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 Thursday (5/24) North and Central CA had local windswell on the increase with waves at shoulder high and almost clean early, before the wind starting picking up. In Santa Cruz surf was maybe knee high and warbled with strong wind outside the kelp. Southern California up north had north windswell produced surf that was waist high and clean but warbled early. Down south sets were waist high on occasion with alot of southerly texture on it early. Hawaii's North Shore was effectively flat and clean. The South Shore was small but doing perhaps a little better than days previous with surf near waist high and clean. The East Shore had improved east windswell at 1 ft overhead 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 in control over the Northeast Pacific with north winds and raw pushing into California and easterly trades and windswell for Hawaii. Winds to start fading by Saturday but continuing through the Memorial Day weekend for the Islands. A weak low was tracking through the Western Gulf on Thursday and not of any interest with a stronger one forecast on Monday (5/28) with 35 kt winds and up to 22 ft seas late pushing east into Tuesday (5/29), but that still seem pretty far fetched. 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. And the chart, contrary to previous projections, continue to depict a rather tranquil pattern with seas not exceeding 25 ft for the next 7 days. This is starting to look like the summer that never got started. Normally by May the storm track down south is in high gear.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (5/24) weak low pressure at 1000 mbs was moving into the Western Gulf with no fetch of interest occurring yet. Of more interest was high pressure at 1032 mbs locked building 900 nmiles off the Central CA coast producing north winds to 30 kts centered near Pt Conception with lesser north winds extending up to Cape Mendocino and southward to a point off the Central Baja generating north windswell for much of the CA coast. The high was also producing east trades over the Hawaiian Islands at 20 kts resulting in increased east windswell there. Tropical system were in the far East and West Pacific (see Tropics below). Over the next 72 hrs fetch from the high pressure system is to build northward in conjunction with building low pressure over Nevada resulting in a pressure gradient along the Central California coast resulting in 25 kt north winds near Cape Mendocino Friday increasing local raw north windswell for the entire California coast, then fading Saturday into Sunday (5/27). Also east trades to hold at 20 kts over Hawaii through Sunday, then dropping off some.
The low currently in the Western Gulf is to accelerate northeast late Thursday (5/24) with west winds to 35 kts producing 18 ft seas up at 47N 163W Friday AM (5/25) targeting mainly Oregon northward with windswell then dissipating. No swell elsewhere forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Wednesday (5/23) hurricane Bud was positioned 540 nmiles south-southeast of Cabo San Lucas Mexico turning to the north-northeast and building. By Thursday AM (5/24) winds were sustained at 90 kts expected to peak at 95 kts in the evening positioned 220 nmiles south-southwest of Manzanillo Mexico. Bud was east of any great circle track into the US West Coast and was of interest only for Cabo San Lucas southward. Bud is expected to continue north-northeast moving to within 40 nmiles of a point midway between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo Mexico on Friday evening with winds down to 70 kts, then stall and turn back west, dissipating off the coast early next week. no swell production expected relative to the US West coast.
Typhoon Sanvu was 480 nmiles north-northwest of Saipan mid-day Thursday (5/24) in the far West Pacific tracking north with winds 70 kts and expected to peak late evening with winds to 75 kts and making a turn to the northeast and starting to accelerate. Sanvu to pass near Iwo To on Friday evening with winds fading from 65 kts (bare minimal typhoon force) and then fading out. It is suspected that most of Sanvus energy is going to be stolen by the previously mentioned gale developing in the Western Gulf of Alaska early next week. No swell expected from this system for anywhere other than maybe Japan.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (5/24) high pressure at 1032 mbs was holding strong off the coast while low pressure was building inland over Nevada resulting in a pressure gradient and north winds over Pt Conception at 30 kts and 25 kts northward from San Francisco up into nearly Cape Mendocino and southward almost mid-way down the Baja peninsula. An eddy flow was holding over Southern CA keeping it protected from the blow up north. The gradient to fade some on Friday with 25 kt north winds covering a large area off North and Central CA with lesser 20 kt winds southward to a point off Northern Baja and extending north to British Columbia and pushing inland over Southern CA. This fetch to lifting north on Saturday centered more off Cape Mendocino. Nearshore conditions to remain a mess from Southern Ca up to Pt Conception northward through the period though maybe breaking a bit early for the SF Bay area. The gradient to dissipate on Sunday with 15 kt north winds impacting the coast, then starting to rebuild over the Central CA coast at 20 kts later Monday pushing near 25 kts on Tuesday (5/29) over Cape Mendocino. 25 kts winds to remain isolated to Cape Mendocino Wed/Thurs (5/31) with an eddy flow developing over Central CA.
