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 Sunday (2/21) North and Central California was getting westerly residual swell from Saturday with waves in the 1-2 ft overhead range and reasonably clean though lurpy. Southern California was also getting the same westerly swell with waves shoulder to maybe head high up north and up to 1 ft overhead down south and clean though a little broken up and lumpy. Hawaii's North Shore was getting nice swell with waves double overhead or better and clean as can be coming from the northern dateline region. Well lined up too. The East Shore was getting the same wrap-around northwest swell with waves 1-2 ft overhead. The South Shore was getting new southern hemi swell with waves waist to chest high and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for El Nino to roll on with a variety of westerly swell in the 13 sec range starting Monday at 2 ft overhead holding Tuesday then possible coming up later Wednesday to 10 ft on the face before fading some Thursday and dropping to 6 ft Friday. Another pulse expected in for the weekend. Southern California is to see the same pattern with new local swell and dateline swell arriving Monday to chest high or so holding into Tuesday and even Wednesday with longer period swell building underneath late. That new swell to peak out Thurs AM at 1 ft overhead then drop to chest high Friday. More size is possible for the weekend. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see fading northern dateline swell fading from double overhead Monday. But a new sideband swell is expected in on Tuesday again pushing double overhead fading from 3 ft overhead Wednesday. More sideband swell for Thursday at possibly 1-2 ft overhead then back to near double overhead on Friday. The East Shore is to see no easterly windswell until maybe next weekend (2/26) though wrap around swell from the North Shore is likely. The South Shore is to have more southern hemi swell Monday at chest high range and holding with some form of rideable surf into the end of the workweek.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) has moved into a neutral state, though is hinting of turning back to a weak form of the Active Phase into mid-March. If this is turns to reality it would slightly enhance storm development in the north and southern hemispheres. On the charts a decent little storm has developed pushing from the dateline into the Gulf Sat-Mon (2/22) with up to 50 kt winds and 39 ft seas. Perhaps some longer period swell to result for the US West Coast by Wed/Thurs (2/25) and down into Hawaii by Tuesday (2/23). Another weaker one is to follow on it's heals Wed/Thurs with up to 35 ft seas and another behind that next weekend. For California a front is forecast hitting the coast Tuesday bringing winds and rain but fading fast into Wednesday, with good wind conditions for the rest of the week until the weekend through rain is forecast by Friday. Nowhere near as bad as the models had previously hinted at, though not necessarily good either.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Sunday (2/21) the North Pacific jetstream was consolidated and flowing flat east on the 30N latitude off Japan with a pocket of winds to 150 kts pushing from there to the dateline, then trickling down to 110 kts and dipping south along the California coast before pushing inland over Central Baja. A weak broad trough was over the Eastern Pacific providing limited support for gale development and a big upper high was over the Northern Canadian Coast. Over the next 72 hrs the energy levels to drop across the jet with winds maxing out at 140 kts and mostly in the 120 kts range, again with a broad but generally weak trough centered just east of the dateline offering limited support for gale development. The pattern to be weakest off California, with the trough off there dissipating, but opening the door for the core of the jet to move onshore by Wednesday over NCal. Beyond 72 hours things are to get goosed up a little with and interesting semi-split pattern taking over by Friday but with 2 troughs forecast, one on the dateline with 180 kts winds flowing under it and another in the Eastern Gulf with 150 kts winds flowing under it, both supporting gale development and tracking east, with the one pushing into CA by the weekend and the other moving into the Eastern GUlf and holding strength. But beyond the split pattern is to become very pronounced in the West Pacific effectively shutting storm development down by the weekend and pushing hard to the east, likely having the same effect there in the days beyond.
