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 (5/18) North and Central CA had surf in the waist to maybe chest high range, warbled and weak with an onshore flow and nearly chopped early, all local north windswell. Down in Santa Cruz surf was knee to waist high and weak but clean - looking all like windswell with no southern hemi swell showing early. Southern California up north was waist high and fairly clean but weak and windswell looking. Down south waves were chest to head high and lined up coming from the southwest, but very inconsistent with a good amount of texture on it. Hawaii's North Shore was getting local windswell with waves chest high and fairly clean with just a little texture on it. The South Shore was still doing well with Swell #1S head high to 1 ft overhead and clean and well lined up. The East Shore was getting local north windswell at waist to chest high and lightly chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
From the North Pacific local north windswell relative to North and Central California was the main swell source. It was being generated by building high pressure in the Gulf of Alaska setting up north winds at 25+ kts along the coast. Limited north local windswell was hitting Hawaii from a small fetch of north winds north of the Islands on Sunday (5/19). No tradewind generated windswell was occurring for Hawaii's Eastern Shores.
The local California coastal gradient is to surge Wednesday into Thursday (5/22) with up to 30 kts northwest winds, strongest for Central CA and making for raw local north windswell. That windswell to fade some by Friday on into the weekend but not out completely. No signs of any real tradewind generated east windswell for the Islands until Fri (5/24), and then slowly building and holding through the weekend into next week.
Swell from a late season gale that wrapped up off Japan on Saturday (5/18) with 40-45 kt west winds and 32 ft seas is to start hitting the Islands Wed (5/22) and the mainland on Fri (5/24). Some small but rideable swell to results for all locations but biggest for Hawaii.
But the big story remains the gale that developed and tracked northeast from under New Zealand on Thurs (5/9) -Wed (5/15) producing up to 38 ft seas while approaching French Polynesia, then fading but still producing 32-36 ft seas in 3 separate pulses all aimed pretty well to the northeast. Swell for Hawaii through Fri (5/24) and the US West Coast through Tues (5/28).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (5/21) strong high pressure at 1040 mbs was falling south through the Gulf of Alaska generating a pressure gradient along the entire Canadian and US West Coast with north winds to 30 kts off British Columbia and 25 kts down into Central CA. North windswell was being generated and on the increase. Trades were suppressed over the Hawaiian Islands with low pressure still lingering just north of the state. No swell producing low pressure systems of interest were occurring.
Over the next 72 hours high pressure in the Gulf of Alaska is to fall southeast off the coast of California Wed (5/22) at 1032 mbs generating 25-30 kt north winds down the coast of British Columbia and California then rapidly fading Thurs (5/23) with only 25 kt north winds off California, and down to 20 kts late, then holding into Friday at 20 kts. The net result is to be increasing north windswell for North and Central CA Wed-Thurs (5/23) then fading but not out beyond (see QuikCAST's for details).
Trades relative to Oahu are to remain suppressed until later Friday (5/24) then starting to develop some at 15 kts as high pressure sinks far enough south off California and local low pressure relative to Hawaii dissipates. Small east windswell possible late.
Of far more interest is a gale that developed off Japan late Friday (5/17) and was tracking slowly northeast. By Sat AM (5/18) it had a small area of 45 kt west winds with 40 kt west winds over a modest sized area and seas building from 28 ft at 40N 160E, a long ways from even Hawaii. 40 kt west winds held into the early evening with seas building to 32 ft at 40N 164E (308 degs Hawaii). Fetch was fading from 30 kts Sun AM (5/19) with seas fading from 25 ft at 41N 168E. The remnants of the gale started lifting northeast in the evening with seas from previous fetch fading from 20 ft at 42N 172E. A nice small pulse of westerly swell is expected to result for the Hawaiian Islands arriving on Oahu on Wed AM (5/22) peaking mid-day at at 4 ft @ 15 secs with (6.0 ft faces) from 308 degrees. Swell to continue but fading Thurs from 4 ft @ 13 secs (5.0-5.5 ft). Make the most of it.
