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 Monday (5/7) North and Central CA had surf at chest to shoulder high and reasonably clean in a warbled local windswell sort of fashion. In Santa Cruz southern hemi swell was producing surf occasionally to waist high with onshore winds blowing outside the kelp. Southern California up north had surf to waist high and pretty hacked early by onshore winds. Down south southern hemi swell was producing waves in the waist to chest high range and getting textured by westerly winds. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore had waist to chest high sets and clean. The East Shore was getting east tradewind generated windswell with waves thigh to waist high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
The North Pacific produced a gale in the West Gulf of Alaska on Monday (5/7) with 22 ft seas offering possible sideband swell for Hawaii and better energy for the US West Coast by Thurs (5/10). Otherwise local north winds to continue generating windswell for the California coast through the week, then dying by the weekend. Down south a decent sized gale developed late Sunday (4/29) in the deep Southeast Pacific and barely in the California swell window with up to 37 ft seas. Some very south angled swell to result for CA by Tues (5/8). Also a tiny system tracked north and just east of New Zealand on Tues (5/1) with 32 ft seas. Possible small swell for Hawaii by late Tues (5/8). A larger gale developed under New Zealand peaking mid-day Sat (5/5) with 40 ft seas with follow-on energy into late Sunday (5/6) with seas in the 364 ft range, but tiny in coverage and all aimed pretty well to the east. Possible decent sideband swell radiating north. And another smaller system is forecast for the extreme Southeast Pacific on Wed (5/9) with 38 ft seas but all aimed due east to southeast offering little energy pushing northward. After that nothing is charted. So there's some potential for smaller to modest sized southern hemi swell for the next week or so, but then things are to die off.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Monday (5/7) a very modest gale was tracking through the Northern Gulf of Alaska generating some fetch and seas of interest (see Last Gulf Gale below). Otherwise high pressure at 1032 mbs was on the dateline ridging east with a secondary high at 1028 mbs just 600 nmiles west of San Francisco ridging into the Pacific Northwest generating the usual pressure gradient over North and Central CA producing north winds at 20-25 kts resulting in local north windswell. The high is to also keeping trades steady over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts resulting in modest easterly short period windswell on east facing shores. Over the next 72 hrs high pressure from the dateline is to be migrating east and ridging into the Pacific Northwest forming the usual pressure gradient over North CA producing 25 kt northwest winds along the coast strongest over Cape Mendocino building to near 30 kts on Wednesday and 35 kts Thursday producing northerly windswell for the entire Central CA coast. But a quick retreat of high pressure and the gradient is expected by Friday (5/11) with windswell heading down. Trades to hold over Hawaii through early Tuesday (5/8) then start fading as the high pushes east of the Islands. Easterly windswell on the decline.
Last Gulf Gale
A low pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska formed a gradient with high pressure on the dateline Sunday AM (5/6) resulting in a small fetch of 30 kt northwest winds in the Western Gulf of Alaska on falling southeast and building to 35 kts in the evening. Seas built to 18 ft at 47N 161W (356 degs HI). The fetch took aim more to the east on Monday AM holding at 35 kts resulting in a building area of seas at 22 ft at 47N 156W peaking in the evening at 22 ft at 46N 150W (303 degs NCal) then tracking northeast towards Central Canada Tuesday AM with seas still 22 ft but lifting northeast and moving out of the CA swell window from 49N 142W (316 degs NCal).
Possible small northwest swell with period in the 13 sec range to result for Central CA northward up into the Pacific Northwest. Expect swell arrival in Central CA on Thurs (5/12) near noon with pure swell 5.6 ft @ 13 secs from 303 degrees and buried under locally produced north windswell.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Monday (5/7) local high pressure was ridging into the Pacific Northwest generating the usual pressure gradient and northwest winds at 20-25 kts off all of Central and North CA coast resulting in lumpy local windswell and north winds along exposed portions of the coast. The core of the gradient is to lift north on Tuesday (5/8) with winds still up to 25 kt over Cape Mendo pushing 30 kts late with some improving odds for windswell development . By Wednesday a new bout of high pressure is forecast pushing into the the Pacific Northwest with the gradient over Cape Mendocino on the upswing and north winds building to 30 kts there pushing 35 kts late. But fetch is to move closer to the Central CA coast with the odds of local eddy winds (from the south) starting to fade. Fetch is to hold solid early Thursday (5/10) at 35 kts then lifting north more in the evening with larger windswell and maybe some signs of an eddy flow forecast. By Friday (5/11) the gradient is to be collapsing with winds only 20-25 kts over Cape Mendocino down to a point off San Francisco and fading, with an eddy flow in control. By Saturday (5/12) the fetch is to dissipate with a weak northerly flow forecast for the entire CA coast other than Southern CA holding through the weekend . Southern CA is to remain protected over the duration under the influence of a weak summer time eddy. By Monday (5/14) strong high pressure is to start building into the coast with northwest winds on the increase from Cape Mendocino southward including Southern CA.
