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 Monday (3/1) North and Central California was getting some warbley 2-3 ft overhead residual very west swell from Storm #27 with size heading down and south winds coming up. Southern California was looking great especially up north with Swell #27 at 2 ft overhead on the sets, well lined up and glassy. Hawaii's North Shore was getting a bit larger than expected surf from Swell #28 with waves up to 18 ft but whitecapped with Konas in control. The East Shore was getting wrap-around energy from this swell with waves double overhead. The South Shore was getting no southern hemi swell.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for new larger and longer period Swell #28 to hit on Tuesday at 16 ft or maybe a bit more but hacked dropping to 12 ft or so on Wednesday and trashed again. Still 10 ft faces expected on Thursday dropping to 6 ft on Friday. Southern California is to see the same pattern with new swell arriving Tuesday afternoon to 3+ ft overhead falling to 1-2 ft overhead on Wednesday. Head high residuals expected Thursday dropping to waist to chest high Friday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see Swell #28 fading from 10 ft or a little more on Tuesday AM then 3 ft overhead Wednesday and head high Thursday. Perhaps some new more northerly angled swell to 3 ft overhead to arrive for Friday. The East Shore is to see easterly windswell at head high or better by Tuesday holding through the workweek with wrap-around swell from the North Shore likely too. The South Shore is to be quiet through the week.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is fading from the Active Phase moving more over the East Pacific and is to be gone by March 8. Slight enhancement of the storm track is expected through then. A weak version of the Inactive Phase is building behind. A stronger storm (Storm #28) built in the Gulf of Alaska over the weekend with up to 39 ft seas pushing swell into Hawaii and towards the US West Coast. A far smaller and weaker system is projected for Northern Gulf Tues/Wed (3/3) with 42 ft seas targeting mostly the Pacific Northwest. And yet one more is forecast for the northern dateline region Thurs/Fri (3/5) with 44 ft seas aimed all due east. So one solid large swell is expected with a diminishing pattern after that mainly targeting the US West Coast with limited sideband swell pushing down into the Islands. Weather/wind remains an issue for Central/North CA though.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Monday (3/1) the North Pacific jetstream was split over the width of the Pacific other than one last little patch of consolidate energy off California. most energy was flowing through the northern branch with winds in the 120 kt range tracking northeast off Japan to the Western Gulf then dipping south into a trough there with 140 kts winds pushing into that trough reaching to within 600 nmiles of the US West Coast (off San Francisco). Good support for gale development in that trough. Over the next 72 hrs that trough is to east east pushing over North CA on Tuesday evening (3/2) bring weather to the coast there and maybe a small low pressure area, but nothing of interest from a swell generation perspective. Back to the west a fully split flow is to be in control with most energy in the northern branch of the jet and no troughs of interest forecast until Wednesday (3/3). Beyond 72 hours the trough in the Western Gulf is to build some pushing east with only 140 kt winds supporting it offering some support for gale development, with that trough pushing right over Central CA on Fri/Sat (3/6). Behind it off Kamchatka another trough is to be taking shape Wed/Thurs with 170 kt winds in it offering good support for storm development but lifting northeast pushing north of the Aleutians on Friday (3/5). By Mon (3/8) there's some indications that a large trough is to be filling the Gulf of Alaska with 160 kt wind energy riding northeast from Japan then getting ready to fall into the trough in the Gulf. possibly setting up more gale development and weather for the US West Coast.
At the surface on Monday (3/1) the remnants of Storm #28 (see details below) were fading in the Gulf of Alaska with a front from it moving into outer CA waters and closing in on the Pacific Northwest. A new gale was trying to organize just west of the dateline and pretty well to the north, already starting to butt into the Aleutians. A noticeable batch of high pressure at 1028 ms was situated northwest of Hawaii driving north-northeast winds into the Islands. Over the next 72 hours remnants of Storm #28 are to reorganize off Oregon dropping southeast with winds to 35 kts then pushing into Central CA on Wed (3/3) not neccesarily generating any swell of interest (25 ft seas projected) but heaving more windchop and proto-swell on top of swell generated previously by Storm #28 and also bringing more rain to the California coast. But of more interest, the new gale near the dateline is to build with 50 kt west winds projected Monday evening (3/1) at 49N 180W aimed mostly east towards the US West Coast pushing all it's energy up the 307 degree path to NCal and shadowed from Oregon northward. 26 ft seas forecast at 49N 178E. This system is to be just almost over Aleutians and just east of the dateline on Tues AM (3/2) with 50 kt west winds forecast up at 52N 172W resulting in 35 ft seas at 51N 174W pushing into the Aleutians. Winds to hold if not build some to 55 kts at 52N 164W Tuesday PM getting more exposure to open waters of the Gulf of Alaska with 42 ft seas up at 52N 166W. By Wednesday AM (3/3) winds are to be dropping from 40 kts at 53N 151W with seas still 42 ft over a decent sized area at 52N 156W. Fetch is to be gone by evening with 36 ft residual seas fading at 53N 154W bound for Northern Canada. Possible sideband swell for Hawaii and more direct energy for California up into the Pacific Northwest if this materializes, but likely only in the utility class range. Remnants from this system are to dive south reorganizing off Oregon and Central CA Fr/Sat (3/6) producing another rain/wind event for Central CA on those days.
A broad gale started developing just east of the dateline late Friday (2/26) with 45-50 kt north and west winds forecast at 45N 170W aimed both at Hawaii (336 degrees) and California (296 degrees NCal) and covering a rather large area generating 28-30 ft seas near 40N 170W.
