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 Sunday (7/26) North and Central California still had solid southern hemi energy from Swell #4S generating waves in the head high to 2 ft overhead range and clean early. Intermixed north windswell and small northwest swell were buried underneath. Southern California was socked in with fog up north so no report was available, but down south southern hemi swell #4S was still hitting producing surf in the head high range with best sets a foot or so overhead and glassy. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The East Shore had no windswell with surf knee high or less with onshore winds. The South Shore was getting another pulse of background southern hemi swell originating east of New Zealand with waves chest high with some bigger sets on occasion. Conditions were clean with light trades.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for southern hemi Swell #4S to be fading out on Monday in the shoulder to head high range more short period north windswell in the shoulder high range as well. By Tuesday only north local windswell is expected at chest high and slowly fading into the end of the workweek, though background southern hemi swell is expected in for Wednesday at thigh to waist high and fading form thigh high on Thursday, then gone leaving only windswell. This background swell is from a gale that formed just east of New Zealand Sat-Mon (7/20) with 25-27 ft seas aimed well to the north. Southern California is to see the same pattern, with southern hemi Swell #4S at chest to head high on Monday fading to thigh to waist high on Tuesday with that new southern hemi background swell moving in late at waist high holding into Wednesday then down a little Thursday before descending into flatness. The North Shore of Hawaii is to remain flat. The East Shore is to see some short period east windswell on Monday at waist high holding Tuesday and pushing up 6 inches for Wednesday/Thursday then back down to waist high into the weekend. The South Shore to continue seeing little background southern hemi swell from that gale that was off New Zealand at waist to maybe chest high on Monday dropping to waist high Tuesday and thigh high on Wednesday before fading to flat.
Beyond another pulse of utility class swell is expected in to Hawaii by Friday (7/31) from a new small gale that formed just southeast of New Zealand on Fri/Sat (7/25) generating up to 35 ft seas aimed reasonably well to the north. Head high surf is expected there with a smaller version of that swell eventually reaching CA for the week beyond. After that things to really settle down with only a transitory gale northeast of New Zealand late Sunday but gone by late Monday maybe sending some energy towards Hawaii but small. Nothing else believable is to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface today high pressure at 1028 mbs was sandwiched just west of British Columbia generating north winds at 15-20 kts down the coast into the Pacific Northwest ending off Central CA and producing small north short period windswell. This high was also trying to generate east-northeast trades east of the Hawaiian Islands, but that fetch was not yet making it to the Islands. Of interest was low pressure in the West ern Gulf of Alaska generating 20-25 kt northwest winds there and perhaps setting up minimal northwest windswell to the Islands and the US West Coast later in the week. Over the next 72 hours this same pattern is to hold with but trades at 15 kts moving into the Hawaiian Islands producing limited east short period windswell. Another pulse of low pressure is forecast building over the dateline pushing northeast up into the western Gulf of Alaska Mon/Tues (7/28) but most fetch is to take aim on Alaska.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (7/26) high pressure at 1032 mbs was ridging into northern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest generating the usual area of north winds at 15-20 kts over both North and Central CA resulting in small short period windswell and local warble into Central CA. SCal remain protected as usual, mainly south of LA. High pressure is forecast to hold if not build some off of Oregon into Tuesday (7/26) with more north winds at 20 kts blanketing the entire US West Coast north of Pt Arena generating more windswell, but remaining relatively light south of there with decent conditions forecast. By Thursday the high is to retrograde some (move to the west) reducing if not eliminating north winds over most of the US West Coast through the weekend other than a tiny area over Pt Conception, where north winds are forecast at 15-20 kts. Perhaps local water temps to warm some.
On Sunday (7/26) no tropical systems of interest were being tracked, typical of the Inactive Phase of the MJO's control of the East Pacific for the moment.
