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 Thursday (3/27) in North and Central CA local Gulf swell was still hitting producing waves at 2 ft overhead and reasonably lined up but with much local lump and south warble running through it. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest high and washing around with westerly lump on it. Whitecaps were outside the kelp. In Southern California up north surf was waist to maybe chest high and reasonably well lined up but heavily textured. Down south waves were waist to chest high and weak and chopped with onshores in control. Hawaii's North Shore was getting residual swell with waves chest to head high and clean and fun looking, but nothing remarkable. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting wrap around energy at waist high and chopped with easterly trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Remnants of a gale previously on the dateline tracked east and redeveloped in the Gulf of Alaska Sun-Mon (3/23) generating a small area of 25-26 ft seas. Swell peak on Wed (3/26) and is to fade through the weekend for California. Another small gale is developing in the Gulf on Wed-Sat (3/29) pushing east with 23-24 ft seas forecast targeting the US West Coast. Possible swell for California for the weekend. Another system is forecast for the Northern Dateline Mon-Tues (4/1) with 30-32 ft seas aimed mainly east with residual energy reaching the Gulf on Wed (4/2) with 26 ft seas fading. Possible swell mainly for the US West Coast. And another small system is forecast off the Southern Kurils on Tues (4/1) with 30 ft seas targeting primarily Hawaii. So a little more swell seems likely.
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 Thursday (3/27) the jetstream was pushing broadly flat off Japan with winds 110 kts isolated mainly to the southern edge of the jet reaching the dateline then energy shifting to the northern flank of the stream in the Gulf pushing inland over a broad area extending from Oregon to Southern Baja. A weak trough was hinted at in the Gulf of Alaska offering minimal support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hours a bit of a split in the flow is to develop near the dateline but still contained within the broad width of the jet. A more defined trough to develop by Sun (3/30) in the Eastern Gulf with 130 kt winds feeding it offering decent support for gale develompent off the Pacific Northwest. Also a trough is to try and develop north of the split over the northern dateline region fed by 130 kt winds offering decent support for gale development there too. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to push inland over North CA on Tues (4/1) while the dateline trough washes out.A new weak split is to develop over the dateline Wed (4/2) with a bit of a trough off the Kuril Islands but unremarkable. And yet another trough is to develop in the Gulf on Wed-Thurs (4/3) but with only 80 kt winds feeding it offering little support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (3/27) residual swell from a gale previously in the Gulf of Alaska was fading in California. Swell is expected from a new Gale tracking through the Gulf (see another Gulf Gale below). Over the next 72 hours
Another Gulf Gale
A small gale started developing in the Northwestern Gulf of Alaska on Wed AM (3/26) with 35-40 kt west winds and seas at 24 ft at 42N 165W. Winds faded to 30 kts in the early evening with seas down to 22 ft at 41N 158W. (289 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). Fetch held at 30 kts Thurs AM (3/27) with seas down to 20 ft at 41N 151W (286 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Additional 35 kt northwest fetch to try and build in the evening in the Gulf holding into Fri AM (3/28) with seas rebuilding to 21 ft at 43N 144W (294 degs NCal). 35-40 kt northwest winds to build in the evening with seas up to 24 ft over a tiny area up at 45N 141W (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 23 ft just off Southern Oregon and Cape Mendocino at 43N 135W (305 degs NCal). This system is to be fading fast in the evening. Still limited secondary northwest winds at 30+ kts are forecast over a small area just off Cape Mendocino Mon (3/31) generating 20 ft seas. Assuming all goes as forecast some more larger but raw swell is possibly for Northern CA.
