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 Monday (3/31) in North and Central CA local windswell and residual Gulf swell were producing waves at 5-6 ft and blown to bits by south winds. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist high and completely trashed by south winds. Unrideable. In Southern California up north surf was maybe waist high and weak and pretty heavily textured with northwest winds on it. Down south waves were waist high and somewhat lined up but crumbly with light northwest wind on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting north windswell with waves chest to maybe shoulder high and clean and fun looking, but weak. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting the same north windswell with waves shoulder high and chopped with easterly trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A small local gale developed off the Oregon-California border Sun-Mon (3/31) producing 18-20 ft seas aimed at Central and North CA and is to continue into early Wed (4/2). Raw local swell to result. Another system was developing for the Northern Dateline Mon-Tues (4/1) with 28-30 ft seas aimed mainly east. Possible small swell mainly for the US West Coast. And another small system was developing off the Southern Kurils on Mon-Tues (4/1) with up to 40 ft seas projected targeting primarily Hawaii. Get what you can because after that, the North Pacific shuts down.
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 Monday (3/31) the jetstream was pushing off Japan with winds barely 120 kts, then splitting half way to the dateline with the northern branch lifting gently northeast pushing up to a point just south of the Aleutians and just east of the dateline, with two weak troughs embedded in it with 100-110 kt winds feeding both. The northern branch then fell southeast with a trough poised just off Northern CA with 120 kt winds feeding it. Limited support for gale development in all troughs. The southern branch ran flat east on the 20N latitude pushing over Hawaii and then into Northern Baja. Over the next 72 hours all previous troughs except the one closest to Japan and to either move inland or fade out. The Japan trough is to ease east some to Wed (4/2) with 120 kts winds feeding it, offering some more support for gale development. But by Thurs (4/3) even that trough is to be gone. Beyond 72 hours a more consolidated pattern is to take hold over the West Pacific with the jet ridging off Japan then falling southeast into a newly developing trough just east of the dateline on Sat (3/5) with 130 kt winds falling into it providing decent support for gale development. That trough to push east to a point north of Hawaii late Sun (3/6) then fade some while lifting northeast. Limited support for gale development possible. Back to the west 130 kt winds to be building off Northern Japan but overall the jet is to be loosing energy and organization, part of the transition to Spring.
Surface Analysis - On Monday (3/31) residual swell from a gale previously in the Gulf of Alaska was fading in California. Secondary swell is expected from yet another local system just off the Northern CA coast (see Another Gulf Gale Part 2 below). Over the next 72 hours another broad gale started developing over the Northern Dateline region on Sun PM (3/30) with 35-40 kt northwest winds pushing south of the Western Aleutians and seas building from 24 ft just west of the dateline and south of the Aleutians (45N 172E). 40 kt west winds held over the dateline Mon AM (3/31) with 27 ft seas building at 46N 178E (329 degs HI, 300 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading in coverage from 35 kts in the evening with seas barely 30 ft at 48N 177W (335 degs HI, 303 degs NCal). The gale is to rapidly fade from there. Another pulse of small 15 sec period swell is possible for Hawaii by Thurs (4/3) and 16 sec period energy for the US West Coast by Fri (4/3) with luck. Swell details can be found in the QuikCASTs.
Also another small gale developed just off Northern Japan on Mon AM (3/31) with 45 kt west winds and seas to 36 ft over a small area at 38N 152E (304 degs HI). The gale to lift north overnight with 34 ft seas at 40N 157E (306 degs HI) then rebuild Tues AM (4/1) with 50 kt west winds projects and seas building from 39 ft at 41N 158E (308 degs NCal). Winds to be fading in the evening from 40 kts and making eastward progress with seas fading from 38 ft at 40N 164E targeting primarily Hawaii down the 310 degree path. The gale is to start making better eastward progress on Wed AM (4/2) but fading with winds 35 kts and seas dropping from 31 ft at 40N 172E (313 degs NCal). Something to monitor but there best odds for Hawaii receiving swell over the weekend.
Another Gulf Gale (Part 2)
Limited secondary northwest winds associated with a previous gale off Northern CA rebuilt to 35 kts over a small area just off Cape Mendocino Sun PM (3/30) generating 19 ft seas as 43N 143W. Those winds continued Mon AM (3/31) generating 19 ft seas at 42N 137W (295 degs NCal). 30 kt fetch to continue in the evening just off Northern CA with 19 ft seas at 40N 133W (292 degs NCal). 30 kt northwest winds to hold just off San Francisco through Tues PM (4/1) with 18-19 ft seas moving to 38N 127W or 300 nmiles from the coast. Assuming all goes as forecast some more larger but very raw swell is likely mainly for Central CA.