On Sunday (7/26) a ridge in the southern branch of the jetstream remained in control, pushing firmly over the Southeast Pacific reaching south to the Ross Ice Shelf with a new ridge building in the west diving south to Antarctica under New Zealand completely suppressing odds for gale development over the South Pacific. Over the next 72 hrs the ridge in the east is to slowly dissolve while the ridge in the west digs further south and pushes east, continuing the lockdown on gale development at the oceans surface. Beyond 72 hours a huge ridge is to hold in the west into next weekend (8/2) while a bit of a weak trough tries to build in the far East Pacific on the eastern edge of the Southern CA swell window. Gale development is possible in this trough.
At the surface on Sunday (7/26) weak low pressure was circulating in the deep Central South Pacific but not generating fetch greater than 30 kts. No hope from this one. But just northeast of New Zealand a 988 mb cutoff low was building generating a small area of 40 kt winds at 38S 172W aimed a but more west than north, not even aimed at Hawaii yet. Over the next 72 hours and by Sunday evening winds in this gale are forecast up to near 50 kts over an infintesimal area at 38S 171W aimed due north, or up the 193 degree path to Hawaii. 27 ft seas forecast at 36S 172W. Monday AM (7/28) that fetch is to quickly swing into the gales north quadrant aimed east with residual winds of 35-40 kts aimed north towards Hawaii at 34S 169W. 29 ft seas from previous fetch are forecast at 33S 172W pushing towards Hawaii. This fetch to be dissolving by evening with 26 ft seas fading at 32S 168W. If this occurs some small swell is expected pushing into Hawaii.
No other fetch areas of interest are forecast.
Swell #4S - Southeast Pacific Storm
A new storm organized on Thursday (7/16) with pressure 960 mbs and a small fetch of 50 kt southwest winds confirmed at 50S 150W aimed 20 degrees east of the 198 degree path to California and partially shadowed by the east end of French Polynesia. 35 ft seas were building at 50S 151W, already mostly outside the Hawaiian swell window (179 degrees). That fetch started withering in size in the evening with 45-50 kts winds at 48S 149W aimed more to the east producing barely 40 ft seas at 48S 145W as a new fetch built to the northwest at 40S 160W with barely 45-50 kt winds trying to develop.
By Friday AM (7/17) the two fetches were joining forces forming a broad area of 40-45 kts winds confirmed at 33S 144W with seas quickly building to 32 ft at 35S 150W aimed almost directly up the 203 degree path to California and on the eastern edge of the core of the Tahitian swell shadow, only partially obstructed. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the western edge of the fetch and reported seas of 28 ft, exactly as the model projected. In the evening 50 kt south winds were confirmed at 35S 140W aimed directly up the 194 degree path to California and completely unobstructed. A broad area of seas were modeled building to 35 ft at 35S 140W, outside of the Tahitian swell shadow for CA.
A small area of 50-55 kt south winds were confirmed building over the same area early Saturday AM (7/18) at 31S 133W aimed right up the 191 degree path northward towards CA with 42 ft seas modeled at 31S 135W. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the eastern edge of the fetch reporting seas of 37.6 ft with one peak reading to 41.3 ft where the modeled suggested seas should be 38-39 ft. The model was right on track with reality, a good thing. In the evening a quick fade of fetch occurred with winds confirmed dropping from 40 kts but still aimed due north at 33S 130W with seas 37 ft at 29S 130W. This system dissipated after that fast with residual 32 ft seas at 30S 127W and aimed 40 degrees east of the 181 degree path to NCal (183 SCal).
This system was on the charts for a week before it formed and ultimately developed a fair bit weaker and smaller than originally modeled, but still not too bad, Confirmed data indicates is was the best fetch so far this summer relative to California, mainly attributable to it's very north position (reducing travel distance and therefore swell decay), the complete lack of any obstruction from Tahiti/French Polynesia thereby allowing the full effects of the swell to radiate north with no degradation, and the fetch angle, aimed directly up the great circle paths to the US West Coast at it's peak strength. On top of that respectable wind speeds (45-50 kts) were reported. 55-60 kts would be better, but you have to take what you can get. The fetch area was not large from any historical perspective, just what one would classify as normal. So this all looks good for the US West Coast down into Mexico and Central America (those locations not shadowed by the Galapagos Islands). Hawaii has already received the bulk of their sideband energy, with wave heights coming in about as expected. So all remains on-track at this time.
