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 Saturday (4/28) North and Central CA had surf that was 1 ft overhead and blown to bits with strong northwest wind. In Santa Cruz surf was chest high and clean but warbled early. Southern California up north had surf at knee to thigh high and clean. Down south waves were waist high with a few bigger sets and clean. Hawaii's North Shore had limited northerly swell at waist high and clean. The South Shore was getting southern hemi swell at waist high with some bigger sets and clean. The East Shore was getting minimal east tradewind generated windswell with waves knee to thigh high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Swell from a gale that developed off Washington mid-week (4/25) with seas to barely 20 ft was fading along exposed break of the California coast. Another small gale developed in the Western Gulf Friday (4/27) with barely 20 ft seas over a tiny area. Barely rideable swell is expected for Hawaii late Sunday (4/29) and nothing for the US West Coast. For at least the next week if not much longer no real gale formation is expected in the North Pacific. Time to focus down south. In the South Pacific a gale tracked under New Zealand on Friday (4/20) then rose slightly northeast producing 32 ft seas on Saturday (4/21) targeting small sideband energy at Hawaii for Sat (4/28) and more direct energy at the US West Coast by Mon (4/30). One of a pair of tiny gales is to have some potential in the extreme Southeastern Pacific on Sat (4/28) with maybe up to 32 ft seas developing. A larger one is forecast late Sunday (4/29) and barely in the California swell window with up to 40 ft seas projected. Maybe some very south angled swell to result for CA down into Central America. There's rumors of a large storm tracking under New Zealand late in the week (5/5) but that is hardly believable at this early date.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jet stream - On Saturday (4/28) the jet was heavily split just off Japan with the northern branch pushing hard north over the Kuril Islands up into the Northwest Bering Sea turning and falling southeast joining the main flow on the dateline and forming a bit of a backdoor trough there down at 37N. But winds were only 80 kts in the trough and worthless. From there it tracked northeast pushing inland over British Columbia. Winds were weak everywhere and offering no odds for gale development anywhere over the North Pacific. Over the next 72 hours the dateline trough is to dissolve and wind speed over the entire jet there are to fall below 80 kts offering absolutely nothing of interest. In the east the jet is to be consolidated with 140 kt winds pushing into British Columbia into Sunday then falling south to Oregon on Tuesday (5/1) but not trough or support for gale development is indicated. Beyond 72 hours a split flow is to build across the entire North Pacific. A bit of a trough is forecast setting up in the Gulf of Alaska in the northern branch next weekend, but winds to only be 110 kts offering very limited support for low pressure development down at the oceans surface. The focus is turning towards the South Pacific.
Surface - On Saturday (4/28) high pressure at 1028 mbs was 750 nmiles off the Central CA coast forming a pressure gradient along the coast and generating north winds at 20-25 kts from Pt Arena southward to Pt Conception. Residual swell from a gale that was off Oregon earlier in the week was still hitting the CA coast, but buried in local chop. The high was also generating easterly trades east of Hawaii and pushing into the Islands at at 15 kts making for bare minimal easterly windswell along east facing shores there. Over the next 72 hrs virtually no change is forecast with high pressure locked off California and some degree of north winds continuing resulting in northerly windswell for exposed breaks. Trades also to continue over the Hawaiian Islands. But nary a drop of low pressure is forecast over the North Pacific.
West Gulf Gale
A modest gale developed in the Western Gulf on Thursday AM (4/26) with 30 kt northwest winds building to 35 kts in the evening resulting in 20 ft seas at 11 PM at 46N 170W (340 degs HI and 297 degs NCal). Fetch and seas were effectively gone by Fri AM (4/27).
Maybe some small swell to result for Hawaii by late Sunday at 2.6 ft @ 11 secs (3 ft faces) from 340 degrees holding into early Monday AM.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (4/28) high pressure at 1030 mbs was locked 700 nmiles west of Pt Conception generating a brisk northerly flow down the Central CA coast at 20 kts. Southern Ca was protected and extreme Northern CA was unaffected. These winds are to build northward to Cape Mendo on Sunday with winds 20-25 kts along the entire North and Central Coasts, with Southern CA becoming steadily more protected if not falling into an eddy flow (south wind). The gradient is to be fade some on Monday (4/30) but still north winds holding at near 20 kts from Cape Mendocino south to Pt Conception and an eddy flow likely for South CA (south winds 5-10 kts). By Tuesday the high is to surge some and fall back south with northwest winds 20-25 kts for the entire North and Central Coast and the eddy flow disintegrating for Southern CA. More of the same Wednesday then the north wind event is to fade some Thursday AM as a weak low pressure system moves into the Pacific Northwest. But then high pressure and northwest winds are to rebuild for Friday (5/4) continuing into next weekend a summer like high pressure regime takes control. Southern CA is to remain mostly protected from the Scourge of Spring.
