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 (5/25) North and Central CA had Japan swell and local windswell combination producing waves in the head high range and pretty crumbled due to northwest wind over outer waters. But not chopped yet nearshore. Down in Santa Cruz there was a mix of northwest Japan swell and southern hemi swell in the head high range but not really holding good form. Clean early. Southern California up north was chest high on the sets and pretty clean early but still pretty soft, mainly wrap around windswell. Down south waves were head high on the sets coming from the southern hemi with windswell intermixed and breaking up the lines. A light texture was on it early but not bad. Hawaii's North Shore was waist high on the sets and fairly clean but with some underlying wind lump running through it. The South Shore was still getting limited southern hemi energy with waves waist high and clean early. The East Shore was getting easterly windswell at thigh to waist high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
From the North Pacific Japan swell was hitting California on Saturday producing rideable surf but being stepped on by local short period north windswell. The windswell was being generated by high pressure west of California setting up north winds at 20 kts along the coast while the Japan swell was generated by a late season gale that wrapped up off Japan on Saturday (5/18) with 40-45 kt west winds and 32 ft seas. Relative to Hawaii only small easterly tradewind generated windswell was occurring along Hawaii's Eastern Shores.
The local California coastal gradient is to fade significantly by Sunday (5/26) and then remain weak, with it's only incarnation displaced south over Pt Conception generating 20-25 kts north winds over a tiny area there and not doing much for producing even local windswell for anyone. Finally on Thursday it is to lift north with a more usual fetch developing off the North and Central CA coast and lifting north centered over Northern CA by the weekend, providing rideable short period windswell for exposed breaks. Tradewind generated east windswell is starting to develop for the Islands and expected to hold through the long weekend into Tuesday of next week (5/28), then fade as trades move south of the Islands. But trades to lift back to the north (over the Islands) for the weekend (6/1).
The models suggest a small fetch of 25-30 kt northwest winds building in the Gulf of Alaska Tues-Wed (5/29) producing 16 ft seas, maybe good for small windswell for the Pacific Northwest if it develops.
The last of the Swell #1S is to be fading for the US West Coast through Tues (5/28). Another gale is scheduled to start building in the Tasman Sea Sun-Mon (5/27) then move over New Zealand getting sheared, only to possibly redevelop east of New Zealand Wed-Thurs (5/30). Something to monitor.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (5/25) modest high pressure at 1028 mbs was holding 800 nmiles west of Central CA generating a weak pressure gradient along the California coast generating north winds at 15-20 kts over Central CA and less elsewhere resulting in modest and fading local north windswell at exposed breaks. Trades remained modest over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts or so resulting in minimal easterly short period windswell along East facing shores. Swell from a gale previously off Japan was hitting California.
Over the next 72 hours high pressure to remain mid-way between California and Hawaii falling slightly south and holding with pressure 1028 mbs generating a continued local fetch of 20 kt north winds but it falling south to an area isolated near Point Conception by Sunday (5/26). It is to hold there Monday and build some with winds to 25 kts through Wednesday (5/29) and increasing the odds for unfavorable winds pushing into Southern CA nearshore breaks. But it is to have little to no impact on producing windswell.
The same high pressure is generating 15+ kts easterly trades relative to Oahu that are to hold into Tuesday (5/28). Small easterly short period windswell to be the result along east facing shores. But as the high sinks further south the fetch is to move south as well, positioned south of the Islands by Wednesday (5/29). Windswell fading out at that time.
Also the models suggest that by Tuesday (5/28) a small fetch of 25-30 kt northwest winds are to develop in the Gulf of Alaska over a small area falling southeast into Wednesday AM generating maybe 15 ft seas near 48N 150W late Tuesday evening. Possible small windswell developing reaching the Pacific Northwest coast later in the week if one is to believe the models.
Otherwise no fetch of interest is forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (5/25) modest high pressure at 1030 mbs was 800 nmiles west of Central CA and ridging into the California generating 15-20 kt north winds along the coast. Local short period north windswell and chop were still the rule. Southern CA remained protected. The gradient is to finally collapse Sunday with calm local winds from Monterey Bay northward early but north winds still 15-20 kts south of there focused over Pt Conception with the core of the remaining small gradient there. More of the same is forecast Mon-Wed (5/29) with north winds 15 kts with a core of 20+ kt winds near Pt Conception. But Tues-Wed (5/30) there is to be increasing odds for northwest winds working their way through the Channel Islands and reaching the Southern CA coast in the afternoons. By Thursday the gradient is to start lifting north again with 20 kts north winds building over all of Central and North CA and by Friday 25 kt north winds imbedded in the fetch. Southern CA to be protected. No signs of an eddy flow for the Central Coast.
