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 (7/10) North and Central CA had surf at waist to chest high on the sets at better spots, all coming from local windswell and warbled with heavy texture on top of that. Down south in Santa Cruz it was back to flat with waves knee to thigh high and clean Southern California up north had minimal northwest windswell at knee high and warbled with whitecaps just off the shore. Down south lingering southern hemi residuals were producing stray sets at waist to chest high and heavily textured. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with sideshore trades in effect adding some warble. The South Shore still had some swell with waves waist high and clean with moderate trades in effect. The East Shore had tradewind produced east windswell at waist high or so and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north modest high pressure continued to hold over the East Pacific with one core over the dateline and a second off Oregon. A modest pressure gradient was over Cape Mendocino producing 20-25 kt north winds resulting in modest local north windswell for Central CA coast. The high was also generating 15 kt trades for the Islands over a small fetch with modest east windswell there. North winds to hold effectively unchanged relative to North and Central CA through the rest of the week then covering bit more area into the weekend improving odds slightly for north windswell in California. Trades to also hold in the 15 kt range through the weekend for Hawaii offering modest east windswell along east facing shores. But of more interest for the Islands is Hurricanes Daniel and Emily, forecast to provide some swell if all goes as planned (see Tropics below).
Down south 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. A similar system developed well east of New Zealand on Sun (7/8) with a tiny area of 30 ft seas. Not much expected from it either. A stronger system is forecast forming on the Northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf moving into the Southeast Pacific on Fri-Sat (7/14) with seas to 38 ft, but again targeting Southern Chile if anywhere with little aimed northward. Nothing else is forecast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (7/10) a double barelled high pressure system at 1024 mbs was centered with one lobe on the dateline ridging east and a second core just off Oregon generating a modest pressure gradient along the North California coast centered near Cape Mendocino producing 20-25 kt north winds there and modest short period northerly windswell. The high was also generated a limited fetch of 15 kt east winds pushing into the Hawaiian Islands resulting in minimal east windswell along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to consolidate more to the east slowly tightening the pressure gradient near Cape Mendocino with winds there building in areal coverage and continuing at 20-25 kts adding a little bit more consistency to local northerly windswell already in-play along the Central CA coast. In Hawaii east trades to start building to 15 kts over a broader area by late Thursday (7/12) as the high tracks east likely adding a little high to east windswell there. But tropical systems moving closer tot he Islands to have a greater impact than the high (see Tropics below).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Daniel - 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 a 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. It was 2100 nmiles from the Big Island on the 92 degree great circle track. No swell energy was radiating north but energy was pushing west towards Hawaii. Maximum seas were estimated at 37 ft. It was a fish storm. By Tuesday (7/10) Daniel was down to tropical storm status with winds 55 kts still tracking flat west with seas down to 20 ft at 15.5 N 134.3 W and 1500 nmiles from the Big Island on the 99 degree great circle track. The official track and the GFS model depicts a slow decay after that with Daniel down to Tropical Depression status on Wednesday PM (7/11) with remnants pushing 250 nmiles south of the Big Island Friday night (7/13), likely not even a Depression (25 or less kt sustained winds) and effectively just a rain storm.
No real swell production is forecast except possibly for the east shores of exposed Islands from earlier in Daniels life. A rough guess puts swell arrival into the Big Island starting Wednesday AM (7/11) with pure swell 2 ft @ 15 secs (3 ft faces) building to 2.6 ft @ 13-14 secs Thursday (3.5 ft) then with a more local windswell like event expected on Friday evening to 7 ft @ 11 secs (8 ft). Swell size and period fading off fast after that.
Emily - Hurricane Emily organized 670 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas on Mon (7/9) AM tracking west-northwest and building quickly from there, peaking late that evening with winds 115 kts at 13.4N 112.5W heading west-northwest at 10 kts. Seas estimated at 38 ft. Emily held that strength and heading Tuesday AM (7/10) with seas to 40 ft at 13.6N 113.3W or at 700 nmiles south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas Mexico or 2700 nmiles from the Big Island on the 92 degree track or 1200 nmiles from Dana Point CA on the 168 degree track . The models have Emily starting to fade on Wednesday AM (7/11) with winds 105 kts and dropping off from there while heading on a west-northwest course. An eventually turn to the west is forecast by the weekend but by then Emily is to be a tropical storm with winds down to 50 kts and fading mid-way between Baja and Hawaii. The models suggest remnants coming very close to the Big Island by the middle of next week (7/18).
As of right now the only place even remotely possible of seeing some swell from this one is Southern CA. Rough data suggests swell arrival starting Thursday (7/12) at 8 AM with period 15 secs. Swell then to 2.6-3.0 ft @ 14-15 secs (3.5-4.5 ft faces) from 168 degrees. And even that is likely overstated.
And yet a third tropical system is to forecast forming 450 nmiles south of Cabo San Lucas Mexico on Saturday (7/14) following a track very similar to Daniel and Emily initially, then making a hard turn to the north Sunday while trying to build, only to start fading late Monday as it moves over cooler waters. Something to monitor none the less.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (7/10) modest high pressure was trying to ridge into the Central and North CA coast generating the usual pressure gradient off Cape Mendocino producing north winds at 20-25 kts and lesser winds pushing down the outer Central coast. Southern CA remained in a clean eddy flow and the eddy was reaching up to almost Pt Arena. No real change is forecast Wednesday through Friday (7/130 as high pressure continues to build off Oregon. On Saturday the core of the fetch is to start lifting north focused off Oregon and Cape Mendocino with an eddy flow building more clean into Central CA and holding through the weekend (7/15) then builds off the entire US West coast early next week as high pressure retrogrades west.
