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 Tuesday (3/25) in North and Central CA more dateline swell was hitting producing surf at head high at exposed breaks and bit warbled by southerly winds. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to chest high and clean but inconsistent with overcast in control. In Southern California up north surf was thigh high and clean but fairly weak. Down south waves were waist high on the sets and weak but glassy and fun looking when they came. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover dateline swell with waves head high and clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap around energy at waist to chest high and chopped with easterly trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Another small gale developed west of the Northern Dateline Thurs (3/20) with a small area of barely 30 ft seas. Swell has already hit and is fading over the Hawaiian Islands but is just arriving in Central CA now. Remnants of that gale tracked east and redeveloped in the Gulf of Alaska Sun (3/23) generating a small area of 25 ft seas with 26 ft energy redeveloping just off North CA on Mon (3/24) then fading from 22 ft early Tues (3/25). Swell to peak on Wed (3/26) for Central CA. Also a small gale developed off the Kuril Islands Friday (3/21) with 37 ft seas targeting Hawaii. Small swell there by Wed (3/26). And perhaps another small gale to form in the Gulf on Wed-Sat (3/29) pushing east with up to 26 ft seas targeting the US West Coast. Another system is forecast for the Northern Dateline Mon-Tues (4/1) with 30 ft seas aimed mainly east and another off the Southern Kurils on Tues (4/1) with 36 ft seas targeting Hawaii. So the North Pacific has not given up yet.
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) and fortunately the first set of those buoys (at 95W and 110W) are back in operation (see MJO/ENSO update below). TAO Buoys at 125W are scheduled for April.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (3/25) the jetstream was pushing broadly more or less flat off Japan with winds 120 kts isolated mainly to the southern edge of the jet reaching the dateline with a small trough embedded in that flow just west of the dateline. That trough was offering minimal support for low pressure development. Then the jet split (on the dateline) with most energy moving into the northern branch ridging up into the Gulf, but falling into a weak trough centered just off Southern Oregon with 100 kt winds feeding it. Limited support for gale development in this trough. Over the next 72 hours the split is to almost fade with a near singular flow tracking flat across the North Pacific with one pocket of 120 kt winds off Japan and another in the Gulf. A general tendency towards troughiness was forecast to occur over the Gulf of Alaska, but nothing that could overtly be considered a trough. Limited support for low pressure there. Beyond 72 hours the same old split pattern is to re-emerge off Japan with a weak trough forming int he northern branch just west of the dateline on Sun (3/30) offering some support for gale development there. And that trough is to push east into the Gulf on Tues (4/1) though weakening, but still offering some limited support for low pressure development there.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (3/25) a swell from a third gale that developed well west of the dateline Wed-Thurs (3/20) was fading in Hawaii and just starting to hit California (see Northwest Pacific Gale below). And swell from a gale that was in the Gulf of Alaska was pushing towards California (see Gulf Gale below). Over the next 72 hours another small gale is to try and develop in the Northwestern Gulf of Alaska on Wed AM (3/26) with 35-40 kt west winds and seas at 20 ft at 42N 163W. Winds to hold near 40 kts into the early evening with seas 25 ft at 42N 158W. (290 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Fetch is to fade to 30 kts Thurs AM (3/27) with seas down to 20 ft at 40N 150W (285 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). Additional 35 kt northwest fetch to build in the evening in the Gulf holding into Fri AM (3/28) with seas rebuilding to 23 ft at 44N 145W (298 degs NCal). Theoretically 40 kt northwest winds to build in the evening with seas up to 26 ft over a tiny area at 45N 140W (304 degs NCal) targeting the Cape Mendo area northward. By Sat AM (3/29) the gale is to be ready to move into the Pacific Northwest with winds fading from 35 kts and seas 25 ft just off Southern Oregon at 43N 135W (305 degs NCal).This system is to be fading fast in the evening. Assuming all goes as forecast some more larger but raw swell is possibly for Northern CA.
Northwest Pacific Gale
Yet a third gale developed just east of the Kuril Islands on Wed AM (3/19) with 45 kt northwest winds building and seas building over a tiny area from 26 ft at 42N 158E targeting Hawaii (309 degs). 40-45 kt northwest winds held while pushing east in the evening with 32 ft seas at 43N 166E (315 degs HI). On Thurs AM (3/20) 40 kt northwest winds held west of the dateline with seas fading from 28 ft at 45N 170E (319 degs HI, 301 degs NCal) aimed mainly due east. 35 kt west winds pushed east in the evening with seas near 28 ft still at 45N 175E (323 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). A quick fade is expected thereafter.
