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 (5/20) North and Central CA had local windswell producing waves at maybe waist high and warbled and crumbly. In Santa Cruz fading southern hemi background swell was producing waves at thigh high on the sets and clean. Southern California up north had surf that was thigh high or so and clean early. Down south sets were waist high on occasion with texture on it early. Hawaii's North Shore had windswell in the thigh high range and clean but with some northeast warbled running through it. The South Shore was tiny with waves thigh high and clean. The East Shore was knee to thigh high east tradewind generated windswell and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north a pair of weak low pressure systems were tracking over the dateline and into the Gulf of Alaska suppressing high pressure and local windswell relative to CA and HI. There's even a hint of some small windswell resulting from these systems for Hawaii and California, but it will be masked by local windswell upon arrival. By later Tuesday (5/22) high pressure to again move into the area strongly with north winds and windswell in effect for California and easterly trades and windswell for Hawaii too and continuing into the long Memorial Day weekend. Down south a quiet pattern has been in control meaning no swell for the next week or more for Hawaii and California. But the charts suggest a series of gales are to start pushing under New Zealand by Wednesday (5/23) with another by the weekend. Neither are to survive much east of New Zealand, so whatever swell results (if any) will be inconsistent and small. At least there's some hope on the charts.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Sunday (5/20) modest low pressure at 988 mbs was in the Gulf of Alaska with a second at 998 mbs over the dateline. Westerly winds at 25 kts are forecast in both by the evening with seas pushing 15 ft by Monday (5/21) perhaps resulting in some 8-9 sec period windswell for California and Hawaii a few days beyond, but that windswell will be well decayed upon arrival and indistinguishable from locally generated windswell arriving at the same time. Otherwise currently trades were suppressed over Hawaii and high pressure was in decline in the Northeast Pacific thanks to the low pressure in the Gulf. Light north winds at 10-15 kts were pushing down the California coast and not good for much. Over the next 72 hrs high pressure is to start redeveloping off Central CA on Tuesday (5/22) reaching 1028 mbs late producing north winds at near 30 kts over Pt Conception and trades increasing to near 20 kts over Hawaii. By Wednesday north winds to be 25+ kts along the Central and North CA coast with windswell on the increase and trades to 20 kts over Hawaii with the same result and holding at least into Thursday.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Sunday (5/20) no tropical systems of interest were occurring. The models suggest a system forming 1200 nmiles south-southeast of Japan on Tuesday (5/22), but that's just a fantasy of the models at this time.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (5/20) weak high pressure at 1020 mbs was fading off the US West coast producing only a shallow area of 15 kt north winds over Central CA. Low pressure discussed previously was moving into the Gulf of Alaska.Weak low pressure is to move off Oregon on Monday (5/21) with the usual summer time pressure gradient retreating to just Pt Conception (20 kts) and 10 kt north winds from San Francisco northward and south winds into Cape Mendocino. But by Tuesday low pressure is to be clearing out of the Gulf with a 1028 mbs high building strong off the coast and north winds on the increase over Pt Conception (30 kts late) and building solidly northward on Wednesday at 25 kts up to Cape Mendocino late. Southern CA to be shadowed and in an eddy flow by Wed. Windswell on the increase all locations. The gradient is to be centered off San Francisco late Thursday (5/24) with 30 kt north fetch extending north to Cape Mendo and south to a point off the Channel Islands. Windswell on the increase with no eddy flow expected yet for Central CA, though Southern CA to remain protected. The gradient to fade on Friday but 20-25 kt north winds to be covering a large area from Off Oregon southward to off Northern Baja and then lifting north on Saturday centered more off Cape Mendocino. Regardless of the details, north wind is to be over the nearshore waters of North and Central CA from Wednesday into early Saturday chopping things up and driving water temps down. But by Saturday nearshore winds to settle down and conditions to start improving.