Limited energy expected to arrive along the Central CA coast starting Thurs PM (5/23) at 1.5 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft) building Friday to 2.7 ft @ 15 secs (4 ft). Swell fading Saturday from 3 ft @ 13-14 secs (4 ft). Inconsistent. Swell Direction: 300 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (5/21) strong high pressure at 1038 mbs was 1200 nmiles northwest of Central CA and strongly ridging into the entire US West Coast and British Columbia generating 30 kts north winds off British Columbia and 25 kt northwest winds reaching the whole way to Central CA. Windswell and chop were on the increase. But Southern CA was protected. By Wednesday two pockets of 30 kts north winds are expected off Central CA and BC with 20+ kt northwest winds connecting the two. Windswell on the increase with conditions in the fully-chopped category except for SCal whihc is to remain in a eddy. Thursday north wind is to still be the rule at 25 kts along mainly the Central CA coast but then starting to fade by afternoon, but still 20 kts along the North and Central Coasts. Winds down some for North and Central CA on Friday at 20 kts in pockets and 15 kts elsewhere, but Southern CA to remain protected. The gradient is to finally collapse Saturday with north winds fading below 15 kts, but still not calm. Light winds early Sunday for all of CA expected Point Conception (20 kts). Mon-Tues a continue 15-20 kts flow is forecast with the core near Pt Conception and almost calm over Cape Mendocino.
Jetstream - On Tuesday (5/21) the jet was split over New Zealand then almost trying to merge into a single flow over the Central Pacific only to split again with the southern branch ridging south over Antarctic Ice before reconsolidating then pushing unified into extreme South America. But wind speeds were very light over the length of the southern branch (barely 80 kts) offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the southern branch of the jet is to start ridging steadily southward over the Southeast Pacific and back to the west no troughs are forecast with wind speeds remaining exceedingly light (80-90 kts). No support for gale development indicated. Beyond 72 hours there's some suggestion of building wind energy in the southern branch south of New Zealand on Sun (5/26) with a trough trying to develop and 100-110 kts winds pushing up into it building to 120 kts late Monday (5/27). Some limited support for gale development possible.
Surface - On Tuesday (5/21) swell from the New Zealand Gale (see New Zealand Gale below) was still hitting Hawaii and the US West Coast. Otherwise no swell producing weather system were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
New Zealand Gale - Swell #1S
On Thursday AM (5/9) a modest gale started to develop while tracking under New Zealand moving into an upper level trough producing an area of 45 kt southwest winds down at the surface and seas building from 28 ft at 58S 172E. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the southern flank of this gale at 18Z and confirmed seas at 31.1 ft with one readying to 37.4 ft where the model suggested 30 ft seas. The model was under calling it some. Thurs PM the gale tracked northeast with fetch building to the north pushing up into the South Pacific with winds 45-50 kts southeast of New Zealand targeting Hawaii and seas to 37 ft at 54S 177E (39 ft at 06Z at 51S 179W - 189 degs HI, 212 degs NCal, 213 SCal and shadowed by Tahiti).
Additional 45 kt pure southerly winds held while lifting north Fri AM (5/10) generating more 36 ft seas at 51S 175W. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the northern side of the fetch and reported seas 31.5 ft with one reading to 36.7 ft where the model indicated 34-36 ft seas. Looks like the model was over hyping it some. Also the model reported 38 ft seas at 18Z at 51S 173W (189 degs HI, 209 degs NCal and shadowed, 212 SCal and shadowed). A broad fetch of 35-40 kt southerly winds held in the evening with 36 ft seas lifting north at 48S 168W (187 degs HI, 209 degs NCal and shadowed, 211 SCal and shadowed).
A small area of 45 kt south wind was building Sat AM (5/11) with seas 33 ft over a good sized area at 44S 164W (184 degs HI, 209 NCal shadowed, 211 SCal shadowed). Southerly fetch was fading from 40-45 kts in the evening wrapped around the gales core with seas fading from 32 ft at 40S 155W (181 degs HI, 205 NCal shadowed, 209 SCal and barely shadowed) with secondary fetch building to 40 kts south around the core of the gale and another off of New Zealand.
