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 (6/18) North and Central CA had local northwest windswell barely present producing surf in the thigh high range and warbled with light northwest chop on top. Down in Santa Cruz surf was tiny with a few knee high sets and clean, but well chopped outside the kelp. Southern California up north was thigh high and warbled with heavy texture on top. Down south waves were waist high with a few bigger sets pushing chest high and textured all coming from the southern hemi. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore had some waist high sets and clean, normal summertime conditions. The East Shore was getting east-northeast windswell at chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
In the North Pacific no swell producing weather systems of interest were occurring. Even the normal local pressure gradient remain suppressed along the California coast. Hawaii was getting modest local tradewind generated east windswell along east facing shores.
The models suggest a fairly decent gale trying to build just south of the Aleutians and approaching the dateline by Friday (6/21) with seas to 23 ft aimed west. It's to push east-southeast from there while slowly fading with seas falling below 18 ft early next week within range of the US West Coast. Sideband swell to also possibly reach the Hawaiian Islands with luck. Something to monitor. Otherwise (relative to California) local weak low pressure was moving inland over Oregon but still suppressing the normal northwesterly wind flow and eliminating the odds for windswell production. But by Friday the low is to dissipate and high pressure is to rebuild increasing odds for limited windswell to develop and holding through the weekend, before fading early next week as low pressure starts moving towards the coast. For Hawaii high pressure is to start fading by Thursday with easterly tradewinds falling below the 15 kt range in the Hawaiian swell window with east windswell fading along east facing shores. But by Saturday trades to return to the 15 kts range holding for the weekend with windswell on the upswing, then fading again early next week.
A tiny storm formed under New Zealand Sun (6/9) with up to 40 ft seas for 12 hrs aimed due east. Small swell is hitting the US West Coast. And a larger gale again formed under New Zealand on Mon-Tues (6/11) with seas to 38 ft. Perhaps a little more size possible for Hawaii Tues (6/18) but less for the mainland by Thurs (6/20). But nothing above impulse class size expected. Beyond no respectable swell producing weather systems are charted.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (6/18) weak high pressure at 1028 mbs was 1100 nmiles west of Pt Conception with a weak low at 1012 mbs positioned over the Pacific Northwest coast. A small fetch of 25 kt northwest winds was over Pt Conception but those winds dropped off fast north of there with no real north windswell occurring along the California coast. But the high was producing a elongated fetch of 15+ kt east winds extending from the mainland all the way over Hawaii making for small easterly windswell along east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands.
Over the next 72 hours the models indicate the low over the Pacific Northwest is to move inland with the high moving east setting up a slowly building fetch of north winds to 20 kts reaching north to Cape Mendocino by late Thursday (6/20) forming the usual pressure gradient along the California coast (though still displaced south some) and allowing small short period windswell to develop for all of Central CA.
This same high pressure system is to reduce the size of the 15+ kts trades relative to Hawaii as it moves east, with windswell fading some until Saturday (6/22) when reinforcing high pressure moves north of the Islands and a continuous fetch of 15 kts east winds build from the mainland over Hawaii and holding through the weekend improved odds for better easterly windswell along east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands.
Tropical moisture and energy is to be tracking over and northeast off Japan by Wednesday (6/19) organizing into a cohesive low pressure system off the Kuril Islands on Thurs (6/20) producing 35 kt west winds and seas to 20 ft at 44S 172E. This low is to migrate east just shy of the Aleutians and over the dateline Friday midday (6/21) with seas building to 24+ ft at 47N 178E in the evening. Winds to fade from the 30 kts range Saturday AM (6/22) as the low moves over the dateline with seas fading from 20 ft in the evening at 48N 170W. The low to fall southeast some and start getting slightly better organized Sunday evening (6/23) with west winds 30 kts and seas barely 18 ft at 47N 159W. 30 kt west winds and 18 ft seas to hold till Monday AM (6/24) at 45N 155W (1500 nmiles from NCal), then fading fast from there. If this were to occur some degree of windswell could result for both Hawaii and the US West Coast. Something to monitor.