Jet stream - On Monday (5/7) the southern branch of the jetstream had lifted gently northeast over the Central South Pacific with winds 130 kts providing a weak trough and offering some support for gale development there. A big ridge was over the extreme East Pacific suppressing gale development there. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to persist into Thursday (5/10) almost stationary over the Central and East Pacific with winds initially fading some then rebuilding to 150 kts at the apex of the trough over a small area continuing to provide some support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to push east and fade with a weak wind pattern behind it over the West and Central Pacific by Sun (5/13). A new exceedingly weak and steep trough is to build under New Zealand Mon (5/14) but with winds only 80 kts, offering no support for gale development, and and equally weak wind pattern east of there.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Monday (5/7) the remnants of the Broad New Zealand Storm were fading in the extreme East Pacific with 35 kt west winds and seas fading from 30 ft at 53S 123W (see details below). A swell from a storm south of California is pushing towards Southern CA (see Southeast Pacific Storm below). And swell from a brief storm that was east of New Zealand on Mon -Tues (5/1) was pushing towards Hawaii (see New Zealand Storm below).
Over the next 72 hours another small storm is forecast forming in the Central Pacific on Tuesday PM (5/8) with 55 kt southwest winds developing over a tiny area and seas building. The storm is to be racing fast to the east if not almost starting to fall southeast on Wed AM (5/9) with west winds 55 kts and seas building to 36 ft at 57S 136W (187 degs CA and east of the HI swell window), getting good traction on an already well agitated ocean surface but offering only sideband energy pushing up towards the US mainland and well east of any great circle path to Hawaii. 50 kt west winds are to hold into the evening with seas still 38 ft at 57S 125W (182 degs CA), and starting to actually track southeast offering less energy pushing north. By Thurs AM (5/10) this system is to be east of the California swell window and crashing south while dissipating with seas fading from 34 ft at 60S 113W offering best swell potential for Chile up into Peru. Will monitor.
Southeast Pacific Storm
On Sunday AM (4/29) a new storm started building in the deep Central Pacific with 55 kt southwest winds and seas 34 ft at 66S 135W and on the increase. By evening this system had southwest winds fading from 45 kts with the core of the system starting to track more northeast rather than flat east. Seas peaked at 37 ft at 64S 124W, on the eastern edge of the California swell window. Fetch was fading from 40 kts Monday AM at 59S 120W with seas fading from 34 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.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival starting Tues (5/8) building to 2.6 ft @ 17 secs late (4.5 ft with sets to 5.5 ft) and building some. Swell holding on Wed (5/9) at 2.6 ft @ 16 secs early (4 ft with some 5 ft sets) then fading through the day Thurs (5/10). Swell Direction: 180 degrees
Northern CA: Swell possible only at the most exposed breaks to 1.6 ft @ 18 secs (2.5 ft) late Tues (5/8) peaking Wed (5/9) at 2.3 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.5 ft with 4.5 ft sets). Swell fading on Thurs (5/10) from 2.3 ft @ 14-15 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 175 degrees
New Zealand Storm
Another gale formed just southeast of New Zealand on Monday (4/30) with 45 kt south winds building while tracking due north. In the evening a small area of 55 kt south winds were pushing north with seas building from 30 ft at 53S 178W. The fetch started to evaporate on Tuesday AM (5/1) with south winds fading from 40 kts and seas peaking at 32 ft at 50S 176W. By evening fetch was down to 35 kts and seas were dissipating from 30 ft at 47S 173W.
