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 (6/14) in North and Central CA local windswell was producing waves in the waist to maybe chest high range and reasonably clean early and fairly lined up but crumbly. Down in Santa Cruz wrap around windswell was producing waves in the thigh to waist high range on the bigger sets and clean early. In Southern California up north local north windswell was producing waves at knee to thigh high on the sets with clean conditions, a bit bigger from previous days. Down south local north windswell was producing waves in the waist high range on the sets and warbled by southeasterly wind, Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore was flat with no southern hemi swell in the water and clean. Trade wind generated east windswell was holding at chest to shoulder high and chopped at exposed breaks on the East Shore.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
No swell producing fetch is occurring or forecast for the North Pacific other than local windswell. For the southern hemisphere a gale is forecast tracking just off the north edge of the Ross Ice Shelf Sun-Mon (6/15) producing up to 38 ft seas initially over a small area and aimed more east-southeast at Antarctica than northeast at the US with little energy expected to be radiating north towards our forecast area. This system is to hold together while traversing the entire South Pacific through Wed (6/18) with seas in the 30-32 ft range through out. Nothing else is to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (6/14) trades were still blowing at 15 kts extending from west of the California coast over Hawaii producing small easterly windswell along east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands. These winds were being generated by modest high pressure at 1032 mbs positioned off Northern California. This high was also generating the standard summer time pressure gradient and north winds at 25 kts along outer waters of the North CA coast centered near Cape Mendocino generating modest short period north windswell for Central CA down to Pt Conception. Over the next 72 hours high pressure and the coastal pressure gradient is to hold if not regenerate slightly on Sunday with north winds continuing over Cape Mendocino at 25+ kts generating more local short period north windswell relative to North and Central CA. But Monday (6/16) the gradient is to fade as weak low pressure moves into coastal waters of Oregon. North winds to fade to 20 kts over Cape Mendo, then trying to make a weak comeback on Tuesday rebuilding to 25 kts but over a smaller fetch area in Northern CA. Limited windswell trying to rebuild as a result in Central CA. Trades to hold between Hawaii and California at 15 kts on Sunday (6/15) then becoming spottier in terms of areal coverage starting Monday and nearly collapsing on Tuesday (6/17), and then pretty much gone on Wednesday. Small short period east windswell expected to be slowly fading out at exposed east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands over that time frame.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Sat AM (6/14) Hurricane Christina finally moved into the Southern CA swell window (Pt Dume) at 18Z on Fri (6/13) with winds 80 kts and centered at 18.3N 109.9W 1,000 nmiles away and on the 152 degrees great circle path. Assuming a period of 14 secs, swell arrival should occur on Sunday near 9 AM. By Sat AM winds fell to 70 kts with the storm continuing on a west-northwest track. further degradation is expected by evening with no additional swell generation expected at that time.
No other swell producing tropical systems of interest are in the water or expected to result.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (6/12) high pressure at 1030 mbs was over the Central Gulf of Alaska off Oregon ridging towards the coast but with weak low pressure pushing inland over the Pacific Northwest. This has reduced the local pressure gradient with north winds down to 15 kts over waters off Cape Mendocino, with the eddy flow (south winds) gone over Southern CA up into Central CA. North winds to build to 20 kts Friday and 25 kt later over all of North and Central CA then starting to reconsolidate in the form of a gradient over Cape Mendocino Saturday (6/14) with north winds there to 25 kts. Perhaps a weak eddy flow developing up into San Francisco with the situation holding into early Sunday. The gradient is to fade some Monday with north winds 25 kts as more low pressure ripples over the Northern Gulf with 25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino and an eddy flow building over Central CA and getting more traction on Tuesday while the gradient fades more. 20 kt north winds to hold over Cape Mendocino with a eddy flow south of Pt Arena Wed-Thurs (6/19).
