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 Saturday (5/10) in North and Central CA local north windswell was waist high and maybe a little more and weak, mushy lightly chopped early. Down in Santa Cruz windswell was wrapping in producing waves in the knee to maybe waist high range on the sets and clean but very weak. In Southern California up north locally generated north short period windswell was producing waves in the knee to maybe thigh high range fairly clean early. Down south surf was waist high and gutless with a light onshore texture. Hawaii's North Shore was providing windswell at waist high and clean early. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were maybe knee high generated by easterly tradewinds and lightly 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 expected through the weekend into early next week, then fading out. Two broad but weak low pressure systems to keep a cap on high pressure and associated windswell through the week into next weekend. 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 arriving on Sun (5/11). Another small system 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 arriving mid-week (5/14). A tiny gale tracked 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, arriving in SCal on Sat (5/17). And a broader system is tracking east of New Zealand Thurs-Sun (5/11) with 32 ft seas pushing a bit to the northeast. Perhaps some swell for Tahiti, Hawaii and into the US West Coast to result. After that things settle back down.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (5/10) no swell producing weather systems of interest were occurring. Trades remained light over Hawaii at less than 15 kts. High pressure at 1024 mbs was off the Central California coast generating a pressure gradient along Central CA focused on Pt Conception producing north winds 25 kts there and up to 20 kts up to Pt Reyes resulting in minimal local windswell for Central CA down to Southern CA (see QuikCASTs for details). Also a cutoff low was tracking northeast from a point 900 nmiles north of Hawaii generating 25 kt northerly fetch targeting the Islands and now forecast to hold stationary there into Mon AM (5/12) then dissipating there. Northerly windswell to result for the Hawaiian Islands and hold for a few days. Otherwise over the next 72 hours high pressure is to dissipate off california with windswell fading fast. A placid pattern is to take hold of the North Pacific after that into next weekend (5/17). Sad as that may seem, it's actually a good sign in that high pressure and Spring north winds along the California coast are dialed way back from normal, suggesting La Nina is gone and perhaps a lower pressure regime is taking over.
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 Saturday AM (5/10) high pressure at 1026 mbs remained loitering just off the coast generating a pressure gradient producing 30 kt north winds isolated to Pt Conception with 20 kt winds reaching north to Pt Arena nd south over the Channel Islands down off Baja. Southern CA was mostly protected early. More of the same is expected early Sunday but only 25 kts near Pt Conception fading to 20 kts over all of North and Central CA late. 15 kt northwest winds to be fading early over all but the extreme north most coast 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 weak high pressure trying to build relative to Pt Conception Fri (15 kt north winds) and then 15-20 kts Sat (5/18) reaching up to Pt Arena. The conspicuous lack of consistent hard north winds remains suspicious this Spring with water temps anomalously warm (still only 53 in the SF Bay Area, so 'warm' is a relative term) and a possible harbinger of things to come.
Jetstream - On Saturday (5/10) the jetstream was split and somewhat fragmented with the influential southern branch forming a bit of a trough southeast of New Zealand with 140 kt winds flowing up into it offering decent support for gale development there. But once in the Central South PAcific the southern branch started pushing hard south ridging down to Antarctica then trying to lift north some over the Southeast Pacific, but with no wind energy to form anything that could be considered a trough. No support for gale development was suggested there. Over the next 72 hours the New Zealand trough is to push east and weaken into Monday no longer supporting fuel for gale development. A second trough is to develop over the far Southeast Pacific on Mon (5/12) but with only 90 kt winds in it and just off the Southern tip of South America. No support for gale formation is expected. Beyond 72 hours new wind energy is to build in the jet southeast of New Zealand on Tues (5/13) barely lifting northeast at 110 kts offering minimal support for gale development and pushing east into Wed (5/14). Then a zonal pattern is to take hold until a pocket of 130 kt winds starts pushing under New Zealand later Fri (5/16) pushing slightly northeast and perhaps offering a increment of support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere.
