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 (2/25) in North and Central CA surf was waist to chest high and warbled, weak and windy. Not really rideable at exposed breaks. Down in Santa Cruz surf was thigh high or so on the sets and clean but small and not really rideable. In Southern California up north surf was maybe knee high and heavily textured. Not rideable. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and lined up with some texture on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting northwesterly windswell with waves chest to head high and warbled and a bit unorganized. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were knee to thigh high and warbled with Kona north winds in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A new gale developed well north of Hawaii late Sun (2/23) resulting in a small area of 30 ft seas holding all day Monday west of San Francisco then lifting north and fading Tuesday while targeting the US West Coast. Swell for Central CA by Wed (2/26). Additional fetch to develop north-northwest of Hawaii Wed (2/26) tracking southeast Thurs (2/27) with 22 ft seas forecast. Sideband energy possible for Hawaii while the gale redevelops off Pt Conception late Fri with 30 ft seas targeting Southern CA southward. And a broader and stronger gale to follow on the dateline Thurs-Sat (3/1) with up to 40 ft seas projected targeting both Hawaii and the US West Coast. Weak secondary fetch to follow directly over the same area with 24 ft seas on the dateline Mon (3/3). And perhaps another small system to follow behind that.
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 (2/25) the Active Phase of the MJO continued to feed the jetstream with solid wind tracking off Japan pushing flat over the dateline up near 35N and peaking at 190 kts then gently falling south east into a small trough 900 nmiles west of San Francisco. East of there the jet split with 70 kt winds tracking up into Alaska with the remaining energy splitting again with some energy falling southeast towards the equator and the rest pushing into Northern Baja. Limited support for gale development was possible in the trough off Central CA. Over the next 72 hours the jet is to hold flattening even more with 180 kt winds north of Hawaii on Wednesday (2/26) with the trough easing east pushing into Northern CA late. At the same time 2 new troughs to develop to the west, one just west of the dateline and the other north of Hawaii and both amplifying into Friday (2/28). At that time the dateline trough is to push northwest of Hawaii with 160 kts winds supporting it and the other is poised to move into Central CA. Support for gale development possible from both. Beyond 72 hours the remaining trough is to track north of Hawaii on Sun (3/2) with winds fading in the apex of the trough from 150 kts and support for gale development waning. Energy levels elsewhere in the jet to drop to the 110 kt range with the jet becoming a bit diffuse, though still flowing flat west of Japan right into Central CA with no signs of a split developing. But by late Tues (3/4) 170 kt winds to redevelop just west of the dateline up to 37N with a broad weak trough starting to develop north of Hawaii and the remaining energy pushing into the Pt Conception area. It still looks very much like a real winter jet pattern is to hold for the next week.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (2/25) a gale was lifting north off the California coast with swell in the water and pushing towards the US West Coast (see California Gale below). Over the next 72 hours a secondary fetch of 35 kt northwest winds to build Wed AM (2/26) in the Gulf 1100 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii getting a little traction. 24 ft seas area forecast at 38N 162W (350 degs Hi). By evening those winds to push southeast still at 30-35 kts with 22 ft seas at 36N 156W or almost due north of Hawaii (355+ degs) and on the 275 degree track to North CA. 30 kt winds to continue falling southeast Thurs AM (2/27) with 22 ft seas at 34N 149W bypassing Hawaii and NCal and mainly on the 280 degree path to Southern CA. This system to start regrouping Thursday PM with 35 kt west winds building off the Southern CA coast with 21 ft seas holding at 30N 140W. On Fri AM (2/28) 45 kt northwest winds to build over a tiny area off Pt Conception with 30 kt west winds all targeting Southern CA. Seas building from 26 ft up at 35N 133W (281 degs SCal). 40 kt northwest winds to be pushing towards the SCal coast in the evening with 30 ft seas projected at 33N 130W (275 degs SCal). Fetch is to be nearly gone Sat AM (3/1) at 30 kts just outside the Channel Islands with 25 ft seas at 31N 124W (268 degs SCal). Possible raw swell for mainly Southern CA if all comes together as forecast. Much weather likely too upon swell arrival.