Small swell arrived along the US West Coast hitting Northern CA on Tues (3/25) and expected to build to 4 ft @ 15 secs (6.0 ft) late. But on Wed (3/26) it is to get overrun by more local Gulf swell. Swell Direction: 300 degrees.
Remnants of a previous Dateline Gale redeveloped in the Gulf of Alaska on Sat PM (3/22) generating 35-40 kt northwest winds over a small area resulting in a tiny area of 20 ft seas at 43N 159W aimed east (355 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). Sunday AM (3/23) winds were fading from 30-35 kts over a tiny area with seas peaking at 26 ft at 41N 153W (292 degs NCal, 296 degs SCal). The gale faded from there with 25-30 kt northwest winds in the evening and seas fading from 22 ft at 40N 150W (285 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Secondary fetch built to 40 kts Mon AM with seas again up to 26 ft at 39N 146W (284 degs NCal, 293 degs SCal). 35 kt west winds pushed towards the North CA coast Monday evening (3/24) with seas to 25 ft at 39N 139W (285 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). The gale was pushing onshore over the NCal-Oregon border on Tues AM (3/25) with seas fading from 22 ft at 40N 133W (292 degs NCal).
Some decent sized but raw swell is expected for North and Central CA with sideband energy into Southern CA.
North CA: Expect swell arrival near 9 PM Tues (3/25) at 6 ft @ 15 secs (9 ft) building overnight. Swell holding solid at 8 ft @ 14 secs (10.5 ft) sunrise Wed (3/26) holding pretty well through the day. Swell fading Thurs AM (3/27) from 6.5 ft @ 11-12 secs (7 ft). Swell Direction: 282-290 degrees
Southern CA: Swell to be building through the day Wed (3/26) peaking near sunset at 3.5 ft @ 15 secs(5 ft). Swell holding overnight then fading Thurs AM (3/27) from 3.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 291-296 degrees
Kuril Island Gale
One more tiny gale developed over the Kuril Islands on Fri AM (3/21) tracking northeast and almost landlocked with 45 kt northwest winds and seas to 34 ft over a tiny area at 41n 150E. The gale lifted northeast in the evening with 45 kt west winds resulting in 37 ft seas over a tiny area at 43N 157E targeting only Hawaii (311 degrees). The gale faded Sat AM (3/22) with 40 kt west winds and seas fading from 30 ft seas over a tiny area at 45N 160E (314 degs HI). This system is to be gone after that.
Some background swell to result for Hawaii arriving on Wed (3/26) and peaking at 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 308-313 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (3/25) a front associated with low pressure in the Eastern Gulf was generating south winds down to Monterey Bay with light rain moving south and expected to reach Monterey Bay by the evening. A second pulse of energy is to arrive Wednesday AM with southerly winds down to Pt Conception early and rain to that point late afternoon, with showers possible down into Southern CA. Northwest winds 15 kts building nearshore for all of Southern CA. Maybe 10-12 inches of snow for high elevations in Tahoe by Thurs AM. Thursday a weak pressure and wind pattern is to take hold off the Central CA coast with northwest winds over Pt Conception down into Southern CA at 15 kts. No real rain is forecast. Another low is forecast building off the coast falling southeast and the front associated with it is to reach North CA Fri AM (3/28) with south winds and rain there at 15 kts, but light winds and dryness over Central and South CA. The front is to start pushing south of San Francisco Sat AM (3/29) with south winds down to Monterey Bay and rain pushing south to Pt Conception late afternoon. Snow developing for Tahoe late AM continuing through the evening with another foot of accumulation possible. Sunday clearing ahead of yet another front with light winds everywhere by Pt Conception (north winds 15 kts). Monday and Tuesday the front is to be impacting the North and Central coasts with southwest to west winds 15 kts except northwest over Southern CA with rain down to Santa Barbara Monday evening. More snow for Tahoe on Tuesday (3/25) with 8-10 inches accumulation possible.
