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 Sunday (5/5) North and Central CA had southerly short period windswell producing weak mushy surf in the thigh high range and chopped. Down in Santa Cruz leftover southern hemi swell was mixing with south windswell producing waves at waist to maybe chest high and chopped. Southern California up north was near flat and pretty heavily textured even early. Down south southern hemi swell was still producing sets in the waist to maybe shoulder high range but nearly chopped with southerly winds blowing. Hawaii's North Shore was waist high on the sets and clean early with just a light south sideshore wind in effect. The South Shore was getting small southwest swell with waves knee to thigh high on the sets and chopped with south winds blowing. The East Shore was getting waist high northeast tradewind swell and reasonably clean with south winds in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
In the North Pacific no swell producing fetch of interest was occurring with a weak pressure pattern in control. The models continue to suggest two gales developing mid-next week, one west of the dateline and one in the Western Gulf, with the Gulf system producing 25 kt northwest winds over a decent sized fetch generating 13 ft seas on Wednesday aimed at Hawaii, and the second gale off Japan generating 25-30 kt northwest winds and 15 ft seas on Thursday aimed at targets south of the equator. Maybe some windswell to result for Hawaii. These systems are to hold somewhat together and push east, possibly offering windswell potential for exposed breaks in California (from the Gulf system) and then Hawaii again (from the Japan system). Something to monitor at least. Relative to California a local low is currently circulating just over the Central CA coast driving southerly winds and weak windswell which should be fading Monday as the low moves inland. No local north wind generated windswell in expected for the next 7 days. Looking into the southern hemi a small gale wrapped up just over the eastern coast of New Zealand late Saturday (5/3) generating 30-32 ft seas aimed north, good for a nice pulse of swell for Fiji on Tues (5/7 - GMT). Otherwise a quiet pattern prevails. On Thursday (5/9) a gale is supposedly to track northeast from under New Zealand, but downgraded from previous forecast only producing 26-28 ft seas. But it's northward track is to help stack the odds more in favor of producing some small swell possibly for Tahiti and Hawaii, assuming the gale even forms. Details below...
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Sunday (5/5) a near neutral pressure pattern was in control of the North Pacific. No large scale weather systems of interest were in play with no fetch exceeding 15 kts occurring. Locally a small low pressure system was retrograding off the Central CA coast generating 15-20 kt local south winds generating very short period local windchop almost reaching into the rideable range and that is expected to hold through the day maybe into early Monday (5/6), then start dissipating as the low moves back inland later Monday.
Trades were not blowing over Hawaii and not expected to return for the next 72 hours. Small windswell from previous fetch north of the Islands is hitting but is forecast to be fading into Monday (5/6) (see QuikCASTs for details).
Over the next 72 hours a pair of low pressure systems are to develop starting Tuesday (5/7), one in the Western Gulf producing 25 kt northwest winds and 13 ft seas targeting Hawaii, and another just off Japan producing a short lived fetch on Wednesday with 30-35 kt north winds and 18 ft seas aimed at targets in the Southwest Pacific. The Gulf low is to hold into Wednesday producing more 25 kt northwest fetch and 13 ft seas aimed at Hawaii then fading some Thursday buy still producing 20 kt fetch and 12 ft seas again aimed somewhat at Hawaii but starting to push east maybe offering a glimmer of hope for the US West Coast. Small northwest windswell expected for Hawaii by Sat (5/11) if one is to believe the models. The Japan gale to continue circulating while easing east producing 25-30 kt northwest winds and 16 ft seas Thursday but still targeting locations mainly in the South Pacific.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (5/5) local low pressure at 1000 mbs was over the Central CA coast driving a markedly and unseasonable south wind flow and affecting the entire state. South winds were 15 kts and building in Central CA, lesser in Southern CA and offshore up in Northern CA. A chance of rain possible for the Central Coast. The low to peak Sunday evening driving 20 kt south winds for the Central Coast, then starting to fade with the low dissipating through the day Monday holding position off Monterey Bay. Light rain possible for all of Central CA with perhaps a 3-5 inches of snow for higher elevations from Tahoe down into the Southern Sierras. By Tuesday a light wind flow is forecast for the entire state remaining unchanged into later Thursday when northwest winds build to 10-15 kts mainly for the Central Coast. But by Friday that is to be gone as broad low pressure starts approaching from the west. A light flow is forecast everywhere other than Pt Conception with northwest winds 15 kts. A front is to push very close to the SF Bay Area late Saturday but dissipate before reaching land with a light flow holding through the weekend.Rain possible starting in NCal late Saturday building to Monterey Bay mid-Sunday (5/12).
