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 Tuesday (5/22) North and Central CA had local windswell producing waves maybe thigh to waist high and a mess with northwest winds on the increase. In Santa Cruz surf was dead flat with light fog and clean. Southern California up north had surf that was maybe knee high and clean but warbled early. Down south sets were waist high on occasion with some texture on it early. Hawaii's North Shore was effectively flat and clean. The South Shore was small with waves thigh high and clean. The East Shore was thigh high from east tradewind generated windswell and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure is again taking control over the Northeast Pacific with north winds and building raw windswell expected for California and easterly trades and windswell for Hawaii continuing through the Memorial Day weekend. The models suggest a low forming in the West Gulf on Monday (5/28) with 35 kt winds pushing east, but we'll call that pure fantasy at this time. Down south a quiet pattern has been in control of the South Pacific for over a week meaning that no swell is pushing up towards Hawaii or California. But the charts suggest a series of gales are to start pushing under New Zealand with one small one on Wednesday (5/23) with a far stronger one by the weekend and yet another behind that. The second is to make decent progress east of New Zealand though with no northward turn expected offering only indirect swell to northern hemi breaks. But the good news is, at least there's hope.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (5/22) weak low pressure at 1004 mbs over the dateline with a far stronger high pressure system at 1028 mbs building 900 nmiles off the Central CA coast. It was starting to produce north winds to 25 kts over Pt Conception with lesser north winds extending up to Pt Arena and off the coast of Baja. The high was also starting to reinvigorate east trades over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts. Over the next 72 hrs this high pressure system is to build while low pressure also builds over Nevada resulting in a pressure gradient along the Central California coast resulting in 30 kt north winds near Pt Conception building northward up to Pt Reyes by early Friday and to Cape Mendocino that evening increasing local raw north windswell for the entire California coast. Also east trades to build to 20 kts over Hawaii by Wed (5/23) with the same result and holding at least into Friday.
There's some suggestion the low currently over the dateline is to drift northeast and start building late Thursday (5/24) with west winds to 30 kts producing 18 ft seas up at 47N 163W Friday AM (5/25) targeting mainly Oregon northward. There's a low probability of this occurring though.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday (5/22) Tropical Storm Bud was trying to organize 420 nmiles south of Puerto Viarta Mexico with sustained winds 35 kts traveling northwest. A turn to the north is expected on Wednesday with winds to 50 kts building to 65 kts (minimal hurricane strength) on Thursday and heading north-northeast, eventually starting to slowly weekend and bound for mainland Mexico by the weekend. Bud is to remain east of the Southern CA swell window throughout it's life.
Tropical Storm Sanvu was 250 nmiles west of Saipan in the far West Pacific tracking northwest with winds 45 kts and expected to continue on this heading while strengthening to hurricane force Wednesday PM, peaking Thursday AM (5/24) with sustained winds 75 kts and tracking due north. Sanvu to start turning northeast on Friday and accelerating while loosing power, with winds down to 45 kts on Sunday (5/27) well east of northern Japan. Longer range model show this system degrading while continuing northeast, and not reaching the dateline intact.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (5/22) high pressure at 1028 mbs was building strong off the coast and north winds on the increase over Pt Conception (30 kts late). the high and associated north winds are to be building solidly northward on Wednesday at 25 kts up to Pt Arena late and increasing in coverage over Pt Conception at 30 kts. Southern CA to be shadowed and in an eddy flow by Wed. Windswell on the increase all locations. The gradient is to be building off San Francisco late Thursday (5/24) with 30 kt north fetch extending north from Pt Arena 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 some on Friday with 25-30 kt north winds covering a large area off North and Central CA with lesser winds southward to a point off Northern Baja and then lifting north on Saturday centered more off Cape Mendocino. Nearshore conditions a mess from Pt Conception northward through the period. The gradient to back off some on Saturday centered off Pt Arena with winds 25 kts producing more windswell and pulling some away from the coast from Pt Reyes southward. And the gradient to dissipate on Sunday with 15 kt north winds impacting the coast, then generating to 25 kts on Mon/Tues over Cape Mendocino.