Otherwise no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were occurring or forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (6/18) low pressure at 1012 mbs was centered just over the Oregon/Washington coast pushing high pressure away from the California coat with just a finger of it reaching into the Point Conception area resulting in only a small area of 20+ kt northwest winds there with lesser winds up to Monterey Bay and 10 kts or less north of there nearshore. This same configuration of the gradient is to hold but building in strength some Wednesday and Thursday with north winds near Pt Conception and the Channel Islands to 30 kts and building to 20 kts up to Pt Arena Thursday. On Friday the gradient is to start lifting north on Friday (6/21) spreading northwards to Cape Mendocino with winds down to 20-25 kts and holding into Saturday. The gradient is to fade on Sunday (6/23) with winds down to 20 kts and then almost gone on Monday into Tuesday as low pressure moves up to the coast. In short, a return to a north wind pattern late Wednesday continuing through the weekend, then fading again. Upwelling and cold water to remain the norm.
Jetstream - On Tuesday (6/18) the jet remained split and fragmented over the width of the South Pacific with the southern branch down at 65S and tracking flat west to east (zonal flow). There were no troughs of interest indicated. A bit of a ridge was pushing south over the Southeastern Pacific with winds 160 kts. Over the next 72 hours no real change is forecast other than a steady weakening of jetstream winds in the southern branch over the Southwest Pacific. Beyond 72 hours a trough is to develop under New Zealand with winds 130 kts pushing northeast on Sat (6/22) but quickly loosing velocity, but still driving the jet well to the north with the southern jet impacting the northern branch by Monday. Still winds to be pushing southeast a bit east of there and effectively undercutting any trough that might be forming. No support for gale development at the oceans surface indicated.
Surface - Otherwise over the next 72 hours no other swell producing fetch is forecast.
On Sunday AM (6/9) a small gale developed and quickly peaked under New Zealand and just off the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf with winds 50 kts out of the west over a small area. Seas were modeled at 40 ft over a tiny area at 61S 163E. The gale was fading fast by evening with winds barely 40 kts and falling into Antarctica with seas dropping from 36 ft at 62S 175E. By Monday AM this system was gone. Minimal small background swell is possible reaching the US West Coast (CA) by late Tues (6/18) with period 20 secs from 211 degrees but likely not big enough to be rideable till period drops into the 17 sec range.
On Monday evening (6/10) a small gale developed south of New Zealand just off the Ross Ice Shelf producing 45 kts west winds and seas building to 36 ft over a moderate sized area at 58S 170E. Winds were fading to 40 kts by Tues AM (6/11) resulting in seas of 38 ft at 59S 178W. The fetch was disintegrating by evening fading from barely 40 kts with seas 34 ft at 58S 165W. Small swell possibly reaching Hawaii on Tues AM (6/18) at 1.3 ft @ 18 secs (2 ft) from 191 degrees. Even less size for California arriving on Thurs (6/20) midday with period 18 secs from 208 degrees.
Another gale tracked east through the Southeast Pacific Friday (6/14) mainly over Antarctic Ice then turned slightly northeast in the evening producing 40+ kt west winds in the extreme Southeast Pacific and emerging from the ice sheet targeting extreme Southern Chile. Seas reached 32 ft on the eastern edge of the California swell window Fri PM at 61S 132W then quickly exited to the east but targeting only Southern Chile into Saturday. Maybe some background sideband swell to radiate up into Southern California swell window starting Sun AM (6/23) with period 17-18 secs from 189 degrees.
On Sunday (6/13) another gale was trying to develop in the Southwest Pacific generating southwest winds at 35 kts south of New Zealand. No swell production was occurring yet. By evening fetch increased with winds building to almost 40 kts aimed well to the northeast with seas building to 26 ft at 55S 165W. By Monday AM (6/17) a decent sized fetch of 40 kt southwest winds developed producing 30 ft seas at 60S 160W. By evening winds were holding at 40 kts with seas barely 34 ft at 59S 152W. Fetch was fading some Tuesday AM from 40 kts with seas 32 ft at 58S 142W. A quick fade is forecast after that. Small swell is forecast for Southern CA starting Wed AM (6/26) from 197 degrees peaking Thurs afternoon (6/27) at 3.1 ft @ 16 secs (4/5 ft faces).