On Sun AM (5/12) a modest fetch of 45 kt southwest winds were wrapping around the core of the gale and also tracking northeast off New Zealand with seas building to 32 ft at 43S 160W (181 degs HI, 207 NCal shadowed, 210 SCal shadowed). By evening winds were fading from 40 kts as the core of the low retrograded to the south with seas fading from 33 ft over a moderate area well to the north at 36S 152W (east of the HI swell window, 205 degs NCal shadowed, 208 SCal unshadowed).
Some solid degree of decent sized 17+ sec period swell is radiating northeast having already hit Tahiti (with 17+ ft Hawaiian surf on Mon-Tues (5/21) with secondary swell moving towards Hawaii and the US West Coast. The early part of this fetch was unshadowed for North California by Tahiti but fully shadowed for Southern CA, then moving well into the shadow and remaining there barely becoming exposed for Southern CA late in it's life.
Hawaii: Combined swell fading Wed (5/22) from 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Swell dropping out by Thurs (5/23) from 2.3 ft @ 14 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 3rd Pulse: 182-188 degs, 4th Pulse: 181-196 degs
Southern CA: Energy from the third pulse hitting near 7 PM Tues (5/21) and starting to peak on Wed (5/22) near 3 AM at 2.3-2.4 ft @ 17 secs (3.9-4.1 ft with sets to 5.1 ft) and much lesser sized and period energy intermixed. Swell fading Thurs AM (5/23) but new energy building underneath from the 4th pulse late afternoon, peaking near 5 AM Friday (5/24) at 2.2-2.4 ft @ 17 secs (3.7-4.1 ft with sets to 5.1 ft). Residual energy fading Sat (5/25) from 2.1 ft @ 16 secs (3.5 ft). New Swell from the follow-on pulses to arrive Sun (5/26) at 2 ft @ 17-18 secs (3.5 ft) fading Mon (5/27) at 2.3 ft @ 16 secs (3.5 ft). Residuals dropping Tues (5/28) at 2 ft @ 15 secs early (3 ft). Swell Direction: 3rd Pulse 208-210 degs, 4th Pulse 206-215 degs. Follow-On pulse: 200 degs.
Northern CA: Energy from the third pulse hitting near 10 PM Tues (5/21) and starting to peak on Wed (5/22) near 5 AM at 2.3-2.4 ft @ 17 secs (3.9-4.1 ft with sets to 5.1 ft) and much lesser sized and period energy intermixed. Swell fading Thurs AM (5/23) but new energy building underneath from the 4th pulse late afternoon, peaking near 5 AM Friday (5/24) at 2.2-2.4 ft @ 17 secs (3.7-4.1 ft with sets to 5.1 ft). Residual energy fading Sat (5/25) from 2.0 ft @ 16 secs (3.0 ft). New swell from the follow-on pulses to arrive Sun (5/26) at 1.6 ft @ 18-19 secs (3.0 ft) fading Mon (5/27) at 2.0 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.0 ft). Residuals dropping Tues (5/28) at 2 ft @ 15 secs early (3 ft). Swell Direction: 3rd Pulse 206-208 degs, 4th Pulse 203-213 degs, Follow-On pulse: 200 degs.
New Zealand Gale (Part 3)
A tiny secondary fetch of 55 kt southwest winds built south-southeast of New Zealand Sunday evening (5/12) producing 34 ft seas over a tiny area at 59S 175E. 45 kt southwest winds raced northeast Mon AM (5/13) producing up to 36 ft seas over a tiny area at 53S 171W (188 degs HI, 209 degs SCal and becoming unshadowed, 208 degs NCal and shadowed). The fetch raced northeast in the evening fading from 40 kts with seas 34 ft at 47S 161W (182 degs HI, 208 degs SCal and unshadowed, 206 degs NCal and shadowed). This system was gone by Tuesday AM.
Another small pulse of 17-18 sec period swell has developed radiating northeast providing sideband swell for Tahiti then arriving in Hawaii (on Sun 5/18 with period 18 secs - see forecast above) with more direct but highly decayed and shadowed energy for California (arriving Wed AM 5/22 see details above). It will likely just look like a continuation of the existing swell.
