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.
Next Forecast Update Sunday (8/5)
On Thursday (7/26) North and Central CA had north windswell providing surf in the flat to knee high range and warbled with south eddy wind in effect. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was thigh to waist high on the rare sets and clean. Southern California up north was knee to maybe thigh high and clean, coming from the southern hemi. Down south waves were up to waist high and lined up but pretty warbled from eddy winds. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with light trades and glassy conditions. The South Shore was thigh 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 filling the North Pacific but pushed away from the US West Coast offering no local fetch and no catalyst to generate windswell. The high continued to produce trades blowing at 15 kts over the Hawaiian Islands offering minimal east windswell for East Shores. Trades to continue unchanged for Hawaii through the weekend and into next week (8/2) but only at 15 kts offering only minimal windswell potential. Relative to the mainland by Saturday high pressure is to again start pushing east with the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA producing north winds there at 20 kts resulting in modest short period north windswell and building over all of Central CA waters into the weekend. Winds increasing to 25 kts Monday, then drifting north setting up shop back over Cape Mendocino by Tuesday (7/31) and slowly fading there but not out through the end of the workweek (8/3). Continued modest north local windswell mainly for Central CA.
Down south a small gale pushed under New Zealand on Tues (7/17) tracking flat east with seas to 33 ft, good for more tiny background swell targeting 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 (late Mon 7/30) and the US West Coast by Thurs (8/2). There's hints of a new gale developing in the deep Central South Pacific on Wed (8/1) but again most energy to be pushing east.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (7/26) a broad high pressure system at 1028 mbs was located 1200 nmiles north of Hawaii trying to ridge east but not reaching the US West Coast. No local windswell producing fetch was was occurring. The high was ridging south generating a moderate fetch of 15 kt east winds pushing over Hawaii generating small short period easterly windswell there.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to start tracking east (even though a core is to remain on the dateline) starting to generate the usual pressure gradient over North CA by Saturday producing 20 kt north winds with small short period windswell on the increase pushing down the Central CA coast. Sunday that gradient is to build with north winds building in coverage over all of North and Central CA at 20 kts and pushing into nearshore waters, resulting in raw local modest sized windswell.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
The models suggest some form of a tropical depression forming just east of the Northern Philippines on Sunday (7/29) building while tracking north, eventually moving west and inland. No swell expected to result for our forecast area.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (7/26) high pressure was pulled away from the California coast with an eddy flow in effect, as it has been for several days now. The models suggest high pressure is to start building back to the east with north winds moving into nearshore waters of North and Central CA by Saturday at 15 kts with chop setting up pushing 20 kts Sunday and holding into Tuesday. Finally on Wednesday the winds are to start pulling away from Central CA with a full eddy flow in effect by Thursday (while 25 kt north winds hold over Cape Mendocino) holding at least into Friday. Windswell to be the result with somewhat improved conditions nearshore.
Jet stream - On Thursday (7/26) a well worn 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. Over the next 72 hours a new pocket of 120 kt winds to develop under New Zealand (Fri 7/27) ridging southeast into Antarctica and sweeping east effectively preventing gale production. Beyond 72 hours another pocket of 150 kt southwest winds are to push under New Zealand on Tues (7/31) possibly forming a modest trough pushing east and supporting gale development through the end of next week. Will believe it when it happens.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (7/26) with pressure at 1024 mbs was just east of new Zealand ridging southeast and pushing into the Ross Ice Shelf pretty much shutting down any swell production.
Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast in the Hawaii or California swell windows with the high easing east and continuing to exert southward pressure down into Antarctica effectively driving east moving gales inland over Antarctica.
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.
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 1.7 ft @ 18 secs (3.0 ft with sets to 3.5 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 drops to 16 secs (1.8 ft @ 15-16 secs - 3 ft) near 8 AM and fading. Swell Direction: 189 degrees
South California: Expect swell arrival starting Wed (8/1) at 7 AM with period 20 secs and size tiny but building. Swell to be barely rideable by sunset (1 ft @ 20 secs). Size continuing up on Thursday AM (8/2) as period falls to 18 secs at 7 AM. Swell to start peaking near noon at 1.5 ft @ 18 secs (2.5-3.0 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 2.0 ft @ 17 secs (3.0 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 barely ridable by sunset (1 ft @ 20 secs - 2 ft). 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 1.5 ft @ 18 secs (2.5-3.0 ft) and holding through the evening with period dropping to 17 secs near 10 PM. 17 secs energy continuing early Friday AM (8/3) with swell 2.0 ft @ 17 secs (3.0 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 high pressure is to continue filling the North Pacific Basin at 1028 mbs riding east with fetch continuing along the North and Central California coast Monday (7/30) at 20-25 kts but starting to become more focused up near Cape Mendocino, but with 20 kt north winds remaining nearshore down more of the Central CA coast. Modest windswell continuing. Finally on Thursday (8/2) an eddy flow is forecast working it's way up into Central CA with 25 kt north fetch continuing over Cape Mendocino, resulting in modest north windswell but with better conditions.
Trades to hold in the 15 kt range as the high pushes east continuing to generate modest east windswell on east shores through Thursday (8/2).
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 Thursday (7/26) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -2.28 and had been mildly negative the previous 5 days. The 30 day average was up some into positive range at 1.30 with the 90 day average up to -3.75. This looks like the start of a mildly Active Phase of the MJO.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a small area of west anomalies holding over the Maritime Continent (WPac) associated with tropical low pressure there with light to modest east anomalies still over the dateline. This suggests the Inactive Phase was moving east and fading while the Active Phase was moving slowly into the far West Pacific. A week from now (8/3) dead neutral anomalies are forecast over the entire Western equatorial Pacific with light east anomalies over the Eastern Pacific. This would suggest a neutral Phase of the MJO or at best a mildly Active Phase in the West with the Inactive Phase existing to the east. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 7/25 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 peaking one week from now (8/1) just west of the dateline then fading slightly while continuing to ease east 2 weeks out. The Inactive Phase is to start building in the Indian Ocean. This Active Phase should continue 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 this last Inactive Phase only having a 14 day duration. 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, but nothing more.
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 7/26 indicated no effective change in the warmest anomalies occurring off Columbia, regardless of the recent weak Inactive Phase (but that could take 90 days to materialize in the east). The coverage has held steady, through it has lost ground in Baja, previous pushing 50% of the way up the peninsula but now retreating back towards Cabo San Lucas.This suggests local north winds driven by high pressure along the California coast are still dominant. 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).
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 mid-July in the East Pacific were certainly attributable to the warmer waters temps building near the equator and the Active phase of the MJO over that portion of the Pacific. 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 on the bubble as of this date. Historical Note: It is 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 there's suggestions of a gale forming southeast of New Zealand (Wed-Thurs 8/2) with southwest winds in the 45 kt range and lifting somewhat to the northeast, with seas to 34 ft. It's a long ways from this being a reality, but something to monitor. The models have not been doing a great job over the long term, so don't expect much.
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".
Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
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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