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 (3/8) North and Central California was getting swell from the far Northwestern Gulf of Alaska but pretty hacked with local northwest winds in effect. Southern California was getting waist high wrap around swell up north and maybe chest high down south but pretty cut off due to the extreme north angle. Northwest wind was not too bad early, but you can see it coming on. Hawaii's North Shore was getting sideband swell from the Gulf with waves head high to 2 ft overhead and almost clean with hard trades in effect. The East Shore was getting wrap-around energy from this swell with east windswell chest high in the mix and chopped. The South Shore was getting no southern hemi swell.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for Gulf swell fading out on Tuesday with local north windswell moving in to 3 ft overhead fading Wednesday from 1-2 ft overhead with new Gulf swell arriving late. Combo windswell/Gulf swell fading Thursday from 3-4 ft overhead. Possible new Gulf swell on Friday to 13 ft (discounting any shadow effect) fading from 9 ft on Saturday. Southern California is to see shoulder to head high northwest windswell on Tuesday fading from chest high on Wednesday. Thursday new Gulf swell/windswell combo to again reach shoulder high fading from just under chest high Friday. Possible new Gulf swell on Saturday to 1 ft overhead fading on Sunday from shoulder high. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see head high leftover Gulf sideband swell on Tuesday fading to waist high Wednesday. New sideband swell to bump up to chest to shoulder high Thursday holding Friday. Another pulse forecast for Saturday to 2 ft overhead dropping from head high Sunday The East Shore is to see easterly windswell at head high or so Tuesday-Thursday then settling down into the weekend but not out. The South Shore is to be quiet through the week into the weekend.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) has moved into the Inactive Phase reducing odds for storm formation. For now a series of gales are forecast pushing through the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska with one on Tuesday and another late Wednesday providing decent odds for north angled sideband energy pushing into Central and North California, but more towards the Pacific Northwest. More energy is forecast longer term from the dateline, but that is far from guaranteed.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Monday (3/8) the North Pacific jetstream remained split over it's width with the split point just off Japan and most energy was tracking through the northern branch tracking over the 48N latitude (pretty far to the north). A weak trough was in the far Northeastern Gulf of Alaska with 190 kts winds trying to feed into it from the dateline but expected to fade fast. A second trough was pushing into Northern CA. minimal support for gale development indicated. Over the next 72 hrs the split point in the jet is to start creeping east, making to to the dateline by Thursday (a good thing) with 180 kts winds there and also feeding into a building trough in the North Central Gulf of Alaska. Decent support for gale development there. Beyond 72 hours a consolidated jetstream is forecast to be racing east reaching northeast of Hawaii by Saturday (3/13) and supporting development of another trough further south in the Central Gulf with winds in the 140 kt range. Good support for gale development there pushing east with another trough forecast developing behind it on the dateline. Looks like an improving upper level pattern is to take hold with luck.
At the surface on Monday (3/8) an elongated high pressure system at 1032 mbs was situated from the dateline east ridging right up to Central and North CA. It was generating brisk trades at 20+ kts over Hawaii and was producing northwest winds at 20 kts pushing down the California coast pretty much making a mess of everything there. A gale low was in the extreme northeastern Gulf of Alaska producing 40 kt west to southwest winds pushing up into Northern Canada, generating 26 ft seas on Monday AM at 47N 155W and expected to crest at 30 ft in the evening at 47N 148W. This should be good for windswell or a little better pushing into the Central California on Wednesday. through quality will be lacking. Over the next 72 hours a stronger gale, really a storm, is forecast wrapping up in the Eastern Gulf on Wednesday AM producing a small area of 55 kt west winds at 48N 151W tracking pretty fast to the east with winds 55 kts in the evening at 48N 141W then pushing into Canada. 38-40 ft seas are forecast by 10 AM Wed at 48N 149W pushing down the 308 degree path to NCal, which should result in swell pushing into that area on Friday. Will monitor. But a local gale is forecast wrapping up off North CA at the same time pushing into Oregon in the evening, so local weather could be an issue.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (3/8) high pressure was nosing into the coast, the leading edge of a larger system reaching the whole way back to the dateline. Northwest winds at near 20 kts were in effect and expected to continue Tuesday and Wednesday, though loosing it's grip a little up north as a new front builds off the Pacific Northwest. A light wind pattern is forecast Thursday and Friday as the front dissolves over Point Arena with south winds not reaching any further south than there. But it looks like more high pressure is to start getting a foothold on Saturday continuing Sunday with northwest winds in the 15 kts range, and even reaching a bit into Southern CA.
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 a new broad gale is forecast winding up off the Kuril
Islands on Thurs (3/11) with 45 kt west winds and located further
south, down near 43N 160E pushing flat to the east through Friday with
45 kt west winds still at 41N 170W in the evening with seas at 35 ft
near there. Remnants of this one are to lift some into he Gulf and hang
there through the weekend with winds still in the 35 kts range. Good
potential for a decent run of swell to result for both Hawaii and the US West Coast if all this comes to pass.
And another similar gale is forecast forming over the Northern Kuril Islands on Sun 3/14 providing more potential. Looks like the El Nino fueled storm pattern has not given up yet.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Monday (3/8) 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 -15.65. The 30 day average was up to -11.00 (It bottomed out for the winter on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average down slightly at -12.73 (bottomed out at -13.61 on 2/15). El Nino maxed out on 2/15.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated light easterly anomalies across Northern Australia to New Guinea, the Inactive Phase. The models project the Inactive Phase holding over Northern Australia through 3/12, with a fragment reaching the dateline then dying there by 3/17 or so. A dead neutral flow is forecast into 3/27. 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. Actually, there has been some erosion of warmer waters over the Galapagos, symptomatic of the fading of El Nino. In all this continues looking more like a Midoki El Nino than one of the classic variety. But regardless, we are past the peak of this ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator a Kevin Wave attributable to the previous Active Phase of the MJO was fading. On 3/8 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.
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. Still an 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. They were still in place on 3/8. This WWB is what generated the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east. Regardless, at some point in the next few days 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table