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 (7/24) North and Central CA had surf at waist to maybe chest high (all local windswell) and warbled with light west winds on it. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was waist to maybe chest high and clean inside the kelp and all coming from the southern hemi. Southern California up north was thigh to waist high and almost chopped mid-day, all local windswell. Down south waves were chest high and lined up but pretty textured from eddy winds. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with light trades and glassy conditions. The South Shore was thigh to maybe waist high and clean with trades in effect. The East Shore report was not available.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
Up north high pressure was retrograding away from the US West Coast with fetch off of Cape Mendocino dropping from 20 kts. Local north windswell was heading down for Central CA. Trades were blowing at 15 kts over the Hawaiian Islands offering only minimal east windswell for East Shores. Trades to continue for Hawaii through the week and into the weekend (7/28) but only at 15 kts offering minimal windswell at best. For the mainland by Saturday high pressure is to again start pushing east with the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA starting to produce north winds at 20 kts resulting in modest short period north windswell and holding into early next week.
Down south a small gale pushed under New Zealand on Tues (7/17) tracking flat east with seas to 33 ft, maybe good for more tiny background swell targeting Hawaii (not even noticeable) and the mainland (by Fri 7/27). Another smaller system passed under New Zealand on Sun (7/22) with 32 ft seas all aimed due east. Nothing really expected from it. And yet another one was under New Zealand Tues (7/24) with 38 ft seas but again pushing all east. Maybe some modest swell for Hawaii and the US West Coast. There's hints of some development to follow a week out, but that's just a guess.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (7/24) high pressure at 1036 mbs was 1300 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino CA and retrograding west. It was generating a fading fetch of 20 kt north winds off Cape Mendocino down to Morro Bay that was generating limited north windswell pushing into the Central CA coast. The high was also generating a fetch of 15 kt northeast to east winds sweeping off the US west coast and pushing to Hawaii generating the usual short period easterly windswell.
Over the next 72 hours the high off North California is to continue tracking west with north winds along the coast fading below 15 kts through Friday (7/27). Windswell to drop out along the CA coast. In Hawaii the high is to continue driving east trades at 15 kts with east windswell holding through the week.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
The models suggest a tropical wave to develop mid-way between Cabo San Lucas and Hawaii on Thursday (7/26) possibly reaching depression status and tracking almost directly over the Big Island on Tues (7/31) Odds very low of this actually occurring though.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (7/24) high pressure was moving away from the California coast with the gradient over Cape Mendocino fading with north winds at 20 kts pushing over the outer Central CA coast and fading in coverage. The models suggest high pressure is to continue retrograding to the west with an eddy flow in effect through Thursday (7/26). Then on Friday the high is to start building back east with north winds moving into nearshore waters by Saturday at 15 kts with chop setting up pushing 20 kts Sunday then down to 15 kts Monday and Tuesday (7/31).
Jet stream - On Tuesday (7/24) the same old split jetstream pattern remained locked over the entire South Pacific with the southern branch pushing generally flat east from a very southerly position down at 68S, effectively over Antarctic Ice and offering no support for gale development down in lower levels of the atmosphere. One exception was a weak trough that was southeast of New Zealand pushing up to 60S, but winds were below 100 kts and offering no support for gale development. This was remnants of a trough that previously supported a gale in the area. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast with the jet continuing to run flat over the 64S latitude and not getting north of Antarctic Ice. Beyond 72 hours a new pocket of 140 kt winds to develop under New Zealand (Fri 7/27) ridging southeast into Antarctica and sweeping east effectively preventing gale production. But by Sunday (7/29) another pocket of 140 kt southwest winds are to push under New Zealand possibly forming a modest trough and supporting gale development through the middle of the following week.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (7/24) remnants of a gale previously under New Zealand were fading while tracking east in the West Pacific (see 3rd New Zealand Gale below). Tiny swell from 2 previous gales in the same region were heading northeast. Otherwise no fetch of interest was occurring.
Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast in the Hawaii or California swell windows.
