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 (7/12) North and Central CA had surf at waist to shoulder high on the sets at better spots, all generated locally and warbled with heavy texture on top of that blown by light onshore winds. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was effectively flat with sets to knee high and clean. Southern California up north had minimal northwest windswell at knee high and reasonably clean. Down south minimal hurricane swell was producing waves at thigh high with maybe a few waist high sets and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with sideshore trades in effect adding some light chop. The South Shore still had some new background swell with waves waist to chest high and clean with moderate trades in effect. The East Shore had hurricane Daniel swell at waist to chest high 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 from the dateline into the East Pacific generating the usual modest pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino producing 20-25 kt north winds there resulting in modest local north windswell for Central CA. The high was also generating 10-15 kt trades for the Islands over a small fetch with modest east windswell there. Swell from earlier in Hurricane Daniels life was also reaching exposed east shores of the Hawaiian Islands. North winds to hold over Cape Mendocino through the weekend, then starting to back off by Monday with the commensurate downturn in local windswell. Trades to remain in the 15 kt range through the weekend and into early next week for Hawaii offering only modest east windswell along east facing shores. Also a little low is wind up near the dateline on Fri-Sat (7/14) with maybe 30 kt west winds generating near 18 ft seas for 12 hours, but likely not resulting in any swell of interest except maybe a pulse of small windswell for northern shores of the Hawaiian Islands with luck.
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 south of New Zealand falling to the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf Thurs/Fri (7/13) with seas to 42 ft then moving into the Southeast Pacific on Sat (7/14) and fading with seas moving below 30 ft, but targeting only Chile if anywhere with little aimed northward. Another system is forecast pushing under New Zealand on Tues (7/17) but it's way too early to believe anything of it just yet.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (7/12) high pressure at 1024 mbs was stretched from the dateline east to a point 800 nmiles west of San Francisco generating a modest pressure gradient along the North California coast centered near Cape Mendocino producing 20-25 kt north winds there resulting in modest short period northerly windswell for Central CA. The high was also generating a limited fetch of 10-15 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 in the Gulf of Alaska off Washington continuing the pressure gradient and building it northward up the Canadian Coast and extending south to Pt Reyes with winds over that area continuing at 20-25 kts slowly but steadily adding a bit more consistency and wave length to local northerly windswell already in-play along the Central CA coast through Sunday (7/15). In Hawaii east trades to build to near 20 kts late Friday as the remnants of Daniel push south of the Islands, but generally remaining at 15 kts over a broad area extending from the US West Coast over the Islands and heading west from there. Modest east windswell there result.
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. By Thursday (7/12) no formal forecasts were being issued from NOAA and Daniel was below tropical depression status with winds 25 kts or less heading due west at 13 kts and seas below 10 ft. No swell of interest was being produced. Remnants are to push 250 nmiles south of the Big Island Friday afternoon (7/13) and not even at Depression status (25 or less kt sustained winds).
No real swell production is forecast except possibly for the east shores of exposed Islands from earlier in Daniels life. Expect swell on the Big Island fading with a more local windswell like event expected by Friday evening at 6 ft @ 11 secs (6.5 ft). Swell size and period fading off fast on Saturday from 6 ft @ 10 secs (6 ft) and mostly just looking like local windswell. .
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. Emily starting to fade slightly on Wednesday AM (7/11) with winds 100 kts and dropping off from there while heading on a west-northwest course. By Thursday AM (7/12) sustained winds were 90 kts with Emily still heading on a west-northwest course and seas estimated at 32 ft. A slow turn to west is forecast by the weekend but by then Emily is to be a tropical storm (Friday AM) with winds down to 60 kts and fading mid-way between Baja and Hawaii. The models suggest remnants weaker than Daniels passing south of the Big Island on Wed (7/18).
As of right now the only place even remotely possible of seeing some swell from this one is Southern CA. Swell arrival started Thursday (7/12) forecast at 2.6 ft @ 14 secs (3.5 ft faces) from 168 degrees. On Friday swell to be holding at 3 ft @ 12 secs (3.5 ft) then fading from there.
Possible small swell reaching Hawaii on Saturday at 1.7 ft @ 15 secs (2.5 ft) from 90 degrees peaking Monday AM (7/16) at 2 ft @ 13-14 secs (2.5 ft). Not much.
Fabio - And yet a third tropical system developed 550 nmiles south-southeast of Cabo San Lucas Mexico on Thursday (7/12) with winds 35 kts heading northwest. Seas were 12 ft. Winds forecast up to 65 kts on Saturday and Sunday AM just at minimal hurricane status and positioned 325 nmiles south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas or 1000 nmiles south-southwest of Southern CA on the 172 degree path and heading northwest. A quick fade is forecast thereafter as Fabio moves over cooler water. This to not be much of a storm. But the heading and position is far better than the previous two systems. Maybe some more small swell to result for Southern CA. Something to monitor none the less.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (7/12) 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 Reyes. No real change is forecast through Friday (7/13) as the high 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). By Monday the eddy flow is to start building off the entire US West coast becoming more pronounced Tuesday as high pressure retrogrades west. Light local winds (10 kts or less) and diminishing northerly local windswell forecast through the end of the workweek (7/20).