Jet stream - On Thursday (5/24) a split jetstream continued over the South Pacific with both branches tracking semi-parallel with each other with the north branch slowly falling east-southeast from 34S reaching to 40 AS in the Southeast Pacific with winds there to 170 kts. The southern branch was highly fragmented but also falling east-southeast with only one pocket of winds to 140 kts and most far weaker, eventually crashing into Antarctica. No upper level support for gale development was indicated. Over the next 72 hours a batch of stronger wind energy is to push east under New Zealand Sat AM (5/26) with wind 150 kts but falling southeast and effectively forming a ridge (opposite of a trough) tracking into mainland Antarctica and offering no support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours that same track is to only be reinforced with all energy sweeping southeast into Antarctica through Thurs (5/31) with nary a sign of a trough or even any wind energy trying to push northward. No support for gale development projected.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (5/24) there was a smattering of fetch areas with winds to barely 35 kts but all aimed away from our forecast area. In short, no swell production was evident. Over the next 72 hours a gale is to evolve moving under New Zealand with up to 40 kt winds Friday (5/25), but all aimed southeast or even south towards the Ross Ice Shelf generating no swell of interest. A second gale is to develop just southeast of New Zealand on Sun (5/27) but it too is to be forced hard to the south by strong high pressure at 1032 mbs locked over the Central Pacific (and trapped between the two split flow of the jetstream). No swell of interest being generated.
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 ridge closer to the Pacific Northwest and CA coasts as a new low pressure system builds in the Gulf. The high is to fade to 1024 mbs by Tuesday (5/29) resulting in a limited area of 20 kt north winds along the immediate North and Central CA coast becoming more focused over Cape Mendocino on Wed (5/30) with winds to 25 kts and holding for 24 hrs. Windswell to regenerate some mainly for Central California. East trades over Hawaii to steadily fade Mon-Tues (5/29) at 15 kts then falling to 10 kts on Wednesday offering no more windswell production potential for east facing shores as low pressure starts to dominate the Gulf of Alaska.
By Monday (5/28) a new gale is forecast developing over the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutian Islands with northwest fetch at 35 kts tracking east-southeast with winds down to 30 kts early Tuesday then fading out late. 20 ft seas forecast late Monday just shy of the Aleutians falling and building to 22 ft Tuesday AM (5/29) at 45N 171W. 20 ft residual seas in the evening at 43N 164W. Possible modest 13 sec period swell for Hawaii if one is to believe the models.
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 Thursday (5/24) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -9.40. The 30 day average was falling at -0.31 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to -0.15. Our working philosophy is that a SOI that is holding near neutral does little to enhance swell production, and that an SOI on either of the extremes ends is better than being in the middle (where we are today). The good news is that we are hoping we are in a transition mode, moving from one opposite (la Nina) to the other, though that is mostly just wishful thinking.
Current wind analysis indicated westerly anomalies in a pocket over the equator near the Philippines with light easterly anomolies over the dateline and dead neutral anomalies from there eastward extending into Central America. This indicates a weak MJO signal was present (neither Active nor Inactive). A week from now (6/1) much the same is forecast with weak westerly anomalies expected over the far West Pacific and weak to modest east anomalies forecast over the dateline perhaps starting to get some footing, indicative of a neutral phase of the MJO trending towards the Inactive Phase. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/23 continue in disagreement. The dynamic model depicts a very weak Active Phase holding over the dateline for the next 2 weeks with an Inactive Phase holding over India. Conversely the statistical model (often more accurate) has the Inactive Phase over India pushing east and moving into the West Pacific 4-5 days out (5/29) and then taking over the West Pacific 1.5 weeks out then starting to fade while a large Active Phase of the MJO builds anew under India easing east. 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 it 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 sign 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 no swell producing fetch is forecast with any potential windswell energy trying to emerge under New Zealand getting shunted hard to the south and southeast crashing into the Ross Ice Shelf. Penguin storms.
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