Small but decently organized swell is expected to radiate north towards Hawaii. No swell expected to reach the US West coast.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival late on Tuesday (5/8) with swell to 1.5 ft @ 15-16 secs (2.5 ft) peaking early on Wed (5/9) at 2.0 ft @ 14-15 secs (3 ft) then fading. Swell Direction: 194 degrees
Broad New Zealand Storm
A gale started developing under New Zealand on Friday AM (5/4) with 40 kt west-southwest winds over a good sized area building in coverage with seas modeled to 26 ft. In the evening winds built to 45-50 kts with seas building to 34 ft at 62S 178W (188 degs HI, 203 degs NCal and on the eastern edge of the Tahiti swell shadow). Fetch was holding at 50 kts still over a good sized area Saturday AM (5/5) just southeast of New Zealand with seas 40 ft at 61S 168W (187 degs HI, 202 degs NCal and only partially shadowed). Fetch faded from 40-45 kts in the evening and racing east with seas fading from 38 ft at 58S 152W (178 degs HI and 197 degs CA and only partially shadowed by Tahiti). The fetch held in the East Pacific Sun AM (5/6) with winds 45 kts over a small area aimed mostly east with seas from previous fetch fading from 36 ft at 56S 140W (191 degs CA and unshadowed). In the evening 40 kt winds pushed mostly east with a secondary fetch producing 40 kt southwest fetch northwest of it resulting in seas in the Southeast Pacific at 32 ft up at 53S 138W (189 degs CA). Fetch was fading Monday AM (5/7) with seas 30 ft at 53S 128W then expected to migrate east and fade away Tuesday AM (5/8).
Some modest sideband swell is possible for Hawaii with more direct but partially shadowed swell for California.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Sat (5/12) with pure swell building to 2 ft @ 18 secs late (3.5-4.0 ft) holding Sunday (5/13) at 2 ft @ 16 secs early (3 ft) then dropping Monday from 1.5 ft @ 14-15 secs (2 ft). Swell Direction 185 degrees
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Sun (5/13) late pushing 1.6 ft @ 20 secs (3 ft). Swell building Monday (5/14) to 2.6 ft @ 18 secs (4.5 ft with sets to near 6 ft). Swell Direction: 194-205 degrees focused on 197 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Mon (5/14) early at 2 ft @ 19 secs (3.5 ft) pushing 2.3 ft @ 18 secs late (4.0 ft with sets to 5 ft). Swell Direction: 191-202 degrees focused on 194 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 high pressure is to be fading over the Eastern Pacific by later Friday (5/11) with no windswell producing fetch forecast relative to either California or Hawaii. New high pressure is to move over the dateline by the weekend pushing into the Gulf of Alaska Monday (5/14) with a cutoff low supposedly forming south of it and 25-30 kt northeast winds developing aimed a bit west of Hawaii. Something to monitor for windswell production there.
The high might also start ridging into the Pacific Northwest by Monday (5/14) re-starting the typical gradient over Cape Mendocino and possibly offering some local windswell production for CA.
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 Tuesday (5/7) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was falling some from 4.23. The 30 day average was rising at -0.02 (neutral) with the 90 day average steady at -0.74.
Current wind analysis indicated light easterly anomalies over the equator in the vicinity of the dateline and a little stronger just east of there with dead neutral anomalies elsewhere across the rest of the Pacific extending into Central America. This indicates that maybe a weak Inactive Phase of the MJO was occurring, but the net effect was effectively neutral. A week from now (5/15)one pocket of weak easterly anomalies are forecast over the Philippines with dead neutral conditions extending eastward from the dateline into Ecuador indicative of a neutral MJO or maybe a slight tendency towards the Inactive Phase. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/6 suggest a weak Inactive Phase was currently over Indonesia and the statistical model expects it to ease just slightly east perhaps reaching the dateline 2 weeks out while the dynamic model has it holding and building over Indonesia while the Active Phase weakly redevelops on the dateline. But the dynamic model is historically not to be trusted. Regardless, none of this suggests any real benefit to the North Pacific storm track given that summer is now moving in. But it becomes important if one is monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which is what the existing pattern is supporting, because this possibly sets up a configuration in the ocean that is more conducive to storm development for the coming Fall of 2012. In fact warmer than normal water is already starting to accumulate off Ecuador. A pocket of blocking cold water that was under the equator south of California the bulk of the past Winter (2011-2012) has evaporated and warmer water is slowly but steadily pushing east into the vacuum (Kelvin Wave). This activity was the result of the last pulse of the Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and appears to be reinforcing itself.
A weaker Inactive Phase MJO signal is typical for this time of year, but does not manifest as strong and as long-lasting as what appears to be occurring now, suggesting that La Nina is disintegrate. And the horseshoe cool water pattern that has dominated the entire Pacific for the past 2 years (typical of La Nina) appears to be in steep decline (a good thing). So the next question is: Will the Active-like Phase pattern that is currently occurring continue, ultimately ushering in some flavor of El Nino, or will it stall in mid-June and leave us in limbo with just a neutral pattern in play (normal)? Either option is better than where we've been for the past 2 years (under the influence of La Nina).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours there's suggestions of another gale forming in the extreme and deep Southeast Pacific with 45 kt fetch aimed well to the north and seas building to 30 ft. It's still a long ways from developing through.
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