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 Sunday (3/14) North and Central California was getting more generic Gulf swell with waves pushing near double overhead but still pretty textured and warbled thanks to Springtime northwest winds. Southern California was getting a nice pulse of the same Gulf swell with waves chest high and clean early up north and maybe to head high at top spots down south through linda weak. Hawaii's North Shore remained in the small range with sideband Gulf swell hitting producing waves chest to head high and reasonably clean, but not pristine. Not much period under it either. The East Shore was getting east windswell and wrap around sideband swell at head high and chopped. The South Shore was getting no southern hemi swell.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for fading Gulf swell at 7-8 ft Monday, with new Gulf swell for Tuesday at 12 ft pushing maybe 15 ft on Wednesday but far rawer, then settling down from 10 ft on Thursday. Southern California is to see fading waist to chest high surf on Monday then new Gulf swell hits Tuesday at head high or so possibly coming up some more Wednesday to 1 ft overhead but very north angled, then fading Thursday from shoulder high. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see larger Gulf swell for Monday at 15 ft fading from 11 ft Tuesday and 9 ft Wednesday. 1 ft overhead leftovers forecast for Thursday. The East Shore is to see easterly windswell at chest to shoulder high Monday on through the week with Gulf swell wrapping around well. The South Shore is to maybe starting seeing some southern hemi backgrounds well by late Tuesday at waist to maybe chest high then fading out on Thursday.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) has effectively moved into the Inactive Phase reducing odds for storm formation. Swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast is expected early week from an unremarkable gale that was in the Gulf over the weekend. And remnants from this gale are to fire up just off North CA on Tuesday, possibly setting up more swell for mostly Central CA on Wednesday. But after that things are to really start settling down. Another very small and weak gale is forecast on Thursday in the Gulf followed by an even weaker one over the weekend (3/20) and then the bottom might drop out. Southern hemi swell is expected though for Hawaii by the weekend (3/20) and the US West Coast beyond. But our great winter weather pattern appears to be fading, at least for now. Spring is here.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Sunday (3/14) the North Pacific jetstream was not real cohesive, but neither was it totally split either. Really is was just weak and meandering over the North Pacific with a big ridge pushing north of the Aleutians on the dateline and a broad but generally weak trough in the Gulf of Alaska with winds in the 120 kts range. Some support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hrs that trough is to push east east into the Pacific Northwest late Tuesday (3/16) but additional energy looks to be reinforcing development of a new trough in the same area with more 120 kts winds feeding the trough and momentarily building to 160 kts pushing hard south on Wed (3/17). Decent support for gale development there. The ridging pattern on the dateline is to hold. Beyond 72 hours some form of steep trough is to hold in the Gulf easing east and slowly dissolving into the weekend while yet more energy drops out of the perpetual ridge on the dateline, feeding yet more of a weak trough over the greater Gulf of Alaska through the weekend (3/21). But wind speeds are to be low (120 kts) and only low odds of support for gale development at the surface is projected. IN all this looks like pretty typical late phase El Nino upper level pattern, with the Gulf remaining modestly active.
At the surface on Sunday (3/14) remnants of a moderate gale were slowly fading but still filling the Gulf of Alaska (see details below - Another Gulf Gale). Weak high pressure was trying to wedge up into the Pacific Northwest with a far stronger high on the dateline at 1032 mbs ridging up to the Bering Sea. Another broad gale was landlocked over Kamchatka. Over the next 72 hours the Gulf gale is to dissipate but remnants from it are projected to wrap up just 600 nmiles off the North CA coast Monday evening (3/15) generating 40 kt west winds at 40N 135W aimed at Central CA up the 290 degree great circle path. By Tuesday AM (3/16) supposedly 50 kt west fetch is forecast lifting north to 43N 134W resulting in 28 ft seas at 43N 132W. By evening this system is to be pushing inland over Vancouver Island. Maybe a moderate sized but raw push of swell could result for location from Pt Conception northward on Wed (3/17), but that is more of a guess at this early date.
Otherwise a weak and disorganized low pressure system is forecast circulating 1000 nmiles north of Hawaii on Wednesday (3/17) but no real fetch of interest is to result.
Another Gulf Gale
A new gale started building on the dateline Friday AM (3/12) with pressure 968 mbs resulting in 35 kt northwest winds at 43N 180W aimed towards Hawaii down the 328 degree path and North CA down the 298 degree path. Seas were 26 ft at 40N 173E. In the evening 45 kt west-northwest fetch was building at 43N 170W aimed 40 degrees east of the 340 degree path to Hawaii and 30 degrees south of the 298 degree path into North CA. Seas building from 28 ft at 44N 170W.
On Saturday AM (3/13) 40-45 kt northwest fetch was confirmed holding at 45N 162W aimed pretty well down the 348 degree path to Hawaii and 35 degrees south of the 297 degree path to NCal. Seas building to 32 ft at 42N 160W. In the evening 40 kt more west angled fetch was confirmed at 45N 154W aimed exclusively at North CA and down to Central CA 20 degrees south of the 296 degree path. 30 ft seas were modeled at 43N 152W. The Jason-1 satellite confirmed average seas at 28.9 ft with one peak reading to 35.1 ft while the model projected 30 ft seas. The model was right on-track.
