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 Saturday (3/8) in North and Central CA surf was shoulder to head high with a few bigger peaks and clean but weak and sectioned. Down in Santa Cruz surf was shoulder to head high and clean with a few nice waves coming through occasionally. In Southern California up north surf was waist to chest high with a few shoulder high sets and clean and well lined up. Down south waves were 1-2 ft overhead on the sets and clean and well lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was getting new dateline swell with waves 11 ft Hawaiian and expected to build a little and clean but pretty lumped up with sideshore northeast winds just off the shore. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap around dateline swell with waves 2 ft overhead but torn up by northeast wind.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A relatively small and weak system developed on the northern dateline Wed-Thurs (3/6) with up to 34 ft seas initially pushing southeast towards mainly Hawaii. Swell was hitting the Islands on Sat (3/8). Remnants of that system pushed east through Fri (3/7) in the Gulf generating 24-25 ft seas over a small area targeting the US West Coast. Swell expected into Central CA later Sun (3/9). A small but solid system is forecast for the Northern Gulf on Sun-Mon (3/10) with up to 39 ft seas aimed east-northeast mainly at the Pacific Northwest. And another smaller system is forecast tracking east over the dateline Tues-Wed (3/12) with 39 ft seas offering something for both Hawaii and the US West Coast, but from a long ways away. Perhaps a small but reasonably strong system to form north of Hawaii tracking east on Fri (3/14). In all more surf is expected, but size to be in the modest category.
Note: NDBC has updated their buoy maintenance plan. 46012, 46013, 46026 are scheduled for maintenance in May and 46014 in Aug 2014. There is no schedule for 46059 or 46006. Most operations are focused on repairing the TAO array (ENSO monitoring buoys on the equator).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (3/8) the jetstream was pushing flat off Japan tracking on the 34 N latitude at 140 kts building to 160 kts just west of the dateline then fading north of Hawaii while falling into a weak trough there. the energy moving out of the trough was ridging northeast off California and pushing into British Columbia then falling due south down the interior US coast. The weak trough north of Hawaii was the only area that showed any indications of support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours wind energy is to consolidate better tracking flat off Japan and to the dateline all at 160+ kts into Sunday (3/9) and building to 190 kts by Tuesday (3/11) but starting to ridge to the north east some reaching a point 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii. from there the jet is to split with the northern branch pushing well up into North Canada and the southern branch falling south over Hawaii and to the equator. A bit of a trough is to start developing just off Japan with remnants of the previous trough north of Hawaii peaking Monday then on the decline Tuesday providing diminished support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to peak on Wed (3/12) still producing 190 kt winds with a broad and weak trough pushing east off Japan. The split point in the jet is to ease east some to 150W (1200 nmiles north-northeast of Hawaii). That trough to track to the dateline on Fri (3/14) and then north of Hawaii on Sat (3/15) but wind speeds are to be dramatically dropping off in the jet by then, down to 140 kts in a few random pockets with the overall organization falling way off. Support for gale development fading. And by later Saturday the jet is looking to be splitting on the dateline. with a residual trough in the Gulf. A weakening pattern is to be setting up in the upper levels of the atmosphere with far less support for gale development likely.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (3/8) swell from a gale that was over the dateline was hitting Hawaii (See Another Dateline Gale below). Smaller sideband swell from that system was also pushing towards the US West Coast.
Over the next 72 hours a new small gale is forecast developing in the Western Gulf on Sun Am (3/9) with 45 kt northwest winds and seas on the increase from 30 ft at 44N 172W (336 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). By evening the gale is to build to storm status with 50 kt west winds briefly over a small area and seas building from 37 ft at 45N 164W (296 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds to be fading Mon AM (3/10) lifting slightly north with seas 38 ft at 48N 159W (304 degs NCal). A quick fade is forecast in the evening with winds fading from 40 kts and seas fading from 32 ft up at 50N 155W (309 degs NCal) targeting only British Columbia. This system is to be gone by Tues AM (3/11). This is something worth monitoring with swell potential focused on Central CA northward.
