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 (4/29) in North and Central CA northerly swell from the Gulf was hitting producing waves at head high with some biggest sets and clean even mid-day. Looking fun. Down in Santa Cruz a mixture of Gulf swell and residual southern hemi swell was producing waves in the head high range and reasonably clean, but with whitecaps building outside the kelp. In Southern California up north southern hemi swell wave producing surf in the waist high plus range and a bit textured and sloppy. Down south surf was in the shoulder to head high range with a few bigger peaks and clean with brisk offshores and sun glistening off the faces. Hawaii's North Shore was getting limited northwest windswell with waves waist high or so and clean but a bit warbled.The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting east windswell at knee high with luck and chopped from northeasterly trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a small gale that was in the Northern Gulf of Alaska on Sat (4/26) with seas to 24 ft was hitting Central CA, but on the way down. Perhaps a small cut-off gale is to form in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska on Fri producing 20 ft seas pushing east. Windswell for the weekend possibly to result for much of the US West Coast. Also an equal sized gale to form on the dateline Thurs-Fri (5/2) with 20 ft seas possibly setting up windswell for the Islands late in the weekend. Nothing else to follow for the North Pacific. Down south residual southern hemi swell that hit California over the weekend is to be fading out fast. Another gale is forecast in the deep Southeast Pacific on Thurs (5/1) with up to 32 ft seas right on the eastern edge of the SCal swell window, but mainly focusing on Southern Chile. Nothing else to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (4/29) the jetstream was split over Japan but consolidated just west of the dateline forming a weak trough there but with only 100 kt winds feeding it, then ridging hard north up into the Eastern Bering Sea. The jet then fell hard south with 130 kts winds building into a steep trough in the Central Gulf of Alaska before ridging just as hard north and up into British Columbia. Limited support for gale development in the Gulf trough. Over the next 72 hours the dateline trough is to push east and hold together with winds to 140 kt in it's apex on Wed (4/30) then cut off and fade later Friday (5/2). Decent odds for gale development possible. The same is projected for the Gulf trough with it holding together decently into Wed (4/30), then cutting off and fading. Beyond 72 hours a weak and confused jetstream pattern is forecast with no troughs forecast capable of supporting gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (4/29) swell from a gale that developed in the Northern Gulf last weekend was hitting Northern CA (see Gulf Gale below). Otherwise a benign weather pattern was in play. Even trades were fairly light over Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours a weak low is to develop near the dateline Thurs (5/1) generating 30 kt northwest winds building to near 40 kt in the evening with seas building to 22 ft at 40N 179W targeting Hawaii down the 320 deg path. Fetch is to fade fast from 30 kt Fri AM (5/2) with seas fading from 20 ft at 37N 173W (320 degs HI). Limited 13 sec period small northwest windswell for the lslands by later in the weekend.
Also a small gale is to develop in the Eastern Gulf on Thurs AM (5/10) generating a small area of 35 kt northwest winds building to 35-40 kt in the evening with seas building to barely 20 ft at 42N 143W (295 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading from 35 kt Fri AM (5/2) with seas to 22 ft at 41N 141W (292 degs NCal). Residual westerly fetch to hold into Sat AM (5/2) at 30 kts with seas 19 ft at 42N 137W (296 degs NCal) then dissipating. Small windswell possible for Southern Oregon down into Pt Conception by the weekend if all goes as planned.
Low pressure previously over the North Dateline region built to gale status as it migrated to the Northwestern Gulf on Fri AM (4/25) with 35 kt westerly winds aimed at the Pacific Northwest resulting in 19 ft seas at 48N 167W. The gale proceeded east unchanged in the evening with seas building to 22 ft at 50N 161W (306 degs NCal). 35 kt west winds held into Sat AM (4/26) with 23-24 ft seas at 49N 155W (307 degs NCal). The gale is to fade in the evening with winds dropping from 30 kts and seas dropping from 22 ft at 50N 150W (310 degs NCal). This system is to rapidly dissipate from there.
Some 13-14 sec period swell is to result from the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA by early next week.