A small gale developed 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii Sun AM (2/23) tracking east with 30 kt west winds over a tiny area with seas on the increase. 40 kt west winds built into the evening with seas building to 24 ft at 36N 155W targeting primarily the US West Coast (283 degs NCal). 40-45 kt west winds built into Mon AM (2/24) over a slightly broader area with 30 ft seas at 36N 149W (274 degs NCal, 284 degs SCal). Fetch held at 40-45 kts in the evening while starting to lift north with seas holding at 30 ft up at 37N 146W (277 degs NCal, 288 degs SCal). On Tues AM (2/25) winds were fading from 35-40 kts while the gale lifted north. Seas were fading from 25 ft at 39N 143W (284 degs NCal, 292 degs SCal). A quick fade is expected by the evening.
A nice little swell for CA (North and South) is possible but will likely be hamper by local winds.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Wed AM (2/26) with period 17 secs and size building through the day, peaking near 6.5 ft @ 15 secs (9.5 ft) mid-afternoon. Swell fading Thursday from 6 ft @ 13 secs (7.5 ft) through the day. Swell Direction: 275 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival late afternoon Wed (2/26) reaching 1.5-2.0 ft @ 17 secs late (2.5-3.0 ft). Swell to peak sunrise Thurs (2/27) at 3.5 ft @ 15 secs (5.0-5.5 ft) and fading slightly through the day. Swell fading from 2.9 ft @ 12-13 secs (3.5 ft) Fri AM (2/28). Swell Direction: 284-288 degs)
Possible Dateline Gale
Of more interest is a gale forecast developing on the dateline Wednesday evening with 40 kt northwest winds setting up over a decent sized area targeting Hawaii initially. By Thurs AM (2/27) with a small area of 55 kts northwest winds are to build with 30 ft seas at 43N 175E (319 degs HI). 55 kt northwest winds to hold into the evening falling slightly southeast with 40 ft seas developing at 41N 175E (315 degs HI, 294 degs NCal). 45-50 kt northwest winds to hold into Friday AM (2/28) on the dateline targeting Hawaii. Seas holding at 39 ft at 38N 180W (315 degs HI, 290 degs NCal). 40-45 kt northwest winds to hold falling southeast into the evening with barely 37 ft seas at 37.5 176W (318 degs HI, 287 degs NCal). Fetch to be fading from 40 kts Sat AM (3/1) pushing flat east with 36 ft seas at 38N 170W (331 degs HI, 287 degs NCal). 35 kt west winds to be pushing east in the evening with seas fading from 33 ft at 38N 165W (285 degs NCal). A quick fade to follow. Possible swell to result for HI and CA if one is to believe the models.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (2/25) low pressure was filling the Gulf of Alaska and extending east to the dateline. No real high pressure was in the local picture. South winds were in control of the Central and North Coasts. Wednesday (2/26) the leading edge of the low is to hit the coast with south winds 20 kts early down to Monterey Bay and up to 25 kts for Cape Mendocino building to 20 kts down to Pt Conception later. Light rain from Monterey Bay northward early building to Pt Conception and Southern CA late. Thursday a light southerly flow is forecast for the North and Central Coasts early. 12-18 inches of snow possible for Tahoe ending late afternoon. Rain clearly through the morning. But then Round #2 queues up with south winds 20 kts for all of Central CA late even working into Southern CA. The bulk of the front is forecast arriving over South and Central CA Fri AM (2/28) with 20 kt south winds projected. Solid rain early for North Baja northward to near Cape Mendocino peaking late morning with the most precip in Southern CA to Big Sur . Heavy snow building through the day from Tahoe southward to Mammoth. The Southern Sierras to be the main focus. Saturday southwest winds to mainly be affecting Southern CA and to slowly give up ground as a new system builds north of Hawaii. Snow and rain tapering off late. 2+ ft of accumulation at Tahoe and down to Mammoth. Weak high pressure and a light northerly flow is forecast for North and Central CA on Sunday with light winds for SCal. Monday and Tuesday more of the same is forecast. Light rain for the North CA coast.
