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 Sunday (8/5) North and Central CA had small southern hemi swell providing surf in the thigh high range at exposed breaks up north with some warble on top and fog. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was thigh high on the rare sets and clean with fog. Southern California up north was flat with sets knee to maybe thigh high and clean with fog on top. Down south waves were waist high with a rare bigger set and and lined and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with 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 had retrograded and weakened and it's remnants were centered near the dateline offing no hope for local windswell for CA and only weak local trades for Hawaii. No change is forecast till Wednesday (8/8) when high pressure tries to push east again regenerating the typical Central CA pressure gradient with local north winds building to 20 kts and then to 25 kts Thursday and holding into the weekend with local north windswell on the increase for Central CA. Trades to rebuild to maybe 15 kts for the Hawaiian Islands by Tuesday (8/7) holding into Friday but no real east windswell to result. Much tropical fueled activity forecast for the far West Pacific, but all tracking west offering nothing for our forecast area.
Down south a small gale developed southeast of New Zealand on Tues (7/31) tracking flat east with seas to 32 ft but no different than many before it, good for really nothing in terms of rideable swell for either Hawaii or California. Another similar system developed in the Central South Pacific on Thurs (8/2) with 34 ft seas but again tracking flat east and offering nothing for our forecast area. Looking at the models virtually no swell producing storms are forecast in the South Pacific in our forecast area for the next week. A solid storm is forecast off Southern Chile by the end of the workweek targeting Chile, but odds of that occurring are slim to none at this early date. Something to monitor though. So for now we continue in the depths of the summer doldrums. At least the MJO is trending in the right direction and waters temperatures continue to be above normal off Central America teasing at a more productive Winter pattern for the long term. Suffer now with the promise of a better season to come.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Sunday (8/5) the North Pacific high pressure system was at 1028 mbs located just east of the dateline and not reaching the US West Coast and not generating any trades of interest in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands. As a result no windswell of interest was being produced or was in the water.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to start spreading east even though the core is to remain near the on the dateline starting to generate the usual pressure gradient over Central CA by Tuesday (8/7) producing 20 kt north winds mainly south of San Francisco but building north to Cape Mendocino by Wednesday. These winds to blow over nearshore waters making a choppy mess and offing only minimal short period raw north local windswell.
As the high eases east trades to modestly return to the Hawaiian Islands by Tuesday (8/7) at barely 15 kts then filling in a bit more by Wednesday. Minimal short period east windswell likely for east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Saturday evening (8/4) Tropical storm Haikui was 450 nmiles east of China with winds 55 kts and tracking west. Haikui is forecast to build to typhoon strength with winds to 75 kts late Monday just before making landfall. No swell is forecast for our forecast area.
Also a tropical storm was located in the far West Pacific northwest of Wake Island with winds barely 35 kts and looking very disorganized. It is forecast to track slowly north with winds building to 50 kts on Monday (8/6) then turn to the west and fade later in the workweek. No swell to result.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (8/4) a near calm wind pattern was in control of California coastal waters with high pressure retrograded away from the coast. Monday high pressure is to get a toe in over Pt Conception with north winds to 15 kts there and building in coverage on Tuesday over all of Central CA. Wednesday those winds to build into North CA and up to 20 kts. Finally on Thursday winds to hit 25 kts but limited mostly to Northern CA with far lighter winds nearshore from Pt Reyes southward and continuing into the weekend. Southern CA to remain in an eddy flow for the next 7 days.
Jet stream - On Sunday (8/5) the same old split jetstream pattern remained locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch pushing generally flat east from a very southerly position down at 72S, effectively over Antarctic Ice and offering no support for gale development down in lower levels of the atmosphere. It did veer north in the far Eastern Pacific forming a bit of a trough, but winds speeds were only 100 kts and no support for gale development was indicated. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast is our forecast area but a pocket of 120 kt winds is to move into the trough in the far East Pacific late Monday (8/6) offering increased odds for gale development off Southern Chile. Beyond 72 hours another pocket of 140 kt southwest winds are to push into the same area mainly east of the California swell window Wednesday (8/8) and holding into Friday continuing to feed the trough there and supporting gale development relative to Chile and maybe Peru.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Sunday (8/5) high pressure at 1032 mbs was just east of New Zealand ridging south reaching down to 60S almost pushing into the Ross Ice Shelf and pretty much shutting down any swell production there. A gale was trying to organize southeast of Southern Chile but was effectively locked over Ataractic Ice. In short no swell development was occurring.
