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 (5/6) in North and Central CA local north windswell was in control producing waves in the shoulder to head high range and chopped. Down in Santa Cruz limited windswell was trying to wrap in producing waves in the thigh high range and nearly chopped. In Southern California up north locally generated north short period windswell was producing waves at thigh high and totally blown out. Down south surf was waist high with some bigger sets and chopped with northwest wind in control. Hawaii's North Shore was getting limited windswell with waves chest high or so and clean but generally weak. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were getting minimal easterly windswell at knee high and lightly chopped from weak easterly trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
The North Pacific is effectively shut down for the foreseeable future with no swell producing low pressure systems forecast and no swell from such a source in the water. High pressure induced locally generated windswell is the only likely outcome. Down south a gale developed in the deep Southeast Pacific on Fri (5/2) with up to 36 ft seas right on the eastern edge of the SCal swell window, but mainly focusing on Southern Chile. Small sideband swell is pushing north towards Southern CA. Another small systems developed in the Southeast Pacific on Tues (5/6) with 28 ft seas again mainly targeting Chile and Peru but with sideband energy pushing up towards California. A tiny gale is forecast in the Central South Pacific on Thurs (5/8) with 38 ft seas aimed northeast possible setting up small background swell for all of CA. And a stronger and broader system is forecast forming south of New Zealand on Thurs (5/8) with 42 ft seas tracking east and fading only to regenerate late Fri into Sat (5/10) producing a broad area of 32 ft seas developing alongside of Eastern New Zealand aimed decently to the northeast well into Sun (5/11). Perhaps the first real shot of swell for Tahiti and Hawaii to result.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (5/6) no swell producing weather systems were occurring. Trades remained light over Hawaii at 15 kts or less. High pressure at 1024 mbs was off the California coast generating a pressure gradient along the North and Central Coasts with north winds 20+ kts resulting in raw local windswell (see QuikCASTs for details). Over the next 72 hours the gradient is to hold into Wednesday, then fade, only to regenerate mainly centered near Pt Conception on Sat (5/10) and holding into Sunday. Limited local windswell for Central CA. A cutoff low is to form northwest of Hawaii on Thurs (5/8) generating 25 kt fetch targeting the Islands while tracking northeast into Sat (5/10). Possible northwest windswell to result for the Hawaiian Islands.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored or forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (5/6) high pressure at 1026 mbs was ridging along the California coast generating a pressure gradient and 20 kt northwest winds over all nearshore waters. 20+ kt north winds are forecast for all of North and Central CA on Wed (5/7) with Southern Ca barely protected, then fading Thurs to 10+ kts everywhere except Pt Conception at 15+ kts. Friday the areal coverage of northwest winds is to be on the increase again building from 15 kts early pushing to 20 kts late except for Southern CA. Saturday northwest winds are to be over all of North and Central CA at 20 kts building to 30 kts near Pt Conception. More of the same is expected on Sunday but only 25 kts near Pt Conception. 15-20 kt northwest winds to hold for Central and North CA on Mon (5/12) with an eddy flow expected for Southern CA. The gradient to finally fade and lift north on Tues (5/13) with 15-20 kt north winds over NCal with light winds elsewhere.
Jetstream - On Tuesday (5/6) the jetstream was split with the important southern branch ridging south to a point just over the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf (at 65S) suppressing gale formation there in the West and Central Pacific then lifting northeast forming a trough over the extreme Southeast Pacific with winds to 130 kts feeding into it offering some support for gale development but mainly limited to just off the coast of Southern Chile. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to push east out of the CA swell window and fade later Wednesday. A secondary trough is to form just west of it on Thurs but with only 110 kt winds run through the apex of the trough offering no real support for gale development. But a new trough is to start building south of New Zealand late Thurs pushing east. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to push east Fri AM (5/9) with 140 kt winds feeding it and providing decent support for gale development into Sun (5/11). And yet another trough is to develop under New Zealand on Mon (5/12) with 110 kt winds pushing northeast offering decent support for gale development. An improving pattern for the Southwest Pacific looks possible.
Surface - On Tuesday (5/6) small swell from a gale that was off Chile on Fri (5/2) (see Chilean Gale below) was pushing towards Southern CA. Also a small gale and associated fetch develop again in the South Pacific on Mon PM (5/5) with 45 kt winds pushing northeast and starting to get traction on the oceans surface. 45 kt southwest winds continued Tues AM (5/6) with seas building to 28 ft at 49S 131W aimed at Southern CA up the 188 degree path. In the evening the fetch is to start loosing areal coverage and fading from 40 kts with seas 27 ft over a small area at 45S 119W (181 degs SCal). On Wed AM (5/7) the gale is to be east of the Southern CA swell window with 26 ft seas taking aimed only on Chile and Peru. Perhaps another small but longer period swell could result for Southern CA. Rough data suggest swell arrival on Thus (5/15) with period 15 secs from 180 degrees.