At the surface in the South Pacific on Saturday (4/28) high pressure at 1032 mbs was locking down the Central Pacific with gale activity in the extreme Southwest - Tasman Sea Area and also in the extreme Southeast. Swell from a gale that developed southeast of New Zealand on Thurs (4/19) was pushing northeast towards Hawaii and California (see New Zealand Gale below). Over the next 72 hours the second in a pair of micro gales is forecast tracking through the extreme Southeast Pacific. On Friday AM (4/27) it had 45 kt south winds building into the evening to 50 kts with 30 ft seas developing over a tiny area at 48S 130W. The gale was fading some but tracking northeast Sat AM (4/28) with 45 kt south winds and seas to 31 ft at 43S 122W building to 32 ft and expected to push to 42S 116W in the evening, then dissipating. A small push of small background swell is possible radiating up into Southern CA with luck. But don't expect much size though given this systems extremely small footprint. Will monitor.
Also a broad storm with 45-50 kt south winds winds was pushing up into the Southern Tasman Sea on Fri PM (4/27) with 38 ft seas starting to push under Tasmania. Saturday AM (4/28) the system is to be fading in the Southern Tasman Sea with winds dropping from 45 kts and seas 36 ft seas reaching to 45S 150E targeting Fiji well, then fading in the evening from 34 ft at 44S 154E with perhaps some filtered energy eventually reaching up into Hawaii. Will monitor.
New Zealand Gale
A gale pushed under New Zealand Thursday evening (4/19) with 40 kt west-southwest winds over a small sized area and building, with 45 kt winds aiming more to the northeast on Friday AM (4/20) and seas building from 26 ft at 56S 167E. In the evening 40+ kt southwest winds were building in coverage while pushing east with barely 30 ft seas building at 56S 177E (211 degs CA and moving into the Tahiti swell shadow, 194 degs HI). On Saturday AM (4/21) fetch was becoming diffuse fading from 40 kts with seas 30 ft at 55S 168W (205 degs CA and in the core of the Tahiti shadow, 187 degs HI and aimed mostly east of the great circle path there). The fetch pulsed a little in the evening aimed almost due north with winds 40 kts and seas 32 ft at 49S 157W (203 degs CA and still in the core of the Tahiti swell shadow but pushing better up the 179 degree path to Hawaii). Fetch was gone Sunday AM (4/22) with seas fading from 32 ft at 45S 148W.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Saturday AM (4/28) with pure swell 2.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.0-4.5 ft). Swell Direction 179 degrees
Expect swell arrival in Southern CA on Monday AM (4/30) near 3 AM with pure swell peaking during the day no larger than 2.7 ft @ 17 secs (4.5 ft faces) and inconsistent with few waves per set. Swell Direction: 205 degrees
Swell to push into Northern CA on Monday afternoon at 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft) pushing 2 ft @ 16 secs early Tuesday (3 ft). Swell Direction 200 degrees
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hrs virtually no swell producing fetch is forecast. High pressure at 1040 mbs is to build over the dateline and start ridging east by Thurs (5/3) locking down the entire North Pacific and signaling the beginning of Summer.
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 Saturday (4/28) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained low dropping to -21.70. The 30 day average was falling at -6.79 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to -0.84.
Current wind analysis indicated dead neutral anomalies over the equator over the entire West Pacific. Neutral winds were east of there extending into Central America. This indicates that neither the Active nor Inactive Phase of the MJO was occurring. A week from now (5/5) dead neutral anomalies or perhaps a wisp of east anomalies are to take hold of the West Pacific extending eastward into Ecuador indicative of a completely neutral MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 4/27 suggest absolutely no MJO activity occurring and none to occur for the next 2 weeks. That said, the dynamic model (less reliable) suggests the Inactive Phase trying to build in the far Eastern Indian Ocean 2 weeks out. Regardless, none of this suggests any real benefit to the North Pacific storm track. Of continued interest, warmer than normal water is starting to accumulate off Ecuador and a pocket of blocking cold water under the equator south of California has evaporated with warmer water trying to push east into it (possible Kelvin Wave). This activity was the result of the last pulse of the Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and is more typical for this time of year, but also suggests that La Nina is continuing to disintegrate. And the horseshoe cool water pattern that has dominated the entire Pacific for the past 2 years appears to be in steep decline.
Momentum from a moderate La Nina event that occurred over the past 2 years is 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 new storm is forecast building in the deep Central Pacific with 55 kt southwest winds Sunday AM (4/29) and seas 36 ft at 66S 135W and on the increase. By evening this system is to have southwest winds fading from 45 kts with the core of the system starting to track more northeast rather than flat east. Seas peaking at 40 ft at 63S 124W, on the eastern edge of the California swell window. Fetch is to be fading from 40 kts Monday AM at 58S 120W with seas fading from 40 ft at 59S 119W effectively out of all but the extreme Southern CA swell window, but lifting better to the northeast. This system is to be fading while lifting northeast and outside the CA swell window by the evening, merging with a developing complex storm poised just off the extreme southern coast of Chile. Possible longer period but modest sized very southerly angled swell for California if all this comes to pass.
Of some interest is a fairly solid gale forecast developing under New Zealand on Thursday (5/3) with 40 kt southwest winds over a good sized area building in coverage over the next 24-36 hours with seas modeled to 42 ft by Sat AM (5/5) just southeast of New Zealand and pushing well to the northeast and just barely moving into the west side of the Tahitian swell shadow relative to California. Free and clear relative to Hawaii. It's pretty much a fantasy of the model at this early date, but something to monitor just the same.
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