New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 (7/12) North and Central California had waist to maybe chest high northwest windswell at exposed breaks and a bit lumpy, though still reasonably clean early. Southern California was effectively flat with no northwest windswell reaching into exposed breaks up north and even less pushing south from there. Light winds and a light texture on the water in the afternoon. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The East Shore had knee to thigh high easterly windswell and onshore winds. The South Shore had some small southern hemi swell starting to show at the best breaks late at waist high or so and with clean conditions.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for short period north windswell starting to fade on Wednesday (thigh high) and dropping from there, to knee high on Friday then starting to come back up later Saturday into Sunday reaching head high. No southern hemi swell expected though. Southern CA is to see more limited thigh high southern hemi background swell on Wednesday dropping to knee high on Thursday from a gale that was south of Tahiti last week. Oahu's North Shore is asleep for the summer with no rideable surf forecast. The East Shore to see more minimal east tradewind generated windswell during the week at thigh high, building to waist high Friday and possibly to head high for the weekend. The South Shore is to see more southern hemi swell Wed (7/15) from that gale of last week south of Tahiti with waves waist high pushing chest high on Thursday trickling down Friday into Saturday (7/18).
Longterm the South Pacific produced a small gale under Tahiti on Wed (7/8) generating a tiny area of up to 26-27 ft seas pushing north towards Hawaii (see above). But the swell to be very small upon arrival there on Wed/Thurs (7/16) with nothing of interest expected to reach California. Another stronger but still small gale formed just northeast of New Zealand on Monday AM (7/13) with 40-45 kt southwest to west winds producing 32 ft seas and is tracking almost due east with seas pushing 36 ft on Tuesday AM and just starting to push into the Tahitian swell shadow, peaking in the evening at 38 ft (33S 156W) from 209 degrees (still shadowed). Most wind energy from this one is to be pushing to the east and northeast, about 35 degrees east of the great circle tracks up into North CA. In the end some small swell is expected to push up into Hawaii by Sun (7/19) and then California if all goes as planned. Of more interest is a moderate sized storm forecast for the Southeast Pacific Thurs-Sun (7/19) with up 46 ft seas mostly unshadowed on the east end of the Tahitian shadow and aimed pretty well to the northeast. The models are stabilizing now making the likelihood of this one actually forming a little more plausible. Still, it isn't real till wind is actually acting on the oceans surface.. So for now it looks like a improving storm pattern is developing South Pacific this week, but beyond maybe not some much. So keep your fingers crossed an make the most of what we get.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface today weak high pressure at 1024 mbs remained holding 900 nmiles north of Hawaii ridging east to California and up into the Pacific Northwest producing north winds at 20-25 kts over Cape Mendocino waters and generating weak northwest short period windswell down into Central CA. This high was also generating modest trades at 15 kts pushing into the Eastern Shores of the Hawaiian Islands, with minimal easterly windswell the result. Over the next 72 hours this high pressure system is retreat a little as low pressure tries to get a foothold in the Gulf of Alaska (in July?) pushing some 15-20 kts fetch towards the Pacific Northwest but not really having any effect surfwise. As a result, the Cape Mendocino pressure gradient is to relax and north windswell is to fade over all of California into Friday (7/17). Light trades are to continue over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts resulting in small windswell of 4.4 ft @ 6 secs (thigh high). No other swell producing fetch is forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (7/14) high pressure at 1026 mbs was located 700 nmiles west of Central CA ridging into the Pacific Northwest and producing 20-25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino generating small short period north windswell pushing south. The gradient over Cape Mendo is to slowly fade into Wednesday (7/15) with winds dropping to 20 kts and windswell fading as conditions improve then holding into Thursday. Finally on Friday (7/17) additional high pressure is to start moving into the area with 25 kts winds starting to develop over Cape Mendocino mid-Saturday and windswell inching up but the gradient also sagging south with deteriorating conditions. The gradient is to hold located between Cape Mendo and Pt Conception through Tuesday (7/21) with more and a little larger short period windswell but poor conditions as well.
On Tuesday Hurricane Carlos was located well southeast of South California with sustained winds at 85 kts heading effectively due west. A pinhole eye was indicated suggesting Carlos was a bit better organized than previous suspected. No winds were aimed back at the mainland and no swell is expected there. Forecast projections indicate Carlos is to continue on a westerly track holding strength into Wednesday, then starting a slow decline, down to 50 kts 5 days out and positioned 360 nmiles south-southeast of the Big Islands. Assuming this track holds true, some form of decent swell seems possibly for Hawaii. Will monitor.
