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 (8/7) North and Central CA had local windswell producing waves in the waist high range and blown by northwest winds. Not inspiring. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was knee to maybe thigh high and clean. Southern hemi swell showing on the buoys was all but shadowed. Southern California up north was knee high or so and blown in the afternoon. Down south waves were chest high with a few bigger sets and reasonably clean coming from the southern hemi. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with trades and sideshore conditions. The South Shore was waist high with a few bigger sets 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 trying to build into the Central CA coast but not quite making it yet. Trades were in control of the Islands at 15 kts making for tiny east windswell. But in all things were pretty quiet. Finally late Wednesday (8/8) high pressure is to push east stronger 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, but only in the modest size range with a local eddy developing. Trades to hold at 15 kts for the Hawaiian Islands holding into Friday (7/10) but with only minimal east windswell resulting. A bit of tropical activity was occurring in the West Pacific, but all tracking west offering nothing for our forecast area. As the Active Phase of the MJO travels east over the next week the focus of the tropical activity is to move east with it.
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 real 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 real for our forecast area. Looking at the models a solid storm is forecast developing well off Southern Chile by Thurs (8/9) and just barely in the California swell window with up to 38 ft seas building pushing northeast and developing further but pushing out of even the Southern CA swell window. This one is better suited for Central America southward though a little pulse of energy could radiate north. At this point Fall looks like the best option.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Tuesday (8/7) the North Pacific high pressure system remained at 1028 mbs centered in the Western Gulf of Alaska and easing east just barely nosing into the US West Coast near Central CA generating a small fetch of north winds at 20 kts hear Pt Conception and minimal north short period local windswell. It was also generating easterly trades at 15 kts over the Hawaiian Islands and immediate vicinity resulting in weak small east windswell along East facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the core of the high is to start moving east starting to generate the usual pressure gradient over Central CA by Wednesday (8/8) producing 20 kt north winds mainly south of San Francisco but building north to Cape Mendocino by late Wednesday/early Thursday and reaching 25 kts late focusing more up towards Cape Mendocino. These winds to blow over nearshore waters making a choppy mess but offering building short period raw north local windswell. And eddy flow to start developing over Central CA Friday as the gradient moves fully over Cape Mendocino with north winds holding at 25 kts and cleaner conditions prevail nearshore south of Pt Reyes.
As the high eases east trades to hold over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts through Thursday (8/9) resulting in more minimal short period east windswell for east facing shores. But by Friday trades to falter and the windswell to fade with it.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday AM (8/7) Tropical storm Haikui was about to make landfall over China with winds 60 kts and tracking west-northwest. Haikui is to move inland and fade. No swell is forecast for our forecast area.
Also a tropical storm was located in the far West Pacific traveling northwest from Wake Island with winds 40 kts and continuing to look very disorganized. It is forecast to track slowly northwest towards extreme northern Japan with winds fading to 35 kts. No swell to result for our area.
The models suggest a small system forming Thursday (8/9) 2000 nmiles due south of Pt Conception tracking west, then stalling and fading over the weekend. No swell to result. A stronger system to develop right behind in the same area early next week. Also another small system is forecast for the West Pacific early next week too. Something to monitor but no swell production is obvious as of this date.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (8/7) north winds were again the norm for Central CA on up into Northern CA with high pressure starting to move into the area. An eddy flow continued for Southern CA Wednesday those winds to build stronger into North CA and up to 20 kts. By Thursday north 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. If anything an eddy flow to develop nearshore on Friday for all of Central CA and expanding some over the weekend as the fetch holds over Northern CA. reinforcing high pressure to push into the Pacific northwest on Monday (8/13) with north winds pushing 30 kts over Cape Mendocino generating local north windswell pushing down the Central CA coast but the eddy flow to hold reaching up into Pt Arena. Southern CA to remain in an eddy flow for the next 7 days.
