Swell Classification Guidelines
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate/Utility Class: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft).
Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Sunday (5/13) North and Central CA had local windswell and some slightly stronger swell from the Gulf intermixing producing surf in the 3 ft range with a solid south wind eddy flow in play adding a fair amount of sideshore bump to. In Santa Cruz surf was near flat with rare sets in the waist high range but mostly much smaller and glassy. Southern California up north had surf that was effectively flat and glassy early. Down south waist where knee to maybe thigh high and clean but weak and crumbly. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore had small southern hemi background swell at up to waist high and clean. The East Shore was getting no real east tradewind generated windswell with waves flat and slightly chopped. .
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
We're in full summer-time mode now with the Northern Hemi in hibernation and no longer producing swell producing weather systems. And even worse, persistent weak low pressure is forecast over the Northeast Pacific through next weekend (5/20) suppressing formation of high pressure and the local windswell that it can produce. Down south a decent sized 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 36 ft range, but tiny in coverage and all aimed pretty well to the east. Possible decent sideband swell was starting to arrive in Hawaii from it by Sun (5/13) and into California by late Monday (5/14). Another smaller system developed in the extreme Southeast Pacific on Wed (5/9) with 38 ft seas but all aimed due east to southeast offering only bare minimal energy pushing northward. After that virtually nothing is charted for the next week.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Sunday (5/13) there was no signs of high or low pressure of interest anywhere in the North Pacific. In effect a dead neutral pressure pattern was in play with no fetch of even 15 kts or greater was occurring. Very calm and a bit unusual. Over the next 72 hrs weak low pressure is forecast developing north of Hawaii and circulating there late Sunday into late Monday (5/14) producing 15-20 kt north winds aimed swell at the Islands resulting perhaps in some minimal 8-9 sec period windswell. Otherwise high pressure to remain surprisingly absent with no local north windswell expected for CA and no tradewind windswell for Hawaii.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Sunday (5/13) an area of disturbed weather was 550 miles south-southwest of Acapulco Mexico is being monitored for development, which seems likely. But at best a depression could result and it would track effectively west offering no odds for swell production for our forecast area. It's too early in the season.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (5/13) local low pressure was just off Central CA generating the usual summer tide eddy flow and south winds nearshore. Weak high pressure was trying to ridge into Southern CA but was only generating 10 kt north winds outside the Channel Islands and calm winds nearshore. By Monday (5/14) weak high pressure is to start building into the Southern Coast with northwest winds 15+ kts over outer waters there while a calm flow continue north of Pt Conception holding Tuesday. Perhaps high pressure is to get a marginally better hold on Wednesday with 10-15 kts north winds over the entire CA coast and up to 20 kts near Pt Conception and continuing Thursday-Sat (5/19). But by Sunday that is to collapse as low pressure theoretically builds in the Gulf moving closer to the Golden State.
Jet stream - On Sunday (5/13) the southern branch of the jetstream was fragmented over the West Pacific with the southern most portion of the flow tracking flat over the 62S latitude only rising north a bit and becoming somewhat more organized once it moved over the extreme Southeast Pacific and effectively outside the California swell window. Winds there at 120W were up to 110 kts offering no real support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours a defined but weak trough is to build under New Zealand with winds blowing up into the trough at only 100-110 kts late Monday into Tuesday (5/15) then weakening from there on Wednesday and offering no real support for gale development. To the east a persistent trough is to remain in the deep Southeast Pacific with winds in that trough building to 170 kts by Monday PM (5/14) but entirely east of the California swell window, offering only support for gale production relative to Chile and Peru. Beyond 72 hours the remnants of the trough under both New Zealand west of Southern Chile are to dissipate by Friday (5/18) with a very weak and flat flow setting up over the width of the South Pacific down at nearly 70S with winds only 80 kts and holding through next weekend offering virtually no support for gale development. A disturbingly weak pattern indeed.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Sunday (5/13) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs locked over the Central Pacific at 45S pretty much driving the jet and all east migrating weather system well to the south. regardless, the was no swell producing fetch occurring. A pair of gales were developing in the extreme East Pacific with winds 45 kts, but east and outside our forecast area and of interest only to Chile. Swell from a storm that traversed the West and Central Pacific Fri-Mon (5/14) was pushing towards Hawaii and the US West Coast. (see Broad New Zealand Storm below) and another swell was right behind for Southern CA but expected to be exceedingly small (see East Pacific Gale below). And maybe one more tiny pulse to follow that for Southern CA (see Tiny East Pacific Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours virtually no swell producing weather systems are forecast to occur in the South Pacific.