NCal: Residual swell to be fading on Wed AM (4/30) from 4.5 ft @ 12-13 secs (5.5. ft). Swell Direction: 305-309 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Tapah was located 550 nmiles north-northeast of Guam with winds 60 kts. This system is expected to fade out over the next 48 hours. No swell is expected to result for out forecast area. No other tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (4/29) high pressure at 1034 mbs was pushing inland over Idaho starting to set up an offshore flow over the bulk of the California coast. More of the same is forecast on Wed with the high fading well inland. A weak local wind pattern is forecast Thursday as low pressure develops off the Pacific Northwest coast holding high pressure at bay through Friday. On Saturday high pressure is to try and get a nose into the CA coast but still being mostly held off by the same low moving towards Oregon. Still northwest winds to build near Pt Conception to 15 kts late. Sunday a modest 10 kt westerly to southwest flow is forecast for Central CA north of Big Sur as the low moves inland over Oregon. Light rain starting early in NCal working its way down to the Golden Gate mid-day but not tracking any further south. Maybe 1 inch of snow for Tahoe overnight. By late Monday high pressure and northwest winds are to start developing for Central and South CA lifting north some on Tuesday and covering all of North and Central CA at 15 kts early and 20 kts late.
Jetstream - On Tuesday (4/29) the southern branch of the jetstream was ridging south to Antarctica and the Ross Ice Shelf actively suppressing gale formation in the West and Central Pacific with no real winds energy reaching into the East Pacific. That same basic pattern is to hold for the next 72 hours but with more energy reaching into the far East Pacific perhaps forming a bit of a trough near 120W (eastern edge of the SCal swell window) perhaps helping to support low pressure development. Beyond 72 hours that pattern is to continue perhaps helping to support gale development off Chile. But by Sun (5/4) and beyond the jet is to weaken over the entire South Pacific with no troughs of interest forecast, meaning no support for gale development at lower levels of the atmosphere.
Surface - On Tuesday (4/29) no swell producing weather systems were occurring. A series of three weak gales were tracking west to east but displaced well to the south courtesy of high pressure at 1032 mbs east of New Zealand ridging south to 60S. Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast forming in the far Southeast Pacific on Wed PM (4/30) with a small area of 45 kt southwest winds and seas on the increase. On Thurs AM (5/1) those winds are to be pushing northeast quickly generating 34 ft seas at 58S 118W or barely on the 180 degree path into Southern CA with most energy targeting Chile. Additional wind energy is to develop through Sat (5/3) but all be east of the Southern CA swell window. Low odds of any (even background) swell pushing up into SCal.
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 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 Tuesday (4/29) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at -4.47. The 30 day average was rising at 5.91 and the 90 day average was falling at -2.08. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of an Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a weak Inactive Phase of the MJO. The 30 day SOI continued rising from the lowest point it's been since the El Nino of '09/10 and suggesting whatever occurred during the Jan-March timeframe (to push it negative) was over. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated light to modest west anomalies extending from the Eastern Maritime Continent to the dateline. Light west anomalies continue south of Hawaii then turned light easterly from there into Central America. A week from now (5/7) Moderate east anomalies are expected to take hold over the Philippines and the Maritime Continent, turning neutral a bit west of the dateline, continuing neutral extending east to a point south of Hawaii and then turning westerly over the Galapagos and into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO is weakening in the West Pacific and is to fade out while easing east over the next week turning towards the Inactive Phase a week out. This will become another critical junction in the evolution of the potential 2014 warm event. Some degree of very weak westerly anomalies are to continue to May 1, but after that, with easterly anomalies forecast, transport of warm water to the east will cease. This would mark the first stoppage of warm water transport since the beginning of the year.
Previously a pattern of multiple strong Westerly Wind Bursts occurred Jan-March, but then moderated in late March, but never gave way to a fully Inactive Phase (with no hint of easterly anomalies west of the dateline since at least Jan 1). This is great news with westerly anomalies in play for 4 full months. Longterm this signal (suppressed trades in the far equatorial West Pacific) will have to hold into at least August with warm water building greater than 0.5 deg C over the tropical East and Central Pacific (120W to 170W) before one could declare the development of El Nino. And there is much unknown as we traverse the Spring 'Unpredictability Pattern" (mid-March through early June). The whole pattern could collapse and return to a neutral pattern like last year. It's just too early to know. But the further into the unpredictability barrier we get, and with west anomalies continuing, the lower the likelihood of a total collapse becomes. A previous WWB 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). And a fourth weaker one started 4/7 and held through 4/20, and was strong enough to be considered a minimal Westerly Wind Burst WWB. 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 the pattern is something more than coincidental and strongly suggests some degree of pattern change has developed for the tropics. 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 a Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and this 2014 WWB event has been posted here.