Small New Zealand Gale
On Tuesday AM (7/17) south of New Zealand a gale was trying to get some footing with flat west winds 40-45 kts. Seas were building from 29-30 ft at 58S 170E. In the evening the gale held with 40 kt west winds hanging on and seas holding at 34 ft at 59S 172E. These seas were already mostly in the Tahitian swell shadowed at 210 degrees relative to California and pushing well east of the 193 degrees great circle path to Hawaii. By Wednesday AM (7/18) fetch was fading from 35 kts and seas dropping from 32 ft at 59S 176W and still shadowed.
Some small background swell is radiating northeast towards California and is expected to pass Hawaii unnoticed with swell less than 1 ft @ 17-18 secs (2 ft) on Wed (7/25). Swell Direction: 190-193 degrees
Swell to arrive in California on Friday (7/27) at 1.3 ft @ 18 secs (2.5 ft) dropping on Saturday at 1.4 ft @ 16-17 secs (2.0-2.5 ft). Swell Direction: 207-210 degrees
Second Small New Zealand Gale
A gale flared up south of New Zealand and just off the Ross Ice Shelf Sunday AM (7/22) with a small area of 45 kt west winds generating 30 ft seas at 59S 163E. In the evening fetch was already down to 40 kts and fading fast with seas dropping from 30 ft at 56S 180W.
Maybe some small swell to be pushing northeast with luck. Odds are it will not be noticeable in either Hawaii or CA.
Third New Zealand Gale
A second stronger system formed under New Zealand on Mon AM (7/23) with a larger area of 45 kt southwest winds building and seas on the increase. 45 kt southwest winds built in coverage in the evening with seas building to 36 ft at 59S 175E. Winds build to 50 kts late evening. The Jason-1 satellite passed over this area at 4Z and reported seas at 36.6 ft with one reading to 38.7 ft, right on track with the models. By Tues AM (7/24) fetch was fading from 45 kts with seas from previous fetch peaking at 38 ft at 58S 174W (206 degrees path to CA and in the middle of the Tahiti swell shadow, 189 deg path to HI). By evening seas to be fading from 34 ft at 56S 163W.
This system built stronger than previously forecast, which was a little surprising given the track record so far this summer. Winds were west southwest to almost southwest, which should give the resulting swell a little more push to the north, but nothing outstanding.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Mon (7/30) at noon with period 20 secs and size tiny at 1.5 ft @ 20 secs (3 ft with sets to 4 ft). Swell building over night and peaking by Tuesday (7/31) at 7 AM as period drops to 18 secs. Swell 1.8 ft @ 18 secs (3.3 ft with sets to 4 ft) and holding to sunset as period drops to 17 secs by 7 PM. Decent 16 sec energy to continue Wed (8/1) as period drop to 16 secs near 8 AM.
South California: Expect swell arrival starting Wed (8/1) at 7 AM with period 20 secs and size tiny but building. Swell to be rideable by sunset. Size continuing up on Thursday AM (8/2) as period falls to 18 secs at 7 AM. Swell to start peaking near nooon at 2.8 ft @ 18 secs (5 ft with sets to 6.5 ft) and holding solid through the evening with period dropping to 17 secs near 7 PM. 17 secs energy continuing early Friday AM (8/3) with swell 2.8-3.0 ft @ 17 secs (4.8-5.1 ft with sets to 6.5 ft) and falling towards 16 secs by noon. Swell Direction 207-208 degrees
North California: Expect swell arrival starting Wed (8/1) at 10 AM with period 20 secs and size tiny but building. Swell to be ridable by sunset. Size continuing up on Thursday AM (8/2) as period falls to 18 secs at 10 AM. Swell to start peaking near 2 PM at 2.8 ft @ 18 secs (5 ft with sets to 6.5 ft) and holding solid through the evening with period dropping to 17 secs near 10 PM. 17 secs energy continuing early Friday AM (8/3) with swell 2.8-3.0 ft @ 17 secs (4.8-5.1 ft with sets to 6.5 ft) and falling towards 16 secs mid-afternoon. Swell Direction 206-207 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 again start pushing east with fetch building along the North and Central California coast Saturday (7/28) at 15-20 kts building to 20 kts solid on Sunday and pushing into nearshore waters. Windswell on the increase some. Fetch to continue Monday but dropping to the 15-20 kts range with windswell dropping off and holding into Tuesday.