Jet stream - On Tuesday (5/22) a split jetstream flow continued with both the north and southern branches tracking semi-parallel across the width the South Pacific with the north branch running flat over the 31S latitude and the southern branch diving hard south over the Central Pacific down into Antarctica then rebounding north towards Southern Chile. No real energy was in the southern branch with winds 110 kts or less and no troughs of interest occurring. Over the next 72 hours a batch of stronger energy is to push east under Tasmania in the southern branch with winds to 150 kts on Wed (5/23) but falling apart as it enters the South Pacific under New Zealand Thurs AM (5/24). Reinforcing wind energy is to be building behind that at 130 kts by Fri (5/25) forming the weakest of troughs under New Zealand and pushing flat east. Beyond 72 hours another pulse of winds energy to push into the same area at 150 kts on Saturday (5/26) causing a steep but-at-least-real trough to develop in the Central Pacific rising while tracking east, then washing out in the East Pacific 24 hrs later. In all some modest support for gale development possible.But beyond that the jet is to be sinking southeast from a high point under New Zealand pushing into Antarctica over the Southeast Pacific into mid-next week and offering no support for gale development.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (5/22) there was no gale low pressure system in-play with a mild wind pattern in play. But low pressure was trying to develop under Tasmania. Over the next 72 hours that low to evolve some moving under New Zealand with up to 45 kt northwest winds building on Wednesday (5/23) but all falling southeast over the Ross Ice Shelf (northern border near 65S) generating a fleeting patch of 30 ft seas but targeting only the building winter ice sheet north of Antarctica (Ross Ice Shelf). No swell of interest being generated.
But a second storm is to build right behind under Tasmania on Thursday AM (5/24) with 50 kt west winds in-play by evening resulting in 36 ft seas just off the north edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at 60S 150E aimed well up the 216 degree path to CA (but a long ways away) and shadowed by New Zealand relative to Hawaii. A solid area of 50-55 kt west-southwest winds to build under New Zealand just off the Ross Ice Shelf into Friday AM (5/25) resulting in 44 ft seas at 60S 167E (211 degs CA and barely unshadowed by Tahiti/197 degs HI) then peaking at 47 ft mid-morning at 60S 173E (209 degs CA and shadowed/184 degs HI/202 degs Tahiti). Winds to be fading fast in the evening from 45 kts and seas fading from 44 ft at 58S 178W (207 degs CA and well shadowed). A quick fade forecast thereafter. If this were to all occur as modeled a solid long period swell would result targeting Tahiti best is sideband swell pushing up to Hawaii and decent but distant and a mix of shadowed and unshadowed energy for California. Something to monitor.
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 focused near Cape Mendocino at 25 kts early Saturday (5/26) then fading from 20 kts early Sunday and dissipating only to start regenerating on Monday (5/28) at 25 kts. Slowly fading local north windswell expected for exposed breaks in CA over the long weekend rebuilding some on Monday and continuing into next week. East trades over Hawaii to hold solid at 20 kts on Fri-Sun (5/27) with decent raw local east windswell expected on exposed shores then fading some on Monday (5/28) and dropping out on Tuesday with windswell on the way down as low pressure takes root in the Gulf of Alaska.
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 Tuesday (5/22) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -0.29. The 30 day average was falling at 0.54 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to 0.08.
Current wind analysis indicated moderate westerly anomalies over the equator from Indonesia to a point north of Eastern Australia (150E) with dead neutral anomalies from there eastward extending into Central America except a barb or to of easterly anomalies on the dateline. 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 (5/30) weak westerly anomalies are expected over the West Pacific and weak east anomalies are forecast over the dateline indicative of a neutral phase of the MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/21 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 India. 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 (5/29) 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 (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 hrs no swell producing fetch is forecast.
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: 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