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 (4/17) North and Central CA had new combo Dateline-Gulf swell hitting producing waves in the 9 ft range and clean, much cleaner than expected. In Santa Cruz surf was head high to 2 ft overhead and clean early. Southern California up north was waist high and chopped. Down south waves were chest to maybe shoulder high and soft with a little texture on top. Hawaii's North Shore was getting fading dateline swell with waves chest high and clean but with sideshore warble and generally weak. The South Shore was getting limited weak southern hemi background swell with waves to thigh high on the sets and textured or worse. The East Shore was getting wrap around northwesterly energy at chest high and chopped by easterly trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Swell from one last legit gale that developed over the dateline on Thursday (4/12) with seas to 32 ft then moved to the Gulf of Alaska and redeveloped Saturday (4/14) with 26 ft seas was hitting the US West Coast for Tuesday (4/17). One more tiny gale was developing off Washington on Tuesday (4/17) with seas in the 22 ft range, but is to be fading quickly. the models are hinting at a weaker gale in the Gulf over the weekend with 18 ft seas while another tries to push towards the dateline with 22 ft seas. Maybe some minimal energy from both the US West Coast and Hawaii if these systems develop as forecast. Beyond nothing of interest is expected up north. Down south a pair of gales are forecast tracking under New Zealand then rising slightly northeast with the first one generating up to 38 ft seas on Friday (4/20) with the second producing 42 ft seas on Saturday (4/21). Something to monitor.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jet stream - On Tuesday (4/17) the jet was weakly split over Asia with a thin trail of energy peeling off to the north tracking up the coast to Kamchatka. The remaining energy was pushing east off Japan splitting again just off the coast with the northern branch running flat over the dateline and into the US West Coast over Northern CA with pockets of wind to barely 120 kts with no troughs of interest occurring offering nothing to really support gale development in the lower levels of the atmosphere. The southern branch was tracking southeast reaching the equator at a point south of Hawaii and of no interest. Over the next 72 hours the same basic pattern is to hold but with the Asian split retrograding some inland while a bit of a trough starts building in the Gulf of Alaska Thursday (4/19) with up to 140 kt winds falling into it offering limited support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to start pinching off on Saturday but still holding if not falling south and almost becoming cut off by Tues (4/240 centered well off the Southern CA coast. It might support some fetch of interest longer term. At the same time another trough is to start forming off the Kuril Islands Sat (4/21) with 120 kt winds feeding it drifting east and pushing over the dateline on Tues (4/24) with winds down to 90 kts. Low odds for gale development forecast there.
Surface - On Tuesday (4/17) swell from a Dateline-Gulf gale was hitting California (see details below). Low pressure that developed in the Western Gulf of Alaska on Mon (4/16) with 35 kt west and southwest winds was off Northern Oregon on Tuesday AM (4/17) with winds still 30-35 kts and seas peaking at 22 ft at 45N 142W pushing towards Oregon. This system is to dissipate by the evening. Maybe some 12-13 sec period windswell to result for mainly the Pacific Northwest late Wed (4/18) and down to Central CA on Thurs AM (4/19) with pure swell 5.9 ft @ 12-13 secs coming from 303 degrees. Otherwise on Tuesday weak high pressure was pancaked off Northern Baja extending west to the dateline at 1024 mbs resulting in trades over Hawaii at 15+ kts. Another high was off Kamchatka at 1032 mbs.
Over the next 72 hours more low pressure is forecast developing in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska with one core producing 35-40 kt west winds just off Vancouver Island on Thurs (4/19) (outside the CA swell window) resulting in 22 ft seas just about impacting the Central Canadian coast on Friday. Maybe some swell to result for the Pacific Northwest. A secondary fetch of 25 kt northwest winds is to push through the Central Gulf on Thursday too building to near 35 kts Friday AM (4/20) CA generating a tiny area of 20 ft seas at 43N 155W maybe offering windswell potential for the US West coast with luck.
Also a small gale is to try and develop off Japan on Wed (4/18) lifting slowly north with west winds building to 40 kt on Thursday evening (4/19) and wrapping into the gales southeast quadrant Friday AM 94/20) generating seas to 22 ft over a tiny area. Maybe some small swell to result for Hawaii if all goes as scheduled.
This system faded then started to reorganize in the Gulf of Alaska on Friday evening (4/13) with west winds 30-35 kts and seas from previous fetch fading from 20 ft at 37N 162W. On Saturday AM (4/14) west winds in the gales south quadrant peaked at 40 kts with seas building to 26 ft at 44.5N 160W (296 degs NCal) and bypassing Hawaii to the east. In the evening winds were fading from 30-35 kts with seas fading from 26 ft at 45N 152W.
Another gale started developing over the dateline on Wednesday evening (4/11) with 35 kt west winds in it's southern quadrant and seas 24 ft at 36N 171E (303 degs HI) on the increase. By Thursday AM (4/12) a broader area of 40-45 kt west winds were in place 1500 nmiles northwest of Hawaii with seas building to 302 ft at 36N 177E (310 degs HI). In the evening winds to be fading from 35-40 kts with seas peaking at 30-32 ft at 36N 176W (315 degs HI) and 1200 nmiles out. Fetch was fading Friday AM (4/13) from 35 kts over a tiny area with seas fading from 24 ft at 35N 168W pushing mainly east with sideband energy tracking towards Hawaii.
