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 (6/20) North and Central CA had local northwest windswell at chest high and chopped - pretty much a blown out mess except at protected breaks. Down in Santa Cruz surf was up to waist high and fun looking with a few rare walls and clean. Southern California up north was waist high and warbled with some texture on top - all pure windswell. Down south waves were waist high with a few bigger sets and textured and pretty weak looking but with occasional southern hemi background lines coming through. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean. The South Shore had some thigh high sets and clean, but nothing more. The East Shore was getting east windswell at thigh to waist high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
In the North Pacific a gale was actually forming while tracking east-northeast off the Kuril Islands. Only the smallest of windswell was being generated along the Central CA coast from a southward displaced version of the normal summertime pressure gradient. And easterly windswell for Hawaii was down from previous days with local tradewinds weakening along east facing shores.
The models suggest the gale off the Kuril Islands is to build just south of the Aleutians and approaching the dateline by Friday (6/21) with seas to 26 ft aimed west. It's to push east-southeast from there while slowly fading with seas falling below 18 ft on Sunday in the Western Gulf of Alaska and dropping from 16 ft Monday AM in the Central Gulf. Sideband swell to possibly reach the Hawaiian Islands with luck with a bit more size for the US West Coast. Something to monitor. Otherwise by Friday relative to California high pressure is to rebuild slightly just off the coast increasing odds for limited windswell to develop and holding through Saturday, then fading as low pressure starts moving towards the coast from the Gulf. For Hawaii high pressure and trade winds to remain weak (below the 15 kts) through Friday then rebuild Saturday (6/22) at 15 kts holding for the weekend with windswell on the upswing, then fading again early next week as low pressure moves towards the US West Coast.
A small gale again formed under New Zealand on Mon-Tues (6/11) with seas to 38 ft. Tiny swell is starting to hit the mainland Thurs (6/20) expected to peak on Friday at 1.3 ft @ 17 secs (2 ft). But nothing more than impulse class size expected. Another small gale formed in the Southeast Pacific Mon-Tues (6/18) producing 32-34 ft seas. Swell likely for CA by Wed (6/26) with better size. But 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 Thursday (6/20) weak high pressure at 1024 mbs was 600 nmiles west of Pt Conception ridging into the North CA coast generating a small fetch of 25 kt northwest winds over Pt Conception with 20 kt north winds extending northward up to Cape Mendocino late making for small short period windswell for all of Central CA. The high was producing a elongated fetch of 15 kt east winds extending from the mainland to a point south of Hawaii, but with no real fetch aimed up at east shores of the Islands. Windswell was small there as a result.
Over the next 72 hours high pressure off the California coast is to lift north slightly setting up a slowly building fetch of north winds to 20 kts reaching north to Cape Mendocino Friday (6/21) 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 through late Saturday. But by Sunday (6/23) low pressure is to be tracking into the Gulf of Alaska (see Dateline Gale below) and as a result, northwest winds to be fading and windswell dropping with it.
This same high pressure system off California is to reduce the size of the 15 kt 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 Sunday AM improved odds for better easterly windswell along east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands through that time.
Tropical moisture and energy tracked over and northeast off Japan by Wednesday (6/19) organizing into a cohesive low pressure system off the Kuril Islands on Thurs AM (6/20) producing 35 kt west winds and seas to 20 ft at 43S 162E. This low is to migrate east-northeast and just shy of the Aleutians in the evening with winds still 35 kts and seas building to 23 ft at 44S 170E. The gale is to be over the dateline Friday midday (6/21) with seas building to 27 ft at 48N 176E holding and moving to 48N 180W in the evening. Hard to believe given the time of year. Winds to fade from the 30 kt range Saturday AM (6/22) as the low moves over the dateline with seas fading from 25 ft at 48N 173W and then dropping from 20 ft in the evening at 48N 167W. The low to fall southeast some Sunday evening (6/23) with west winds 25 kts and seas barely 17 ft at 47N 158W. 25 kt west winds and 16-17 ft seas to hold till Monday evening (6/24) at 45N 150W (1300 nmiles from NCal on the 297 deg path), then fading fast from there. If this were to occur some degree of 14 sec period swell could result for both Hawaii (Mon 6/24) and the US West Coast (Wed 6/26). 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 Thursday (6/20) high pressure at 1024 was starting to ridge into the Central CA coast resulting in 20 kt northwest winds extending from Pt Conception up to Monterey Bay and 15 kts north winds on up into Cape Mendocino and on the increase. Conditions were generally a mess except a protected breaks. On Friday the gradient is to start lifting north spreading northwards more towards 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 15 kts from San Francisco southward except 20 kts near Pt Conception and then gone on Monday as a front pushes up and over the Central Coast down to maybe Monterey Bay late. Light rain for the state from Yosemite to Monterey Bay northward into mid-Tuesday. Southwest winds behind the front. Tuesday more of the same is forecast with light southwest winds from Morro Bay northward as low pressure holds off the Pacific Northwest. Wednesday a light northerly flow to start building as low pressure starts loosing coverage with winds building to 15 kts from Pt Arena southward late Thursday (6/27). Southern CA to remain protected except Mon-Wed (6/26) when there are increasing chances of northwest winds at 10 kts.