Rough data for planning purposes suggests swell arrival in NCal on Tues (4/1) at 7 ft @ 12-13 secs (8.5 ft) from 270 degrees holding into Wed (4/2) pushing 8 ft @ 12 secs (9.5 ft). Horrible conditions.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday AM (3/31) the leading edge of yet another Gulf gale was pushing into the San Francisco Bay area with south winds in control down to Big Sur , precipitation moving inland and pushing south. By evening the front is to move inland with westerly winds in control of all of North and Central CA and precip down to Pt Conception building south and snow again in the Sierra. But the core is to remain offshore just beyond Cape Mendocino with another front and southerly winds expected for Central CA on Tuesday (3/25) with rain for all of Central CA working it's way down into Southern CA later. Lighter west to northwest winds possible for Central CA on Wed. Snow starting in Tahoe 6 PM Monday fading 4 AM Tuesday then redeveloping 10 PM Tuesday fading by 7 PM Wed. Accumulations of 13-16 inches possible. A light wind pattern is forecast Thursday with perhaps light south winds north of the Golden Gate and light northerly winds south of there with a weak trough moving onshore over NCal. Light rain possible for Northern CA with 2 inches of snow for Tahoe Friday. Light wind everywhere Friday but high pressure and north winds to move into the North and Central CA coasts on Sat (15 kts) pushing 20 kts Sunday fading some Monday as another low moves up to the Pacific Northwest.
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 no swell producing weather systems of interest are forecast.
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 Monday (3/31) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -17.95. The 30 day average was flat at -12.29 and the 90 day average holding at -0.82. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of a weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The SOI was holding near the lowest point 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 modest west anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning neutral over the dateline perhaps returning to weak west anomalies south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued the rest of the way into Central America. A week from now (4/8) modest west anomalies are to expected over the Maritime Continent turning weak easterly over the dateline. Neutral anomalies are forecast south of Hawaii. Weak east anomalies are forecast from there into Central America. In all this suggests a weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was still in control of the West Pacific and is to try and hold on for the coming week. This is an upgrade from previous expectations. The previous setup (a pattern of multiple Westerly Wind Bursts) appears to be moderating but has not yet given into a full scale Inactive Phase as was previously forecast (which is good news). 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 faded 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. Still lingering westerly anomalies are suspicious though. The million dollar question is "Will a true Inactive Phase develop and shut down the warm water transport machine, 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. A article presenting the graphic comparison is being built now and the teaser is that the similarities are notable.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/30 are in consensus. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was gone and the Inactive Phase and associated Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) anomalies were in control over the Maritime Continent and the dateline while the Active Phase of the MJO was moving from Africa and building in the Indian Ocean. But it's quite interesting how westerly anomalies are managing to persist where the Inactive Phase is supposed to be in control. Regardless, the models indicate that 5 days out the Inactive Phase is to peak at 170E on the equator and fade while slowly easing east 10-15 days out. The dynamic model is more aggressive regarding the strength and eastern headway of this Inactive Phase and it's demise. If one is to view the OLR models in absence of any other data, 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 has rebuilt on the dateline and is to hold while slowly moving east through 4/30. This is a major change of plan. A weak Inactive Phase is to build over the West Pacific 4/30 easing east while fading through 5/10. Behind it a another building Active Phase to develop. It will be most interesting to see if westerly anomalies persist or dissipate and we fall back into a neutral/weak MJO pattern by early April, or whether westerly anomalies will continue on the dateline. We'll withhold judgment for now. Note: The models didn't have a handle on the three previous WWB events until they occurred, so there's no reason to suspect the models will pick up on any new developing events before they actually occur either (and there's now evidence that is what is occurring now). For now we will wait to see if a new WWB event develops or at least trades remain suppressed. 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 (3/31) 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. Water temps over the entire equatorial Pacific +- 2 deg N/S are nearly continuously 0.0-0.5 degree above normal except for one small patch near 155W. A small pocket of cooler water started pushing off Peru on 3/16 and reached the Galapagos, but is now being deflected and if anything is retreating back to the east and loosing it's cold core. This remains something to monitor, but is becoming less of a concern. Otherwise the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water and is the West Pacific (north and south). This is good news. There are no signs of a sympathetic cool pool developing off Africa. No high pressure induced cool water is streaming southwest off California. The only cool water present is 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. The next big development, should it occur, will be the upwelling of warm water along Ecuador announcing the arrival of a massive Kelvin Wave currently positioned under the Central Equatorial Pacific.
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. Current data suggests it's leading edge is at least at 95W (+3 deg C) and is tracking east and poised to erupt along the coast of Ecuador (80W) shortly. Given the lack of sensors between 150W and 120W exact details concerning the core and 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 with trades suppressed since then. 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 +15 cm (over one small pocket, up from +10 cm on 3/20), suggesting warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards. 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 3/31 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 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