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 4/28 continue somewhat diverged. They both suggest a very weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was fading over the West Pacific with it's core over the Western Dateline Region but steadily loosing coverage. The Active Phase is to hold over the far West Pacific 5 days out and is then to dissipate 10 days out. The statistic mode has a very weak Inactive Phase taking hold 15 days out and the dynamic model depicts a moderate Inactive Phase developing hear the dateline 10 days out and building 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the current Active Phase is fading while tracking east into Central America through 5/9. A moderate Inactive Phase is currently building over the West Pacific and is to track east while fading pushing into Central America 5/24. Behind it a very weak version of the Active Phase is to develop about 5/17 pushing towards the east reaching the East Pacific 6/5. A weak inactive Phase to build behind it. So per this model there is to be effectively only this one Inactive Phase before we push out of the Spring Unpredictability Barrier. The weaker it is the better. 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 the most recent imagery (4/28), a thin but building warm water regime has taken over the entire equatorial Pacific extending from Ecuador east over the Galapagos and ranging in the +0.5-1.0 deg C range with warmer pockets (3) in the +1.5 deg C range. The strongest is south of Mexico rising from +1.5 to +2.01 degs C over the past week. Overall it is starting to look like the a large Kelvin Wave that has been lurking just below the surface is starting to breech, between the Galapagos and Ecuador, but a few more days of data are required to confirm this. This pattern started in earnest on 3/29 and has been solidifying it's grasp every since. It would be best if it could increase its areal coverage 3-4 more degrees further south, especially in the area bound by from 90-140W, but as of now the trend is positive. A small isolated cool upwelling flow previously east of the Galapagos is gone and is turning to positive anomalies. We have been expecting the arrival of a large Kelvin Wave in the East Pacific any day now, with a pronounced increase in surface anomalies over a short time span (not just the subtle warming that has been occurring). That could happen over the next few day now. We'll continue monitoring daily values to identify the exact arrival date. Elsewhere the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water as is the West Pacific (north and south). There are no signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California either as would be expected for this time of year. The only cool water present is streaming off Southern Chile pushing west almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by the warm water developing on the equator. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific is impressive. But all eyes remain on a potentially developing breech of warm water along the western coast of Ecuador that would announce the arrival of a massive Kelvin Wave currently positioned under the Central Equatorial Pacific.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator remain impressive. Of great interest is a large area of warm +3-5 deg C above normal water in-place and tracking east with it's core 150 meters down somewhere between 160W and 100W. Current data suggests it's leading edge is just off the Ecuador coast at 80W (+6 deg C confirmed) and beyond the east most line of buoys in the TOA array (95W), right on the cusp of erupting to the surface. Given the lack of sensors between 155W and 110W, exact details concerning the core further back remain sketchy, but the leading edge waters temps are not in doubt. 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. And yet a 4th but weaker WWB developed in April. The hope is the Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific will fuel to what is 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 (one small pocket at + 15 cm just west of the Galapagos on 4/23), suggesting warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards. Surface heights have rebounded some on the dateline but are falling between 170W to 150W, suggesting the core of the warm water pool is now migrating into the East Pacific.
Based on previous history the evolution pattern would follow this general pattern: This large Kelvin Wave will erupt along the South American coast, and the increase in water temps should reduce trades above it (by reducing surface air pressure), which in turn could support yet more warm water building (heated by the sun and through reduced upwelling). Aided by yet another WWB in the West Pacific 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. What is needed is another Westerly Wind burst or at least continued westerly anomalies. Anything that reduces or suppresses trades in the equatorial West Pacific will suffice to continue the transport mechanism. So out-and-out west surface winds are not required. Anything that reduced trades in the east (like increasing water temps) will continue to stabilize the warm pool that is hopefully evolving there.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 4/29 are stable. The model had been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in March 2014 (which did occur) with temps reaching +0.5 in the Nino 3.4 zone by April 1 (also occurred). It now suggests water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early Sept peaking at +1.6 deg C by Nov 2014. Our guess is that some form of El Nino warning could be declared in the late May/early June timeframe if all stays on track. For reference, the big El Nino of '82/83 was at +2.0 degs and '97/98 was +2.2 degs at their respective peaks). The El Nino of 09/10 was +1.4 degs.
Overall the immediate outlook remains unchanged, but potentially trending towards something that would be considered warm by June 2014, assuming one is to believe the models and the subsurface water configuration. At a minimum the ocean is in recharge mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures on the rise in fit's-and-starts. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern at this time with neither any form of El Nino or La Nina present or imminent. Given all current signs, warming could start developing by May in earnest over the equatorial Pacific possibly increasing during the summer, intensifying into Fall. 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. 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
See a 'Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and the 2014 WWB Event' Here (posted 4/5/2014)
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest a storm developing in the Southeast Pacific on Tues (5/6) with 60+ kt winds aimed northeast with the storm itself tracking east. Something to monitor but not believable so far into the future.
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