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 (5/30) North and Central CA had local northwest windswell was producing surf in the chest high range and totally blown out with northwest winds making for chopped conditions. Down in Santa Cruz windswell was wrapping around producing tiny waves in the knee high range and clean but weak. Southern California up north was waist to chest high and clean but weak looking like pure windswell. Down south waves were waist to chest high too but coming out of the north and nearly chopped and crumbled. Not looking good. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was maybe knee high and clean with sideshore texture and not really rideable. The East Shore was getting bare minimal easterly windswell at knee to thigh high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
In the North Pacific no large scale swell producing fetch of interest was occurring. Minimal windswell was being generated by high pressure west of California. Relative to Hawaii no easterly tradewind generated windswell was being produced.
The local California coastal gradient is to slowly build Friday getting solid by the weekend with and eddy flow developing nearshore early next week, possibly setting up decent northerly windswell with decent conditions. For Hawaii tradewind generated east to northeast windswell is to start building by Friday into the weekend too courtesy of the same high pressure system that is to build the California coastal gradient. All this to last into maybe Tues (6/4) before the high collapses and swell producing wind dissipates.
But down south is where all the action is, typical of this time of year. In the South Pacific a solid storm is developing east of New Zealand and is expected to push east through Saturday, with seas forecast in the 47 ft range aimed reasonably well north, but positioned east of Tahiti and Hawaii. At this point it is tracking pretty close to what the models have been projecting all week, offering improved hope that solid swell will actually result.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (5/30) high pressure was still displaced a bit to the south off Central CA with pressure at 1024 mbs was holding 600 nmiles west of Morro Bay generating a pressure gradient focused over Pt Conception generating north winds at 25 kts with 20 kt north winds extending north to near Cape Mendocino and south over the Channel Islands resulting in limited local short period north windswell at exposed breaks. Trades remained focused south of the Hawaiian Islands with no easterly windswell occurring along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the high pressure system is to slowly lift north generating a local fetch of 25 kt north winds centered initially over Monterey Bay on Friday but lifting to Pt Arena by Saturday and Cape Mendocino on Sunday with north winds building to 30 kts over a modest area resulting in increasing northerly windswell focused on Central CA with limited energy wrapping into exposed breaks in Southern CA.
The same high pressure is to start generating 15 kt easterly trades relative to Oahu by later Friday and becoming more focused on the Eastern Shores of the Hawaiian Islands by Saturday in the 15-20 kts range and holding into Sunday with improved odds for production of short period easterly windswell.
Also a small fetch of 25-30 kt northwest winds developed in the Gulf of Alaska over a small area falling southeast late Tuesday (5/28) generating 16 ft seas near 47N 153W. Small windswell has developed and is expected to reach Oregon on Friday at maybe 5 ft @ 11 secs (5 ft faces).
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 Thursday (5/30) modest high pressure at 1024 mbs was displaced a bit south south centered 600 nmiles west of Morro Bay CA ridging into Oregon generating 20-25 kt northerly winds along the Central Coast reaching north to Cape Mendocino. By Friday 25 kt north winds are to be over the entire North and Central Coast a nd slowly lifting north with Southern CA protected. No signs of an eddy flow for the Central Coast yet. Saturday 30 kt north winds are forecast up at Cape Mendocino with 25 kts north winds pushing down the outer coast and building in coverage Sunday with a coastal eddy starting to build for Central CA late. North winds Monday AM to continue at 30 kts early up north with a well developed eddy flow in place for all of Central CA then the gradient collapsing late, with north - northeast winds fading from 25 kts on Tues (6/4) early and down to 15 kts Wednesday. Nearshore a eddy flow to continue for Central CA Tuesday then dissipating Wednesday. A light 10 kt northwest flow to develop nearshore for Central CA Thursday with 20-25 kts north winds building over a small area over Cape Mendocino.