On Tuesday (7/14) the two branches of the South Pacific jetstream were almost co-joined over it's entire width. The southern branch was pushing northeast impacting into the northern branch just east of New Zealand with 170 kt east winds at the impact point. But the southern branch split south from the northern branch, forming a cutoff trough south of Tahiti with the 170 kt winds feeding into it. Decent support for gale development in this trough. The whole flow consolidated east of there again but was sinking southeast into Southern Chile. No support there. Over the next 72 hrs this same configuration is to hold, but with a legitimate trough forming south of Tahiti on Thursday AM (7/16) with 190 kts winds flowing into it attributable mostly to the wind energy in the northern branch, building to 220 kts in the evening. Pretty impressive and holding into Friday. Good support for storm development. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to get quickly cut off by a new ridge building over the Central Pacific (originating from the northern branch of the jet) pushing hard to the southeast on Saturday reaching the Ross Ice Shelf and shutting the storm machine down. But a new trough is to try and build under New Zealand and is expected to remain there well into next week, though winds to remain light. Maybe some more potential for gale development in this area if all goes as expected.
At the surface on Tuesday (7/14) three separate low pressure systems continued circulating over the South Pacific, all with 45 kt or grater winds, but only one was in the US swell window, just east of New Zealand, with the other two queued up off Southern Chile with all their fetch aimed to the east and southeast. Patagonia should expect some stormy weather. Of most interest to us was the gale circulating off new Zealand (see New Zealand gale below). Over the next 72 hours the New Zealand gale is to continue tracking east and eventually dissipating but not before spraying swell radiating off to the northeast. On Thursday (7/16) the pre-escent components of a strong gale are forecast to start coagulating in two separate globs south of Tahiti, joining forces late, all part of a massive low pressure complex that has been brewing in the Central South Pacific for over a week now. See the long term forecast for more details.
Weak Tahitian Gale
A weak low pressure system tried to organize well south of Tahiti on Wed (7/8) with 35-40 kt southwest winds modeled at 44S 150W aimed towards both CA (shadowed by Tahiti) and Hawaii and holding through the evening, then dissipating fast early Thursday. Seas of 27 ft were modeled Wed PM (7/8) at 40S 150W. A small and weak pulse of utility class sideband swell is expected to reach Hawaii for Wed/Thurs (7/16) at 2.0-2.3 ft @ 14 secs (3.0 ft faces pushing 3.5 ft at top breaks) from 180-185 degrees.
It's doubtful any swell energy will survive the being sheared by the French Polynesia and then survive the long journey north to the US Mainland. If it does it will show in SCal on Wed (7/15) with swell 1.6 ft @ 15 secs (2.5 ft faces) from 210 degrees.
New Zealand Gale
On Sunday a new gale started to build just north of New Zealand producing 40 kt south winds aimed towards Fiji, producing a tiny area of 28 ft seas. By Sunday evening winds built in this gale to 45 kts over a tiny area at 34S 177W aimed 30 degrees northeast of the 224 degree path to California and 40 degrees east of the 201 degree path to Hawaii. Seas built to 28 ft at 33S 174W. Monday AM more 45 kt winds were modeled over a tiny area at 34S 172W aimed 30 degrees east of the 220 degree path to CA and 45 degrees east of the 195 degree path to Hawaii. 32 ft seas modeled at 34S 170W. In the evening the system continued east with 40 kt winds at 34S 165W and aimed 35 degrees east of the 216 degree path to CA (unshadowed) and 65 degrees east of the 183 degree path to Hawaii. 36 ft seas were modeled at 34S 166W. Tuesday AM (7/14) renewed 45 kt southwest winds were modeled at 34S 163W resulting in 36 ft seas at 34S 161W aimed 25 degrees east of the 214 degree path to North CA and just barely unshadowed and 70 degree east of the 181 degree path to Hawaii. Tuesday evening 40 kts winds are forecast at 34S 155W with a tiny area of 38 ft seas forecast at 33S 155W or in the heart of the Tahiti swell shadow relative to CA (208 degrees) and pushing almost totally east of the 180 degree path to Hawaii. By Wednesday AM (7/15) 40 kt winds are to hold with 36 ft seas at 33S 148W pushing 35 degrees east of the 204 degree path to CA and emerging from the core of the Tahitian swell shadow. This system is to continue beyond but sinking southeast fast with far less energy drifting north towards the US mainland. 35 ft seas forecast Wed Pm at 33S 141W and dissipating.
Rough data suggest swell arriving in Hawaii by Sun (7/19) and into CA starting Thurs (7/23).