Jet stream - On Thursday (7/12) a split jetstream pattern remained locked over the West and Central Pacific with the southern branch running generally flat east down at 65S with a bit more energy than weeks past, then weakening as it moved over the far East Pacific. Winds were 130 kts in one small pocket southeast of New Zealand but mostly over the Ross Ice Shelf. Over the next 72 hours a small trough is to develop west of the wind pocket supported by a second pocket of 120 kts winds moving east from under Tasmania. That trough is to just barely clear the Ross Ice Shelf to the north while tracking east. Possible support for gale development likely over ice free waters and tracking east. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to dissipate and another ridge to move in tracking over the Ross Ice Shelf and suppressing gale development. another weak trough is forecast to push under New Zealand next Tues (7/17) with 140 kts winds feeding into it, but it does not appear to clearly support gale development. Something to monitor just the same.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (7/12) high pressure at 1032 mbs was over New Zealand with the start of what looked like a gale forming under it south of New Zealand. Winds were 40 kts over a tiny area. East of there all winds were pushing southeast aimed at Antarctica with no swell producing fetch in evidence. Over the next 72 hours a gale is forecast forming well southeast of New Zealand Thursday PM with 55 kt south winds over a small area and seas building from 38 ft at 58S 180W. On Friday AM (7/13) with 50 kt west winds are forecast at 62S 161W just barely exposed off the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. 42 ft seas building at 61S 165W but tracking east-southeast with no northward momentum. The storm is to race east with 45 kt west winds continuing in the evening with seas to 40 ft at 61S 150W. Residual 40 kt west winds to hold Sat AM (7/14) with seas fading from 32 ft at 62S 135W. Given the fast eastward track of this system and it's small fetch area, it seems unlikely anything more than background swell energy will actually radiate north into the Hawaii or California swell window. Something to monitor just the same.
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.
No swell is expected for Hawaii and nothing for California either.
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. Small swell of 1.6 ft @ 15 secs (2.5 ft) to possibly reach Southern CA on Wed (7/18) then fading Thursday as period drop to 14 or less second. Swell Direction: 202 degrees
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 consolidate in the Gulf of Alaska Monday (7/16) then start retrograding west with the usual pressure gradient along the US West Coast dissipating and northerly fetch at 20 kts moving out to sea, and then starting to fade entirely by Thurs (7/19). Windswell along the California coast to start fading by Tuesday (7/17) and drooping to unrideable levels 2 days later.
East-northeasterly trades to hold at 15 kts for Hawaii Monday (7/16) onward into Tuesday with east windswell hold ing steady. But by later Tuesday, as the high start decaying to the north, trades to start fading and windswell dropping noticeably by Thursday.
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 Thursday (7/12) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) had moved more firmly into positive range at 18.22. The 30 day average was up some at -7.77 with the 90 day average up to -3.48. This trend is the result of the current Inactive Phase of the MJO weakly in control of the Pacific.
Current wind analysis indicated modest east anomalies starting on the dateline pushing through the Maritime Continent (WPac). Neutral winds were everywhere east of the dateline. This was looking more like the start of the Inactive Phase of the MJO easing east from the Maritime Continent. And there's indication the Active Phase of the MJO is currently over Africa. A week from now (7/20) dead neutral anomalies are forecast to slowly take root on the dateline with weak east anomalies holding steady over a small area of the Maritime Continent while in the far East Pacific very weak west anomalies blow. This would suggest perhaps a fade of the Inactive Phase of the MJO, but not an outright demise. It's looking more like the incredibly short and weak Inactive Phase of the MJO we had hoped for in the West Pacific is not to be. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/11 remain in complete disagreement for the long term outlook. The statistical model suggests that a weak version of the Inactive Phase is fading over the Maritime Continent with a modest Active Phase over Africa nd the Indian Ocean and scheduled 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 is to remain in control of the West Pacific and actually rebuild over the next 2 weeks, though displaced northward somewhat with west anomalies developing over a tiny area 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 till this current ambiguity regarding the MJO becomes further 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. But we're starting to become concerned all the progress made to date is on the verge of crashing back into a normal pattern, with warm waters buildup on the equator in the East Pacific slowly deteriorating over the next 2 months.
In monitoring the migration of warm water into the equatorial East Pacific, which the previously existing weak MJO pattern supported (thru 7/10), 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 has 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 time unpredictability barrier relative to ENSO, so the true nature of this years pattern should start manifesting itself.
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. A storms is forecast tracking under Tasmania on Sunday (7/15) pushing 50-55 kt south winds up into the Tasman Sea with 38-40 ft seas forecast targeting mostly New Zealand on a very east course. Remnants from this system are to make eastern headway under New Zealand mid-next week, possibly regenerating and generating some seas of interest, but it is all looking to be falling more south than east, and nothing pushing northward. This to result in only very limited swell production capacity, under the best of circumstances.
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