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 Thursday (5/8) in North and Central CA local north windswell was fading with waves in the waist high range and pretty hacked from southerly winds with light rain falling. It was cleaner at protected breaks. Down in Santa Cruz windswell was wrapping in producing waves in the knee to maybe thigh high range and clean but very weak. In Southern California up north locally generated north short period windswell was producing waves at knee to maybe thigh high and clean. Down south surf was thigh high and broken up and not real rideable with onshore winds adding heavy texture. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were maybe knee high coming from easterly tradewind generated windswell and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
The North Pacific remains quiet with no swell producing low pressure systems forecast and no swell in the water. High pressure induced locally generated windswell relative to California is the only likely swell source. Maybe some windswell too for Hawaii from a cutoff low that's to track north of the Islands Thurs-Fri (5/9). 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 tracking through the Central South Pacific on Thurs-Fri (5/9) with 36 ft seas aimed northeast possible setting up small background swell for all of CA. And a broader system is forecast east of New Zealand Thurs-Sun (5/11) with 32 ft seas tracking a bit to the northeast. Perhaps some swell for Tahiti, Hawaii and into the US West Coast to result. And a stronger system is forecast under New Zealand tracking northeast Tues-Wed (5/14) with up to 42 ft seas. So there's more hope longterm.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (5/8) no swell producing weather systems of interest were occurring. Trades remained light over Hawaii at 15 kts or less. High pressure at 1024 mbs was off the Southern California coast generating a pressure gradient along Central CA mainly focused on Pt Conception producing north winds 20 kts there resulting in minimal local windswell mainly for Southern CA (see QuikCASTs for details). Low pressure was nestled along the Canadian coast and expected to generate 20 kt northwest winds relative to the Pacific Northwest by late afternoon. Over the next 72 hours the gradient over Central CA is to fade as the low off Canada moves inland generating more 20-25 kt westerly winds relative to the Pacific Northwest, with more windswell resulting there perhaps into Sat AM (5/10). But with the low inland, high pressure is to again take over the California coast with north winds building to 30 kt over Pt Conception and windswell on the upswing mainly for Southern CA with limited windswell into Central CA. Also cutoff low was forming northwest of Hawaii on Thurs (5/8) generating 25 kt fetch targeting the Islands while tracking northeast into Sun (5/11) but fading with winds down to 20 kts. 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 Thursday AM (5/8) high pressure at 1024 mbs was loitering just off the coast but being held at bay by low pressure working it's way into the Pacific Northwest. 15 kt northwest winds were isolated to Pt Conception with cold front induced south winds actually over Northern CA down to San Francisco with some sprinkles as well. Friday afternoon high pressure is to finally break through as the low moves inland over the Pacific Northwest. North winds to start building to 25 kts over Pt Conception with 15-20 kt north winds building to San Francisco up to Cape Mendocino late. Saturday northwest winds are to be over all of North and Central CA at 20 kts building to 30 kts near Pt Conception. Southern CA is to be protected. More of the same is expected early Sunday but only 25 kts near Pt Conception fading to 20 kts late. 15 kt northwest winds to be fading for Central and North CA on Mon (5/12) with low pressure again moving into the Eastern Gulf. A light wind flow is forecast into Thurs (5/15) but with high pressure again starting to lurk off the coast late. The conspicuous lack of consistent hard north winds is curious this Spring and a possible harbinger of things to come.
Jetstream - On Thursday (5/8) the jetstream was split with the influential southern branch ridging a bit to the south under New Zealand and just clear of the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. From there it lifted gently east-northeast almost forming a trough over the extreme Southeast Pacific. But winds over it's width never exceeded 110 kts and were not offering much support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours two troughs are to develop embedded in that flow by Fri (5/9), one over the Southeast Pacific with 120 kt winds at it's apex and a second stronger one southeast of New Zealand at 140 kts. Both are capable of support gale development, but neither is to be remarkable. Both are to dissipate by Sun (5/11) while a huge ridge develops between the two and dives into Antarctica. Beyond 72 hours new wind energy is to build in the jet southeast of New Zealand on Mon (5/12) lifting northeast at 120 kts offering some support for gale development and pushing east into Wed (5/14). Respectable support for gale development possible.
Surface - On Thursday (5/8) small swell from a gale that was off Chile on Fri (5/2) (see Chilean Gale below) was pushing north towards Southern CA. Behind it a second swell from a gale in the same vicinity (only positioned further north and aimed better to the north) was in the water pushing towards Southern CA (see Southeast Pacific Gale below). And yet another gale was developing in the Southeast Pacific Thurs AM with producing a small area of 45 kt southwest winds and starting to get traction on the oceans surface. By evening 45-50 kt west-southwest winds are forecast with seas building to 35 ft over a small area at 59S 148W (195 degs SCal, 193 degs NCal). 45 kt southwest winds to hold into Fri AM (5/9) with 35 ft seas at 55S 134W (189 degs SCal, 187 degs NCal). By evening fetch is o be fading from 35-40 kts with seas dropping from 30 ft at 54S 121W (181 degs SCal, 180 degs NCal). Assuming all goes as forecast some degree of rideable southern hemi swell is expected into Southern CA rough on Friday sunset (5/16) with period 18 secs. Something to monitor.