Rough data for planning purposes suggests swell arrival in NCal on Sat afternoon (3/29) at 6.0 ft @ 13-14 secs (7.5 ft) building into Sun AM (3/30) at 8 ft @ 13-14 secs (10.5 ft). Swell fading some from there. But secondary swell is possible building Tues (4/1) to 8 ft @ 12 secs (9.5 ft) but exceedingly raw. Swell Direction from primary swell: 284-300 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (3/27) a weak pressure and wind pattern was in control, effectively a break between weather systems, with southerly winds building in North and Central CA with 10-15 kt northwest winds over Pt Conception down into Southern CA. Rain was isolated to North of San Francisco. Another low was 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 Morro Bay late afternoon. Snow developing for Tahoe early AM continuing through the evening to early Sunday with 21-29 inches of accumulation possible. Sunday clearing ahead of yet another front with light northerly winds everywhere but up to 15 kts at Pt Conception. Monday and Tuesday the front is to be impacting the North and Central coasts with southwest to west winds 20 kts except northwest over Southern CA with rain down to Santa Barbara Monday evening. More rain for Central CA on Tuesday (3/25) with snow for Tahoe accumulating another 2 ft 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 the models indicate another broad gale developing over the Northern Dateline region on Sun PM (3/30) with 35 kt northwest winds pushing south of the Western Aleutians and seas building from 22 ft just west of the dateline and south of the Aleutians (44N 172E). 40 kt west winds to hold over the dateline Mon AM (3/31) with 28 ft seas building at 46N 178E (329 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading in coverage from 40 kts in the evening with seas 32 ft at 46N 177W (331 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). 40 kt west winds to track to the east Tues AM (4/1) with 30 ft seas at 45N 169W (296 degs NCal). Fetch is to hold in the evening with 30 ft seas tracking to 45N 160W (296 degs NCal). 30 kt west winds to be fading and moving into the Gulf Wed AM (4/2) with seas fading from 26 ft at 44N 153W (296 degs NCal). Another pulse of small 16 sec period swell is possible for Hawaii with more size for the US West Coast if all this comes to pass.
Also another small gale is to develop just off Northern Japan on Mon AM (3/31) with 45 kt west winds and seas to 28 ft over a small area at 38N 154E (304 degs HI). The gale to lift north overnight then rebuild Tues AM (4/1) with 45 kt west winds. Winds to hold into the evening with seas peaking at 30 ft at 42N 158E targeting primarily Hawaii down the 308 degree path. The gale is to start making eastward progress on Wed AM (4/2) but fading with winds 35 kts and seas dropping from 28 ft at 42N 163E (311 degs NCal). 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 Thursday (3/27) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding at -2.20. The 30 day average was down some at -12.30 and the 90 day average up slightly to -0.81. The near term trend based on the 30 day 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 east anomalies north of Australia on the equator turning westerly over dateline at moderate strength then turning neutral just south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued the rest of the way into 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. A week from now (4/4) neutral anomalies are to expected over the Maritime Continent turning weak easterly over the dateline. Light east anomalies are forecast to a point south of Hawaii. Then neutral anomalies are 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. The previous setup (a pattern of multiple Westerly Wind Bursts) appears to be all but gone 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 3/28). 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 4 weeks out 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 3/26 are in consensus. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was gone (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 over the West Pacific and fading slowly while edging towards the dateline 10-15 days out. 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 4/6. The developing Inactive Phase is to build over the West Pacific 4/1 easing east through 4/21. Behind it a very weak Active Phase to develop in the West Pacific 4/16 tracking east while building before hitting Central America on 5/6. 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 must wait for the next Active Phase of the MJO to develop and to see if a new WWB event is to develop from it. If this scenario were to develop, 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 like last year. 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 (3/27) a cool water regime that had previously set up over the equatorial East Pacific (east of 155W) is gone. 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. A new small pocket of cooler water started pushing off Peru on 3/16 and reached the Galapagos, but does not appear to be pushing further west as of 3/27 and if anything it appears to now be retreating. 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 remain on the cool stream pushing to the Galapagos, and trying to understand why it is present, and when and if warm water under the mid- equatorial Pacific will replace it.
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. 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 in March. 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. 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 3/27 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 +1.6 deg C range by 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