Jetstream - On Saturday (6/14) the jetstream was split with the two streams running parallel to each other across the South Pacific. The influential southern branch was displaced south running east along the 68S latitude line the width of the South Pacific and pushing into the Ross Ice Shelf at 110 kts. The jet lifting northeast forming a weak trough over the far Southeastern Pacific but with only 90 kt winds feeding into it offering no real support for low pressure development in lower levels of the atmosphere. Over the next 72 hours the trough in the far Southeast Pacific is to push east on Sunday (6/15) and be out of the picture relative to even Chile. Under New Zealand something that almost looks like a trough is forecast to develop on Mon-Tues (6/17) with 120-130 kt winds pushing up into it and pushing east fairly fast, tracking on the 59S latitude line, giving only the smallest of areas for low pressure to form under it and between the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at 65S. We'll take whatever we can get. Beyond 72 hours another trough is to form under New Zealand on Wed (6/18) up at 47S, but winds are only to be 90 kts and not increasing as it pushes east into Sat (6/21), but at least it is to still beholding together. Limited support for low pressure development is possible in lower levels of the atmosphere. Behind it the jet is to be ridging south again.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (6/14) no southern hemi swell was in the water between Antarctica and US interests and no swell producing fetch was blowing over exposed waters. High pressure at 1032 mbs was present in the Central Pacific pushing the storm track south to 60S, just 300 nmiles from the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. A gale previously forecast for Fri (6/13) in the far Southeast Pacific never materialized. Over the next 72 hours a storm is forecast developing southwest of New Zealand on Sat PM (6/14) with 45 kt west winds building and tracking east, but with all fetch aimed southeast at Antarctica. By Sun AM (6/15) winds to build to 55 kts just barely north of the Ross Ice Shelf and starting to get purchase on ice free waters with seas building from 40 ft over a tiny area at 60S 168E. 55 kt west winds to continue into the evening aimed more to the north but drifting south at the same time, but ice is to be receded in that area with seas 35ft at 60S 175W aimed due east. Winds to fade from 45 kts on Mon AM (6/16) with seas 34 ft at 62S 161W and almost crashing into a outcrop of Antarctic Ice there. The core of this system is to be over Antarctica after that with seas from previous fetch fading from 30 ft Mon PM at 60S 151W. Assuming all goes as forecast, some small sideband swell could result for most locations.
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 high pressure is to retrograde to the west moving to the Western Gulf of Alaska with north winds fading to 20 kts on Thursday (6/19) off Cape Mendocino and holding into mid-Friday with windswell dropping even more relative to Central CA. Finally late on Friday into Saturday the gradient is to rebuilds some with Cape Mendocino winds back to 25 kts, but the bulk of the high is to have dissipated. Only a small position is to remain, and tucked up along the North CA coast. Trades relative to Hawaii are to progressively degrade in areal coverage and drop below the threshold to generate windswell by late Wednesday (6/18) from 15 kts and be effectively gone by Thurs AM (6/19) with no windswell expected to remain of be generated. No change is forecast into the weekend Sat (6/21) as the Northeast Pacific High dissipates. Of some interest is a low that has been modeled developing off Japan now moved to Thurs (6/18) tracking slowly northeast into Saturday with 35 kt west winds possible and 20 ft seas almost reaching the dateline at the end of the model run. This seems a bit far fetched but remains something to monitor.
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 (6/12) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 31.28. The 30 day average was up some at 9.15 and the 90 day average was up some at 2.45. The near term trend based on the 30 day SOI was indicative of an Inactive phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO trending Inactive. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated modest east anomalies were over the Maritime Continent reaching over the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii. Light east anomalies continued from there into the Galapagos. A week from now (6/22) neutral anomalies are forecast over the equatorial Maritime Continent turning light easterly over the dateline and south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are forecast continuing midway from Hawaii to almost the Galapagos, then dying to neutral continuing over the Galapagos into Ecuador. As of 6/13 these anomalies had now reached down to the surface with the TOA array indicating very light easterly anomalies confirmed from midway between Hawaii and the dateline extending west. This remains bad news with a solid 6 day run of easterly anomalies forecast on the dateline (at the 850 mb level) into Wed (6/18). And the GFS surface model (10m winds) is predicting 15 kt east winds in control of the same area through Tues (6/17), but then fading to dead calm by Thurs (6/19) west of 170E. . In all this suggests a pulse of the Inactive Phase of the MJO is now in control. Looking back in time starting 5/19 the TOA array suggested that solid westerly anomalies were in play near 160E, then faded to light westerly anomalies later in the period (5/27-5/30) then faded to neutral by 6/3 and were back to light westerly anomalies through 6/7 turning neutral on 6/10 and holding through 6/12. This is much better than what the GFS 850 mb data (which is actually 4,500 ft above surface level) suggested. The sensors on the TOA buoys are 'hard data' literally on the oceans surface. And the buoys in this region are in good health. Still, east anomalies are now in play. The next question is whether they will be strong enough to shut off the flow of warm water to the equatorial East Pacific. If they do, and assuming no Westerly Wind Burst develops soon after, then our developing El Nino will be put in jeopardy. We'll be monitoring this situation very closely.
