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 Sunday (7/8) North and Central CA had surf at waist to maybe chest high at better spots, all local windswell and a bit warbled with texture on top. Down south in Santa Cruz solid southern hemi swell was still hitting at shoulder to head high at better spots with a few bigger peaks on the rare set and clean and well lined up. Southern California up north had northwest windswell at waist high and clean but a bit warbled. Down south southern hemi swell was producing surf at head high on the sets, well lined up and clean early. Hawaii's North Shore was 1 ft with maybe a stray waist high windswell peak and warbled. The South Shore was still getting New Zealand swell with waves waist high with top spots maybe chest to head high on the bigger sets and clean with moderate trades in effect. The East Shore had tradewind produced east windswell at head high high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north modest high pressure was trying to hold on over the East Pacific but the core of it was over the dateline. A mild pressure gradient was producing 15 kt north winds and weak local north windswell for Central CA coast while also generating 15-20 kt trades for the Islands and moderate east windswell there. North winds to build to 20 kts along the North and Central Coast by Tuesday (7/10) and holding if not pushing 25 kts by the weekend (7/14) improving odds for north windswell in California. Conversely trades to fade to the 15 kt range by Monday for Hawaii and stay there through the week into the weekend. But of more interest for the Islands is Hurricane Daniel, forecast to fade while moving jut south of the Big Island late Friday (7/13). and another tropical system is to be behind that.
Down south New Zealand swell is to fade out by Monday for California. A small system slid under New Zealand on Thurs (7/6) tracking flat east if not slightly southeast with seas to 30 ft over a tiny area with little if no energy radiating north. Beyond a similar system is projected tracking flat east just above the Ross Ice Shelf on Thurs-Fri (7/13) with seas to maybe 28 ft. Not much expected from it. In short, no real swell is forecast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Sunday (7/8) high pressure at 1028 mbs was centered on the dateline ridging east generating just a faint pressure gradient along the North California coast producing 15 kt north winds there and limited north short period windswell. It was serving Hawaii better producing an elongated fetch of 15-20 kt east winds resulting in better east windswell along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to shift slightly eastward with trades falling to the 15 kt range Monday (7/9) relative to Hawaii and maybe even less through Wednesday resulting in decreasing east windswell. The shift east in the core of the high is to tighten the typical pressure gradient near Cape Mendocino by Tuesday (7/10) with winds there building to 20 kts adding a little bit of height to the local northerly windswell along the Central CA coast. Winds almost hitting the 25 kt range Wednesday.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thursday (7/8) Tropical Storm Daniel was located 500 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas with sustained winds 35 kts and moving just north of due west. Daniel continued on this track turning into at Hurricane Friday and peaking late Saturday night (7/7) at 95 kts positioned 1080 nmiles south of Southern CA and heading flat east at 11 kts. No swell energy was radiating north. Maximum seas were estimated at 37 ft. It was a fish storm. The official track and the GFS model depicts a slow decay after that with Daniel down to Tropical depression status on Wednesday (7/11) with remnants pushing south of the Big Island late Friday night (7/13), likely not even a Depression and effectively just a rain storm. No real swell production is forecast except possibly for the east shores of islands with exposure to it. Will monitor.
The models continue to suggest a second system forming 600 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas on Mon (7/9) tracking west and building to hurricane status, then turning northwest late Tuesday possibly pushing energy up into the California swell window. A return to a west heading is forecast on Thursday (7/12) but by the this system is to be over colder water and and quick fade is forecast. Still remnants are to continue west moving within range of the Hawaiian Islands early next week (7/17). At this time this whole forecast remains just a fantasy of the model.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (7/8) weak high pressure was trying to ridge into the Central and North CA coast generating a very modest 15 kt north flow pushing down the coast. Southern CA remained in a clean eddy flow. The high is to start rebuilding east on Monday with north winds starting to rebuild to 15 kts over the North and Central CA coast with conditions turning messy. North winds to be up to 20 kts just off the coast of North and Central CA on Tuesday and Wednesday pushing near 25 kts Thursday focused mostly off Pt Arena with a weak flow if not eddy flow for Southern CA. Finally Saturday the core of the fetch is to lift north focused near Cape Mendocino with and eddy flow building into Central CA and holding through the weekend (7/15). Building windswell the result with no too bad of local conditions expected for Central CA by next weekend.
Jet stream - On Sunday (7/8) a split jetstream pattern remains locked over the West and Central Pacific with the southern branch running generally flat east down at 60S and a big ridge pushing the northern branch down into the southern branch over the East Pacific and approaching the southern tip of South America. Winds were not even 90 kts anywhere in the CA and Hawaii swell windows offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours a pocket of 130 kts winds are to build under New Zealand on Tuesday (7/10) but pushing more southeast than anything towards the north, effectively forming a ridge and tracking east suppressing gale potential there. Beyond 72 hours another pocket of energy is to push under New Zealand on Fri (7/13) with winds 120 kts but again tracking flat east and mostly over the Ross Ice Shelf forming and ridge and suppressing gale development.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Sunday (7/8) high pressure at 1036 mbs was located just off Chile pushing right into Antarctica Ice locking things down there. To the west a tiny gale was starting to develop east of New Zealand with south winds forecast to 45 kts over a tiny area Sunday PM generating seas to 28 ft at 52S 145W but falling southeast. No swell to result. Over the next 72 hours no gale or fetch areas of interest are forecast.