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 Northeast Pacific high pressure system is to start regrouping on Friday at 1028 mbs centered 900 nmiles north of Hawaii with trades on the increase there first, building steadily through the weekend to near 20 kts and covering a much larger area, with windswell on the way up some. This high is to also start ridging into the mainland by late Friday (7/17) generating 25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino On Saturday and building southward to Point Conception over the weekend resulting in a bit larger push of short period north windswell expected for Central CA but with likely poor conditions. Of some interest is that more low pressure is forecast to push east off the Kurils to the dateline and then northeast over the Aleutian Islands through the weekend into next week (7/21). No swell producing fetch is forecast, but it remains interesting that it is occurring at all.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (7/14) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) remained in the Inactive Phase as it has been since 6/23, the first Inactive Phase in months after going through three consecutive Active pulses since April 20th. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained neutral. The Daily SOI index held at +14.71. The 30 day average was up to 7.72 and the 90 day average was down to -1.00. The SOI index remained effectively neutral but had lost all of the ground it has gained since mid-April, the highest it's been since then. Wind anomalies at the surface and the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated a moderate easterly flow over the East equatorial Pacific, consistent with the later phases of the Inactive Phase. Westerly anamolous, the signal of a newly building Active Phase were starting to develop over the Indian Ocean, and not a moment too soon. The models suggest the final bits of the Inactive Phase are to push into Central America by 7/22 as the Active Phase starts to reach into the far West Pacific, weakening as it travels east toward the dateline on 8/1. This is all good news seeing how no incarnation of the Active Phase was previously modeled. so as of right now the big push of west winds that had been associated with consecutive instances of the Active Phase of the MJO in the Spring and early Summer have dissipated, and with it the mechanism that has been pushing warm water from the West to the East Pacific, at least temporarily Watter temps might loose some ground off Central America. But at this time we remain disposed to believe we have turned the corner and have entering a phase biased towards the Active Phase and less supportive of the Inactive Phase, which supports a manifestation of El Nino. Latest sea surface temperature data as of 7/13 indicates a solid area of warmer than normal water is covering the entire width of the equatorial Pacific and building strongly off Central America pushing up into Baja Mexico and expected to track north from there. This looks very much like El Nino. Below the surface on the equator a steady flow of slightly warmer than normal subsurface water was tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface to be exact) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America with warmer water pooling up there. Previous episodes of the Active Phase have primed the warm water pump and are feeding the warm regime in the equatorial Eastern Pacific. Warmer than normal waters can be seen around and east of the Galapagos Islands to near 2 deg C above normal. A Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that developed just west of the dateline on 6/18, with reinforcing west winds south of Hawaii on 6/22, set up a Kelvin wave resulting in more warm subsurface water moving east and just now stating to break the surface near Central America. And in the far West Pacific another Westerly Wind Burst appeared to be developing (7/6), but faded by 7/12. Still some weak Kelvin Wave activity looks to have resulted with pockets of warmer than normal water evolving 150 m down under the dateline. The next 3 weeks remain critical for the formation of a legitimate El Nino. If it were to occur, one would expect another decent pulse of the Active Phase of the MJO to take root towards the end of July, pushing out into the West Pacific. At this time, at least a weak version of such an occurrence is modeled. One would also expect to see the SOI tending back towards the negative. The hope is that this developing El Nino will not completely loose it's legs and falter as it did last year at this time. At this point we're in 'wait and see' mode. Regardless, where we are right now is better than anything compared to the last 3 years and maybe even better than anything in the last 12 years.
Beyond 72 hours a new storm is to organize Friday AM (7/17) with a tiny area of 50 kts winds at 38S 145W with seas quickly building to 38 ft at 38S 148W aimed almost directly up the 197 degree path to California and on the very eastern edge of the Tahitian swell shadow, only partially obstructed. In the evening 45 kt south winds are to hold at 39S 140W aimed right up the 194 degree path to California and completely unobstructed with seas building to 40 ft 35S 140W, outside of the Tahitian swell shadow for CA. A small area of 50 kts south winds to rebuild over the same area Saturday AM (7/18) at 35S 135W aimed right up the 192 degree path northward towards CA with 46 ft seas forecast at 37S 135W. In the evening a quick fade of fetch is forecast with winds dropping from 40 kts but still aimed due north with seas 42 ft at 31S 130W. This system is to dissipate after that fast. This gale is still 3 days from forming, and we still have little belief that it will actually form to the intensity specified. But it has been on the charts for some time now, so something is likely to occur, but details area far from certain.
Beyond nothing obvious is forecast, though a broad area of low pressure remains forecast to hold control of the Southwest Pacific, providing a glimmer of hope for the future.
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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table