A previous WWB created a large Kelvin Wave tracking towards South America in January (starting 1/8, peaking 1/28 then fading the first week of Feb) followed by a second strong WWB in Feb-Mar (as strong as the first one starting 2/15 and peaking 2/20-3/2 then fading 3/10) setting up and offering yet more reinforcing transport warm water east. And then a third weak westerly wind burst developed (starting 3/12 and faded out by 3/28). And a fourth weaker one started 4/7 and held through 4/20, and was strong enough to be considered a minimal Westerly Wind Burst WWB. And weak westerly anomalies continued through the month of May. Of historical note: The big El Nino's of '82/32 and '97/98 both started forming in the February timeframe and progressed non-stop through the Summer and Fall months. Those WWBs served to push massive amounts of warm water east in the form of multiple Kelvin Waves. which started erupting along the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos and Peru in early May and has continued unabated since then.
An article presenting a Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and this 2014 WWB event has been posted here.
A second analysis from 5/28 is posted here.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 6/13 are roughly in sync. They both suggest a moderate Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the Maritime Continent and seeping into the far West Pacific with reduced OLR anomalies there. 5 days out a weak to moderate Active Phase of the MJO is to be moving east and further into the West Pacific per the statistic model while the dynamic has it holding in the far West Pacific. The dynamic (GEFS) model has it holding in the same spot for 15 days while the statistic model suggests a full on push to the dateline and beyond. The ultra long range upper level model now suggests a weak but semi-coherent Active Phase of the MJO is developing over the West Pacific and is to push east through 7/9. A new modest Inactive Phase is to develop in the West Pacific 7/9 pushing east through at least 7/24. But given this models mercurial nature, we hold little confidence in any single days output. Stepping back from the details, it seems likely a very weak MJO pattern is likely with no signs of strengthening. A very weak MJO pattern is what one would expect if an El Nino were to develop - namely that the MJO would all but disappear. That is the hallmark of El Nino. if that occurs it provides some hope that perhaps the warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some impact on the atmosphere above. For the first 6 months of 2014, there has been only one Inactive Phase. But the second Inactive Phase is starting to occur now (even though there's no clear reason for it to be occurring). We're at the point where development of weak westerly anomalies in the West Pacific should occur, attributable to warming waters temps over the width of the equatorial Pacific. Unfortunately that is not happening. And if in fact a strengthening MJO signal were to develop, that would actual provide fuel to the belief that El Nino is decaying. But it's too early to know that with any certainty yet. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
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. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of the most recent imagery (6/12), a warm water regime continues building from Ecuador west over the Galapagos (even since the last update 3 days ago) and drifting west from there peaking at 3.0 degs C above normal with a more modest warm pool ranging at +1.0 deg C range extending west from there to the dateline with +0.5 deg anomalies reaching 5 degrees north and south of the equator. There are embedded warmer pockets in the +1.5 deg C range. Of notice is markedly warmer water building down into Peru and up into Southern Central America with its core between the Galapagos and Ecuador forming the the signature warm El Nino triangle (it started being obvious on 5/1). This pattern became pronounced as of the 5/19 update and has been building every since. Hi-res SST monitoring site depicts +3.0 deg anomalies embedded in the triangle between the Galapagos and Ecuador and trailing off of Peru in small pockets and recent data suggest even two small pockets to +4 degrees. So from this perspective things look encouraging.This is the 'breech point' of a large Kelvin Wave that was built by consecutive Westerly Wind bursts Jan-April and is now erupting on the surface in the East Pacific. The larger equatorial warming pattern started in earnest on 3/29 and has been solidifying it's grasp every since, and is being fed by the Galapagos warm pool. Comparing this years event to the '97 El Nino event, water temps still are not approaching the warmth or coverage of the '97 event. So this will not reach to proportions of that event, regardless of hype produced in early May.