New Zealand Gale (Part 4)
The final pulse of the storm developed on Tues AM (5/14) producing 45 kts southwest winds over a small area generating seas to 30 ft at 53S 176E (196 degs HI, 215 degs SCal and shadowed, 213 degs NCal and unshadowed). The fetch pulsed some Tuesday PM still at 45 kts and covering a broader area with seas to 32 ft at 48S 168W (187 degs HI, 212 degs SCal and shadowed, 209 degs NCal and moving into the Tahiti Swell shadow). Fetch was fading Wed AM (5/15) from 40 kts and aiming more flat east with seas 32 ft at 48S 157W (181 degs HI, 207 degs SCal and unshadowed, 203 degs NCal and moving east of the Tahiti swell shadow). By evening all fetch was gone except a small new fetch of 45-50 kt mostly west winds. Seas were fading from 29-30 ft at 48S 150W and of no real interest.
Yet another small pulse of 17 sec period swell energy is to be radiating northeast targeting Hawaii on Tues AM (5/21) with 17+ sec period energy. Swell to start moving into California Thurs PM (5/23) peaking Fri AM (5/24) with period 17 secs (see details above). It will likely just look like a continuation of the existing swell.
New Zealand Gale Residual Fetch
The remnants of this system redeveloped some on Thurs AM (5/16) generating a small area of 45 kt southwest fetch and seas to 36 ft at 58S 145W (193 degs NCal, 195 degs SCal and unshadowed by Tahiti, east of the HI swell window) but all energy was pushing flat east. Background energy was radiating northeast towards the US West Coast, but did not qualify as a 5th Pulse. That fetch pushed east and dissipated by Thurs PM (5/16) with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 58S 137W (190 degs SCal, 188 degs NCal). More background sideband energy was tracking northeast, but most energy was targeting Chile, but too far east for significant class swell even there. Additional 35-40 kt fetch moved over the Southeast Pacific Fri AM (5/17) generating barely 30 ft seas at 51S 132W (189 degs SCal, 187 degs NCal) targeting mainly Chile with sideband energy heading north towards the US West Coast. 30-35 kt west winds held into the evening with 28 ft seas moving to the eastern edge of the California swell window at 52S 124W and racing east and out of even the CA swell window by Sat AM (5/18).
On Friday AM (5/17) yet another fetch developed southeast of New Zealand tracking flat east with west winds 45 kts and seas building to 32 ft at 57S 172W. In the evening a tiny area of 45-50 kt west winds built tracking flat east generating seas at 33 ft at 58S 160W. A tiny fetch of 45 kt west wind were pushing east Sat AM (5/18) with seas rebuilding to 36 ft at 59S 146W pushing flat east. In the evening seas were fading fast from 32 ft over a tiny area at 57S 131W. This fetch was gone by Sun AM (5/19). Yet more sideband background swell is possible for the US West Coast (204 degs initially and barely shadowed by Tahiti then becoming unshadowed and moving on to 180 degrees) with even some small energy pushing towards Hawaii (181-187 degs).
Hawaii: Small swell to arrive starting late on Fri (5/24) at 1.2 ft @ 17-18 secs (2 ft). Swell holding Sat AM (5/25) at 1.2 ft @ 15-16 secs (2 ft) and then fading out. Swell Direction: 188 degrees
California: See above swell forecasts.
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 small local windswell is the rule for California with the Northeast Pacific high fading to 1024 mbs generating only limited and somewhat sporadic northwest winds at 15-20 kts along the coast, and not really organized in the form of a defined gradient. Barely rideable local north windswell to result, but nothing more.
Relative to Hawaii tradewinds are to start getting better footing east of the Islands Saturday (5/25) at 15 kts and are to hold into Tues AM (5/28) producing enough easterly fetch to generate east windswell along east facing shores at 4.5-5.0 ft @ 7-8 secs with some luck. After that the high is to fade and the windswell fading with it.