Jet stream - On Tuesday (8/7) more of the same is occurring with a split jetstream pattern locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch pushing generally flat east from a very southerly position down at 71S, effectively over Antarctic Ice and offering no support for gale development down in lower levels of the atmosphere. A trough was present in the far Eastern Pacific with winds 110 kts offering only minimal support for gale development relative to Chile and Peru. Over the next 72 hours a pocket of 130 kt winds is to move towards the trough in the far East Pacific lifting the jet a bit northward by Wednesday (8/8) but quickly shifting east of the California swell window offering increased odds for gale development off Southern Chile. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to hold off Chile into Saturday (8/11) then collapse with the whole jet sweeping flat east down at 70S and eliminating odds for gale development into Monday. Interestingly a new possible trough is forecast forming under New Zealand on Tues (8/140 with 160 kts winds trying to push north of the Ross Ice Shelf. Something to monitor.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Tuesday (8/7) high pressure at 1032 mbs was well 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 over the West and Central Pacific. A gale was trying to organize southeast of Southern Chile with south winds to 35 kts, but not strong enough to do anything of interest.
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast developing in the deep Southeast Pacific over Antarctic Ice Wednesday (8/8) with 45-50 kt southwest winds becoming exposed while lifting northeast with seas building to 34 ft in the evening at 59S 125W. Thursday AM (8/9) a large fetch of 45-50 kts southwest winds are forecast building seas to 39 ft at 56S 119W on the edge of the CA swell window and lifting northeast in the evening with seas to 44 ft at 54S 111W and effectively out of even the Southern CA swell window but targeting Central America and South America well. Fetch is to fade from 40-45 kts Friday AM (8/10) with seas dropping from 40 ft at 50S 100W targeting Chile and Peru well. A quick fade to follow. This system to just barely be in the Southern CA swell window but should push solid swell towards Chile and Peru assuming this system 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 Sun (8/12) from 190 degrees (1.5 ft @ 17 secs - 2.0-2.5 ft).
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 ridging into the Pacific Northwest with 25 kt north winds and the local pressure gradient holding over Cape Mendocino through Monday (8/13) and then being reinforced Tuesday with winds to 30 kts there with and eddy flow remaining in effect for all of South, Central and even part of North CA. continued windswell expected for at least Central CA with decent conditions. There's a hint of low pressure developing in the Western Gulf Sunday (8/12) and circulating in some form into Tues (8/14), but fetch is to be minimal with no seas of interest forecast. At last its a nudge in the right direction.
Trades relative to Hawaii to falter falling to 10-15 kts by Friday (8/10) and holding there if not just 10 kts through the weekend into early next week 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 Tuesday (8/7) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -5.40 (negative or nearly so for 17 consecutive days). The 30 day average was down some at -1.68 with the 90 day average down to -5.64. This looks like nearly the end of a mild Active Phase of the MJO.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a small area of moderate to strong west anomalies holding over the Maritime Continent (WPac) near 160E with light west anomalies over the dateline. Neutral anomalies elsewhere. This suggests the Active Phase was weakly in control of the West Pacific and moving east some. A week from now (8/15) moderate to strong east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent with west anomalies covering a good area of the East Pacific. This would suggest not a weak Inactive Phase but possibly a moderate Inactive Phase building in the West and the existing weak Active Phase slowly migrating out of the Pacific to the east. The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 8/6 are in agreement suggesting that a weak version of the Active Phase is falling apart while tracking east near the dateline while the Inactive Phase is weakly building in the Indian Ocean. Both suggest the Active Phase is to exit east over the next week while the Inactive Phase builds to moderate plus strength over the Maritime Continent tracking east 1-2 weeks from now. 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. this in turn could disrupt building favorable conditions for the coming Fall and Winter season.
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 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 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 8/6 indicate no effective change in the warmest anomalies occurring off Columbia, regardless of ongoing MJO phases. But no apparent reinforcements in the form of a Kelvin Wave are in the pipe either. 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. Drought conditions over portions of North America are another indicator. The high 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 a new high pressure system is to develop over New Zealand at 1028 mbs building to 1036 mbs on Tues (8/14) but not pushing as much south as previous systems. There's even a hint of a gale forming just south of ice free waters in the Central Pacific that evening. 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: 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