Monitor QuikCAST's for swell details on all above systems.
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 start fading, getting cut up by a semi-tropical low forecast tracking across the North Pacific over the weekend into nearly next week. Relative to California windswell is to be fading out early next week.
Relative to Hawaii tradewinds are to falter too as the low moves through the area, fading Monday (6/24) with no return immediately forecast. Local easterly windswell to be fading.
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 Monday (6/17) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -3.73. The 30 day average was down to 11.03 with the 90 day average holding at 6.03. Overall this is holding in weak La Nina territory and not indicative of El Nino and clearly illustrative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. But SOI values tend to be lagging indicators.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated weak westerly anomalies over the western Maritime Continent turning neutral east of there and then turning to easterly anomalies over the dateline region continuing almost to Central America. A week from now (6/26) neutral anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent and the dateline and holding that way into Central America with almost a small pocket of westerly anomalies in the mix south of Hawaii. This suggests the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to be fading.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 6/17 are in agreement initially suggesting a weak Active Phase of the MJO was easing over the West Pacific with no sign of the Inactive Phase. Both models have the Active Phase of the MJO holding 5 days. But beyond convergence of the models occurs with the dynamic model having it fade turning fully Inactive 8-15 days out while the statistical model continues the Active Phase in a slow fade 15 days out, almost gone at that time. At this point any hint of an Active Phase is better than nothing.
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 (6/17) a La Nina like pattern continues in the East Pacific over the equator, but steadily fading from weeks previous. Cooler water has significantly reduced it's footprint off the South American Coast with a pocket of warmer water actually starting to appear. Pockets of limited cooler water extends over the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there almost half way to a point south of Hawaii. But it continues to not look less forceful than even the previous update 3 days ago. The cold pool has been steadily shrinking over the past 22 days. This cold pool previously eroded warm water that was building up north of the equator off Central America. And if anything, that area appears to be on the rebound with more warm water showing up. 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 these cold waters moderate and disperse or will they stay in-place?". It's too early to know but they appear to be fading - a good thing. The next thing that would be good would be to see the cool pool off West Africa eroding too. Unfortunately, it too has built almost to the coast of South America. This was a direct reflection of what is occurring in the Pacific, a global teleconnection. But with the cold pool seemingly eroding some, maybe all hope is not lost. A plume of slightly cooler than normal water that has been radiating southeast off California for 2 years closed off mid-May, but has returned, initially only weakly but is growing. The teleconnection suggests this cold water pattern (driven by high pressure aloft) has a global component and will not easily be dislodged. 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 indicate a pool of cooler water that has been in place at 140W and down 150 meters has effectively dispersed. And warmer water from the West Pacific has migrated east over top of the previous cold pool - reducing it's impact. +3.0 deg C water is now at 120W and down 80 meters. Temperatures on the surface appear to be warming some with the subsurface blocking pattern loosing it's legs. Still of concern is the fact the Atlantic responded to the cold push in May, in what could be a building global pattern. Of concern too is that the SOI 30 day average is still pretty far into positive territory. But the models suggest the MJO is turning more towards the Active Phase and less Inactive. Maybe we will return to a pattern biased neutral, but at this time it sure seems like were in some flavor of weak La Nina.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 6/18 indicates water temps bottomed out (in May) near normal (-0.1 degs C). A gradual rebound to the +0.1 degree C level is possible by July building into Oct-Nov at +0.5 and holding there through Jan 2014 (+0.4 deg C). A consensus of other ENSO models suggest a wide spread of outcomes ranging from La Nina to neutral to just a bit warmer than neutral into Summer and early Fall 2013. We are now out of the Spring Unpredictability Barrier and the models should have a better handle on the long term outlook. That said, the outlook remains uncertain, but surely 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 if not bordering weakly on La Nina.
We are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid 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 no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
The real issue is we are approaching the height of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, with Antarctic Ice nearing it's peak coverage, extending north up to nearly 60S over the entire Southwestern Pacific. This significantly reduces the area of ice free waters, reducing the area eastward tracking storms have to get traction on the oceans surface and generate swell.
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