This system pushed east on Saturday AM with an expanding area of 50 kt north and west fetch forecast at 45N 167W (340 degs HI, 295 NCal) generating 28-30 ft seas near 40N 170W. Seas forecast at 35 ft at 40N 173W heading towards Hawaii and to 40 ft at 43N 163W heading towards the US West Coast. In the evening the storm is to hold with 45-50 kts northwest winds at 42N 162W aimed a bit east of Hawaii down the 350 degree path and 45 degrees south of the 293 degree route to NCal. Seas forecast at 37 ft at 41N 165W heading towards Hawaii and to 40 ft at 41N 158W heading towards the US West Coast.
On Sunday AM (2/28) 40-45 kt residual northwest winds occurred at 42N 153W in the central Gulf of Alaska aimed 35 degrees south of the 294 degree path to NCal. 35 ft seas continued pushing mostly due east at 39N 152W pushing entirely towards the US West coast. This system was fading fast in the evening with residual 40 kts northwest winds at 45N 150W with 32 ft seas over a large area at 39N 151W.
Larger swell has been generated with sideband energy pushing into Hawaii on Monday (2/1) and maybe the Pacific Northwest late Monday down into CA on Tuesday (3/2).
Hawaii: Swell arrivedMonday (3/1) before sunrise building to 8.5 ft @ 17 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) from 328 degrees with a second pulse hitting early afternoon at near mid-morning at 10 ft @ 16-17 secs (16 ft Hawaiian) from 340 degrees holding through the day. Residuals on Tuesday.
North CA: Expect swell arrival starting on Tuesday (3/2) at sunrise with pure swell 9.3 ft @ 17 secs (16 ft Hawaiian) from 289 degrees. Secondary swell from the back end of the storm (same part that generated swell from Hawaii) to arrive Wednesday (3/3) just before sunrise with swell 7.5 ft @ 16 secs (12 ft faces) from 291 degrees. Regardless, local weather is to be a mess.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (3/1) a broad gale (the remnants of Storm #28) were circulating in the Gulf pushing towards the coast with a front limping up to San Francisco and light southeast winds starting to build over the Central Coast. This front is to push into the coast Tuesday morning and dissolve fast bringing south winds an rain down into Pt Conception. A secondary front associated with a developing gale off the Oregon coast is expected to start impacting the coast Tuesday PM reaching down to Pt Conception Wednesday late with south winds and rain in-tow with drizzle into San Diego early Thursday (before sunrise). More snow for the mountains too. A broad strong high pressure system is forecast trying to build in behind on Thursday (3/4) but not making it with another Gulf of Alaska low pressure system dropping southeast down into Central CA Friday AM with south winds reaching into Southern CA late and rain building to Pt Conception sweeping into Southern CA on Saturday. More snow up high. High pressure is to try and get a nose into the state on Sunday (3/7) making for brisk northwest winds from Pt Conception down into Southern CA. But more low pressure is to be queued up in the Gulf pushing down the coast Monday.
No swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
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 yet another storm is forecast behind just off the Kuril Islands on Wed PM (3/3) with 45 kt northwest winds projected building at 41N 168E aimed well down the 319 degree track to Hawaii and pretty south of any track to the mainland. This one to be lifting northeast Thursday AM (3/4) with 55-60 kts winds at 45N 178E over a large area pushing well down the 324 degree track to Hawaii and well up the 298 degree track to Northern CA. 35 ft seas forecast at 43N 176E. More 55 kt west and northwest winds are forecast in the evening at 47N 177W aimed towards NCal up the 298 degree path and Hawaii down the 331 degree path. 44 ft seas forecast at 46N 177W. Friday AM 50 kts fetch is to be moving over the Aleutians down to 50N 172W (306 degs NCal) with 46 ft seas fading at 49N 170W. Residual 41 ft seas are forecast Friday PM at 51N 162W. If this materializes more longer period swell is expected for the US West Coast and Hawaii.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Monday (3/1) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) appeared to be in a near neutral state. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was negative with the Daily SOI at -6.56. The 30 day average was up to -18.65 (It bottomed out for the winter on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average up slightly -11.60 (bottomed out at -13.61 on 2/15). El Nino maxed out on 2/15. It's all downhill from here.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated light westerly anomalies across the Eastern Pacific Ocean with weak signs of the Active Phase hanging on from the dateline into Central America. A modest area of anomalously east winds were depicted over the Central Indian Ocean into Northern Australia, a new Inactive Phase. The models project weak Active Phase signals through 3/5 then fading while the Inactive Phase pushes over Northern Australia to the dateline through 3/10, holding there, then dying near 3/20. The Inactive Phase of the MJO should help to gently suppress storm development But with the effects of El Nino on the atmosphere already well entrenched, the momentum to support storm development 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 (where the Inactive Phase takes control).
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (2/25) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator more towards the dateline and less in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands, but still present none-the-less. 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 (and current) 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 3-4 degree warm anomalies/residuals still present from 125W dribbling into the coast there starting to sync up with a new Kelvin Wave pushing east from the dateline. 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, moving to 150W on 2/23-25. On 2/27-3/1 one long warm tongue was in place extending east from 155W into Central America. 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. Kinda sad.
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. A solid area of fully blowing westerly winds which started to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline on 1/20 covered 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 2/18-2/23 limited fully blowing west winds were still in-play with anomalies to 150W, but starting to fade. Those winds were almost gone by 2/25 but not quite and still hanging on by 2/26-3/1 if not strengthening slightly. This WWB is what generated the Kelvin Wave currently 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