Over the next 72 hours a gale is to try and develop in the far East Pacific over Antarctic Ice Monday (8/6) lifting northeast Tuesday and becoming exposed to ice free waters Tuesday with winds at 40-45 kts generating seas to 32 ft mid-day at 50S 117W and just barely in the Southern CA swell window. Swell possibly for Chile and Peru with a little pulse for Southern CA assuming this system even forms as forecast.
New Zealand Mini-Gale
A gale formed southeast of New Zealand on Tues (7/31) with southwest winds at 45 kts but tracking just barely north of flat east with seas to 32 ft in the evening at 55S 162W and in the Tahiti swell shadow relative to CA and pushing east of the great circle tracks up to Hawaii. Maybe a pulse of background swell for Southern CA starting late Thursday (8/9) with swell 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft) from 197 degrees.
Second New Zealand Gale
Another small gale formed southeast of New Zealand on Wed (8/1) with 40-45 kts west winds peaking at near 55 kts Thursday AM (8/2) aimed due north but covering only a tiny area. Seas peaked at near 36 ft Thurs PM (8/2) over an infinitesimal area at 56S 138W offering only the faintest odds of swell pushing into the California swell window. Maybe some 17 sec period energy to arrive in Southern CA on Sat (8/11) from 190 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 moving east towards California with 25 kt north winds and the local pressure gradient building over Cape Mendocino and retreating from the bulk of Central CA with increased local north windswell forecast and improving conditions. The gradient to hold into maybe early Saturday (8/11) then back off just a bit, but continue into Sunday with winds still 25 kts and local north windswell continuing.
Trades to hold in the 15 kt range through Thursday (8/9) as the high pushes east with minimal east windswell being generated, then trades to falter down to 10-15 kts by Friday and continuing through the weekend with no windswell resulting.
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 Sunday (8/5) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up to 4.31 but has previously been negative 13 consecutive days. The 30 day average was up some at -1.51 with the 90 day average down to -5.06. This looks like the end 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) with neutral anomalies elsewhere. This suggests the Active Phase was weakly in control of the far West Pacific. A week from now (8/12) light east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent with west anomalies covering a good area just east of the dateline. This would suggest a weak Inactive Phase building in the West and the existing weak Active Phase slowly migrating to the east. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 8/4 are in agreement suggesting that a weak version of the Active Phase is tracking east over the dateline while the Inactive Phase is building in the Indian Ocean. Both suggest the Active Phase is to exit east a week from now while the Inactive Phase builds to moderate plus strength over the Maritime Continent and tracking east. For now the current Active Phase is continuing the warm water pump, but the pending Inactive Phase is troublingly strong, and has the potential to interrupt that warm water build-up.
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 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 8/2 indicated no effective change in the warmest anomalies occurring off Columbia, regardless of ongoing MJO phases. The coverage has held steady. 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 consistent/unrelenting 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 and leave us in limbo with just a neutral pattern in play (normal)? The forecast moderate Inactive Phase in mid-August might just cause that stall. But 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 is to continue to dominate the West and Central Pacific with no indication of swell producing low pressure developing.
By Wednesday (8/8) a new gale is to start developing over Antarctic Ice in the extreme East Pacific with a broad area of 40 kt southwest winds building aimed well at Chile. The models are all over the place concerning the eventual outcome but whatever does develop (if anything) will not be in the California swell window). Chile is to eventual target of whatever materializes. Will 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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Props from the Pros: Stormsurf was mentioned over the past week in two different media sources. One was in an interview Kelly Slater did with the New York Times and another was in a promotional piece Ramon Navarro did for the Big Wave World Tour. Many thanks to Curt Myers from Powerline Productions for alerting us and of course thanks to Kelly, Ramon and the Tour for using our service. Here's the links:
Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
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