Jet stream - On Tuesday (7/10) 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 extreme East Pacific then moving over the southern tip of South America. Winds were not even 90 kts anywhere in the CA and Hawaii swell windows except for a pocket at 140 kts just trying to push under New Zealand. at this time it was offering no support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours that pocket of 130 kts winds under New Zealand is to start pushing more southeast (and not towards the north), effectively forming a ridge tracking into the Ross Ice Shelf and suppressing gale potential into Friday (7/13). Beyond 72 hours another pocket of energy is to push under New Zealand on Fri (7/13) with winds 130 kts maybe lifting just a nudge to the northeast possibly opening up a gap just north of the Ross Ice Shelf through the weekend. Maybe there's some odds for gale development. That proto-trough is to become more defined when it reaches the for East Pacific early next week with 140 kts winds pushing almost due north. Maybe betters support for gale development there and then. Meanwhile a full on ridge is to remain in control of the West Pacific.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (7/10) high pressure at 1036 mbs remained locked just off Chile pushing right into Antarctica Ice locking things down there. To the west another high at 1032 mbs was over New Zealand. No winds of interest were in-between over the greater South Pacific with no swell producing fetch indicated. Over the next 72 hours a gale is forecast forming well southeast of New Zealand Friday AM (7/13) with 55 kt west winds at 62S 160W just barely exposed off the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. 30 ft seas building at that location. The storm is to race east with 55 kt west winds continuing in the evening building seas to 38 ft at 63S 142W. residual 45 kt west winds to hold Sat AM (7/14) with seas at 37 ft at 64S 129W. Even if all this did form as forecast, it would be pure luck if any swell energy actually radiated north into the California swell window. Nothing forecast relative to Hawaii from it.
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.
Central Pacific Gale
A tiny gale started to develop east of New Zealand on Sunday AM (7/8) with south winds to 45 kts over a tiny area generating seas to 30 ft at 52S 152W in the evening but falling southeast. It was gone 12 hours later. This system was positioned only in the CA swell window. Little if any swell to result a week or more out.
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 late Friday (7/13) with pressure to 1028 mbs and north winds building to 25 kts over Cape Mendocino on up off the Pacific Northwest holding Saturday with pressure up to 1032 mbs. Pressure to peak Sunday at 1036 mbs with winds holding at 25 kts and pushing down the Pacific northwest to Cape Mendocino resulting in decent north windswell for Central CA with perhaps dribbles into exposed breaks in Southern CA. The high is to retreat to the west starting later Monday with fetch fading from 20 kts and windswell heading down, almost gone late Tuesday.
East-northeasterly trades to hold at 15 kts for Hawaii Friday (7/13) onward into Tuesday. East windswell to hold steady. But the effect from tropical systems is to be more noticeable.
Also of some interest, low pressure is forecast falling from Kamchatka tot he dateline building modestly on Friday (7/13) with pressure at 1000 mbs resulting in a fleeting westerly fetch of 25-30 kts Saturday AM and seas to 14-15 ft at 43N 173W. No swell to result, but to even have the models hint at such an event in July is noteworthy.
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 Tuesday (7/10) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) had moved into positive range at 6.46. The 30 day average was up some at -10.17 with the 90 day average up to -3.76. This trend is the result of the current Inactive Phase of the MJO weakly in control of the Pacific.
Current wind analysis indicated weak east anomalies over the dateline pushing through the Maritime Continent (WPac). Neutral winds were everywhere east of the dateline. 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 (7/18) dead neutral anomalies are forecast to steadily take root on the dateline with weak west anomalies in the far East Pacific and maybe some lingering very weak east anomalies over a small portion of the Maritime Continent. This would suggest a fade of the Inactive Phase of the MJO and if true, 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 7/9 remain 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 starting 1 week out and continuing for at least 2 weeks. Conversely the dynamic model suggests the Inactive Phase remain in control and 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 a little more till this current Phase of the MJO become more defined. The preferred pattern is no or minimal Inactive Phase build-up over the next 2 weeks 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. More warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). In fact warmer than normal water is already accumulating off Ecuador and that pool of warm water was growing in intensity and coverage through 7/5 (part of a continuous pattern that started in Jan 2012). And 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 appeared 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. But the update on 7/9 indicated a slight decrease in the warmest anomaly temps occurring off Columbia. 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. 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.
That said, only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern is in-play today. Remnants of La Nina are still affecting the atmosphere and will likely continue for several months if not into the middle of Fall. One such indicator is the continued presence of high pressure over the Eastern Pacific. It has been locked in place for 2 years now and is not going to be easily dislodged. It continues to generate stronger than normal north winds pushing down the California coast (the reason for non-stop windswell in Central CA) and stronger than normal trades over Hawaii. This is evidenced by a large pool of cooler than normal water radiating southeast off California and over Hawaii reaching the equator at the dateline, the result of enhanced upwelling. Cooler than normal nearshore water remains an issue for much of the CA coast. The presence of 2 hurricanes in the East Pacific is attributable to the warmer waters temps building near the equator. So in reality, we are in a hybrid atmospheric state. The longer the MJO remains biased towards a neutral or Active state, the more the atmosphere will respond in kind and turn more towards an El Nino like configuration. We remain at a critical juncture as of this date. Historical Note: It is very unusual for El Nino (of any magnitude) to develop directly following 2 years of La Nina.
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 fading with a very El Nino like warm water pattern trying to take hold. So the next question is: Will an Active-like Phase pattern begin to dominate, 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).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours high pressure at 1036 mbs is to be tracking east from New Zealand effective locking down the greater South Pacific and dampening odds for gale development. Some winds energy is forecast trying to make eastern headway under New Zealand mid-next week, but it is all looking to be displaced south crashing into the Ross Ice Shelf and offering no swell production capacity.
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 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".
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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