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 (4/19) North and Central CA fog was in control obscuring the view. But best guess put surf at 2 ft overhead and pretty bumped up with northwest fog wind blowing at 10 kts. In Santa Cruz surf was waist to chest high and clean and clear. Southern California up north surf was waist high and clean and still kinda lined up. Down south waves were chest to shoulder high on the sets and a little soft with light texture on top. Hawaii's North Shore had fading swell with waves waist high or so and clean. The South Shore was weak with minimal swell producing knee to thigh high sets and clean. The East Shore was getting east tradewind generated windswell with waves thigh high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
One last tiny gale was developing off Washington on Tuesday (4/17) with seas in the 22 ft range, but faded quickly. That swell is hitting Central CA now. The models continue suggesting a weaker gale in the Western Gulf over the weekend with 20 ft seas offering little if anything for either Hawaii or the US West Coast. Beyond a slightly stronger system is forecast for the Northeastern Gulf on Wed (4/25) and perhaps stronger on in the Western Gulf a week out, but we're not hold our breath. Down south a gale is forecast tracking under New Zealand on Friday (4/20) then rising slightly northeast producing 32 ft seas on Saturday (4/21). Something to monitor, but nothing is forecast after that.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jet stream - On Thursday (4/19) the jet was split over Asia with a thin trail of energy peeling off to the north over interior Siberia. The remaining energy was pushing east off Japan splitting again mid-way to the dateline with the northern branch running flat over the dateline and into the US West Coast over Washington one trough present in the Gulf of Alaska with wind to 130 kts offering limited support for gale development in the lower levels of the atmosphere. The southern branch was tracking southeast reaching 10N and then flowing east from there and of no interest. Over the next 72 hours the same basic pattern is to hold but with the Gulf trough getting a little steeper and winds holding at 140 kt winds offering limited support for gale development. A secondary very steep trough is to develop over the dateline but with no real wind energy associated with it. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to start pinching off on Sunday but still holding and pushing southeast becoming cut-off by Tues (4/24) centered a bit off the Southern CA coast then moving up to Pt Conception on Thurs (4/26). It might support some fetch of interest longer term. At the same time another trough is to start forming in the Western Gulf on Wed (4/25) with 130 kt winds falling into it 24 hrs alter perhaps offering some odds for gale development then.
Surface - On Thursday (4/19) weak high pressure at 1024 mbs was trying to ridge into the California coast generating 20 kt north winds focused on the Pt Conception area. A pool of low pressure was in the Gulf of Alaska with a gale on it's leading edge pushing north just off the coast of British Columbia, but of no interest swell wise for our forecast area. Swell from a small low pressure that developed in the Western Gulf of Alaska on Mon-Tues (4/17) was hitting Central CA (see Weak Gulf Low below). Another low was off the Kurils Islands tracking north with no real fetch aimed at even the Hawaiian Islands. Instead most fetch was in it's north quadrant aimed back at Japan.
Over the next 72 hours low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska is to produce a secondary fetch of 25-30 kt northwest winds in the Western Gulf on Thursday evening (4/19) building to 30 kts solid Friday AM (4/20) CA generating a tiny area of 20 ft seas at 43N 155W in the evening then quickly dissipating. Maybe some limited windswell potential for the US West coast with luck, but even that is likely wishful thinking.
The small gale that's trying and develop off the Kurils on Thursday (4/19) is to continue lifting slowly north with west winds building to 35 kts on Thursday evening (4/19) and wrapping into the gales south quadrant Friday AM (4/20) generating seas to 18 ft over a tiny area in the evening. Maybe some small windswell to result for Hawaii if all goes as scheduled, but it is an awfully longs ways from the Islands. Small swell with luck to result there.
Weak Gulf Low
A small low pressure system developed with 35 kt west and southwest winds off Northern Oregon on Monday evening (4/16). On Tuesday AM (4/17) winds were still 30-35 kts and seas peaking at 22 ft at 45N 142W pushing towards Oregon. This system dissipated by the evening. Limited 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.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (4/19) moderate north winds were modeled pushing down the entire California coast at 15 kts with 20 kt winds focused on the Pt Conception area and driven by weak high pressure off the Southern CA coast. The core of the north winds is to lift north on Friday centered off Monterey Bay late (20 kts) and then dissipating off San Francisco on Saturday (4/21), down to only 10-15 kt at worst, then calm Sunday over the entire coast. Perhaps a light eddy flow (south winds at 5-10 kts) on Monday along the Central Coast with a front over Northern CA and the front holding into Tuesday with south winds still in play down to Pt Conception. A cut off low is to be approaching the Southern Coast on Wednesday with south winds in play everywhere at 5-10 kts easing into Southern CA on Friday with south winds there and a offshore perhaps north of Morro Bay. Rain forecast for San Francisco southward focused best on Southern CA Thursday evening (4/26) with snow building in the Southern Sierras (Yosemite High Country) but rain for Tahoe.
At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (4/19) no fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours a gale is forecast pushing under New Zealand Thursday evening (4/19) with 45 kt west-southwest winds over a small sized area and building, with 50 kts winds aiming more to the northeast on Friday AM (4/20) and seas building from 28 ft at 57S 168E. In the evening 45+ kt southwest winds to hold pushing east with 32 ft seas building at 56S 176W (207 degs CA and well into the Tahiti swell shadow, 190 degs HI). On Saturday AM (4/21) fetch is to be fading from barely 45 kts with seas peaking at 32 ft at 55S 164W (203 degs CA and almost out of the worst of the Tahiti shadow, 184 degs HI and aimed mostly east of the great circle path there). The fetch is to be effectively gone in the evening with residual 32 ft seas fading at 50S 158W (202 degs CA as still in the core of the Tahiti swell shadow but pushing better up the 181 degree path to Hawaii. 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 modest gale is to develop off the Canadian coast on Tues (4/24) with 30-35 kt west winds late perhaps generating 22 ft seas at 50N 142W Wed AM (4/25) (318 degs NCal) offering possible decent windswell primarily for the Pacific Northwest if one is to believe the models.
A stronger gale is forecast 1500 nmiles north of Hawaii on Thurs (4/26) with 35 kt northwest winds and 24 ft seas. But that is likely pure fantasy.
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 Thursday (4/19) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up hard at 19.54. The 30 day average was up slightly at -7.89 (neutral) with the 90 day average holding at 1.54. The transition from Active to Inactive Phase of the MJO was starting to have effects on the SOI.
Current wind analysis indicates light to modest easterly anomalies over the equator extending from just east of the dateline to 135E. Weak westerly anomalies were from 110W and moving eastward. This suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was fading in the extreme Eastern Pacific while traveling east into the Atlantic with the Inactive Phase in control of the West Pacific. A week from now (4/27) dead neutral anomalies are to continue 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 4/18 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 no 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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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