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 Saturday (8/8) North and Central California had some bare minimal southern hemi background swell to waist high on the sets at south facing breaks from a tiny and short lived gale that was in the Southeast Pacific last week with limited waist high locally generated northwest windswell and reasonably clean conditions early at north facing breaks. Southern California had some shin to knee high northwest windswell up north and up to waist high southern hemi background swell from the same southern hemi gale down south with fog early but clean. Top spots had some chest high peaks. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The East Shore had waist to chest high east windswell with onshore winds. The South Shore still had some tiny background southern hemi swell with waves to thigh high on the sets and brisk trades in control.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for more thigh to perhaps waist high southern hemi background swell on Sunday (8/9) with local chest high north windswell building on top. That southern hemi swell is to be gone on Monday but the north windswell is to hold, then start dropping on Tuesday and gone by Wed (8/12), making a slight return Thursday into next weekend (8/15). Southern California is to see more thigh to waist high background southern hemi swell into early Sunday (8/9) then fading out with virtually nothing expected through next week and into next weekend. Maybe some shin to knee high windswell up north late next week, but that's it. The North Shore of Hawaii is to be flat for the next 7 days. The East Shore is to continue seeing steady short period east windswell in the near chest high range through the weekend, then coming up later Monday as Felicia rounds the corner north of the Big Island with waves 2 ft overhead into Tuesday, then fading out entirely. The South Shore is in retreat with no surf forecast for the next 7 days.
Looking at the models virtually nothing of interest is forecast in the southern hemi for the next 7 days. There some hints of a gale just off the Northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf 5-6 days out, but even if it does form all the fetch is to be aimed at Southern Chile. No hope here. Of slightly more interest is the North Pacific. Felicia is steaming towards the Big Island with winds 80 kts and heading due west while weakening, currently forecast to collide with the Big Island on Tuesday AM. See details below in the Tropical section. Energy streaming east off Japan is to try and condense in the Western Gulf later this coming week into next weekend (8/15), possibly providing a shot at windswell for the US West Coast beyond. But that's a very optimistic guess. And the active phase of the MJO continues to feed El Nino as it plods forward, possibly setting up a decent pattern for the Fall. But until then, we suffer with a severe lack of any activity, caught in the doldrums of summer and not quite to the start of Fall yet.
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 positioned 1000 nmiles west of Central CA and 900 north-northeast of Hawaii filling the area from the dateline east but not reaching up into the northern Gulf of Alaska. It was generating easterly trades at 15 kts over a decent sized fetch covering the Hawaiian Islands and producing limited easterly short period windswell. The high pressure systems was also ridging into Central California generating north winds at 20-25 kts off Pt Arena resulting in limited small and weak north windswell for exposed breaks in Central CA. A large pool of low pressure that was circulating northeast of the Philippines was moving inland over China, dragging tropical activity with it and preparing to close the door on any future activity, at east for the near term. Over the next 72 hours the most immediate issue will be Felicia relative to Hawaii (see Tropics Section for details). Otherwise the high pressure system off California is to evaporate early next week and windswell generation for the West Coast is to fade out. A decent sized gale is forecast starting to push off Japan early Tuesday (8/11) providing something to look at, but not much more as a tranquil pattern sets up. Still, the overall pattern is not too bad.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (8/8) high pressure at 1028 mbs was building off Central CA ridging into the Pacific Northwest and generating modest northwest winds near the coast from Cape Mendocino south to the Channel Islands at 20 kts, generating small windswell and nearshore lump. The gradient over Cape Mendocino is to build some on Sunday with winds to 25 ks, but is to ease to the south, only reaching Monterey Bay.A slight increase in windswell likely but improving conditions likely for Morro Bay. Still kind of raw north of Pillar Point. On Monday the gradient is to start withering and is to be effectively gone on Tuesday with light winds in control for the entire state (other than Cape Mendo) through Thursday (8/13). A very weak local gradient is forecast returning on Friday with 15 kt nearshore winds just hugging the coast from Pt Conception northward making for nearly chopped conditions into at least Sat (8/15). Southern CA to remain protected from all of this.
The Active Phase of the MJO and a building El Nino remained having a positive impact on tropical storm formation:.
On Saturday (8/8) Tropical Storm Morakot was emerging on the west side of Taiwan with sustained winds 45 kts, expected to hit 50 kts before moving inland over China on Sunday AM (8/9). No swell production is forecast in association with it relative to our forecast area.
Tropical Depression Gone was inland over Southern China, has re-emerged off North Vietnam with sustained winds 30 kts. It is expected to swing east and northeast moving over Hong Kong on Tues AM (8/11) with winds to 40 kts. No swell relative to our area forecast.
Tropical low pressure system Enrique was positioned midway between Central Baja and Hawaii with winds below depression status and dissipating while pulling over cold water. No swell production for Hawaii or CA is forecast.
