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 Wednesday (2/19) in North and Central CA surf was 2 ft overhead and blown out with northwest winds in full effect. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high and clean but weak and sloppy. In Southern California up north surf was chest to head high and clean and lined up, looking a bit more energetic. Down south waves were chest to shoulder high and coming from the north, with light northerly texture. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more northerly swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and clean and lined up. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap-around swell at chest to shoulder high and clean with light southeast trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Secondary fetch that was in the Gulf of Alaska Mon-Tues (2/18) produced 22 ft seas targeting the US West Coast. Swell arrival expected late Wed-early Thurs for Central CA. And a gale built off the Kuril Islands on Mon (2/17) holding stationary there with up to 34 ft seas over a small area targeting the US West Coast, but closer to Hawaii. This system started tracking east with seas fading below 20 ft, but is expected to rebuild Thurs (2/20) with 22 ft seas targeting the Islands from the dateline. Swell for Hawaii Thurs-Fri (2/21) and continuing through the weekend with lesser energy. A bit of a break until the remnants of the Hawaiian system re-develop well north of Hawaii on Sun (2/23) with maybe a small area of 28-30 ft seas Monday targeting the US West Coast. Additional fetch to result as this gale takes up residence in the Gulf Wed-Thurs (2/27) with 24 ft seas forecast. Perhaps more swell to result mainly for the US West Coast.
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 Wednesday (2/19) the Active Phase of the MJO was starting to feed the jetstream mainly over Japan. There winds were 180 kts flowing east on the 35N latitude, reaching just to the dateline where winds energy dropped to 110 kts. A slight split developed there, but not complete. Instead a broad swath of 70 kt winds pushed east-northeast, with the strongest of those winds ridging into the Pacific Northwest pushing 110 kts with lesser energy reaching down to Northern Baja. No troughs of interest were present yet offering no real support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours winds to build to 190 kts ridging off Japan and pushing to the dateline Fri (2/21), then falling southeast from there to a point 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii and splitting with the northern branch turning hard north and tracking up into Alaska with winds 90 kts and the southern branch falling southeast over Hawaii heading towards the equator.A weak trough is to form right west of the split point in the Western Gulf with everything holding at least into Sat (2/22). Reasonable support for gale development there in lower levels of the atmosphere. Beyond 72 hours the consolidated jet is to flatten out tracking from Japan flat over the dateline at 180 kts and then falling southeast to a point near 140W or 900 nmiles west of San Diego on Mon (2/24) with some flavor of a weak trough continuing in the Gulf. The trough is to get better developed Wed (2/26) with the remaining energy not peeling off to the north pushing directly into Northern Baja and Southern CA. Winds in the jet to fade to 150 kts by late Wednesday but covering a elongated area from just off Japan to just off Southern CA. Decent support for gale development possible.
Surface Analysis - On Wednesday (2/19) residual swell originating from a Gale in the Gulf on Sun (2/16) with 26 ft seas was continuing to hit North and Central CA, but dropping some. High pressure and northerly winds were in control of the North and Central coasts. Swell from a Secondary Gulf Low was queued up right behind for California (see Secondary Gulf Energy below). Also swell energy from the same gale system that was in the Western Gulf was continuing to hit Hawaii, but fading. Next up for the Islands is swell from a gale that was off Japan (see Japan Gale below).
Secondary Gulf Energy
Additional 30-35 kt northwest to west winds built in the Central Gulf Mon evening (2/17) generating 20-22 ft seas at 44N 150W (295 degs NCal). Fetch held at 30-35 kts over a small area Tues AM (2/18) pushing east and generating more 22 ft seas near 47N 143W (308 degs NCal) and targeting primarily Oregon and Washington. 30 kt west winds held into Wed AM just off the Washington Coast with 18 ft seas down to 47N 135W or in the 317 degree path to NCal.
More swell of 7 ft @ 13-14 secs (9.0 ft) northwest angled swell (303-310 degrees) is expected to result for Central CA starting late-Wed (2/19) fading from 7 ft @ 13-14 secs (9.0 ft) Thurs AM (2/20).