South California: Solid swell of 3.6 ft @ 14-15 secs is expected on Monday (5 ft faces or slightly better). Swell Direction: 200 degrees
North California: Still solid swell of 4.0 ft @ 14-15 secs is expected on Monday (6 ft faces or slightly better). Swell Direction: 187-195 degrees focused on 192 degrees
Follow-On New Zealand Gale
On Sat PM/Sun (7/19) a massive 936 low pressure system was well southeast of New Zealand over the Ross Ice Shelf and ice locked with a broad area of 30-35 kt southwest winds off New Zealand pushing up to the northeast producing a broad area of 22-28 ft seas at 43S 180W and holding into Monday AM (7/20) producing more 26-27 ft seas at 50S 170W all aimed well to the north and northeast. It was up to 4270 nmiles from the Islands. Generic 14-15 sec period swell is likely already pushing up towards Hawaii and Tahiti.
Hawaii: Expect small utility class swell to arrive in the Islands on Sunday AM (7/26) with swell pushing 2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3.5 ft faces with sets at top breaks to 4.5 ft) from 190-200 degrees slowly fading into Monday and Tuesday (7/28) at 2.3 ft @ 13 secs (3 ft faces).
California: Limited background swell from this system is expected into Southern California starting late Tues (7/28) at 2 ft @ 17 secs (3.5-4.0 ft faces) fading to 2 ft @ 15 secs on Wednesday (waist high) and fading from 2 ft @ 14 secs (thigh high) on Thursday. North CA to see the same swell pattern, delayed about 8 hours.
New Zealand Gale
A broad but diffuse area of low pressure was organizing just southeast of New Zealand on Thursday AM (7/23), but winds were only up to 30 kts. That low pressure system got better organized reaching gale status Thurs PM generating a small area of 45 kt south winds at 52S 177W with seas building.
By Friday AM a building fetch of 45-50 kt south-southwest winds were modeled at 50S 173W aimed 15 degrees west of the 209 degree path to CA and just barely in the Tahitian swell shadow and right up the 190 degree path to Hawaii. 27 ft seas were modeled building at 52S 175W. In the evening more 45-50 kt southwest winds were modeled at 50S 169W aimed right up the 208 degree path to CA and totally shadowed and 30 degrees east of the 187 degree path to Hawaii generating 32 ft seas at 50S 170W.
Saturday AM (7/25) residual 40-45 kt winds were blowing from the southwest to almost west at 48S 160W and 35 degrees east of any route to CA and perpendicular to any route to Hawaii and fading fast. 35 ft seas were modeled at 49S 163W pushing energy towards both Hawaii and CA. 32 ft seas from previous fetch were still holding Saturday evening at 48S 154W but focusing more to the east, targeting only Central and South America while fading.
Some degree of limited swell is forecast pushing northeast towards Tahiti and Hawaii, with some energy possibly for the US West Coast, though filtered by French Polynesia. .
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Friday (7/31) with swell building to 2.6 ft @ 17 secs late (shoulder high with sets to near 1 ft overhead). Saturday swell to continue at 3 ft @ 15 secs (shoulder high with sets to almost 1 ft overhead). Swell continuing on Sunday at 3 ft @ 14-15 secs (chest to head high) and slowly fading. Swell Direction: 190 degrees
Southern CA: Expect the first small signs of this swell should appear late late Sunday (8/2) reaching 1.6 ft @ 17-18 secs (2.5-3.0 ft faces). Swell Direction: 205 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 high pressure is to get better footing over the dateline by Wed (7/29) then consolidating in the Gulf by Friday (7/31) but fading out just as quick. Trades to hold solid over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts as a result, with limited easterly windswell expected there. But the north wind regime off California and the Pacific Northwest is to dissipate by Thursday with windswell gone 24 hrs later. Another pulse of low pressure is forecast for the Gulf on Friday with up to 30 kts southwest winds, but all aimed towards Alaska. Still, the consistency of the low pressure machine, especially for July, is impressive. This is surely attributable to the building El Nino pattern over the equatorial Pacific (See MJO/ENSO update below).