Over the next 72 hours a new storm is forecast developing under New Zealand on Thurs PM (5/8) with 50 kt southwest winds pushing east with 34 ft seas building at at 59S 180E (192 degs HI, 208 degs NCal and in the core Tahitian shadow, 209 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 40-45 kts in the west quadrant and seas fading from 32 ft at 60S 174W aimed up at our forecast area (188 degs HI, 204 degs NCal and almost east of the shadow, 205 degs SCal and unshadowed). A secondary fetch of 40 kt southwest winds is to develop just southeast of New Zealand Friday evening with 28-30 ft seas over a moderate area with the northmost extent near 50S 177W (192 degs HI, 212 degs NCal and unshadowed, 213 degs SCal and shadowed). 40 kt southwest winds to hold into Sat AM (5/10) with 30-32 ft seas at 46S 170W (188 degs HI, 210 degs NCal and just barely shadowed, 212 degs SCal and shadowed) with 32 ft seas south of it at 58S 169W (185 degs HI, 203 degs NCal and still barely shadowed, 205 degs SCal and clear). 35-40 kt southwest winds to continue in the evening with seas fading but still coverage a solid area with its core at 56S 160W (181 degs HI, 202 degs NCal, 203 degs SCal). This system is to be fading after that. Assuming all goes as forecast a respectable and long lasting pulse of the first southwest swell of the season could result for Tahiti, Hawaii and the 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
Southeast Pacific Gale
A small gale and associated fetch developed in the Southeast 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 started loosing areal coverage and fading from 40 kts with seas 29 ft over a tiny area at 45S 119W (181 degs SCal). On Wed AM (5/7) the gale was east of the Southern CA swell window with 26-30 ft seas over a tiny area taking aimed only on Chile and Peru from 50S 109W.
Another small but longer period swell could result for Southern CA. Expect swell arrival on Wed (5/14) with pure swell 2.3-2.5 ft @ 16 secs early (3.5-4.0 ft) holding through the day. Swell fading from 2.6 ft @ 14-15 secs (3.5 ft) early Thurs (5/15). Swell Direction: 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. Even windswell is to be surpassed for California starting Tues AM (5/13).
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 Thursday (5/8) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at -12.08 attributed to low pressure lingering south of Tahiti. High pressure is to build in by Sat (5/10) with the index likely rising then. The 30 day average was falling at 0.92 and the 90 day average was falling at -4.59. 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 turning Active. 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 east anomalies were over the Maritime Continent but fading to neutral before reaching the dateline. Neutral anomalies were over the dateline turning to westerlies south of Hawaii and building to moderate plus strength over the Galapagos into Central America. A week from now (5/16) east anomalies are expected to be gone with light westerly anomalies developing over the Eastern Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline, turning weak easterly south of Hawaii then fading to neutral over the Galapagos and Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO has moved to the East Pacific while the Inactive Phase has peaked over the far West Pacific and is expected to move east of the dateline in the next 7 days. This is reasonably good news. The issue with this Inactive Phase is that it's easterly anomalies have likely shut down the transport of warm water to the east. 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. Westerly anomalies need to redevelop in the West 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 5/7 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 peaking now. From there a steady degradation is to settle in with the Inactive Phase gone 10 days out per the dynamic model and almost gone 15 days out per the statistic model. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Inactive Phase was in control over the Central Pacific and is to track east, pushing into Central America 5/20, quicker than previously projected. Behind it a weak version of the Active Phase is to develop over the West Pacific 5/23 pushing towards the east reaching the East Pacific 6/14. A weak Inactive Phase to build behind it starting 6/12. 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 (5/8), a 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 continues to be the evolution of a smaller warm pool between the Galapagos and Ecuador, building within the existing broader warm pool between the dateline and Ecuador, currently +2.0 degs C and first appearing about 5/1. 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. The general warming pattern started in earnest on 3/29 and has been solidifying it's grasp every since. 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 (+3.5 deg C anomalies required). 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. This is significant. And 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 the developing breech of warm water along the western coast of Ecuador.
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 near 115W. As best as can be identified this Kelvin Wave covers the area from 180W to Ecuador with the core between 140 and 90W. The leading edge is impacting Ecuador and the Galapagos. We've expecting surface water temps to rise much rapidly and over a larger area than is currently the case (5/8), but we believe it's just a matter of time. 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. The Kelvin Wave has also been confirmed via satellite in the form of increased surface water heights at +10 cm from the Galapagos to Ecuador (5/3), with +5 cm anomalies extending west of the dateline. This suggests warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards. Also data from the TOA array suggests war water is again building just west of the dateline at 155W at +3 degs C, likely the result of the 4th WWB in April.
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 5/8 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 +1.7 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 yet another solid weather system is forecast developing under New Zealand on Tues AM (5/13) with 50 kt southwest winds building and seas on the increase from barely 40 ft at 59S 168E (197 degs HI, 211 degs NCal and barely unshadowed, 212 degs SCal and shadowed). 45 kt fetch is to continue into the evening with seas from previous fetch peaking at 44 ft at 60S 179E (192 degs HI, 207 degs NCal and shadowed, 208 degs SCal and shadowed). Fetch is to be lifting northeast and fading from 40 kts Wed AM (5/14) with seas fading from 34 ft at 57S 171W (187 degs HI, 205 degs NCal and shadowed, 206 degs SCal and shadowed). This system is to be gone after this. Assuming all goes as forecast some degree of moderate longer period Southern Hemi swell could result for all locations.
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