The gale was really starting to fade Sunday AM (3/14) with 40 kt west and northwest winds at 46N 152W resulting in a modest area of 30 ft seas at 45N 148W pushing down the 299 degree path to NCal. Residual 30 kts northwest fetch is to hold there in the evening resulting in 30 ft seas at 45N 152W then decaying away.
At this time it looks like this one is pretty much in the bag with some form of legitimate swell expected for mainland focused on Central and North CA with sizable sideband energy for the Islands early in the week.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Monday just after sunrise with pure swell pushing to 10 ft @ 15 secs (15 ft Hawaiian) from from 338-348 degrees. Swell dropping from 8.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (11 ft Hawaiian) early on Tues (3/16).
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Tuesday about 6-7 AM with pure swell quickly ramping up to 7.8-8.3 ft @ 15 secs (12 ft faces). Swell holding into early Wednesday AM (3/17). Swell Direction: 292-299 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (3/14) a front from a gale in the Gulf was making headway into the PAcific Northwest but fading at the same time. Weak high pressure at 1024 mbs was holding over all of California holding weather off to the north and generating a persistent northwest wind flow. A generally light wind pattern is forecast Monday into early Tuesday as a new local gale develops off North CA tracking fast to the north. By Wednesday (3/17) that storm is to be pushing into British Columbia while high pressure builds in hard behind it at 1032 mbs generating 25 kt northwest winds from Pt Conception northward and making a mess of things and holding into Thursday. Relief is expected by Friday with light winds returning and holding through the upcoming weekend (3/21).
On Thursday (3/11) a small gale was circulating well southeast of Tahiti with 45 kt south winds at 45S 132W aimed due north. Those winds to be fading from 40 kts in the evening at the same location. A infinitesimal area of 30 ft seas developed Thurs PM at 43N 131W aimed mostly north towards California. Small swell is expected into Southern CA on Thurs (3/18) from 190 degrees at 2 ft @ 16 secs (3 ft faces) building to 2.6 ft @ 15 secs (4 ft faces) on Fri (3/19) fading from 2.6 ft @ 14 secs on Sat (3/20)..
On Saturday PM (3/13) a broad gale (almost a storm) starting developing just south of New Zealand with 40 kt southwest winds at 53S 172E aimed up the 215 degree path to CA (mostly unshadowed by Tahiti) and up the 195 degree path to HI. Seas were building from 32 ft back at 55S 170E. By Sunday AM (3/14) 50 kt southwest winds were forecast at 52S 176W aimed at CA (209 degree and partially shadowed) and up the 192 degree path to HI. Seas building to 40 ft at 53S 178W. In the evening 50 kts winds to barely hold at 50S 168W generating 46 ft seas at 50S 170W pushing up the 208 degree path to NCal (partially shadowed) and a bit east of the 188 degree path to Hawaii. 45 kt west-southwest fetch is to hold into Monday AM (3/15) at 49S 161W with 48 ft seas forecast at 49S 160W pushing up the 204 degree path to CA and in the heart of the Tahitian swell shadow. Most of that energy is to be pushing east of Hawaii. A quick fade is forecast Monday PM with winds 40 kts all aimed due east towards Peru. 46 ft seas from previous fetch forecast at 48S 152W. A quick fade is to follow. If all this comes to pass a legitimate southern hemi swell could result for Tahiti, Hawaii, and the US West coast.
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 the models suggest a decent gale is to start wrapping up off Japan on Fri (3/19) pushing east with 40-45 kts west winds on the 40N latitude making it to the dateline or a little further, then fading. 28 ft seas to result pushing to the dateline by Sunday (3/21) and targeting Hawaii well if all goes as forecast (low odds). No other fetch of interest is forecast.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Sunday (3/14) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) appeared to be in a near neutral state. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained negative through with the Daily SOI at -12.49. The 30 day average was up to -9.23 (It bottomed out for the winter on 2/16 at -24.82) with the 90 day average down to -14.20 (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 the entire Indian Ocean to Northern Australia and New Guinea, a sign of the Inactive Phase. But persistent remnants of the Active Phase still lingered from the dateline into Central America and supposedly fading fast. Models project the Inactive Phase holding over Northern Australia reaching the dateline 3/23 then dying there by 4/2 or so. A weak version of a new Active Phase is to be building in the Indian Ocean at the same time. The Inactive Phase of the MJO should 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 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 (3/11) 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 3/11 tongue of warmer than normal water was in-place extending east from 150W into Central America averaging 3 deg C above normal with a small core now up to 6 C at 110W. 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 continued through 3/14. This lingering WWB is what generated the Kelvin Wave currently pushing east. Regardless, at some point in the near future we expect this pattern of anomalously west winds to break down completely and a normal trade pattern to take over the entire equatorial Pacific. 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 continues affecting the global atmospheric weather pattern and is expected to continue having an impact into the Summer of 2010. This suggest that the 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 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.
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. This was a moderate event. 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 and something we are monitoring for. The months of Mar-June normally are when the transition takes place.
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