Jetstream - On Sunday (5/5) the jet was pretty fragmented and flowing flat east, with 2 steams tracking independently till they merged over the Southeast Pacific then tracked over Southern Chile. Winds in the southern branch southeast of New Zealand were up to 150 kts in one small pocket. But no troughs of interest were indicated offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the same basic flow is to hold but with the overall trajectory lifting north some. Still no troughs of interest are forecast. Beyond 72 hours the flat zonal pattern to give way to development of a weak trough on Wed-Thurs (7/9) building under New Zealand with 140 kts southeast winds feeding into it. Some support for gale development possible. By Thurs PM the trough is to rapidly build with 180 kt winds feeding up into it into Friday, but then quickly dissipating. Additional energy to push up into the remnants of the trough on Sat (5/11) at 130 kts then pinching off. Some support for gale development possible. Also a second trough is to start building under New Zealand on Sun (5/12) too with 120 kts winds feeding it. Something to monitor.
Surface - On Sunday (5/5) swell from a gale off New Zealand was pushing towards Fiji (see New Zealand Gale below). Otherwise no swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing weather systems of interest are forecast.
New Zealand Gale (Fiji)
A small non-closed isobar low started developing in the Central Tasman Sea on Sat AM (5/4) producing 35-40 kt south winds with seas on the increase. By evening it had closed off along the Eastern New Zealand coast generating 40 kt south winds with seas building from 28 ft at 36S 167E aimed well at Fiji. The core of the gale was moving inland Sunday AM (5/5) still producing a small fetch of 40 kt south winds aimed well at Fiji with seas peaking at 30 ft (06Z) at 35S 168E. The gale to move inland over New Zealand on Sunday with all fetch quickly fading.
In all a short pulse of 16-17 sec period swell is likely to result starting to radiate into Fiji on Mon afternoon GMT (5/6) reaching 9 ft @ 16 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) fading through Tuesday (5/7) from 8 ft @ 15 secs early(12 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 208 degrees. Swell a little bit raw given the close proximity of the fetch (900 nmiles).
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 local windswell producing gradient activity is forecast along the California coast.
No trades of 15 kts or greater are forecast relative to Hawaii beyond 72 hours either.
The two gales forecast in the North Pacific are to continue an easterly trajectory. The only in the Gulf of Alaska to possibly regenerate some on Friday (5/10) 1200 nmiles off the Central CA coast with northwest winds building to 25 kts holding into Sat AM with 15 ft seas developing possibly setting up some minor windswell for Central CA. But that is just a fantasy at this early date. Regardless, a quick fade is forecast thereafter.
The second gale in the West Pacific is to also track east Fri-Sun (5/12) producing 25 kt westerly winds and seas in the 15 ft range reaching the dateline by Sun day. At that time it is possibly to be close enough to Hawaii for some windswell to again be pushing towards the Islands, if one is to believe the models.