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 Tuesday (5/21) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued up at 23.15. The 30 day average was way up to 3.63 with the 90 day average up at 5.90. Overall this is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino, with the upward trend a likely lagging indicator of the Inactive Phase of the MJO that is already starting to fade.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light east anomalies over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral over the dateline region holding on into Central America. The Inactive Phase of the MJO was still in control but fading. A week from now (5/29) neutral anomalies are to be in control over the Maritime Continent and dateline regions turning to slight west anomalies south of Hawaii then neutral into Central America. This suggests a return to a neutral phase of the MJO should take over. But as of right now all signs point to the Inactive Phase being in control, the most activity we've seen from the MJO in a while.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/20 remain in agreement initially, suggesting a neutral Phase of the MJO was in control over the far West Pacific. This is consistent with observations (other than the strong Inactive signal being displayed by the SOI - but the SOI tends to be more of a lagging indicator). The Dynamic model has the neutral phase quickly starting to give way to an Inactive Phase 5 days from now building 8 days and strongly Inactive 15 days out. The Statistic model conversely has a neutral pattern holding for the next 15 days. So the best we can hope for per the models is a neutral pattern with a good shot at another Inactive Phase building. That's not good.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). As of now (5/20) a very La Nina looking pattern continues developing in the East Pacific over the equator with much cooler water tracking north up along the South American Coast turning west at Ecuador extending to the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there. This looks like a real La Nina cold pool at this time, or maybe just a precursor to what has developed into a strong Inactive Phase of the MJO. The cold pool is also eroding warm water that was built up north of the equator off Central America. Looking back just a few weeks it's almost as if this cold pool developed before anomalous east winds started blowing over the West Pacific. The question now is: "Will those cold waters moderate and disperse or will they stay in-place?". It's too early to know. But another ominous sign is the same thing is occurring off West Africa, with cold water radiating off the coast there on the equator and pushing towards the Caribbean. A direct reflection of what is occurring in the Pacific, a global teleconnection. And the plume of slightly cooler than normal water that has been radiating southeast off California for 2 years and finally closed off about a week ago, has started to return. This is a reflection of the collapse and now rebuilding of high pressure over the East Pacific. Subsurface waters temps on the equator continue indicating a pool of cooler water (-2.0 deg C) in place at 150W and down 150 meters, blocking the transport path. A building pocket of slight warmer water is backing up in the West Pacific, typical of La Nina. In short, temperatures on the surface are not warming and if anything are cooling, while the subsurface path is blocked by cooler water, not doing anything to transport warm water eastward, even if there was warm water to transport. And the Atlantic is starting to respond to what appears to be a building global pattern. And the SOI is doing nothing but moving steadily in to positive territory. Sure looks likes La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/21 are up some. The model indicates water temps bottomed out (in May) near normal (+0.0 degs C). A gradual rebound to the +0.20 degree C level is possible by July building into November at +0.6 holding near +0.5 through Jan 2014. A consensus of all the other ENSO models suggest near normal water temps into Summer and early Fall 2013 with no warming indicated. We are in the Spring Unpredictability Barrier where accuracy of all the ENSO models is historically low. But by mid-June we'll be clear of that barrier and will have a better handle on the long term outlook. So for now the outcome is uncertain, but not trending towards anything that would be considered warm. Historically, if a warm water buildup indicative of any significant El Nino pattern were to occur, it would be starting to happen by now (normally would start building in Feb-Mar). That is clearly not the case for this year. Expect a neutral pattern for Winter of 2013-2014.
We are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than previous years (2010-2011 and 2011-2012) under the direct influence of La Nina. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell for the 2012-2013 winter season, but that did not materialize with the pattern looking more like La Nina than anything. This past season was more of a 3 rating than the 5 that was predicted. That said, there was good consistency, with the west dateline area very productive and almost machine-like. But the storms were very small in areal coverage and rarely made enough eastern headway to reach over the dateline. The result was very westerly but reasonably sized utility class swells for the Islands with far smaller and more inconsistent swell energy for the US West Coast. Longer term the expectation there will be at least one year of neutral to slightly warmer temps (2013-2014) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Last Updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast until Tues (5/28) when a gale with 45 kts southwest winds and seas to 30 ft are forecast building well south of Tasmania and tracking east. But that is a week out and there is zero confidence that system will be on the models even 24 hours from now. So in effect, there is no signs of swell anytime soon.
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