Surface Analysis - 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 developed in the Southeast Pacific Thurs AM (5/8) producing small swell pushing up towards all of California (see Another Southeast Pacific Gale below). And a storm formed in the Southwest Pacific, the first of the season, on Thurs-Fri (5/9) (See Southwest Pacific Storm below).
Over the next 72 hours no swell producing weather systems of interest are forecast.
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.
Southern CA: Another small but longer period swell could result. 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.
Another Southeast Pacific Gale
And yet another gale developed in the Southeast Pacific Thurs AM (5/8) 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 were blowing with seas building to 35 ft over a small area at 59S 147W (194 degs SCal, 192 degs NCal). 45 kt southwest winds held into Fri AM (5/9) with 36 ft seas at 55S 134W (189 degs SCal, 187 degs NCal). By evening fetch was fading from 35-40 kts with seas dropping from 32 ft at 54S 121W (181 degs SCal, 180 degs NCal). Some degree of rideable southern hemi swell is expected into Southern CA.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival starting Sat AM (5/17) with swell 1.6 ft @ 17-18 secs (2.8 ft faces) and on the increase into Sunday (5/18). Swell to peak then at 2 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.0-3.5 ft with sets to 4 ft). Swell Direction: 194 degrees.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Sun AM (5/18) with swell 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft). Swell Direction: 190 degrees
Southwest Pacific Gale
On Thurs PM (5/8) a storm started developing under New Zealand with 50 kt southwest winds pushing east with 32 ft seas building at at 59S 179E (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 faded to gale status Fri AM (5/9) with winds down to 40-45 kts in the west quadrant and seas fading from 34 ft at 60S 174W aimed more east than up into our forecast area (188 degs HI, 204 degs NCal and almost east of the shadow, 205 degs SCal and unshadowed). Of more interest was a secondary fetch of 40 kt southwest winds that developed just southeast of New Zealand Friday evening with 28-30 ft seas building over a moderate area with the north most extent near 50S 177W (192 degs HI, 212 degs NCal and unshadowed, 213 degs SCal and shadowed) and aimed decently to the northeast. 40 kt southwest winds held 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 31 ft seas south of it at 58S 170W (186 degs HI, 204 degs NCal and still barely shadowed, 206 degs SCal and clear). 35-40 kt southwest winds to continue in the evening with seas fading but still 32 ft and covering a solid area with its core at 57S 160W (181 degs HI, 202 degs NCal, 203 degs SCal). This system is to be fading after that with perhaps 32+ ft seas Sun AM (5/11) at 53S 153W and bypassing any route to Hawaii and on the 198 degree path to NCal and the 199 degree path to SCal. This system to fade after that. Assuming all goes as forecast a modest and long lasting pulse of the first southwest swell of the season could result for Tahiti, Hawaii and the US West Coast. Detailed US West Coast forecasts to follow.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Thurs PM (5/15) at sunset with pure swell 1.6 ft @ 19 secs (3 ft faces). Swell on the increase peaking Fri AM (6/16) at 2.6 ft @ 17-18 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 5.5 ft). swell continuing on Sun AM (5/17) at 3.0 ft @ 15-16 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 5.8 ft). Swell starting to fade after that. Swell Direction: 190 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 suppressed 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 Saturday (5/10) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up at 13.81. A previous 10 day run of negative values was attributed to low pressure loitering south of Tahiti. The 30 day average was again rising at 1.51 and the 90 day average was rising at -4.41. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO turning slightly Active. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated modest east anomalies over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline. Neutral anomalies continued east of there extending to a point south of Hawaii and then turning light to modest westerly over the Galapagos into Central America. A week from now (5/17) east anomalies are expected to be gone with light westerly anomalies developing over the Eastern Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline, turning neutral there and continuing south of Hawaii and holding neutral over the Galapagos and Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was moving over the Galapagos while the Inactive Phase has peaked over the far West Pacific and is expected to move east and fade before reaching the dateline in the next 5-7 days. This remains 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.