Jetstream - On Saturday (5/25) the jet was split over the Central and East South Pacific with a big ridge pushing into Antarctica towards South America and suppressing odds for gale development. But something that almost resembled a trough was building south of the Tasman Sea and New Zealand with 120 kts winds feeding up into it. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to become a bit more pronounced with south winds at 140 kts pushing up into the Tasman Sea by Sun (5/26) offering improved odds for gale development down at the oceans surface, but then the trough is to quickly collapse Monday while pushing east over New Zealand and into the far Southwest Pacific with support for gale development fading. The big ridge is to continue locking down the Southeast Pacific. Beyond 72 hours there's some suggestion of the trough rebuilding east of New Zealand by Wed (5/29) with both streams of the jet merging over the Central Pacific and tracking east with combined winds to 180 kts (but aimed somewhat southeast rather than northeast). The trough to slowly moderate but still looking somewhat supportive of gale development into the weekend (6/1) with a merged jet holding over the Central and Eastern South Pacific.
Surface - On Saturday (5/25) swell from the New Zealand Gale (see New Zealand Gale below) was still hitting the US West Coast. Otherwise no swell producing weather system were occurring. Of some note was a small gale trying to develop in the Tasman Sea with 40 kt southwest winds forecast mid-day and seas to 30 ft at 46S 160E. Sideband swell possibly being generated relative to Fiji. A broader fetch is to develop Sunday (5/26) in the same area at 35-40 kts aimed well up the Tasman Sea targeting Fiji with 28 ft seas into late Monday. Most seas centered near 40S 160-170E. Larger 16 sec period swell possible for Fiji. But by Tues (5/28) all that fetch is to move directly over New Zealand and dissipate.
Over the next 72 hours no other swell producing fetch of interest is forecast. Swell from the New Zealand Gale is to dissipate along California.
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).
Southern CA: 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: 4th Pulse 206-215 degs. Follow-On pulse: 200 degs.
Northern CA: 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: 4th Pulse 203-213 degs, Follow-On pulse: 200 degs.
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 local windswell is to rebuild along the California Coast Thurs (5/30) as high pressure rebuilds off the coast. By Friday 25 kt north winds are to be in control over North CA generating increasing moderate northerly windswell mainly for the Central CA coast and holding for the weekend.
Relative to Hawaii tradewinds are to rebuild and lift north over the Islands by Sat (6/1) over a decent sized fetch area holding through the weekend. East windswell to improve some along east facing shores.
No other swell producing fetch is forecast for the North Pacific.
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 Saturday (5/25) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was showing signs of weakness falling to -3.81. The 30 day average was up to 5.24 with the 90 day average up at 6.21. 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 fading.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent and dateline regions with light westerly anomalies south of Hawaii turning neutral as they approached Central America. The Inactive Phase of the MJO was dead. A week from now (5/31) more of the same is forecast with neutral anomalies in control over the Maritime Continent and dateline turning slightly westerly south of Hawaii on into Central America. This suggests a strengthening of the neutral phase of the MJO.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/24 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 slowly giving way to an Inactive Phase 5 days from now and building steadily 15 days out. The Statistic model conversely has a neutral pattern holding for the next 15 days with perhaps slight tendencies towards and Inactive Phase 10-15 days out, but minimal. So the best we can hope for per the models is a neutral pattern with a modest shot at another Inactive Phase building. Not good.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. As of now (5/23) a very La Nina looking pattern continues developing in the East Pacific over the equator with much cooler water pushing off the South American Coast extending and building near the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there the whole way to the dateline now. This looks like a real La Nina cold pool at this time, or maybe just a striking strong effect of a strong Inactive Phase of the MJO. This cold pool has also eroded warm water that previously 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 building while 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 mid-May has started to return, but only weakly (so far). This is a reflection of the collapse of high pressure over the East Pacific. But that high is now rebuilding. Another interesting tidbit is last year at this time an almost El Nino like pattern developed, only to collapse late summer. So it is possible this La Nina teaser could fade as well. Something to monitor.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 and locked in place. A building pocket of slight warmer water is backed 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. The only hope is the SOI is starting to fall. But all the signs sure are pointing towards La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/25 remain oblivious to the cold water building occurring in the Southeast equatorial Pacific. The model indicates water temps bottomed out (in May) near normal (+0.0 degs C). A gradual rebound to the +0.30 degree C level is possible by July building into November at +0.7 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 (regardless what the CFSv2 indicates). 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 late Tues (5/28) when a gale tries to develop south of New Zealand with a fragmented fetch of 40 kt south winds building. By Wed AM (5/29) a small pocket of up to 45 kt south winds is forecast pushing north with seas to 30 ft forecast building at 50S 175W with fetch holding into the evening. Seas to 35 ft at 43S 165W aimed well north. A secondary are of 36 ft seas also forecast near the gales core at 45S 145W but aimed due east. Seas holding well south of New Zealand and tracking east. Fetch to hold Thurs AM (5/30) at 40-45 kts but tracking more due east with seas 32 ft up at 37S 150W aimed mostly east but in close proximity to Tahiti. Possible sideband swell still pushing in that direction. Continued easterly fetch expected through the later part of the week with 30 ft seas tracking east into the East Pacific with sideband swell radiating north and east. Something to monitor but far from guaranteed.
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