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 there's suggestions of a broad gale developing over the Northern Dateline region on Sun PM (3/30) with 40 kt northwest winds pushing south of the Western Aleutians and seas building from 20 ft just west of the dateline and south of the Aleutians. 40 kt west winds to hold over the dateline Mon AM (3/31) with 30 ft seas at 47N 178E (329 degs HI, 301 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading from 35 kts in the evening with seas fading from 30 ft at 46N 177W (331 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). Another pulse of small 16 sec period swell is possible for Hawaii a the US West Coast if all this comes to pass.
Also another small gale is to develop just off Northern Japan on Mon (3/31) with 45 kt west winds with seas peaking Tues AM (4/1) at 37 ft at 42N 162E targeting primarily Hawaii down the 309 degree path. Something to monitor.
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 Tuesday (3/25) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was rising at -0.62. The 30 day average was up some at -12.05 and the 90 day average down slightly to -0.88. 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 trending Active. The SOI was the lowest it's been since the El Nino of '09/10. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies north of Australia on the equator building over dateline to moderate strength then turning neutral just south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies were in play over a modest area mid-way to Central America. The westerly anomalies are not associated with the Active Phase of the MJO (technically the Active Phase is actually estimated over West Africa) but were occurring just east of the leading edge of the Inactive Phase over the eastern Maritime Continent. Most interesting. A week from now (4/2) neutral anomalies are to hold over the Maritime Continent continuing over the dateline. Light east anomalies are forecast south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies to extend from there to Central America. In all this suggests a modest Active Phase of the MJO was still in control of the West Pacific and is to fade in the coming week to dead neutral. And equally weak east anomalies are to hold east of there, likely due to an eastward shift in the Walker Circulation and perhaps symptomatic of El Nino. The previous setup (i.e. multiple Westerly Wind Bursts) appears to be rapidly fading with a neutral pattern expected to take hold. A previous WWB likely created a large Kelvin Wave tracking towards South America in January (starting 1/8, peaking 1/28 then fading the first week of Feb) followed by a second strong WWB in Feb-Mar (as strong as the first one starting 2/15 and peaking 2/20-3/2 then fading 3/10) setting up and offering yet more reinforcing transport warm water east. And then a third weak westerly wind burst developed (starting 3/12 and expected to fade out by 3/27). As of right now this series of events is significant and is certainly something to monitor, but does not mean El Nino is in-play. The million dollar question remains "Will the currently developing Inactive Phase shut the warm water transport machine down, or will another Active Phase develop and restart the transport mechanism?" 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 3/24 are in consensus. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was all but gone and fading near if not east of the dateline (actually the core of the Active Phase was really over West Africa and the west anomalies over the dateline were an outlier condition). The models indicate a modest Inactive Phase was building from the Eastern Indian Ocean into the West Pacific. 5 days out the models suggests a moderate Inactive Phase moving into the West Pacific and fading slowly while edging towards the dateline 10-15 days out but not making it and not progressing any further east. The dynamic model is more aggressive regarding the strength of this Inactive Phase and suggest it making more eastward headway. West anomalies are expected to fade out, and with it any hopes for fueling more Kelvin Waves in the nearterm future. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Active Phase is to push east and fade over the Eastern Pacific through 4/4. the new Inactive Phase is to build over the West Pacific 4/9 easing east through 4/24. Behind it a stronger Active Phase to develop in the West Pacific 4/19 tracking east while building before hitting Central America on 5/4. It will be most interesting to see if westerly anomalies dissipate and we fall back into a neutral/weak MJO pattern by early April, or whether westerly anomalies will continue on the dateline. Best guess is we're going to fall back into a weak MJO pattern. But the models really didn't have a handle on the three previous WWB events until they occurred, so there's no reason to suspect they will pick up on any new developing events before they actually occur either. But for now, the pattern appears to be retreating. It was a nice run while it lasted. For now we wait for the next Active Phase of the MJO to develop and to see If a new WWB event were to occur with it. If it does it might suggest a change in the global weather pattern for months to come. But this signal would have to hold into at least August before one could declare the development of El Nino. And there is much unknown as we enter the Spring 'Unpredictability Pattern" (mid-March through early June). The whole pattern could just as easily collapse and return to a neutral pattern. It's just too early to know. 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 (3/24) a cool water regime that had set up over the equatorial East Pacific (east of 155W) continues to fade. If anything warm water from the north is shifting southward over the equator shunting off the cool upwelling flow tracking east to west from the Galapagos with at least a neutral temperature pattern suggested there if not warming slightly. But a new small pocket of cooler water started pushing off Peru on 3/16 and has reached the Galapagos if not pushing further west, and appears to be gaining momentum. Given increase in easterly winds in the East Equatorial Pacific, upwelling and cooler waters is not surprising in this small area. But this remains something to monitor, especially if it were to grow in coverage. Otherwise the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water as is the West Pacific (north and south). This is good news. A sympathetic cool pool that had developed off Africa remains dissipated. No high pressure induced cool water is streaming southwest off California. The only cool water present is that streaming off Southern Chile pushing northwest almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by all the warm water from the Northern Hemisphere. All eyes are on the developing cool stream over the Galapagos.