As of the 5 Am update Sat (8/9) Hurricane Felicia had sustained winds of 80 kts positioned 805 nmiles due east of the Big Island of Hawaii moving due west at 13 kts. This mornings satellite image continued to indicate a well organized storm. An Air Force reconnaissance flight is scheduled for the eye this afternoon to confirm what otherwise is model and satellite based wind speed estimates. Previously on Thurs AM (8/6) Felicia was up to a Category 4 strength with winds at 115 kts positioned 1290 nmiles east-southeast of the Big Island of Hawaii and tracking west-northwest. Latest estimates suggest winds are to be down to 30 kts as the core of this system pulls up to the Big Island early Tuesday morning (8/11). But decent swell is likely already generated from when this storm was peaking out on Thurs with period at 15 secs likely arriving Saturday (8/8) at sunset along exposed southeast shores of the Big Island. Unfortunately there are no active buoys to monitor whether this forecast is accurate. East to northeast windswell is expected into exposed east facing shores of the remaining Islands starting late Monday at 6.3 ft @ 11 secs (7 ft faces) as the storm moves into local waters.
On Saturday (8/8) the northern branch of the Southern Hemisphere jetstream remained dominant pushing straight east-southeast from the 30S degree latitude into Southern Chile. A strong ridge dominated the southern branch flowing southeast of New Zealand into Antarctica, shutting off any hope for surface level gale potential in the US swell windows. Over the next 72 hrs the same pattern if not worse is forecast, with a strong ridge taking control of almost the entire South Pacific pushing hard over the Ross Ice Shelf and sweeping to the east. No hope for gale development. Beyond 72 hours the ridge in the Southwest Pacific is to start moderating by Wednesday (8/12) and slowly lifting northeast with a weak trough forecast over the Ross ice Shelf Thursday and holding into the weekend (8/15). But the northern most extent of that trough is to be at 58S, just barely above the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. This is not a hopeful configuration. .
At the surface on Saturday (8/8) high pressure at 1032 mbs was located just east of New Zealand ridging hard to the southeast mirroring the ridge in the upper levels of the atmosphere and reaching south to just about Antarctica, blocking the South Pacific storm corridor. Virtually no swell producing fetch was located in the US swell window. Over the next 72 hours that high pressure system southeast of New Zealand is to hold but lift north, allowing eastward moving low pressure to undercut it and sort of open the storm door, but only traveling over ice covered waters of the Ross Ice Shelf. This is of no effect use to anyone. No swell producing fetch forecast.
On Thursday PM (7/30) a new system built in the Southeast Pacific with a small area of 40 kt south to southeast winds at 43S 130W and a small area of seas to near 29 ft at 43S 133W building. Winds were up to 45 kts Friday AM at 50S 120W aimed due north up the 180 degree path to Southern CA. 30 ft seas were forecast at 45S 117W late Friday morning. But those winds swung totally aimed to the east 12 hrs later aimed only at Chile. Low odds of anything resulting for Southern CA. The momentum was more to the east favoring Chile.
Weak southern hemi background swell of 2 ft @ 15 secs (2.5-3.0 ft faces) is expected for South and Central CA on Sat (8/8) holding to 2.3 ft @ 13-14 secs Sun. Swell Direction: 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 Felicia is to pass west either over or just north of the Hawaiian Islands and dissipate while a broad gale (for the time of year) tries to coalesce east of Japan. A brief burst of 35 kts winds are forecast late Tuesday (8/11) then the gale is to fade and stretch out as it moves east to the dateline. The remnants of Felicia might get absorbed into it as it merges with low pressure in the Bering Sea, possibly setting up a front and fetch of 30-35 kt west winds briefly in the Western Gulf of Alaska on Saturday (8/15). This might generate some windswell pushing east towards the US West Coast, but that is a highly speculative forecast. Otherwise high pressure is to remain slack in the East Pacific with no real trades for the Islands and no real north winds for the West Coast, resulting in no local windswell for either. The models hint at more tropical activity heading for the Islands by next weekend, but that's just a guess. So for now we wait to see if the North Pacific is ready to come out of hibernation, but in all reality, it's still about 2 weeks early for that.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Saturday (8/8) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in a moderate Active Phase. This was the first Active Phase since 6/23 when the last of three consecutive Active pulses took control starting April 20th. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained essentially neutral. The Daily SOI index was down to -10.68 (no updates since Thurs 8/6) and has been negative (or nearly so) for the past 17 days (since 7/21). The 30 day average was down to -1.0 and the 90 day average was up slightly to -1.69. The SOI index was trying to regain some of the ground it lost when the MJO went Inactive in early July. Wind anomalies at the surface and the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated weak and fading westerly wind anomalies, the signal of a weak Active Phase, continuing from the extreme Eastern Indian Ocean into the West Pacific, not even reaching the dateline anymore. The models suggest the Active Phase is to hold this position in the West Pacific through 8/13, then dissipate by 8/17 with neutral conditions following through 8/27. Virtually no sign of the Inactive Phase is forecast through that period, but we know it will materialize. As of late July we had been thinking that all the momentum associated with consecutive instances of the Active Phase of the MJO in the Spring