Jetstream - On Thursday (5/30) the jet was consolidated over the Central South Pacific with a broad trough in place there being fed by 150 kt winds running through it's apex. this was providing decent support for gale development down in the lower levels of the atmosphere. A split flow continued over New Zealand with the leading edge of the trough pushing into Southern South America. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to actually become more pronounced with additional southwest winds at 110 kts starting to push up into it Sun (6/2) with 180 kt winds still in place at it's apex positioned on the eastern edge of the California swell window. Continued support for gale development possible. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to rapidly pinch off and dissipate by Mon (6/3) with a ridge starting to build over the Central Pacific and sweeping east, with a nearly fully split zonal jet flow forecast by Wed (6/5) resulting in no support for gale development. There is weak suggestions of a new trough building southeast of New Zealand on Thurs 96/6) but wind s speeds are to be weak.
Surface - On Thursday (5/30) the only swell producing weather system of interest was Storm #2S (see details below) tracking northeast from the Southwest Pacific. Over the next 72 hours this is to remain the only swell source of interest.
A new storm is building southeast of New Zealand. On Wed AM (5/29) two fetch areas developed, one tiny at 50 kts in the north quadrant of the newly developing storm and a secondary but broader fetch of 45 kt south wind aimed well to the northeast producing seas of 34 ft at 55S 177W. By evening a broad fetch of 45-50 kt southwest winds was aimed well to the northeast resulting in a solid area of 39 ft seas at 49S 169W (187 degs HI, 212 degs SCal and shadowed by Tahiti, 209 degs NCal and unshadowed). More 45-50 kt southwest winds held Thurs AM (5/30) generating 43 ft seas consolidated at 44S 162W aimed well to the north targeting Tahiti and Hawaii (182 degs) but 209 degs SCal and 208 degs NCal and totally shadowed. Additional 45-50 kt southwest fetch is to build in the evening with 47 ft seas forecast at 48S 151W mostly east of Hawaii but totally unshadowed by Tahiti relative to SCal (201 degs) and NCal (199 degs). Fetch to start fading Friday AM (5/31) from 45 kts aimed more east but covering a good sized area with seas from previous fetch still 47 ft at 45S 141W (196 degs SCal, 193 degs NCal) and totally unshadowed. Residual 35 kt easterly fetch fading Fri PM with seas from previous fetch dropping from 40 ft at 42S 134W (190 degs SCal, 189 degs NCal). This system to be gone by Sat AM (6/01) with seas from previous fetch fading from 35 ft at 41S 124W.
This system is starting to look alot more like it will develop pretty much as forecast. The next 24 hours are critical. But, assuming is all comes to pass a solid pulse of direct wave energy is to track north hitting Tahiti up into Hawaii. But the peak of the storms wind and seas are to be generated while it's passing directly south of Tahiti and aimed decently northward with the more energetic swell pushing up towards the US West Coast, Central America and eastward into South America.