Over the next 72 hours a new storm is forecast developing under New Zealand on Thurs AM (5/8) with 55-60 kt southwest winds and seas at 40 ft over a small area at 58S 164E (199 degs HI, 214 degs NCal and unshadowed by Tahiti, 215 degs SCal and almost shadowed). 50 kt winds to push east in the evening with seas up to 42 ft at 58S 177E (193 degs HI, 209 degs NCal and moving into the core shadow, 210 degs SCal and about to move east of the shadow). The storm is to fade to gale status Fri AM (5/9) with winds down to 40 kts and seas fading from 34 ft at 60S 174W (188 degs HI, 204 degs NCal and almost east of the shadow, 205 degs SCal and unshadowed). An secondary fetch of 40 kt southwest winds is to develop just southeast of New Zealand in the evening with 28-30 ft seas over a large area with the northmost extent near 51S 178W (193 degs HI, 212 degs NCal and unshadowed, 213 degs SCal and shadowed). 40 kt southwest winds to hold into Sat AM (5/10) with 32+ ft seas at 47S 170W (188 degs HI, 210 degs NCal and just barely shadowed, 212 degs SCal and shadowed) with much energy south of it. This system is to be fading after that. Assuming all goes as forecast a respectable pulse of the first southwest swell of the season could result for Tahiti, Hawaii and th US West Coast. this is something to monitor.
On Fri AM (5/2) a gale was developing in the Southeast Pacific with 45 kt southwest winds pushing northeast generating increasing seas. By the evening that fetch was lifting unobstructed to the northeast at 45 kts with seas 34 ft 60S 122W or barely on the 182 degree path into Southern CA with most energy targeting Chile. At 06Z Sat (5/3) 36 ft seas were at 60S 120W (5610 nmiles from Dana Point). 45 kt winds continued tracking northeast Sat AM (5/3) with seas to 36 ft at 50S 108W but all east of the Southern CA swell window targeting Chile. Low odds for some background swell pushing up into SCal, but most energy to be directed towards Chile.
Southern CA: Limited sideband swell is forecast arriving in Southern CA on Sun (5/11) at sunrise with swell 1.6 ft @ 18 secs (2.5 ft) and size holding through the day. Swell continuing Mon (5/12) at 1.6 ft @ 15-16 secs (2.5 ft) slowly on the increase. Swell fading Tues (5/13 ) from 1.6 ft @ 14 secs (2 ft). Swell Direction: 180-182 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 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 (5/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down hard at -35.83 attributed to low pressure south of Tahiti. The 30 day average was falling at 2.76 and the 90 day average was falling at -4.16. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of an Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated that modest east anomalies had taken hold of the Maritime Continent reaching almost to the dateline. Moderate west anomalies developed on the dateline extending south of Hawaii then faded some but were still light westerly from there into Central America. A week from now (5/14) weak east anomalies are expected over a small area in the Eastern Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline, turning weak westerly there and holding south of Hawaii on into the Galapagos and Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO has moved to the Central Pacific and is to fade while migrating east over the Eastern Pacific while the Inactive Phase builds over the far West Pacific, but for only about 1 week. How strong and how long this Inactive Phase becomes presents a critical junction in the evolution of this potential 2014 warm event. 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, potentially cutting the legs of the evolving warm water pool in the East Pacific.
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 5/5 are in sync. They both suggest a modest version of the Inactive Phase of the MJO was in control of the West Pacific and is to peak over the next 1 to 5 days. From there a slow and steady degradation is to settle in with the Inactive Phase almost gone 15 days out over the dateline (the dynamic model has it dissipated by then). The ultra long range upper level model suggests a modest Inactive Phase was in control over the West Pacific and is to track east, pushing into Central America 5/25. Behind it a modest version of the Active Phase is to develop over the West Pacific 5/25 pushing towards the east reaching the East Pacific 6/14. 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, 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 (5/5), 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. Of most interest now is the development of a smaller warm pool between the Galapagos and Ecuador, building within the existing broader warm pool between the dateline and Ecuador, rising from +1.5 to +2.01 degs C over the past week. The most recent image from NOAA OSPO defines this area well and suggest the large Kelvin Wave that has been lurking just below the surface is starting to breech, between the Galapagos and Ecuador. Still a few more days of data are required to confirm this. The general warming 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. We have been expecting the arrival of a large Kelvin Wave in the East Pacific with a pronounced increase in surface anomalies over a short time span (which appears to be happening as of 5/1-5/5). We'll continue monitoring daily values to identify the exact arrival date. In comparison, water temp anomalies for the '97 event reached a similar state on 4/25 or about 10 days earlier. And by 5/10/97 the footprint was marked. So over the next 15 days the '14 event will have to rapidly deepen to be considered similar. 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 if not already 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 5/6 have increased some. 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 July peaking now at +1.65 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-July 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 no other swell producing fetch 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