A gale built over Japan on Sat (2/16) pushing into open waters off North Japan Sun AM (2/16) with with 45 kt northwest winds and seas building to 28 ft at 37N 147E aimed south of even Hawaii. In the evening 45 kt westerly winds took hold off Japan with 32 ft seas building at 37N 152E (300 degs HI). The gale held position and strength Mon AM (2/17) with 40-45 kt west-northwest winds over a larger area and seas holding at 32 ft at 37N 158E aimed well down the 305 degree path to HI (296 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds were fading in the evening with 27 ft seas at 35-40N 162E (299-306 degs HI, 294-300 degs NCal). Fetch and seas were fading from there with 35 kt west winds Tues AM (2/18) and seas fading from 25 ft over a solid area at 36-41N 160E (300-307 degs HI, 295-299 degs NCal). This system is effectively dead with no additional fetch forecast in the evening.
Possible decent swell for Hawaii with much lesser energy into the US West Coast.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Thurs afternoon (2/20) with swell to 3 ft @ 18 secs (5.0 ft) building to 5.7 ft @ 15-16 secs (8.5 ft) on Friday afternoon (2/21). Swell fading from 5.4 ft @ 14-15 secs 97.5 ft0 Sat AM (2/22)e. Swell Direction: 300-305 degrees
Small swell for NCal starting Sat afternoon (2/22) to 2 ft @ 18 secs (3.5 ft) peaking Sun afternoon (2/23) at 2.8 ft @ 15-16 secs (4.0-4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 294-300 degrees
Japan Gale (Part 2)
Remnants of the Japan gale are forecast redevelop Thurs AM (2/20) west of the dateline generating a fetch of 30-35 kt west-northwest winds and seas building to 22 ft at 38N 165E (305 degs HI). Fetch is to push east in the evening with 23 ft seas pushing to 35N 176E (306 degs HI). Fetch is to fade Fri AM from 30 kts with residual seas fading from 20 ft at 35N 176W (313 degs HI).
Possible small secondary swell expected for the Islands starting Sun (2/23) at 7.0-7.5 ft @ 14 secs (10 ft faces) then fading Monday (2/24) from 6.5 ft @ 13 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 306-310 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Wednesday AM (2/19) high pressure at 1026 mbs was in control off Pt Conception with north winds 15-20 kts along the coast there and 15 kt or better everywhere else up into North CA. Southern CA remained in a calm eddy. Winds to turn to the northeast early Thursday (2/20) for Central CA but then come back onshore near noontime. Perhaps some slackening of those winds Friday (northeast early for Central CA) as high pressure starts ridging into the Pacific Northwest but not making it. As a result northwest winds 10+ kts are forecast on Saturday for all North and Central CA . The high is to fade Sunday with a light northerly flow (5 kts for North and Central CA in the afternoon). Winds fading even more Monday as low pressure builds in the Gulf of Alaska pushing closer to the coast but doesnt reach it even on Tuesday (2/25) with a light wind pattern projected except south winds for Cape Mendocino 10 kts. Wednesday (2/26) the leading edge of the low is to glance the Coast with south winds down to Monterey Bay and up to 25 kt for Cape Mendocino. Light rain from Pt Reyes northward by the evening.
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 small gale is to develop 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii Sun AM (2/23) tracking east with 40 kt west winds over a tiny area with seas building from 24 ft at 38N 162W (350 degs HI, 284 degs NCal). 40-45 kt west winds building into the evening with seas building to 25 ft at 37N 155W targeting primarily the US West Coast (284 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds to be holding Mon AM (2/24) with 28-30 ft seas at 38N 149W (284 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal). Fetch to be fading from 35 kt in the evening with seas dropping from 25 ft at 40N 144W (285 degs NCal). Possible nice little swell for CA if all goes as forecast.