Trades to hold in the 15 kt range as the high pushes east continuing to generate modest east windswell on east shores through Tuesday (7/31).
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 Tuesday (7/24) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 0.49 and had been mildly negative the previous 2 days. The 30 day average was up some at -1.33 with the 90 day average down to -4.12. This is starting to look like the end of the current Inactive Phase of the MJO.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a small area of west anomalies building over the Maritime Continent (WPac) with light east anomalies still over the dateline. This suggests the Inactive Phase was moving east and fading and the Active Phase was moving into the far West Pacific. A week from now (8/1) dead neutral anomalies are forecast over the entire equatorial Pacific. This would suggest a neutral Phase of the MJO or at least a mildly Active Phase. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/23 are in agreement suggesting that the Inactive Phase is tracking east out of the Pacific over Central America with a weak version of the Active Phase in control of the Maritime Continent (West Pacific). Both now suggest the Active Phase is to ease east over the next 2 weeks reaching near the dateline out but not strongly. Regardless, this should restart the warm water pump.
7/4 had been our 'stake in the ground' in assessing the state of the MJO and ENSO to determine what the trend will be over this coming Fall and Winter (more below). We're about at a point to make a long term determination, especially with all models declaring the Inactive Phase dead (after only 14 days), but we'd like to see the daily SOI falling back to negative territory first. We've been stating that the preferred pattern is no or minimal Inactive Phase build-up through mid-July with a quick return to a neutral if not Active pattern, which would support development of a weak El Nino or at least a pattern that supports warm water buildup in the East Pacific as summer continues. Current data continues suggesting this is the case. Looks like a borderline El Nino could result this winter.
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 accumulated off Ecuador and that pool of warm water was growing in intensity and coverage through 7/2 (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 (and has not returned) allowing warmer water to slowly but steadily pushing east into the vacuum (Kelvin Wave). This activity was the result of an Active Phase of the MJO (early April) and a continued weak MJO signal beyond, and appeared to be reinforcing itself. If one inspects the water temperature anomaly charts, through 7/2 an unmistakable El Nino-like pattern developed extending from south of Hawaii into Ecuador and extending north to Cabo San Lucas and south well into Chile. Updates through 7/23 indicated the slightest decrease in the warmest anomalies occurring off Columbia mainly attributable to the recent weak Inactive Phase. But the coverage has increased, mainly pushing 50% of the way up Baja (in just the past 17 days). This is a good sign in that warm water is finally making inroads at displacing unusually cold water that's been locked off the CA coast for 2 years. Otherwise the coverage and temps appear similar. It will be interesting to see what setback if any the most recent Inactive Phase has on the warm water pool in the tropical East Pacific. The suspicion is it will have only a minimal impact, and that the developing Active Phase will replenish whatever was lost. The desire is for a weak MJO pattern to continue (a sign of some flavor of El Nino, and preferably a weak multi-year event).
That said, only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern is in-play right now. 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 per the imagery, though a steady decline in nearshore north winds has occurred with some eddy flow working its way up into Central CA with water temps on the rise. The presence of 3 hurricanes in the East Pacific is certainly attributable to the warmer waters temps building near the equator. So in reality, we're 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.
As of right now the question remains: Will an Active-like Phase pattern begin to dominate, ultimately ushering in some flavor of El Nino, or will it stall in 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 a gale is forecast southwest of Chile and effectively outside and east of even the Southern CA swell window on Monday (7/30) with seas forecast to 40 ft targeting Chile reasonably well.
There's also suggestions of a gale forming southeast of New Zealand with winds in the 45 kt range and starting to lift somewhat to the northeast, with seas to 38 ft. It's a long ways from this being a reality, but something to monitor.
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