Another Dateline Gale (Hawaii)
A small gale started developing on the northern dateline Tues PM (3/4) with a small area of 45 kts west winds building at 46N 175E. Seas on the increase. On Wed AM (3/5) 45 kt west winds held in the exact same area over a small fetch. 32 ft seas were modeled at 45N 179E. By the evening 45-50 kt northwest winds were falling southeast with 32 ft seas at 44N 174E (320 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). Thurs AM (3/6) 40 kt northwest winds were falling fast southeast over a tiny area generating 32 ft seas at 38N 179E targeting NCal (290 degs) and Hawaii (314 degs). In the evening fetch was fading from 35 kts with 26 ft seas at 34N 176W again targeting primarily Hawaii (311 degs) with secondary energy towards Northern CA up the 282 degree track. Friday AM (3/7) fetch was fading from 35 kts with 25 ft seas at 37N 161W (352 degs HI, 280 degs NCal). 30 kt west winds were fading in the evening lifting northeast with seas fading from 22 ft at 38N 152W (bypassing HI, 278 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal).
Possible swell to result largest for Hawaii and smaller for the US West Coast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (3/8) late morning peaking mid-afternoon with pure swell 6.7-7.5 ft @ 17-18 secs (11.0- 13.5 ft). Swell fading overnight and continuing down Sun AM (3/9) from 7 ft @ 14 secs (9.5 ft). Swell Direction: 311-320 degrees
North California: Expect swell arrival on Sun (3/9) at 8 AM with period 17 secs and size tiny but building pushing 5.5 ft @ 15 secs late afternoon (8 ft). Additional lesser period energy to build in Monday AM at 14 secs with swell 5.5-6.0 ft @ 14 secs (7.5-8.0 ft). Swell fading from there. Swell Direction: 293 degree moving to 284 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on late Sunday evening with swell peaking Mon later AM (3/10) at 2.9 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 290-295 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday AM (3/8) a weak northerly wind pattern was in play for North and Central California (strongest over Pt Conception) with a weak southerly flow off Cape Mendocino with a front over outer waters there. High pressure is to start fading some Saturday afternoon as this front pushes up to Northern CA late and dissipates. The high and the front to be dead on Sunday with light winds everywhere. Still rain is forecast pushing south to the Golden Gate then pushing into Monterey Bay early Monday before sunrise. 3-5 inches of snow for Tahoe late Sunday into early Monday and up to 1 ft for higher eleveations. But by Monday AM high pressure and north winds are forecast for all of North and Central CA at 15 kts early building to 20 kts later and maybe reaching down into northern Southern CA late. A summer like gradient to start lifting north on Tuesday at 25 kts over Cape Mendocino with lighter north winds south of there to Pt Conception. A calm wind pattern to take hold Wednesday and Thursday in Central and South CA but with a weak gradient holding over Cape Mendo at 15-20 kts, reinforced on Friday too. A new strong low pressure system is forecast building north of Hawaii pushing northeast. By Saturday (3/15) it's to cut off the high with a light northerly flow over all of California. .
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 another tiny gale is forecast developing west of the dateline Tues AM (3/11) with 45 kt west winds tracking flat east and seas 38 ft over an infinitesimal area at 42N 174E. This gale to track flat east with winds fading from 45 kts in the PM with seas fading from 38 ft at 43N 178W. 35 kt west winds to hold over tiny area tracking east Wed AM (3/12) with seas 32 ft moving to 44N 173W then fading out from there. Limited sideband swell for Hawaii with more direct energy for the US West Coast, but well decayed upon arrival.
Another stronger but again small storm is forecast developing northwest of Hawaii on Thurs PM (3/13) with 50+ kt northwest winds tracking flat east. 55+ kt northwest winds to hold Fri AM (3/14) with 40 ft seas at 36N 163W (347 degs HI, 273 degs NCal). West winds to be fading in the evening from 45 kts with 40 ft seas at 35N 157W (275 degs NCal, 283 degs SCal). The gale is to be nearly gone Sat AM (3/15) lifting northeast with 35 kt northwest winds and 30 ft seas fading at 35N 150W (277 degs NCal, 285 degs SCal). This is something to monitor mainly for the US West Coast.