But another tiny gale is to develop off NCal Tues PM (2/25) with 40 kt west winds building to 45 kts Wed AM (2/26) with 30 ft seas over an infinitesimal area at 42N 137W aimed east (295 degs NCal). This system is a long way from forming still but is worth watching.
A broader fetch of 30-35 kt west winds is to be forming in the Western Gulf on Wed-Thurs (2/27) generating 22 ft seas aimed east too. And maybe a stronger system for the Gulf right behind 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 Wednesday (2/19) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 2.93. The 30 day average was down to 4.10 and the 90 day average down slightly to 6.17. This appears to finally be a reversal of an unexpected upward spike in the SOI during January tied to decreasing surface waters temps in the Central Equatorial Pacific. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of a new Active Phase of the MJO associated with a strong Westerly Wind Burst over the West Pacific in January. The longer term pattern was still indicative of the Inactive Phase, but was improving. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated moderate plus strength westerly anomalies over the Maritime Continent and expanding in coverage continuing weakly westerly over the dateline. East anomalies were south of Hawaii midway to Central America, then turning neutral into Central America. The westerly anomalies are part of a new Active Phase of the MJO. They are situated directly over an area where a previous strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) started 1/8, peaking 1/28 and then faded while moving over the dateline. A week from now (2/27) strong westerly anomalies are forecast holding over the Maritime Continent fading on the dateline then turning light to moderately easterly south of Hawaii half way to Central America. Neutral anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was gaining control of the West Pacific to the dateline with the Inactive Phase holding over the Central Pacific. And with a previous WWB likely creating a large Kelvin Wave with yet another possible WWB setting up now, things are getting most interesting. Still, the cool pool in the Central Pacific is perplexing.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/18 are reasonably in agreement. Both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was rebuilding over the far West Pacific with the Inactive Phase all but gone over the Central Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is peaked out and is to slowly fade over the next 15 days, never making it to the dateline and gone at the 15 day mark. Conversely the dynamic model suggests the Active Phase peaking 5-10 days out then holding while slowly while tracking east to the dateline 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 2/19 suggests a moderate Active Phase was over the West Pacific and is to track east while holding, moving inland over Central America on Mar 12 or almost 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 3/7 and track east, reaching the East Pacific at the end of the run or 3/31. Another diffuse Active Phase to follow directly. The consensus is that some prolonged Active Phase of the MJO is developing (which is good news) and is to hold for the next 3-4 weeks. 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 (2/17) the ground truth is that a cool water regime continues to hold on the equator now starting along the coast of Peru and reaching east to 150W. This suggests the pools influence is tracking slow east. If anything it has strengthened in terms of coverage and concentration. This cool pool was likely the source of the rising SOI during later January. What remains 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 extending to 170W, moderating some from a week ago. The pool of slightly warmer water that previously was on the equator nestled up to and off Ecuador, Chile and Peru has dissipated with cooler water taking root. 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 by NOAA is that the cool pool in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific is tied to the upwelling (backside) of the previous 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 from a surface water temp perspective. But there's also some suggestions that normal convergence point of an eastward shifted Walker Circulation might be developing on the dateline, with west anomalies west of it and east anomalies east of it, all converging and pushing up on the dateline itself. This would be expected if the early stages of El Nino were in-play. But for now we'll remain conservative and suggest we are in a pure neutral pattern, with tendencies towards a cooler state and upwelling in the east and downwelling and warmer temps in the west as of 2/17. Still, two back to back WWBs coupled with easterly anomalies directly east of them is suspicious.
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 moved to 100W. There's some 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 now up to 5 deg C is building under the dateline and increasing in temp and coverage with it's leading edge moving east now to 100W (+1 deg C) and is tracking under the cool pool. 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 dissipated with the cool pool behind it a normal response to the previous warm wave. 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. The concern is that the current cool pool might try to put a cap on the upwhelling of this new Kelvin Wave as it tries to impact the South America coast. But it's still way too early to know with any certainty how this will play out. But signs remain promising.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 2/19 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 in the +1.0 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 recent developing cool pool at depth off Central America gives 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