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water as is the West Pacific (north and south). There is only the weakest signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California, as would be expected for this time of year. This is significant. And the only cool water present is streaming off Southern Chile pushing west almost reaching up to the equator, but getting shunted south by the warm water on the equator. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific is impressive. A sympathetic warm pool that was developing off equatorial West Africa is gone now with a cool pool starting to develop instead. This is ominous too. Previous cool bursts here have been early indicators of cool water developing in the East Pacific. But all eyes remain on the evolving breech of warm water along the western coast of Ecuador as a gauge of what's to come atmospherically.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator remain solid and unchanged. A large area of warm +3-5 deg C above normal water is in-place and tracking east with it's core 100 meters down somewhere near 105W. As best as can be identified this Kelvin Wave covers the area from 150W to Ecuador with the core between 120 and 90W. The leading edge is impacting Ecuador and the Galapagos. The Kelvin Wave has also been confirmed via satellite in the form of increased surface water heights at +10 cm extending from Peru over the Galapagos (6/7), with +0-5 cm anomalies extending west to the dateline. This suggests warm water at depth is displacing the surface upwards but that most of it is not in the far East Pacific. Also data from the TOA array suggests warm water has be assimilated into the warm pool from a 4th WWB in April. So for now the warm pool has received some more energy. But, with no more westerly anomalies in play over the the dateline region and west of there, the flow is possible on the verge of being cut off. Another legit WWB is required, and soon.
The Pacific equatorial surface counter-current (from 5N to 2S from the Philippines to the Galapagos) as of 5/28 was strongly anomalously tracking west to east, typical of an El Nino configuration. But by June 2 data looked less impressive with the current loosing some velocity and reacting to the previous reduction in westerly anomalies west of the dateline. The latest update (6/7) had a small pocket of strong easterly anomalies building in the current centered at 155W and extending from 120W to 170W, in the heart of the Nino3.4 region. The actual current is still pushing east, but there is one small pocket of westward pushing anomalies. Being conservative we'll continue suggesting this is not good news and, coupled with the developing easterly wind burst in that same area, and a developing cool pocket off equatorial West Africa, could be a harbinger of things to come. We've used all these data points in the past as early lead indicators and they have been trustworthy, no matter how much we didn't want to accept what they told us. Said another way: We've used a west bound counter current and the Africa sympathetic cool pool as early indicators in the past, and Pacific equatorial winds have normally responded in kind with a delay of about two weeks, normally to the demise of whatever warm event was trying to take root. A glimmer of hope is that the current itself is still actually tracking west to east, and only anomalies are westward, and limited to one small pocket. And the West African cool pool is hardly what one would call 'defined'. But in a worst case scenario, the situation could play out like this: No WWB class wind events have occurred 5/1 to present. And assuming 3 months of travel time for the tail end of the resulting Kelvin Wave to erupt over the Galapagos and Ecuador, the existing warm pool should start dissipating on 8/1, unless something develops to reinforce it. And even at that, if a WWB were to develop today, it would not reach the Galapagos till 9/12. So there's a 6 week 'hole' where the warm pool will start loosing energy (8/1-9/12) even if reinforcements develop immediately (unless some unknown process is occurring continuing to push warm water eastward). And this 'hole' is growing every day. This is what occurred in the 2012 False-Start El Nino, only this years situation is on a much larger scale. The CFSv2 model likely senses this, and is projecting accordingly. We'll continue monitoring this situation closely.