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 Sunday (5/5) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down sharply at -28.63. The 30 day average was down a fair amount at -2.42 with the 90 day average up slightly at 2.78. Overall this is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino, but the downward trend is encouraging.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated modest east anomalies over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral over the dateline on into Central America. A neutral MJO pattern appeared to be in control. A week from now (5/12) moderate east anomalies remain forecast over the Maritime Continent extending to the dateline and east of there to a point south of California, then fading to neutral along the equator into Central America. This suggests a building moderate pulse of the Inactive Phase of the MJO is possible.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/4 are in general agreement. Initially both suggest a moderate Inactive MJO pattern was in control of the far West Pacific. It is forecast to hold 5 days out, then start fading 10 days out and all but gone 15 days from now. Both models suggest the Active Phase of the MJO is building in the Western Indian Ocean and is moving east. The Dynamic model has it moving into the West Pacific 15 days out while the Statistical model is more conservative with it just starting to move into the West Pacific. So assuming all this comes to pass, it would suggest a return to a stronger MJO cycle. But the jury is still out as to whether that is what will really develop, or whether the models are just overhyping what has generally been a very weak MJO signal so far this year.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). As of now (5/2) a faint pool of slightly warmer water covers the north side of the equator from Ecuador to a point south of Hawaii with much cooler water building over the same area south of the equator. A thin current of markedly cold water continues tracking north up along the South American Coast turning west at Central American extending to the Galapagos Islands, and getting better traction pushing west of the Galapagos.It's not enough to call it a real La Nina cold pool yet, but it sure is looking that way. A plume of slightly cooler than normal water continues radiating off the California coast tracking just southeast of Hawaii and barely making it to the equatorial dateline, typical of the effects of a somewhat stronger than normal East Pacific high pressure system. And it looks like it's gotten cooler, the result of a prolonged burst of northerly winds previously over the CA coast. Subsurface waters temps on the equator continue indicating a stable pool of cooler water (-2 to -3 deg C) in place at 150W and down 130 meters, blocking the transport path. A small pocket of slight warmer water appears to be backing up in the West Pacific suggestive of La Nina. In short, temperatures on the surface are not warming and now appear to be cooling, while the subsurface path, though not strongly blocked by cooler water, is not doing anything to transport warm water eastward, even if there was warm water to transport. And the coastal pattern off the US mainland suggests somewhat higher pressure and cooler water temps, all signs of a weak La Nina-like pattern. Interestingly the falling SOI (both daily and 30 day average) suggests something else is in play. It's still a very mixed pattern with no clear long term signal suggesting either El Nino or La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/5 seem to be in denial of the current situation. They indicate water temps peaked at Nino 3.4 in early April at (+0.6 degs C) and are slowly falling expected to bottom out in May near normal (+0.0 degs C). A slight rebound to the +0.2 degree C level is possible over the summer, building to +0.3 degrees in the Fall and holding there into Jan 2014. A consensus of all the other ENSO models suggest near normal water temps into Summer and early Fall 2013 with no warming indicated. We are in the Spring Unpredictability Barrier where accuracy of all the ENSO models is historically low. So for now the outcome is uncertain, but not trending towards anything that would be considered warm. Historically, if a warm water buildup indicative of any significant El Nino pattern were to occur, it would be starting to happen by now (normally would start building in Feb-Mar). That is clearly not the case for this year. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014.
We are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than previous years (2010-2011 and 2011-2012) under the direct influence of La Nina. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell for the 2012-2013 winter season, but that did not materialize with the pattern looking more like La Nina than anything. This past season was more of a 3 rating than the 5 that was predicted. That said, there was good consistency, with the west dateline area very productive and almost machine-like. But the storms were very small in areal coverage and rarely made enough eastern headway to reach over the dateline. The result was very westerly but reasonably sized utility class swells for the Islands with far smaller and more inconsistent swell energy for the US West Coast. Longer term the expectation there will be at least one year of neutral to slightly warmer temps (2013-2014) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Last Updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast until Thursday AM (5/9) when a modest gale is forecast to start developing while tracking under New Zealand moving into and upper level trough producing an area of 35 kt southwest winds down at the surface and seas building from 24 ft. Thurs PM the gale is to track northeast with fetch building to the north pushing up into the South Pacific with winds holding at 35 kts southeast of New Zealand targeting Hawaii and seas to 26 ft at 54S 178E. Additional 35 kt southerly winds to be holding and lifting north Fri AM (5/10) generating barely 28 ft seas at 51S 172W. A broad fetch of 30-35 kt southerly winds are expected in the evening with 28 ft seas lifting north at 46S 168W. 35 kt south winds to be starting to fade Sat AM (5/11) with seas fading from 26 ft at 40S 165W. Southerly fetch fading from 30 kts in the evening with seas fading from 25 ft at 35S 157W. Assuming all this comes to pass some degree of decent 15 sec period swell could radiate northeast targeting mainly Tahiti with secondary swell for Hawaii. At least it's something to monitor.
Otherwise 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