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 windy near double overhead surf, the remnants of Swell #28 and pretty hacked. Southern California was a bit breezy from the northwest with waves waist high or a little more up north and near head high on the sets down south but fairly chopped. Hawaii's North Shore was smaller with waves in the head high or better range with improving winds but period pretty short, trades finally moving in, but still not real clean. The East Shore was getting wrap-around energy from this swell with waves shoulder high and chopped. The South Shore was getting no southern hemi swell.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for windswell on Friday with waves 6 ft on Friday. New north swell arrives overnight with surf to 14 ft but shadowed in the SF Bay area (9 ft faces) dropping to 4 ft overhead on Sunday. Another northerly swell could possibly arrive on Monday with surf to 13 ft but shadowed again in the Bay Area (8 ft faces) dropping from 3 ft overhead on Tuesday. Southern California is to see the same swell pattern with swell dropping to waist to chest high Friday. New swell arrives for Saturday AM at 1 ft overhead at top north exposed breaks dropping to head high Sunday. Another pulse arrives late Monday to 1 ft overhead at north exposed breaks up north fading from shoulder high Tuesday. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see fading swell in the 1 ft overhead range Friday fading from chest high Saturday. Maybe some more northerly swell to arrive Sunday at 3 ft overhead fading from 1-2 ft overhead Monday and barely overhead Tuesday. The East Shore is to see easterly windswell at head high or better Friday and Saturday then settling down to head high only to come back up by Tuesday with limited wrap-around swell intermixed from the North Shore likely too. The South Shore is to be quiet through the week.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is moving quickly to the Inactive Phase reducing odds for storm formation. A small storm formed in the Northern Gulf Tues/Wed (3/3) with 40 ft seas targeting mostly the Pacific Northwest. And another is forecast for the same region Fri (3/5) with 37 ft seas aimed all due east. Nothing is projected after that till late next week (and that projection is really shaky). So a fading swell pattern is to be expected. Welcome to Spring.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (3/4) the North Pacific jetstream was split over it's width with most energy in the northern branch tracking over the 45N latitude. A weak trough was in the far Northeastern Gulf of Alaska and a second building just south of the Aleutians and west of the dateline. That one held the most promise for gale development. Over the next 72 hrs that trough is to ease east pushing into the Gulf of Alaska Sat (3/6) then into Canada 24 hrs later providing some limited support for gale development. Winds to be light though, up to 170 kts on the dateline but fading to 130 kts by the time it reaches the Gulf. Beyond 72 hours a bit more energy is to tracking through the northern stream of the jet, but moving flat west to east with no trough and not providing any real fuel for gale development down below. Finally Thursday (3/11) a certified trough is to set up in the Central Gulf with 160 kt winds flowing down into it offering some support for gale development. And a much more coherent and consolidated jet is to be building off Japan at that time with 180 kts winds there with a trough building off the Kuril Islands. Maybe a real storm pattern will re-emerge, but that seems more like wishful thinking at this early date.
At the surface on Thursday (3/4) stronger high pressure at 1032 mbs was situated just 600 nmiles north of Kauai starting to ridge into the US West coast generating trades over the Islands and a northwest flow down the California coast. A new gale was organizing on the dateline with pressure 980 mbs and 45 kt west winds taking root at 46N 178W aimed well down the 324 degree track to Hawaii and well up the 298 degree track to Northern CA. Seas were building. Over the next 72 hours that storm is to develop 55 kt west and northwest winds Thurs PM at 47N 170W aimed towards NCal up the 298 degree path and Hawaii down the 335 degree path. 35 ft seas forecast at 47N 171W. Friday AM 50 kts fetch is to be moving into the Central northern Gulf at 52N 160W (309 degs NCal) with 37 ft seas holding at 50N 162W. The fetch is to be pushing into Alaska Friday PM with residual 36 ft seas up at 54N 151W. If all this materializes more longer period swell is expected for exposed break along the US West Coast by Monday AM (3/8) (8 ft @ 17 secs NCal - 14 ft faces but shadowed in the Bay Area from 306-309 degrees). Lesser energy for Hawaii.
Nothing else is on the agenda for that time period.
A new gale built near the dateline with 50 kt west winds 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 were modeled at 49N 178E. This system was almost over the Aleutians and just east of the dateline on Tues AM (3/2) with 50 kt west winds up at 52N 172W resulting in 35 ft seas at 51N 174W pushing into the Aleutians. Winds held if not build some to 55 kts at 52N 164W Tuesday PM getting more exposure to open waters of the Gulf of Alaska with 40 ft seas up at 50N 167W. By Wednesday AM (3/3) winds were dropping from 40 kts at 53N 151W with seas still 39 ft over a decent sized area at 52N 157W. Fetch was gone by evening with 32 ft residual seas fading at 54N 149W 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.