Based on previous history, an evolving El Nino would follow this general pattern: A large Kelvin Wave will erupt along the South American coast in May-June, and the increase in water temps in that area should reduce trades above it (by reducing surface air pressure), which in turn could support yet more warm water build-up (heated by the sun and through reduced upwelling). As a result, another series of WWB's should develop in the West Pacific in late Summer/early Fall fueled by warm water tracking west from the initial eruption site over the Galapagos further reducing trades in the West Pacific and resulting in more eastward moving warm subsurface water (i.e. Kelvin Waves). A feedback loop could develop, reinforcing the warm water flow and buildup off Central America into the Fall. But we're a long ways from that occurring just yet. What is needed is another Westerly Wind burst or at least continued westerly anomalies. Anything that reduces or suppresses trades in the equatorial West Pacific will suffice to continue the transport mechanism. So out-and-out west surface winds are not required. Anything that reduced trades in the east (like increasing water temps) will continue to stabilize the warm pool that is evolving there. Conversely anything the puts the continued eastward flow of warm water in jeopardy could trigger a demise of this evolving ENSO event, especially considering that the East Pacific warm pool has not been in place long enough to develop a coupling with the atmosphere above it. Regardless of the WWBs in early 2014 or the resulting massive Kelvin Waves, only once the ocean and atmosphere are coupled on a global level (that is the ocean has imparted enough heat into the atmosphere to start changing the global jetstream pattern) can one begin to have confidence that a feedback loop is developing and a fully matured El Nino is in-play. About 3 months of undisturbed heating is required for the atmosphere to start responding on a global level where the point of 'no return' could be achieved. The warm pool starting forming in earnest on 5/1, and so the atmosphere would not trip over the 'no-return' point till 8/1. From a skeptics perspective, that's another 1.5 months before anything is guaranteed.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 6/14 have stabilized. It suggests water temps building to +1.0 deg C by early October peaking at +1.05 to degs C by Nov 2014 (down from a peak previously forecast at +1.75). We're thinking that a El Nino warning is not in the cards in the next month.
Previously a pattern of multiple strong Westerly Wind Bursts occurred Jan-March 2014, but then moderated in late March, but never gave way to a fully Inactive Phase (with no hint of easterly anomalies west of the dateline). May. A neutral pattern developed May 5 and held through the end of May. This is great news with westerly anomalies in play for 4 full months and then only turning neutral in May. Then on June 13 an unexpected InActive Phase developed generating easterly anomalies on the dateline and east of there at the surface. Longterm the signal of suppressed trades in the far equatorial West Pacific would hold into at least August with warm water building greater than 0.5 deg C over the tropical East and Central Pacific (120W to 170W) for 3 consecutive months before one could declare the development of El Nino. The big issue right now is the apparent collapse of the previous westerly anomaly pattern, putting the future of El Nino in jeopardy. But nothing is certain until we hit August and see some redevelopment of WWBs over the dateline.
Overall the immediate outlook remains unchanged, but potentially trending towards something that would be considered warm by June-July 2014, assuming one is to believe the models and the subsurface water configuration. At a minimum the ocean is well past recharge mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures on the rise in fit's-and-starts. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern at this time with neither any form of El Nino or La Nina present or imminent. But given all current signs, atmospheric transition should begin in June over the equatorial Pacific possibly increasing during the summer, intensifying into Fall. Still there remains 3 months ahead where any number of hazards could derail this event. But this is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. And it seems apparent we've recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. In a normal situation one would expect there to be at least one or two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016). Historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms). We've turned the corner, but we'll remain cautious and not say to much yet, especially in light of what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
See a 'Comparison between the genesis of the 1997 El Nino and the 2014 WWB Event' Here (posted 4/5/2014)
Beyond 72 hours residual wind energy from a storm forecast for the Southwest Pacific on earlier in the week is to redevelop in the Southeast Pacific on Wed (6/18) with 40 kt west winds barely reaching north of Antarctic Ice and getting purchase on Ice free waters generating 34 ft seas at 59S 120W, barely in the SCal swell window and mainly targeting Southern Chile holding while moving east into Wed PM. This system to dissipate thereafter. No swell expected to result for Southern CA from this system.
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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