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 broad fetch of 35 kt northwest winds to build over the dateline Sun PM (3/2) with a large area of 20 ft seas targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast. That fetch area is to be fading from 35 kt on the dateline Mon AM (3/3) with 25 ft seas at 41N 172W targeting both Hawaii and the US West Coast. Fetch is to be fading fast Mon PM from 30-35 kts with seas 24 ft at 40N 169W (336 degs HI). Perhaps more 13-14 sec period swell for all locations with luck.
And another small gale is forecast developing behind that on Tues (3/4) with 24 ft seas projected for the dateline over a small area.
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 (2/25) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -1.39. The 30 day average was down to 1.39 and the 90 day average down slightly to 4.02. This is 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 and another developing in February. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. 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 holding over the Maritime Continent and expanding in coverage continuing weak westerly over the dateline to a point south of Hawaii. Minimal east anomalies were south of Mexico then turning neutral into Central America. These westerly anomalies are part of a new Active Phase of the MJO and appear to be the second Westerly Wind Burst in two months in this area. 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 (3/5) strong westerly anomalies are forecast building over the Maritime Continent (per the dynamic model) associated with building tropical systems directly north and south of the equator. This is a classic El Nino setup if one is to believe the models. Winds are to be fading to neutral on the dateline then returning to moderate westerly anomalies to a point south of Hawaii, then turning easterly from there continuing 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 in control of the West Pacific and dateline regions with a weak Inactive Phase holding over the Central Pacific. Things are getting very interesting with a previous WWB likely creating a large Kelvin Wave and then this current WWB (which is already nearly as strong as the previous one) setting up and offering yet more warm water transport east. And if the westerly anomalies build as forecast a week out, the long term scenario could get most interesting. Of historical note: The big El Nino's of 82/32 and 97/98 both started forming in the February timeframe and progressed non-stop through the Summer and Fall months. Still the cool pool in the Central Pacific remains a bit perplexing.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 2/24 are a little mixed but in reasonable agreement. Both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over the far West Pacific with no indication of the Inactive Phase over the Central Pacific. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase has peaked out over the dateline and is to slowly fade over the next 15 days while tracking east, but not completely gone at the 15 day mark. Conversely the dynamic model suggests the Active Phase is to peak 10 days out while holding steady on the dateline 15 days out. We tend to favor the dynamic model at this point, though there seems to slowly be some convergence in the two models over time (in favor of the dynamic model). Either way some flavor of the Active Phase is projected, which is good news. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 2/25 suggests a moderate Active Phase was over the dateline and is to track east while fading, moving inland over Central America on Mar 12. 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 on 3/31. Another solid Active Phase is to follow directly starting in the west on 3/27. 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 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 (2/24) the ground truth is that a cool water regime continues to hold on the equator starting along the coast of Peru and reaching east to 150W and has stabilized. 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 (in Jan) this cool regime developed. And it ha held if not built more while yet another Westerly Wind Burst developed in Feb. Today water temps are -0.5 deg C below normal over that region extending to 140W (not change). 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 and others 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 upwards on the dateline itself. If anything this convergence point appears to be migrating slowly to the east. 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 2/22. Still, two back to back WWBs (with the first very strong and the second building to nearly that strength) coupled with easterly anomalies directly east of them cannot be ignored.
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 and appears to be dissipating. Still there's a hard barrier between the waters and warmer water below and west of it. 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 very warm water 5 deg C above normal is building and tracking east with it's core 150 meters down at 150-155W and increasing in temp and coverage with it's leading edge moving east now to 105W (+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 and likely Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific that will add more fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. And yet another WWB appears to be in progress and is nearly as strong as the Jan event. That will only add more warm water to the proverbial fire. The concern is that the cool pool off the Galapagos might try to put a cap on 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 2/24 are holding steady. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 building to + 0.5 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 +0.3 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, but not in time for the 2013-2014 winter season. Still this is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. It seems 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 though there's increasing chatter that it could be as early as 2014 - which would be an anomaly in itself). 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