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 all this 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 5/9 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 fading. We're likely over the hump. From here a steady degradation is to settle in with the dynamic model more aggressive suggesting the Inactive Phase gone 5 days out while the statistic model takes almost 15 days for it to dissipate. The ultra long range upper level model suggests the Inactive Phase was moving from the Central Pacific to the East Pacific and is to push into Central America 5/20, quicker than previously projected. Behind it a very weak version of the Active Phase is to develop over the West Pacific 5/23 inching towards the east reaching the East Pacific 6/19. A very weak Inactive Phase to build behind it starting 6/19 but perhaps not even develop at all. This is the pattern one would expect if an El Nino were to develop - namely that the MJO would all but disappear. That is the hallmark of El Nino, a very weak MJO signal. Seeing how by early June we'll be moving out of the Spring Unpredictability Barrier, the development of a weak to non-existent MJO pattern would be right on time and expected. So as of right now there is to be effectively only one Inactive Phase for the whole first 6 months of 2014, before we push out of the Spring Unpredictability Barrier and into a weak summer time MJO pattern. Interesting. 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 and warmer pool between the Galapagos and Ecuador, building within the existing broader warm pool between the dateline and Ecuador, currently +2.55 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 larger equatorial warming pattern started in earnest on 3/29 and has been solidifying it's grasp every since, now being fed by the Galapagos warm pool. 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. But in comparison to water temp anomalies for the '97 El Nino event, Galapagos waters reached a similar state on 4/25 or about 10 days earlier than this 2014 event. And by 5/10/97 the footprint was marked with +3.5 deg C anomalies. So by 5/20 this 2014 event will have to rapidly deepen to be considered similar (+3.5 deg C anomalies required, or another +1.0 deg C warmer). If the Galapagos warm pool does not reach that critical 3.5 deg C anomalypoint, then there will start to be doubts about how strong this 2014 event will become (as compared to the so called super El Nino '97 event. 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 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 as a gauge of what's to come atmospherically.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator remain solid. 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 rapidly and over a larger area than is currently the case (5/10), but we believe it's just a matter of time. Still, some doubt is creeping into the forecast (at least it terms of this becoming a historically significant event). Given the lack of sensors between 155W and 110W, exact details concerning the core of the Kelvin Wave 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 warm water is again building just west of the dateline at 155W at +3 degs C, likely the result of the 4th WWB in April. So another pulse of warm water is en-route to reinforce the existing warm water currently erupting off Ecuador. Still, that eruption (so far) is not historically impressive.
Based on previous history the evolution pattern would follow this general pattern: A 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 build-up (heated by the sun and through reduced upwelling). Aided by yet another WWB in the West Pacific fueled by warm water tracking west from the initial eruption site over the Galapagos) 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 5/10 have stabilized. 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.
Previously a pattern of multiple strong Westerly Wind Bursts occurred Jan-March 2014, 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) till early May. Then weak eastern anomalies developed May 5 and are to hold through May 15th, then returning to a neutral if not weak westerly flow. This is great news with westerly anomalies in play for 4 full months and forecast to give way for only 10 day for the first 6 months of 2014. 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, though that already appears to be the case. There remains much unknown as we traverse the Spring 'Unpredictability Pattern" (mid-March through early June), though any sort of a total collapse is looking much less likely. But the further into the unpredictability barrier we get with west anomalies continuing, and then into Summer, the lower the likelihood of a total collapse becomes.
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 what was previously forecast as a strong storm has now backed off considerably on the charts. Now perhaps a small gale is to try and develop south of New Zealand on Tues PM (5/13) with 45 kt west winds and seas building from 36 ft over a small area at 60S 165E. The gale is to rapidly fade 12 hours later (Wed AM 5/14) with winds dropping from 40 kts and seas fading from 30 ft at 60S 177W. Will monitor. A placid pattern to follow.
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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