Jet stream - On Sunday (5/20) a perfectly split jetstream was occurring with both the north and southern branches tracking parallel across the width the South Pacific with the north branch running flat over the 33S latitude and the southern branch at 64S. No real energy was in the southern branch with winds 80 kts and no troughs of interest occurring. Over the next 72 hours the southern branch is to ridge hard south pushing into Antarctica over the Central Pacific completely suppressing support for gale development there. Beyond 72 hours more solid energy is to start pushing under New Zealand by Thursday (5/24) offering some limited support for low pressure development.And more energy is to be building behind that with winds to 170 kts by Sat (5/26) but running flat west to east with no trough forecast. At least it's better than no wind at all.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Sunday (5/20) a gale was trying to organize off Southern Chile, but it was already outside the US swell window. Otherwise no winds greater than 25-30 kts were occurring with no swell generation potential in play.
Over the next 72 hours no fetch of interest forecast for the South Pacific aimed at our forecast area.
Previously a weak gale east of New Zealand peaked out Thursday PM (5/17) with 45 kt west winds over a tiny area resulting in 30 ft seas Friday AM at 39S 158W targeting mostly Chile and Peru from a very long ways away, with only limited sideband energy pushing up towards Hawaii. Maybe mini swell of 1.6 ft @ 14 secs (2.0 ft) for Hawaii on Sat (5/26) from 196 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 high pressure is to hold over the East Pacific at 1032 mbs generating the usual north winds along the Central and North CA coast at 20-25 kts on Friday (5/25) then fading from 20 kts on Saturday and dissipating Sunday (5/27). Slowly fading local north windswell expected for exposed Breaks in CA. Trades over Hawaii to hold solid at 20 kts on Thurs-Sat (5/26) with decent raw local east windswell expected on exposed shores then trades fading on Sunday (5/27) with windswell on the way down.
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 (5/20) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 1.78. The 30 day average was falling at 1.67 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to 0.19.
Current wind analysis indicated modest westerly anomalies over the equator from Indonesia to a point north of Australia (150E) with dead neutral anomalies from there eastward extending into Central America. This indicates that there was no discernible Phase of the MJO in play though perhaps the Active Phase was trying to build in the extreme Eastern Indian Ocean. A week from now (5/28) weak westerly anomalies are expected over the West Pacific indicative of a very weak Active Phase of the MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/19 are in disagreement. The dynamic model depicts a very weak Active Phase holding over the dateline for the next 2 weeks with in Inactive Phase building strong over Indian. Conversely the statistical model (often more accurate) has the Inactive Phase over India pushing east and moving into the West Pacific a week from now (5/27) and then taking over the West Pacific 2 weeks out while a large Active Phase of the MJO builds anew under India. None of this suggests any real benefit to the North Pacific storm track given that summer is now moving in. But there are long tern implications we are monitoring (see below).
In monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which the existing weak MJO 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 a continued weak MJO signal, appears to be reinforcing itself. It will be interesting to see if the weak MJO pattern continues (a early sing of some flavor of El Nino) or whether the Inactive Phase comes back to life. We are still in the Spring unpredictability barrier relative to ENSO (continues into early June), so it's difficult to predict any particular outcome until that time has passed. But it does warrant some interest.
A weaker MJO signal is typical for this time of year, but does not normally appear as strong and as long-lasting as what appears to be occurring now, suggesting that La Nina is disintegrating. 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 gale is forecast pushing under New Zealand starting late Tues PM (5/22) with 50 kt west to almost northwest winds forecast resulting in 30 kts seas at 54S 160E targeting Antarctica more than anywhere. Fetch is to be fading on Wed AM (5/23) from 45 kts with seas peaking at 36 ft at 60S 170E and just off the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. Fetch is to fade Wednesday evening with winds down to 35 kts from the west over a broad area with seas fading from 32 ft at 58S 174E. Maybe some sideband swell to reach up into Hawaii with well dispersed and inconsistent swell pushing towards California with luck.
Yet a stronger system is forecast pushing over the exact same area on Thurs-Fri (5/25) with 50 kt west winds and 42 ft seas at 60S 165E Fri AM pushing up the 211 degree path and unshadowed into California but shadowed by New Zealand relative to Hawaii. 40 ft seas to push further east in the evening at 59S 171E offering sideband hope for Hawaii (201 degs) and slightly obstructed energy pushing up the 210 degree path for California. This system to fade after that.
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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Chasing the Swell has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table