale is forecast for the Gulf Fri-Sat (2/15) with 20 ft seas then building off Oregon Sun (2/16) with 26 ft seas targeting the US West Coast and continuing with 22-24 ft seas into Tues (2/18). And theoretically a new gale is to build off the Kuril Islands Mon (2/17) peaking Tuesday with up to 44 ft seas just west of the dateline targeting the US west coast and Hawaii. So it looks like some improvements in surf size are becoming more likely.
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 Tuesday (2/11) the jetstream was much like days previous, where it split directly east of Japan with the split flow pushing up the Kuril Islands and into the Bering Sea and heading north from there a little bit, stealing energy from the remaining flow that was tracking flat east on the 20-25N latitude line over the dateline with winds falling below 80 kts. The return flow from the Arctic was falling south into the Gulf at 70 kts forming a weak trough north of Hawaii offering little support for gale development. The return flow joined the main flow just north of Hawaii and together they were ridging slightly and pushing into Washington and Southern British Columbia at 130 kts bringing weather to that area. South of there high pressure was likely. Over the next 72 hours more of the same is forecast with the split continuing off Japan pushing up into the Bering Sea (though not as far north as previous) with a return flow falling south over the Western Gulf and joining the main flow just north of Hawaii continuing a weak trough of sorts though the period. The trough to offer limited support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. The jet to continue rising as it pushes into the US West Coast, up to Washington through Fri (2/14). The main flow is to still be down at 20-25N, 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, only reaching the Western Aleutians by late Sat (2/15). the two flow to consolidate north of Hawaii with 130 kt winds pushing up to the US West Coast near Northern CA by late Sunday with a trough developing off the Central CA coast by Monday with energy levels holding in the 130 kt range offering more support for gale development in the Gulf. And with the jet over the US West Coast to start falling south some By Tues (2/18), chances for weather to increase relative to Central CA.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (2/11) continued swell was hitting Hawaii from a diffuse gale that was in the Western Gulf over the previous weekend. Some of that energy is to be moving into California by late afternoon too (See Gulf low below).
Yet another pulse of north winds were in-play over Western Gulf on Tues AM (2/11) at 35 kts falling south through the evening expected to generate 19 ft seas at 42N 171W targeting Hawaii (332 degs). Fetch is to be fading out Wed AM (2/12) with seas holding at 19-20 ft at 40N 169W (336 degs HI and 1200 nmiles out). Possible 13 sec period swell for the Islands Sat AM (2/15) (see QuikCASTs for details).
A pulse of 35 kt west winds to develop from the previous low off Oregon on Thurs AM (2/13) lifting northeast into the evening generating 20 ft seas at 43N 140W targeting primarily the Pacific Northwest but also sending sideband energy to NCal down the 296 degree path and 850 nmiles out. Possible reinforcing small 12-13 sec period swell for NCal by late Fri PM (2/14) (See QuikCASTs for details).
Starting Thurs PM (2/13) a broader fetch of northwest winds at 35 kts is to start developing in the Western Gulf with seas building. By Fri AM (2/14) 30-35 kt northwest winds to be tracking east in the Central Gulf with 18 ft seas at 42N 161W (350 degs HI). Fetch is to continue east in the evening with seas building to 20 ft at 41N 151W (282 degs NCal). The fetch is to be fading from 30 kts off the Northern CA coast on Sat AM with seas 20 ft at 41N 140W (285 degs NCal, 296 degs SCal).
Assuming all goes as forecast some building 13 secs period swell seems likely for all of CA late in the weekend with sideband energy for Hawaii early Sunday (2/16).
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 continued into Sat PM with a tiny area of 18-20 ft seas at 36N 151W (270 degs NCal). This system was gone by Sun AM (2/9). Background swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast (see QuikCASTs for details).