Jetstream - On Thursday (6/20) the jet was split and fragmented over the width of the South Pacific with the southern branch down at least at 65S and tracking flat west to east (zonal flow). There were no troughs of interest indicated. If anything a ridge continued pushing south over the Southeastern Pacific with winds 130 kts with a second ridge pushing east from under New Zealand but far weaker. No support for gale development was indicated at lower levels of the atmosphere. 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. The ridge there is to moderate while sweeping east, continuing to put a cap on gale formation. A trough is forecast developing under New Zealand late Friday (6/21) with winds 170 kts pushing northeast but quickly loosing velocity on Sat (6/22). Beyond 72 hours remnants of that trough to continue pushing northeast with the ridge fading well to the east of it opening up a bit of clear air in the upper atmosphere by Wed (6/26) and holding into late in the work week. But no real winds to be feeding into the trough. No support for gale development at the oceans surface indicated.
Surface - Over the next 72 hours no other swell producing fetch is forecast. Low pressure is to try and form just east of New Zealand Fri-Sun (6/23) but Southwest winds to never exceed 35 kts with seas in pockets never more than 26-28 ft. No real swell to result.
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 started hitting California on Thurs (6/20) midday with period 18 secs from 208 degrees. Swell to peak Friday at 1.4 ft @ 17 secs (2 ft).
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 swell 1.0 ft @ 17-18 secs (1.5 ft) 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 Tues AM (6/25) from 197 degrees peaking Wed afternoon (6/26) at 3.3 ft @ 16 secs (5.0 ft faces) and peaking in North CA right before sunset at 3 ft @ 17 secs (5 ft) from 193 degrees.
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 fade out by Monday (6/24) getting cut up by the Dateline Gale 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 and remain suppressed through the end of the workweek.
Relative to Hawaii tradewinds are to falter too as the low moves through the area, fading Monday (6/24) with no return forecast through the end of the workweek. Local easterly windswell to drop out.
There is some weak hints of more low pressure developing east of Japan, but there is no clear signs of it moving solidly east at this time.
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 (6/20) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 12.23. The 30 day average was down to 9.96 with the 90 day average up to 6.29. 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.
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 to a point south of Hawaii then neutral on into Central America. A week from now (6/28) neutral anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent to the dateline with light west anomalies from the dateline extending all the way almost to Central America. This suggests a weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was building.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 6/19 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 out. 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, gone at that time but with the Inactive Phase building in the East Indian Ocean and starting to seep into the West Pacific. 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 (6/20) a La Nina like pattern is continuing to fade in the East Pacific over the equator, almost gone. This is good news. Cooler water continues to significantly reduced it's footprint off the South American Coast with a pocket of warmer water holding there. Pockets of limited cooler water extend over the Galapagos Islands and pushing west from there almost half way to a point south of Hawaii. But they continue to look weaker than even the previous update 3 days ago. The cold pool has been steadily shrinking over the past 25 days. This cold pool previously eroded warm water that was building up north of the equator off Central America. If anything, that area appears to be on the rebound with more warm water building from the equator northward. 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 had been: "Will these cold waters moderate and disperse or will they stay in-place?". At this time they are in full retreat - 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 now fully developed, with an open track from San Francisco over Hawaii all the way to the intersection of the dateline and the equator. 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 dispersed. Warm water from the West Pacific has migrated east over top of the previous cold pool - reducing it's impact. +2.0 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 seems like some flavor of weak La Nina is still dominant.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 6/200 indicate 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 Nov at +0.5 then fading from there through Jan 2014 dropping to (+2.5 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.
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