Swell arrived in Central CA on Tues AM (4/17) with pure swell (mixed with swell from when the system was on the dateline) at 6-7 ft @ 15 secs (9 ft faces) coming from 296 degrees with energy underneath from 286 degrees. This swell to slowly fade through Thursday.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (4/17) a weak north wind pattern was modeled along the entire California coast at 10 kts with 15 kt winds focused on the Pt Conception area and driven by weak high pressure off the Southern CA coast. But there was effectively no winds in the SF Bay Area. Wednesday the high is to get a little better footing with north winds to 15 kts expanding their footing up to San Francisco and southward into Baja with 20 kts holding over Pt Conception. This pattern to hold on Thursday. The core of the north winds is to lift north on Friday centered off Morro Bay and then San Francisco on Saturday (4/21) a, but winds down to only 15 kt at worst, then dissipating Sunday. Wind turning south at 5-10 kts on Monday along the Central Coast with a front over Northern CA and the front holding into Tuesday but winds over Central CA fading to calm. No rain or snow is in the forecast from Pt Arena southward except summer like showers over Tahoe starting late Saturday, consistent with a reestablishment of the Inactive Phase of the MJO.
At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (4/17) no fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast developing south-southeast of New Zealand on Wednesday PM (4/18) with 45 kt southwest winds building pushing 50 kts on Thursday AM and seas building to 30 ft at 60S 167W. 45 kt southwest fetch is to pushing northeast in the evening with seas building to 34 ft at 55S 155W (180 degs HI, 200 degs CA and partially shadowed by Tahiti). 45 kt southwest fetch to hold into Friday AM 94/20 ) lifting northeast with seas peaking at 38 ft at 50S 143W and totally unshadowed at 193 degrees (CA). 45 kt westerly fetch to hold into the evening taking a more easterly track resulting in 38 ft seas at 47S 134W (188 degs CA) and mostly pushing east of the great circle tracks north. If all goes as forecast a modest push of sideband southern hemi swell could reach up into Hawaii with better unshadowed and more direct energy for California. Will monitor.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 a small cutoff low is forecast developing well off Southern California generating 30 kt northeast winds aimed back at Hawaii on Mon-Tues (4/24) generating 19 ft seas at 32N 143W. Possible windswell for East Shores of the Hawaiian Islands.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather event that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized by either enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is on control of or 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 day, 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 forecast for MJO activity.
As of Tuesday (4/17) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down slightly at 4.69. The 30 day average was down slightly at -8.55 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to 1.54. Thia recent pulse of the Active Phase of the MJO was having marked effects with the 90 day average surpassing the lowest point it's been in 2 years, but not as low as the El Nino of 2009-2010. A steady downward fall in the 30 day average has been ongoing since early January when it was +24 (now -8). We're hopeful this is part of a longer term ENSO trend away from La Nina and towards at least a neutral/normal configuration.
Current wind analysis indicates light to modest easterly anomalies over the equator extending from just east of the dateline to the Indian Ocean. Weak westerly anomalies were from 120W and moving eastward. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was fading in the extreme Eastern Pacific while traveling east with the Inactive Phase starting to take control of the West Pacific. A week from now (4/25) dead neutral anomalies are to be over the entire West Pacific extending effectively to Ecuador indicative of perhaps a very weak Inactive Phase of the MJO at worst. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 4/16 suggest the Inactive Phase is currently in control but the statistical model depicts the Inactive Phase holding on the dateline while the dynamic model indicating it is to fall back to the Indian Ocean a week out and then try and re-push east 2 week from now. Regardless, the Active Phase is not in control and the upper level circulation clearly indicates that, suggesting the North Pacific is likely going to sleep for the Summer.
Remnants of what was a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) are still evident and momentum from this La Nina event are expected to hold well into early Summer of 2012. But after that, a slow but steady return to a more normal pattern is expected to take hold, offering better chances for decent surf for the Fall and Winter of 2012-2013. We're almost there - it's been a long 2 years.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours a storm is forecast pushing under New Zealand Thursday evening (4/19) with 50 kt west winds over a decent sized area and building, with 50 kts winds aiming more to the northeast on Friday AM (4/20) and seas building from 36 ft at 59S 172E. In the evening 50+ kt southwest winds to hold pushing east with 40 ft seas building at 58S 180W (208 degs CA and moving into the Tahiti swell shadow, 191 degs HI). On Saturday AM (4/21) fetch is to be fading from barely 50 kts with seas peaking at 42 ft at 57S 168W (204 degs CA and almost out of the worst of the Tahiti shadow, 185 degs HI and aimed mostly east of the great circle path there). The fetch is to be effectively gone in the evening with residual 45 kt southerly winds remaining. Will monitor.
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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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table