Another Gulf Pulse
Another limited fetch of 35 kt north winds was falling south of the Eastern Aleutians Sat PM into Sun AM (2/9) generating 20-22 ft seas at 47N 173W barely aimed at Hawaii (337 degs HI). By evening this fetch was fading with winds down to barely 35 kts and seas 18 ft at 50N 163W (351 degs HI). More background swell for Hawaii (see QuikCASTs for details).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (2/11) high pressure was centered off Central CA ridging into the coast near Pt Reyes. Light winds were over the San Francisco Bay Area with north winds from Monterey Bay southward at 15-20 kts and south winds associated with low pressure in the Gulf from Cape Mendocino northward. A series of small weather systems to try and impact Northern CA Wed-Fri but mostly getting shunted north by the high pressure system holding off Central CA. San Francisco to be the dividing line between low pressure, south winds and rain to the north (South winds starting at Pt Arena but rain down to the North Bay Thursday) and north winds, clearing skies and high pressure to the south (Monterey Bay southward). A large gale is to be approaching California Saturday with south winds to Monterey Bay mid-day and rain building from the north to Monterey Bay late evening. Sunday AM high pressure is to build in again for most of California with rain clearing out. Maybe 2 inches of snow for Tahoe Sun AM. Another weather system to be approaching the state late Monday with south winds down to Pt Reyes Tues AM reaching to Monterey Bay late with rain too and maybe snow for Tahoe.
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 a building low in the Western Gulf is to develop on Sat AM (2/15) generating 35+ kt west winds extending from Kamchatka to the Central Gulf aimed at the US West Coast. Seas building from 20 ft over the entire expanse, or nearly 2600 nmiles. In the evening 35-40 kt west winds to hold from the dateline to a point just off Oregon with 22-30 ft seas aimed east over a large area reaching to 44N 145W (298 degs NCal). The fetch is to consolidate in the Gulf Sun AM (2/16) with 35 kt west winds there building 26 ft seas at 43N 140W (296 degs NCal). Fetch is to fade in the evening from 25-30 kts with seas still 20 ft over a large area from almost the dateline to the Oregon Coast. More swell being generated. Additional 30+ kt northwest to west winds to build in the Central Gulf Mon-Tues (2/18) setting up a broader area of 22 ft seas near 42N 138W (295 degs NCal). If all this develops as forecast, much sizable 13-14 secs period swell could results for the US West Coast.
Additionally a gale is to start building off Japan on Sat-Sun (2/16) taking on larger proportions Mon 92/17) while lifting northeast off Northern Japan with 45 kt northwest winds and seas building from 32 ft at 38N 160E (304 degs HI). The gale is to build to storm status in the evening with 50 kt west-northwest winds and seas building to 40 ft at 41N 166E aimed well down the 310 degree path to HI (297 degs NCal). 45-50 kt west winds to hold into Tues AM (2/18) with 42 ft seas at 43N 170E (315 degs HI, 298 degs NCal). Fetch and seas fading from there. Possible solid swell for HI if all goes as forecast. At least it's something to monitor.
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 (2/11) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -9.32. The 30 day average was down slightly to 11.98 and the 90 day average down to 6.80. This is what appears to finally be a reversal of an unexpected upward spike in the SOI 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 perhaps a long awaited new Active Phase of the MJO associated with a strong Westerly Wind Burst over the West Pacific in January . The longer term pattern was indicative of the Inactive Phase. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent and the dateline turning weakly westerly south of Hawaii. Wind anomalies turned easterly from there to a point off Central America. The 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 (2/19) modest westerly anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline continuing south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are forecast holding from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was gaining control of the dateline and points east of there and are to be holding if not building 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 2/10 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 only fade slightly over the next 15 days, reaching the dateline then. The dynamic model suggests much of the same but with the Active Phase weakening a bit quicker, but only at 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 2/11 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the West Pacific and is to track east while fading, moving inland over Central America on Mar 18 or more than a month away. This is what we want to see if some flavor of El Nino were to develop. A modest Inactive Phase is to start developing in the far West Pacific 3/10 and track east , reaching the Central Pacific at the end of the run or 3/23. This model has been all over the place lately, so no particular outcome is yet favored, though some consolidation around a prolonged Active Phase of the MJO is developing (which is good news). 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 (2/10) a cool water regime that unexpectedly developed on the equator south of Baja reaching to almost the dateline remains in play. But it is loosing coverage and depth as of the most recent image. This cool pool is likely the source of the rising SOI (above). What is 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 that warm pool appears to be weakening some as compared to previous images, with cooler waters now depicted directly along the coast there. this suggests a previous Kelvin Wave impacting the coast there is spent. Any previous suggestion of what looked like a weak El Nino signature remains 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. But 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 remain most impressive. 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 at +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 likely dissipated 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 for a short while, but not much (seeing how it's already dissipating). The hope is the January WWB over the Maritime Continent has set up another Kelvin Wave that will add more fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. But it's still way too early to know with any certainty (especially considering the cooler surface water temps discussed above).
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 2/11 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