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 (5/29) North and Central CA had local north windswell producing minimal waves in the thigh high range and lumped with modest texture on top of that. Down south in Santa Cruz wrap around windswell was knee high and textured with brisk winds and whitecaps outside the kelp. Southern California up north was also getting the minimal north windswell with surf at maybe knee to thigh high and chopped. Down south sets were waist high on and lightly chopped. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was small again with waves thigh to waist high at the better spots and clean with trades in effect. The East Shore had east windswell at shoulder 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 a modest gale was tracking from the dateline through the Western Gulf on Tuesday (5/29) with 35 kt west winds and up to 22 ft seas then fading late. Probable small swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast Fri-Sat (6/2). High pressure to continue locked north of Hawaii resulting in modest east windswell for East Shores of the Islands into Friday and California on through the weekend. Down south the quiet pattern shows no signs of abating. A decent storm is south of the Tasman Sea pushing energy up the great circle paths to California but nearly 7000 nmiles out and expected to dissipate before pushing cleanly into the Southwest Pacific. Little swell to result. And no other swell is pushing northwards towards Hawaii or California. And the chart continue to indicate no sign of hope for the next 7 days. This is turning into a long flat spell with no end in sight.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (5/29) weak high pressure at 1024 mbs was pancaked west to east and centered 600 nmiles north of Hawaii and barely ridging into the California coast generating 15-20 kt north winds there producing limited north windswell and then turning southwest to west and pushing over Hawaii resulting in 20 kt trades and more easterly windswell there. But of more interest was a broad gale in the Western Gulf of Alaska (see Gulf Gale below). Over the next 72 hrs the Gulf Gale is to fade and high pressure is to remain stable 750 nmiles northeast of Hawaii ridging into the Central California coast generating 20 kt north winds by Wednesday building to near 25 kts on Friday (6/1) from Cape Mendocino south to Pt Conception resulting in modest windswell at exposed breaks. Trades to remain stable in the 15+ kt range along east shore of the Hawaiian Islands resulting in modest easterly windswell there.
On Monday AM (5/28) a new gale developed over the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutian Islands with a decent fetch of northwest winds at 35 kts tracking east-southeast holding into Tuesday AM then expected to fade rapidly from 30 kts in the evening. 20 ft seas were modeled late Monday near 47N 177W falling southeast and building in coverage pushing 22 ft Tuesday AM (5/29) at 45N 168W. 22 ft seas to hold in the evening at 45N 162W then dissipating fast. Possible modest 13 sec period sideband swell for Hawaii starting in the middle of the night Thursday holding into Friday AM (6/1) at 3.6 ft @ 13 secs (4.5 ft faces). It's to be 1800 nmiles away from CA but aimed better towards there resulting in swell of 4.5 ft @ 13 secs (5.5 ft faces) late Friday night (6/1) with good residuals left for Saturday coming from 297 degrees. And all this assuming the gale holds as forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical system of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (5/29) high pressure at 1026 mbs continued ridging lightly into the coast while low pressure was building in the Gulf of Alaska resulting in much weakened pressure gradient and north winds (15 kts) over California waters. Southern CA remained in an eddy flow. This fetch is to build some Wednesday with north winds 20 kts off the North and Central CA coast with Southern CA barely holding in a eddy flow. By Thursday (5/31) 20+ kt north winds to become more centered over Cape Mendocino then starting to fall south again late Friday into Saturday. Southern CA to return to an eddy flow. By Monday AM (5/28) the gradient is to fall south located over Pt Conception with winds 25 kts and down to 10 kts up in Sam Francisco while Southern CA remains in an eddy flow. High pressure and north winds at 25 kts to return with a vengeance by Tuesday (6/5) as high pressure at1028 mb builds in close to the coast.