At the surface on Sunday (2/18) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was just northeast of Hawaii providing minimal protection there but was not making any headway into the US West Coast with a neutral pressure pattern there. A storm was 1200 nmiles northwest of Hawaii (see Dateline Storm below). with a second one building west of the dateline. Trades at near 20 kts were just north of the equator stretch almost the width of the Pacific though dying well east of the Philippines. Over the next 72 hours the remnants of the Dateline Storm are to push east and up into the Eastern Gulf of Alaska with a front pushing into North and Central CA on Tuesday making for south winds and rain there. A new gale is to be building west of the dateline (label this the Second Dateline Storm) and is to be of some interest. On Sunday evening (2/21) a fragmented fetch of 40-45 kt northwest winds is forecast at roughly 43N 170E aimed well down the 313 degree path to Hawaii and pretty much too far south of the 296 degree path to NCal. Seas are to start building. By Monday AM (2/22) a small but consolidated fetch of 45 kt northwest winds are forecast at 43N 173E taking good aimed on Hawaii down the 319 degree path. 28 ft seas forecast at 43N 177E but only over a tiny area. It is to hold it's ground in the evening with 40 kt winds at 44N 177E aimed best at Hawaii with 29 ft seas at 43N 179E. This system is to continue there on Tuesday AM (2/23) again with near 45 kt northwest winds and 29 ft seas at 44N 175W pushing more to the east (296 degrees NCal and 40 degrees east of the 331 degree path to Hawaii). In the evening yet more 40-45 kt northwest winds are forecast at 43N 178E with 32 ft seas building at 43N 179E. This system is to drop southeast on Wednesday AM (2/24) with 40 kt residual winds at 40N 176W with 35 ft sea forecast at 41N 178W. In the evening a limited 40 kts west fetch is to hold at 38N 169W generating more 35 ft seas at 40N 172W (296 Ncal - 331 deg Hawaii) through that seems a bit optimistic. Winds fading from 35 kts Thurs AM (2/25) with seas dropping from 32 ft at 39N 164W. Good odds for a long run of 15-17 sec period swell for the Islands possibly into significant class size with utility swell for the US West Coast. But the remnants of this system are forecast to reorganize just off North CA on Friday (2/26) pushing into the coast the day beyond likely making a mess of things there.
Kuril Island Storm
Also on Wednesday AM (2/17) a storm off the Kuril Islands regenerate with 55 kt west winds at 50N 168E aimed right up the 308 degree path to North CA and shadowed by the Aleutians for the Pacific Northwest. Seas building. In the evening 50 kt west fetch is to hold at 50N 172E aimed right up the 306 degree path to NCal with seas building to 37 ft at 50N 170E. Thursday AM (2/18) the storm is to start fading with a broad fetch of 40-45 kt west winds at 50N 172E aimed right up the 306 degree path to NCal with seas at 36 ft at 49N 176E (2900 nmiles out). The storm is to be down to gale status in the evening with winds 35 kts and fading fast. Residual seas of 32 ft forecast at 49N 175E and fading fast.
Sideband swell to hit Hawaii on Sunday (2/21) at 8 ft @ 15-16 secs mid-day (12-13 ft faces) heading down on Monday. That forecast might be a little on the high side though. Swell Direction: 325 degrees
Expect swell arrival in North CA at 11 AM Monday (2/22) with period 18 secs and building to maybe 6.8 ft @ 17 secs by sunset (11 ft faces). Swell Direction (305-306 degrees).
On Saturday AM (2/20) a small little storm wound up on the dateline generating 50 kt west-northwest winds at 43N 180W aimed 20 degrees south of the 296 degree path in to California and 30 degrees east of the 323 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were building. In the evening winds built to 55 kts at 44N 177W pushing 20 degrees south of the 296 degree path to NCal and 35 degrees east of the 328 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were up to 35 ft at 43N 175W.
On Sunday AM (2/21) winds were fading with 45 kt westerly fetch at 42N 168W aimed 20 degrees south of the 291 degree path to NCal and pretty much bypassing any route to Hawaii off to the east. Seas were modeled peaking at 39 ft at 42N 168W In the evening fetch is to be dissipating with winds down to 35 kts at 40N 160W with seas dropping from 36 ft at 40N 162W.
On Monday no fetch is to be left with seas from previous fetch at 32 ft at 39N 154W.