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
East Pacific Gale
Another small gale formed in the Central Pacific on Tuesday PM (5/8) with 45 kt west winds developing over a tiny area and seas building. The gale built to storm status and was 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 34 ft at 57S 140W (188 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. 45-50 kt west winds held into the evening with seas up to 38 ft at 57S 128W (187 degs CA), and starting to actually track southeast offering less energy pushing north. By Thurs AM (5/10) this system was effectively east of the California swell window and crashing south while dissipating with seas fading from 36 ft at 59S 117W offering best swell potential for Chile up into Peru.
Limited small sideband swell is expected arriving in Southern CA on Fri AM (5/18) with pure swell up to 1.8 ft @ 16 secs midmorning (2.9 ft faces) and inconsistent from 187 degs. Residuals to hold into Sat AM (5/19) at 2 ft @ 14-15 secs (2.5 ft) then fading out.
Tiny East Pacific Gale
Another very west-to-east oriented gale developed late Friday AM (5/11) with 40-45 kt southwest winds building in the Southeast Pacific. It was racing east with seas 28 ft at 50S 130W (188 degs SCal). 45 kt west winds held Saturday AM (5/12) with 32 ft seas at 51S 120W (181 degs CA) and racing out of the CA swell window. In the evening a small area of up to 50 kt west winds evolved pushing east with seas to 36 ft over a tiny area at 51S 103W targeting only Southern Chile and well outside the CA swell window. This system was fading Sunday at with 34 ft seas at 50S 94W targeting only Southern Chile. Some tiny south angled swell is possible for mainly Southern CA down into Mexico but mainly for points south of even there.
Expect swell arrival in Southern CA on Sunday AM (5/20) at 1.8 ft @ 16 secs (2.5 ft) from 181 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 starting Thurs (5/17) weak high pressure is to start building north of Hawaii into the Northern Gulf of Alaska at 1024 mbs increase the northerly flow down the US West Coast to 15 kts but very shallow, and along increasing trades over Hawaii to maybe 15 kts, but suppressed mostly south of the Hawaiian Islands and holding into the early weekend, then fading. Theoretically a broader low is to take root in the Gulf of Alaska on Sunday maybe starting to produce 20 kt west winds aimed at the US West Coast, good for maybe some 8-9 sec period windswell, assuming it even forms (low odds at this early date). A very placid pattern indeed.
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 Sunday (5/13) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding at 17.25. The 30 day average was rising at 5.31 (neutral) with the 90 day average up some at 0.23.
Current wind analysis indicated very weak easterly anomalies over the equator in the vicinity of the dateline with dead neutral anomalies elsewhere across the East Pacific extending into Central America. Weak westerly anomalies were over Indonesia. This indicates that a weak Inactive Phase of the MJO was occurring in the West Pacific with perhaps the Active Phase trying to build in the Eastern Indian Ocean. A week from now (5/20) dead neutral anomalies are expected over the West Pacific indicative of a neutral MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/12 are coming into agreement depicting a weak Active Phase currently over the dateline with the Inactive Phase over Indonesia and expected to build east over the dateline 2 weeks out. None of this suggests any real benefit to the North Pacific storm track given that summer is now moving in.
But if one is monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which is what the existing pattern is supporting, this become important 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 a persistent area of low pressure is to start circulating just east of New Zealand on Fri (5/18) producing 30-35 kt south winds with seas building to 24 ft Saturday PM (5/19) at 40S 169W aimed well at Hawaii. Maybe some tiny 14 sec period background swell to result for the Islands with luck.
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