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 Saturday (3/8) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at -10.44. The 30 day average was down to -7.10 and the 90 day average down slightly to 2.65. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of the Active Phase of the MJO. 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 weak westerly anomalies holding over the Maritime Continent continuing modestly from the west on the dateline then fading to neutral south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued from there to Central America. These westerly anomalies are part of the current Active Phase of the MJO and associated with what was tropical storm Faxai in the West Pacific, and the tail end of a second Westerly Wind Burst in two months in this area. This second WWB is situated directly over an area where a previous strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) started in Jan on 1/8, peaking 1/28 and then faded while moving over the dateline. A week from now (3/16) neutral anomalies are forecast taking root over the Maritime Continent turning slightly westerly on the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are to return for a small area east of there, then near neutral the rest of the way 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 near neutral pattern holding over the Central and East Pacific, but expected to turn to a near neutral pattern a week out. This recent Active Phase was very interesting with a previous WWB having likely created a large Kelvin Wave tracking towards South America and then this current WWB (which was as strong as the previous one starting 2/15 and peaking 2-20-3/2 and expected to fade out by 3/10) setting up and offering yet more potential to transport warm water east. 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 perplexing (more below).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/7 remain mixed. They suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over the dateline with a strong Inactive Phase building in the Eastern Indian Ocean. The statistic model suggests the Active Phase is on the decline and is to slowly fade while tracking east, gone 15 days out south of Hawaii. The Inactive Phase is to move from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific 8-15 days out. Conversely the dynamic model suggests the Active Phase has also peaked over the dateline and is to slowly fade there, but giving up no ground and if anything retrograding and rebuilding slightly keeping the Inactive Phase bottled up over Indonesia for the next 15 days. Clearly the dynamic model output is what we are hoping to see but we have no sense this will really occur. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 3/5 suggests a weak Active Phase was over the Central Pacific and is to track east and fade, moving inland over Central America on Mar 20. A modest Inactive Phase is starting to develop in the Indian Ocean and is to track east, pushing into the West Pacific 3/17 tracking east and reaching the East Pacific on 4/4. Another solid Active Phase is to follow directly starting in the west on 3/30 reaching the Central Pacific 4/10 and most strong then. The consensus is that the current Active Phase of the MJO is likely done and is fading. 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 (3/6) the ground truth is that a cool water regime has taken root over the Eastern equatorial Pacific. But things are looking somewhat improved from the previous weeks images. The cool flow appears to be somewhat cut off streaming from Peru to the Galapagos, with at least a neutral temperature pattern suggested there if not warming slightly. The only cool water remaining is from the Galapagos westward to a point south of Hawaii. Warm water from north of the equator is cutting off the flow near the Galapagos and overrunning the thin flow pushing off Peru. This cool pool was likely the source of the rising SOI during January. Other data suggests the cool jetstream has dissipated with neutral water temps over this region. What remains perplexing is that a Westerly Wind Burst was occurring at the same time (in Jan) this cool regime developed. And the cool pool held if not built more while yet another Westerly Wind Burst developed in Feb-Mar. Today water temps are near normal over the region extending from Ecuador to 160W, with most water temps just at or slightly below normal. The previous California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California is gone with warm waters pushing into the North CA coast and building sown to the equator. This is good news. Thousands of miles of warmer water lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast is moving east and reaching the coast. Local water temp in the SF Bay Area are coming up. 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. There's the first hints of a mildly warm warm pattern developing from a surface water temp perspective and no sign of the cool pool moving east. 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 2/27. 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 are of most interest and 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 is holding at 100W and appears to be dissipating as of 3/8. Still there remains a hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the east Pacific, but there's some signs it could be loosening it's grip. The real issue is there are no active sensors on TOA array buoys there, so whatever the model/graphic indicate, it's just a guess. For now this cool patch is continuing to block any warm flow trying to move east, but we're thinking that might not be a completely accurate depictation of reality. At the same time a large area of very warm water 5 deg C above normal is in place and tracking east with it's core 150 meters down at 150-155W with it's leading edge holding at 105-110W (+1 deg C) and is tracking under the cool pool. But again, lack of sensors on the TAO array mean this is just a guess. Regardless, a large Kelvin Wave has been generated by 24 days of modest to strong westerly anomalies west of the dateline in January (a Westerly Wind Burst). The hope is the January WWB and Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific will add more fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. And yet another WWB is likely in progress from the Feb-March WWB and is 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 3/6 have rebound. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 (but that did not happen) building to +0.25 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs are back up to 1.2 deg C range by Oct 2014 (down from 1.3-1.4 C earlier). For the immediate future (this Spring) an effective neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering below +0.2 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. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for the Spring of 2014 with perhaps a slightly warmer pattern developing by May. Still the cool pool at depth off Central America gives us cause for concern. But 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). We've turned the corned, but it is still unknown what impact it will have on the atmosphere especially in light of what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998).
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