North CA: expect swell arrival on Friday at 9 PM with pure swell to 8.2 ft @ 17 secs (14 ft faces0 from 305 degrees but shadowed in the SF Bay Area, and only 60% of that size showing in the shadow . Swell fading on Saturday with period 15 secs early.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (3/4) a clearing pattern was in effect with high pressure at 1032 mbs north of Hawaii trying to ridge into California, the first of this Spring season. It was generating northwest winds at 15 kts down the coast. But by Friday (3/5) the remnants of another Gulf of Alaska low pressure system are to be dropping southeast down into Central CA with south winds reaching into Southern CA late and light rain building to Pt Conception sweeping into Southern CA on Saturday. More light snow is forecast up high. Perhaps east winds to set up north of the low on Saturday from Monterey Bay northward. Regardless high pressure is to try and get a nose into the state by Sunday (3/7) making for a brisk northwest flow over the entire state hacking thing up pretty well and only getting reinforced up north on Monday-Wednesday. Southern CA might be protected though More low pressure is to be pushing southeast from the Gulf later Thursday in to Friday (3/12) possibly setting up south winds and rain as far south as San Francisco then (with snow in upper elevations south to Lake Tahoe) , but not further south. Spring and high pressure are looking to be getting the upper hand.
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 no activity is forecast until Thurs 3/11 when two new systems are projected, one off Vancouver Island with 35 ft seas and another on the dateline with 32 ft seas. These are to be the direct result of the proposed consolidation of the jetstream aloft. But if that doesn't occur, these storms will be only a distant memory. We're not holding our breath.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (3/4) 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 -22.83. The 30 day average was up to -15.54 (It bottomed out for the winter on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average down slightly at -11.90 (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 Central America, the end of the Active Phase. A modest area of anomalously east winds were depicted over the Central Indian Ocean into Northern Australia, a new Inactive Phase. The models project the Inactive Phase pushing over Northern Australia and stalling there through 3/13, then dying there. A dead neutral flow is forecast into 3/23. 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 (3/45) indicated no change from previous weeks, with warmer than normal waters 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 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. 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 of warmer than normal water was in place extending east from 150W into Central America averaging 4 deg C above normal. 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 2/26-3/3 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 warm 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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Stormsurf Precip Models Upgraded! On 2/20 we upgraded some of the broader precipitation models driven by the hi-def GFS model to include snow fall. The algorithm used is similar to the recently released snow models for the Southwest US in that the areas where snow is expected are identified and the exact amount of snow forecast over a 3 hr window is explicitly color coded. For East and West Coast US interests the following links provide good examples:
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Interview With Stormsurf: The crew at SurfScience.com worked with Stormsurf on a feature about why surfers should be able to read wave charts themselves. They are firm believers that a little learning can go a long way to help your surfing. This is a great article to help convince your friends that they can benefit from being able to read the data themsleves rather than just relying on the forecasts of others. See the full thing here: Create Your Own Surf Forecast with Stormsurf
North California Surf Report Works Again: After an extended downtime we finally got the North California Surf Report working again. Thanks for your patience. See it here: http://www.stormsurf.com/page2/report/ncal.html
Shark Video: Our friend Curt Myers of Powerlines productions shot this footage of 2 great whites munching on a whale carcass off Devils Slide (south of San Francisco) on Thursday. Kind of interesting to watch. Check it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I4rZYEZMWQ (Fixed link)
Wave Model Upgrade Status Report: At this point we believe the installation of the new wave models is complete, with no problems being reported, the server stabilizing and the much requested return of the old style hemispheric Surf Height models now operational (again) and running side-by-side along the new ones. We thank you for your patience and input as we went though this process. Your feedback helps guide our efforts and ultimately results in a better product for everyone. Now we're off to start providing better menus to some wave model products most of you probably haven't uncovered yet (site specific graph and text forecasts), updateing the wave model FAQs and then upgrading the Weather Models.
New Wave Model Facts: Click HERE to read more about the new wave models. Important info.
Stormsurf Wave Models Updated: On Friday (2/6) we installed the latest upgrade to our wavemodels. A year in the works, this upgrade essentially is a total re-write of every wave model product we produce. They now take advantage of the new Version 3 of the Wavewatch wavemodel. This version runs at a much higher resolution, specifically 0.0 X 0.5 degrees for the global grib with local products at 0.1667 X 0.1667 degrees, and it uses the hi-res GFS model for wind speeds. And of even more interest, the model now identifies primary swell and windwave variables. As such we now have new model images which displays this data. Also we've included out special 3D topographic land masks into all models. In all it makes for a radical step forward in wave model technology. We'll be upgrading minor components (FAQ, new menu pages etc) for a few weeks to come, but all the basics are available for your use now. Check it out here: http://www.stormsurf.com/mdls/menu_wam.html
Story About Stormsurf: The folks at SurfPulse (and specifically author Mike Wallace) have written up a really nice article about Stormsurf, complete with some good pics. Learn about how we came to be and a little of where we are going. Check it out here: http://www.surfpulse.com/2009/01/visceral-surf-forecasting-with-mark-sponsler/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table