This was not a strong storm by any historical perspective, just your typical short lived winter system. Still it should be enough to push sizeable sideband swell down into the Islands and solid utility class swell towards Central and North CA, though a little bit too far north to be optimal for Southern CA.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival Tuesday (2/24) at 5 AM HST with period 17 secs and size building rapidly to 8.4 ft @ 17 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) and holding for the earlier part of the day. Swell Direction: 323-328 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival starting Wednesday (2/24) at 1 AM with period 18 secs and peaking just after sunrise with swell 7.8 ft @ 17 secs (13 ft faces). Swell Direction 292-295 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (2/21) a light southwest flow was in effect over Central CA with patches of light rain still lingering with a front falling apart over the state. Better conditions in Southern CA with light wind and no rain (at least not yet). Light rain to start building into Southern CA Monday with northwest winds at 15-20 kts over outer waters. A light wind pattern is expected up north ahead of the next front. By Tuesday the next front is to be organizing off the Central Coast with 20 kt south winds and moderate rain expected late down to Morro Bay with steady snow in the mountains. The precipitation is to relent on the coast Wednesday with snow continuing in higher elevations but light winds on the coast turning northwest. Thursday to be a transition day with light winds (except northwest 15 kts near Pt Conception) while a strong gale organizes off the coast. The front arrives Friday AM pushing to Pt Conception late AM with south winds and rain down into Southern CA late afternoon. Solid snow in the mountains. A secondary system is forecast slip[ping southeast behind the main system on Saturday (2/27) bringing hard north winds to Central CA with a good dose of rain from Monterey Bay southward and clearing on Sunday though north winds to continue over North and Central CA.
At the surface another small gale was tracking northeast off New Zealand with seas to 30 ft at 06Z Tues (2/16) at 55S 168W. Small southern hemi swell is expected into Hawaii starting Mon (2/22) with swell building tom maybe 2 ft @ 17 secs late (3.5 ft faces) holding at 2 ft @ 16 secs (3 ft faces) Tues (2/23) then heading slowly down through the later past of the workweek. Swell Direction: 185-190 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 the remnants of the Second Dateline Storm are to reorganize just off the Pacific Northwest and Northern CA coast on Friday (2/26) pushing directly over the Central and Southern CA coast on Saturday with a small area of high pressure right behind, likely setting up a nice bit of rain and northerly winds into the weekend (2/28) for CA.
But another broad gale is forecast developing just east of the dateline late Thurs (2/26), and getting sizeable on Friday (2/26) with 45-50 kts winds forecast aimed both at HAwaii and California and covering a rather large area. This system is to push east on Saturday with more 45 kt north and west fetch forecast likely generating larger seas, then simmering down some on Sunday in the Central Gulf of Alaska (40-45 kt northwest winds targeting the US West Coast). It's way too early to know anything for sure but this system has the potential to generate some larger swell (seas modeled in excess of 35 ft).
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Sunday (2/21) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) appeared to be fading from the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was neutral with the Daily SOI at 0.67. The 30 day average was up to -23.61 (It bottomed out on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average up slightly -12.71 (bottomed out at -13.61 on 2/15).
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated normal winds across the Pacific Ocean with no signs of the Active Phase left. But interestingly a new area of anomalously west winds were depicted in the eastern Indian Ocean, symptomatic of the Active Phase and pushing to the east. Seems hard to believe another pulse of Active Phase anomalies could be developing right on the heels of a 41 day Active Phase episode. If this is true, gale development could again be assisted by the MJO. And with the effects of El Nino on the atmosphere already well entrenched, that momentum will be very slow to dissipate over the coming next 6 months. We will continue 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 (2/18) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator more towards the dateline and less in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. This looks 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 still in the moderate category and holding, not building. We are past the peak of this ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator things continue to surge a little thanks to the previous 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. Two Kelvin Waves which that had been impacting the the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast in Jan are fading with only 3 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. 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 holding there on 2/10 and starting to merge with the existing Kelvin Wave off Ecuador. Temps were up to nearly 5 deg C above normal on 2/18 at 150W and officially reached 5 degrees on 2/21 at 155W. This is expected to 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. 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- 2/15 solid Westerly Winds were occurring just south of the equator to 155W with solid anomalies to 140W. Even on 2/18-2/21 limited fully blowing west winds were still in-play with anomalies to 150W. This is what is generating the Kelvin Wave under the dateline pushing east. Regardless, at some point in the next few days (surprised it hasn't happened already) we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down completely and a normal trade pattern to take over or even enhanced trades (which could result in La Nina). 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. This has not been a strong El Nino, more of 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