Hawaii: Most of the swell bound for the Islands has already been generated and is pushing north. Expect swell arrival on Mon (6/3) at sunset with a few sets to 1.6 ft @ 23 secs (3.5 ft). Swell to build through the day Tues (6/4) pushing 3 ft @ 21 secs early (6.5 ft faces with sets to 8.0 ft) pushing 3.9 ft @ 19 secs late (7.5 ft with sets to 9.5 ft). Swell to peak near midnight at 4.3-4.5 ft @ 18 secs (7.7-8.1 ft with sets to 10 ft). Solid swell to continue Wed (6/5) at 4.2 ft @ 17-18 secs early (7.3 ft with sets to 9 ft) then starting to taper off late as period drops just below 17 secs. Swell fading Thurs (6/6) from 3.3 ft @ 15 secs early (5 ft with sets to 6 ft). Swell Direction: 183-188 degrees
Southern CA: Rough data for planning purposes has swell arriving on Wed mid-morning (6/5) with period 25 secs and size tiny but building, pushing 2.0 ft @ 24 secs late (5.0 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). Swell continuing upwards on Thurs (6/6) with period 22 secs early and turning to 20 secs near noon with swell 4.2 ft @ 20 secs (8 ft with sets to 10 ft). Swell holding Fri (6/7) reaching 4.3 ft @ 18 secs (7.7 ft with sets to 9.7 ft). Swell continuing on Sat (6/8) but heading down from 4.2 ft @ 17 secs early (7.1 ft with sets to 9.0 ft). Solid residuals on Sunday (6/9) with period 15-16 secs. Swell Direction: 196-205 degrees
North CA: Rough data for planning purposes has swell arriving on Wed mid-afternoon (6/5) with period 25 secs and size tiny but building, pushing 2.3 ft @ 23 secs late (5.0 ft with sets to 6.5 ft). Swell continuing upwards on Thurs (6/6) with period 22 secs early and turning to 20 secs near noon with swell 3.6 ft @ 20 secs (7.2 ft with sets to 9 ft). Swell holding Fri (6/7) reaching 4.2 ft @ 18 secs (7.6 ft with sets to 9.5 ft). Swell continuing on Sat (6/8) but heading down from 4.1 ft @ 17 secs early (7.0 ft with sets to 8.7 ft). Solid residuals on Sunday (6/9) with period 15-16 secs. Swell Direction: 194-203 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 hours the local gradient is to holding if not build some early Monday (6/3) with north winds 30 kts centered over Cape Mendocino resulting in solid north windswell pushing down into the Central CA coast and south from there. A local eddy flow to start building late Sunday too building Monday and Tuesday making for improved conditions. But by late Monday the gradient is to start fading from 25 kts and down to 20 kts Tuesday with windswell dropping off. By Wednesday no windswell producing fetch is to be left with no change forecast through the end of the workweek.
Relative to Hawaii tradewinds are to hold over a decent sized fetch area at 15 kts into Monday then quickly disintegrate Tuesday as the high evaporates off California. East windswell holding Monday along east facing shores, then fading out.
No other swell producing fetch of interest 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 Thursday (5/30) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up at 10.97. The 30 day average was up to 8.05 with the 90 day average up at 6.05. Overall this is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino, with the upward trend a indicator of the Inactive Phase of the MJO.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light west anomalies over the Maritime Continent with light east anomalies over the dateline region with neutral anomalies east of there on into Central America. A neutral MJO pattern was in control. A week from now (6/7) easterly anomalies are to again start building over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral over the dateline and continuing that was on into Central America. This suggests perhaps a rebuilding of the Inactive Phase of the MJO.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 5/29 are in agreement, suggesting a modest Inactive Phase of the MJO was in control over the far West Pacific. The Dynamic model has the weak Inactive Phase slowly building and developing into a full blown Inactive Phase 8 days from now and holding steadily 15 days out. The Statistic model conversely has the weak Inactive Phase slowly fading over the next 10 days with it almost gone 15 day from now. And it has the Active Phase of the MJO building in the Indian Ocean and starting to track into the far West Pacific 15 days out while the dynamic models has it holed up in the Western Indian Ocean.
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 (5/30) a full La Nina pattern continues in the East Pacific over the equator with much cooler water pushing off the South American Coast extending and building now west of the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there the whole way to a point south of Hawaii (we erroneously reported it extending to the dateline last update). 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. That said - it doesn't not looks as forceful as even the previous update 3 days ago. Will monitor. This cold pool has 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 any 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. This is 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 returned, initially only weakly but it's growing. This was a reflection of the collapse of high pressure over the East Pacific. But that high is now rebuilding with more cool water expected to develop. 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. And the SOI is starting to rise again and expected to continue as the MJO again turns Inactive. All signs are pointing towards La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 5/30 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 +0.2 degree C level is possible by July building into October at +0.5 and holding there 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 weather systems of interest are forecast until Tues-Wed (6/5) when a small storm is to develop producing 50-55 kt south winds and 44 ft seas over a small area near 56S 178E tracking northeast but gone by Thurs (6/6). Will believe it when it happens.
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