Small New Zealand Gale
A gale made an entrance into the far West Pacific under New Zealand Thurs (7/5) with 45 kt west winds over a small area just clear of the Ross Ice Shelf with seas on the increase from 28 ft at 58S 163E. By evening fetch held while pushing east-southeast with seas building to 30 ft over an infinitesimal area at 60S 180W but all tracking flat east with no energy radiating northward. By Friday AM (7/6) the gale was fading with fetch dropping over a shrinking area and aimed flat east and the core falling east-southeast. No additional seas of interest were indicated. There's low odds of maybe some background sideband energy radiating northward towards Tahiti and Hawaii with luck, but nothing more.
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 North Pacific high is to regroup 800 nmiles off the Oregon coast by Friday (7/13) with north winds building to 25 kts over Cape Mendocino holding Saturday then fading to 20 kts as the high builds to 1036 mbs but lifts up into the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. This to result in a solid fetch at 20 kts sweeping down the Pacific Northwest Coast to Cape Mendocino at 20 kts resulting in modest north windswell pushing down the North and Central CA coast.
Easterly trades to retreat to the 10-15 kts range for Hawaii Wednesday (7/11) onwards as the high lifts north. East windswell steadily backing off as trades fade.
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, or 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 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 forecasts for MJO activity (which directly relate to the potential for swell production).
As of Friday (7/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained negative at -12.31. The 30 day average was up slightly at -12.09 with the 90 day average up to -4.56. The 30 day average has been on a near continuous drop from +24 in early January 2012 to -10 by the last day of June, and now -12. This is a good trend and marginally in El Nino territory.
Current wind analysis indicated weak east anomalies over the West Pacific (Maritime Continent), then fading over the dateline only to rebound slightly south of Hawaii. But in all the anomalies were weak. This continued looking like a very weak version of the Inactive Phase of the MJO in the Pacific easing east from the dateline. A week from now (7/15) weak west anomalies are forecast on the dateline with neutral anomalies elsewhere, potentially signaling the end of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. If true that would be an incredibly short and weak Inactive Phase, exactly what we have been looking for. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/7 are in complete disagreement for the long term outlook. The statistical model suggests that a weak version of the Inactive Phase is all but gone and a modest Active Phase is to build into the West Pacific over the next 2 weeks. Conversely the dynamic model suggest the Inactive Phase is to rebuild, and fairly strongly over the next 2 weeks, though displaced northward with west anomalies continuing near the dateline. This is a critical difference in forecasts and we'll be watching the future model runs closely. 7/4 had been our 'stake in the ground' in assessing the strength of this Inactive Phase and to determine what the trend will be over this coming Fall and Winter (more below), but we're extending that out 1 more week (7/11). Still, barring the return of a strong Inactive Phase, we think the die is already cast. We'll withhold publishing our suspicions for a week or so while we try and develop some confirming evidence. Regardless, the preferred pattern is no or minimal Inactive Phase build-up the first 2 weeks in July with a quick return to a neutral if not Active pattern, which would suggest that as we move more into Summer that a weak El Nino or at least a pattern that supports warm water buildup in the East Pacific continues.
In monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which the existing weak MJO pattern is supporting, this becomes 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 and that pool of warm water is growing in intensity and coverage on 7/5 (part of a continuous pattern that started in Jan 2012). A pocket of blocking cold water that had been under the equator south of California the bulk of the past Winter (2011-2012) evaporated in April allowing warmer water to slowly but steadily pushing east into the vacuum (Kelvin Wave). This activity was the result of the Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and a continued weak MJO signal, and it appears to be reinforcing itself. If one inspects the water temperature anomaly chart as of 7/3 an unmistakable El Nino pattern has developed extending from south of Hawaii into Ecuador and extending north to Cabo San Lucas and south well into Chile. It will be interesting to see if the weak MJO pattern continues (a early sign of some flavor of El Nino) into early July (still to be determined) or whether the Inactive Phase comes back to life and reestablishes some sort of blockade. But as of now we are out of the Spring unpredictability barrier relative to ENSO, and all is proceeding nicely towards a favorable pattern developing for the Fall (i.e. warmer than normal water on the equator in the East Pacific) providing this developing Inactive Phase doesn't shut things down. Regardless, the warm water pool off Central America has benefited greatly from the lack of strong trades over the equator, with warm water migrating solidly east and building up along the coast, a precursor to if not the start of a weak El Nino.
A weaker MJO signal is typical for the June timeframe but does not normally appear as strong and as long-lasting as what is currently occurring, suggesting that La Nina is gone and something better is replacing it. And the horseshoe cool water pattern that has dominated the entire Pacific for the past 2 years (typical of La Nina) is gone with a very El Nino like warm water pattern taking hold. So the next question is: Will an Active-like Phase pattern take hold, ultimately ushering in some flavor of El Nino, or will it stall in the first 2 weeks of July 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). Regardless - we'll know the answer somewhere between July 4th and the 11th.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours a broad gale is forecast forming in the Southwest Pacific on Thursday (7/12) with winds to 40+ kts, but mostly all over Antarctic Ice. Some of the fetch might become exposed off the Northern Ross Ice Shelf in the evening with seas building to 28 ft over a decent sized area at 62S 167W, but then fading by Friday AM (7/13) as winds drop from 40 kts. No swell expected to result.
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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Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
Chasing the Swell has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
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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