We continue to suspect the vestiges of the cool pool over the East Equatorial Pacific is tied to a shift in the Walker Circulation. With easterly anomalies forecast to rebuild in this region over the next week, it will be interesting to see if the cool anomalies re-emerge. This would lend credence to the theory that the convergence point of an eastward shifted Walker Circulation might be developing near 160W, 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 given that surface water temps remain in a pure neutral pattern, even through the trend suggest moving towards a warmer state (but not realized yet) with upwelling in the east (though fading) and downwelling and warmer temps in the west as of 3/18. Still, two back-to-back strong WWBs (with a third developing) coupled with easterly anomalies directly east of them, cannot be ignored.
Of Note: A NOAA ship reached the eastern equator region and has started working on the TOA buoy array. The first and second row in the array (95W and 110W) returned to operation on 3/14 with sensors again starting to report water temps at depth. The third row at 125W is scheduled for repairs in April (not a moment too soon). This is a good and critical step forward in monitoring eastbound Kelvin Wave activity.
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 dissipated and is being overrun by warmer water migrating east from the large reservoir pooled up under the equator. This is good news in that there is no longer a hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the East Pacific. If anything, more surface warming seems imminent. Of great interest is a large area of very warm +5.5 deg C above normal water in-place and tracking east with it's core 150 meters down at 155W with it's leading edge at 115W (+1 deg C) and is tracking east. Given the lack of sensors between 150W and 120W exact details concerning the leading edge remain sketchy. 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) and reinforced by a second WWB in Feb-Mar with yet a third burst in March adding more fuel to it. The hope is the developing Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific will fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. The Kelvin Wave has also been confirmed via satellite in the form of increased surface water heights at +10 cm, (suggesting warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards). But it's still way too early to know with any certainty how this will play out, but all signs suggest something positive developing. Of concern is the cool stream that recently developed over the Galapagos. Perhaps this is the last vestiges of cool subsurface water in the area, being squeezed from behind by the large Kelvin Waves propagating east. Certainly it does not appear to be upwelling related to east winds, because there's no evidence of such winds. Regardless, when and if the Kelvin Wave erupts along the South American coast, the increase in water temps should reduce trades in the area, which in turn could support yet more warm water building (heated by the sun). Aided by yet another WWB and more eastward moving warm subsurface water, a feedback loop could develop, reinforcing the warm water flow and buildup off Central America into the Fall. But we're a long ways from that occurring just yet.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 3/24 remains unchanged. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 (but that did not happen) building to +0.75 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs have it peaking at +1.5 deg C range by late Nov 2014. For reference, the big El Ninos of '82/83 and '97/98 were +2.0 degs). For the immediate future (this Spring) an effective neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering below +0.5 deg C until April 1. But starting then a slow and steady increase is to set in. A consensus of other models suggests slow warming, but not passing beyond mildly positive territory till Spring.
Overall the immediate outlook remains unchanged, but potentially trending towards something that would be considered warm by Summer 2014, assuming one is to believe the models. Beyond, the models suggests a host of other promising signs, including multiple westerly wind bursts, changes in the wind circulation pattern on the equator (Walker Circulation), a large Kelvin Wave moving towards Central America, increased sea surface height anomalies confirm by satellite etc. All of this is good news. At a minimum 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 at this time with neither any form of El Nino or La Nina present or imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for the Spring of 2014 with perhaps slight warming developing by May in the equatorial Pacific. Monitoring the affects when and if the Kelvin Wave arrives along the equatorial East Pacific will be key to the potential evolution of a warm event. Still there remains 6 months ahead where any number of hazards could derail this event, the most recent being a collapse of the westerly winds in the West Pacific. But this is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. And it seems apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. In a normal situation one would expect there to be at least one or two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). 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 corner, 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