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Sunday (7/26) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was trying to move into a weak Active Phase, the first since 6/23 when the last of three consecutive Active pulses took control starting April 20th. But it's been a struggle. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained neutral. The Daily SOI index was at -2.52, hovering at near zero since 7/15. The 30 day average was down some to 7.68 and the 90 day average was holding at -2.03. 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 fading weak easterly flow barely hanging over Central America but effectively gone, consistent with the tail end of the Inactive Phase. A weak area of westerly anomalies, the signal of a newly building Active Phase were pushing from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific. The models suggest the final bits of the Inactive Phase are to gone by 7/29 with the Active Phase holding it's position in the far West Pacific holding about mid-way to the dateline and locked there through 8/4, then dissipating and never even making it to the dateline. This is a bit disappointing with what appears to be neutral conditions taking root. As of right now all the momentum associated with consecutive instances of the Active Phase of the MJO in the Spring and early Summer of 2009 have dissipated, and with it the mechanism that has been pushing warm water from the West to the East Pacific (or maybe not - see below). Latest Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (7/23) indicates that a solid area of warmer than normal water extends over the equator from at least the dateline east getting solid under Hawaii and building into Central/South America with temps to 2.5 deg C above normal. This is highly suggestive of a moderate El Nino. These warmer waters are pushing north up the coast of Baja Mexico into Southern CA. Interestingly, cooler than normal waters are in the same location streaming off Africa and building, likely completely suppressing Atlantic hurricane actively. There are two tiny pockets of cooler water starting to show embedded in the core of the warm pool off Central America, likely there result of the weakening of the overall MJO pattern. 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 just below the surface there at 3 deg C. Previous episodes of the Active Phase had primed the warm water pump and were feeding the warm regime in the equatorial Eastern Pacific. Previous Westerly Wind Bursts (WWB) associated with the Active Phase of the MJO had generated Kelvin Waves resulting in the movement of warm subsurface water to the east, and just now stating to break the surface near Central America. Another Westerly Wind Burst appeared to be developing on 7/6, but faded by 7/12. No Kelvin Wave activity looks to have resulted. So all looks good at a glance, but the lack of any clear symptoms of the Active Phase of the MJO has become a problem. But interestingly, another bout of westerly winds appear to be taking route extending from New Guinea almost to the dateline since 7/21 and more pronounced as of 7/25, possibly a sign of a developing Westerly Wind Burst. And 150 meters down under the equator, warmer water appears to be building and drifting east, so the warm water pump is not shut off. The next 2 weeks remains critical for the formation of a legitimate El Nino. If a real El Nino were to occur, one would expect to see the SOI tending back towards the negative and perhaps a Westerly Wind Burst and a new Kelvin Wave developing (that appears to be happening as of 7/26). 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, but remaining conservative in our outlook. If this Active Phase isn't productive, and the next one 40 or so days from now also is non-productive, then this will result in an early end to the Fall/Winter storm pattern, much like what occurred last season. Regardless, where we are right now is still miles better than anything the Pacific has seen in at least the last 3 years.
Beyond 72 hours high pressure at 1024 mbs is to be controlling waters east of New Zealand creating a decidedly southward push to and fetch into Friday (7/31). But in the east a large gale is forecast centered near 110W (outside the CA swell window) but with a broad area of 35-40 kt south winds forecast to the west at 52S 125W aimed due north holding into Saturday (8/1). 32-35 ft seas are forecast at 50S 120W on Saturday evening (8/1). No other swell producing fetch is forecast.
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