Jet stream - On Tuesday (5/29) a split jetstream continued over the South Pacific with both branches tracking semi-parallel with each other but with the important southern branch slowly falling steadily east-southeast from 53S in the west eventually falling directly over mainland Antarctica as it moved to the Southeast Pacific. A pocket of wind to 170 kts was building south of Tasmania almost forming a trough there but the flow was falling southeast beyond New Zealand crashing into the Ross Ice Shelf over the Central Pacific offering no support for gale formation in the lower levels of the atmosphere over the greater Pacific. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to push just east of New Zealand but pinch off late Wednesday night and start pushing southeast by Thurs AM (5/31) offering no support for gale development. Beyond 72 hours more of the same is forecast until Monday (6/4) when a new semi-real trough is forecast building under New Zealand with 140 kts winds pushing up into it and easing east, exposed just east of New Zealand on Wed (6/6) but with winds down to 100 kts. Maybe some limited support for gale development to continue.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (5/29) strong high pressure at 1028 mbs was locked east-southeast of New Zealand pushing all low pressure emerging from the Indian Ocean southward towards if not over the Ross Ice Shelf and Antarctica. No fetch stronger than 30 kts in the South Pacific. Of note: A gale with 45 kt west winds was positioned south of Tasmania generating 42 ft seas at 59S 152E aimed right up the 216 degree great circle path to NCal and 217 deg path to SCal (unshadowed by Tahiti) and 6800 nmiles out but shadowed relative to Hawaii by New Zealand. This gale to be dissipating in the evening with residual seas of 36 ft at 58S 163E (214 degs NCal/SCal and moving into the swell window for Hawaii at 200 degs (5100 nmiles out). Small long period but very inconsistent swell possible 8 days out for Hawaii (Wed PM 6/6 with period 17 secs) and 9 days (Thurs AM 6/7 with period 20 sec) for California.
Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast.
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 weak high pressure at 1024 mbs is to continue ridging into the Pacific Northwest and CA coasts after low pressure passes through the Gulf of Alaska on Thursday (5/31) producing a limited area of 20-25 kt north winds along the immediate North and Central CA coast focused just off San Francisco and holding over the weekend (6/3), then starting to fall south late Sunday and dissipating. Modest windswell to continue for exposed breaks in mainly Central CA. Theoretically the gradient to build back in strong mid-next week (6/7).
East trades over Hawaii to hold at 15 kts over the weekend but steadily loosing coverage area by Monday (6/4) with windswell loosing size. But that too to reverse direction later next week high pressure regains it's footing.
Of more interest is yet another gale of semi-tropical origins modeled to develop over the dateline pushing through the Western Gulf on Mon (6/4) with 35 kt west winds with seas pushing 20 ft late at 47N 167W targeting the Pacific Northwest and points north of there best. 18 ft seas to hold through Tuesday pushing to 45N 160W then dissipating. Something to monitor, but not real believable at this early date.
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 (5/29) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at -10.32. The 30 day average was falling at -1.74 (neutral) with the 90 day average down to -1.73. Our working philosophy is that a SOI that holds near neutral does little to enhance swell production, and that an SOI on either of the extreme 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. But this neutral position is likely influencing the lack of storm production in the Southern Hemisphere. We are in a transition phase that will likely last for the summer season. But there is a silver lining (see second paragraph below).
Current wind analysis indicates weak to modest easterly anomalies were over the dateline with light west anomalies north of Australia and dead neutral anomalies over the East Pacific. This indicates a weak MJO signal was present (neither Active nor Inactive). A week from now (6/6) light to moderate easterly anomalies are to take over the dateline region pushing to a point north of Australia suggesting a return of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/28 indicate a neutral phase MJO pattern for the next 7 days but then fall into disagreement with the statistical model suggesting a Inactive Phase 2 weeks out and the dynamic (less accurate) suggesting a strong return of the Active Phase. Clearly we want to see the dynamic model be true, but for now we'll go with a continuation of a weak MJO signal for the next 2 weeks (which in and of itself is not bad news). None of this outcomes 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 accumulating off Ecuador. A pocket of blocking cold water that had been 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. Note: a possible re-emergence of the cool water pocket were were monitoring a week or more back appears to no longer be an issue.
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 starting Saturday (6/2) a storm is forecast developing southwest of Tasmania with 45-50 kt southwest winds impacting the southern tip of New Zealand late Monday. Seas forecast building to 44 ft Monday AM (6/4) at 55S 155E on the 219 degree route to California but shadowed by New Zealand. But more importantly it is to be pushing right up the 200 degree path to Fiji and unshadowed through it's life. Something to monitor for traveling pros.
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