and early Summer of 2009 had dissipated, and with it the mechanism that had been pushing warm water from the West to the East Pacific (more below). But Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (7/30-8/3) indicates that a solid area of warmer than normal water extends over the equator from the dateline east and building into Central/South America with temps to 2.0 deg C above normal. This is suggestive of a moderate El Nino. These warmer waters are pushing north up the coast of Baja Mexico, but have retreated from Southern CA. Much cooler than normal waters (-2.5 deg C) are mirrored streaming off Africa and building while pushing east, now reaching South America. This is highly suggestive of a burst of perhaps southeasterly winds building across the equatorial South Atlantic. Looking back in the records, exactly the same flow developed during the big El Nino of 1997. So this is not unfamiliar territory (there is a reverse teleconnection between the Pacific and the Atlantic from a surf perspective i.e. what's good for the Pacific hampers the Atlantic, and visa versa). This is likely to completely suppress Atlantic hurricane actively due solely to the frigid water temps. We also closely examined this warm pool of surface waters off Central America in the Pacific and found that it had not lost any ground in June and July, and is doing a good job of holding it's own. So even the relative lack of a strong MJO signal (active phase) during that period has not appeared to hamper the evolution of El Nino. This is what one would expect of a moderate or better El Nino (more on this below). 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 (but starting to dissipate). Previous episodes of the Active Phase had primed the warm water pump and were feeding the warm regime into 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, starting to break the surface near Central America in mid-July. Another Westerly Wind Burst appeared to be developing on 7/6, but faded by 7/12. No Kelvin Wave resulted. So all looked good at a glance, but the lack of any clear symptoms of the Active Phase of the MJO has been perplexing us. But interestingly, another bout of westerly winds appeared on 7/21 extending from New Guinea almost to the dateline and became more pronounced on 7/25 into 8/1. In fact, fully blowing westerly winds were in-charge associated with an area of low pressure there on 7/30 almost reaching to the dateline (not just anomalies). This was a sign of a Westerly Wind Burst. It dissipated on 8/3 but 150 meters down under the equator, warmer water was evidenced building and drifting east, (1 deg C above normal - another Kelvin Wave). As of 8/8 It is under the dateline and tracking east and holding together decently. So the warm water pump is not shut off after all, and if anything, is getting some modest reinforcement. The next week or so 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 (which it is doing) and perhaps a Westerly Wind Burst and a new Kelvin Wave developing (which is happening as of 8/5). The belief at this time is this developing El Nino will not loose it's legs and falter like last year, but will survive in some fashion with effects continuing in the atmosphere until at least the Spring of next year. That is not to say this will be a strong El Nino, more likely a weak to moderate one. NOAA is now also forecasting the same outcome. Of note, some data suggests that during the development of moderate to stronger El Nino's and La Nina's, it is normal for the MJO signal to become exceedingly weak. That certainly has been the case with this most recent MJO episode. That coupled with the solid accumulation of warm water in the equatorial East Pacific is evidence in-favor of continued development. Still, WWB's and/or the Active Phase of the MJO are the mechanism for getting warm water there in the first place. If there is no evidence of them, one would expect the building warm pattern to fall apart. Therefore, in our minds the delineation of whether development will continue versus stalling is yet to be proven. It will be most interesting to monitor the next active phase of the MJO, expected sometime near the 3rd week of Sept, and validate whether water temps hold if not build. A final confirmation would be possible at that time. In the mean time, 21 days of the Inactive Phase, or neutral conditions (if we're lucky) are expected to set up shortly. Strong El Ninos bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast, along with the potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides swell improvements, without necessarily all the weather. So as of right now things remain miles better than anything the Pacific has seen in the past 12 years regarding anomalous sea surface temperatures, besting anything since the big El Nino of 1997. That is very good news. But the lack of a clear response in the atmosphere as evidenced by a unremarkable SOI remains perplexing (even though all other indicators suggest an El Nino is well underway), causing us to remain cautious.
Beyond 72 hours high pressure east of New Zealand is to relax more while lifting north some, allowing a real gale to form under New Zealand on Wed (8/12) with 40 kts west winds building to near 45 kts in the evening at 60S 165W, right on the border between the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf and ice free waters to the north. It's to fade pretty quick though additional fetch is to build right behind on Thursday. Regardless, all this is to be aimed due east if not a bit to the southeast. So even if it does escape the grip of the ice sheet, whatever swell it produces would only be traveling at best towards Chile. No hope here. The blocking high pressure system off New Zealand is to be traveling east continuing to provide a general sense of suppression across the greater South Pacific. So we are to remain locked in an unfavorable pattern for the next 7 days with no swell production excepted.
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