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 Thursday (8/9) North and Central CA had local windswell producing waves in the waist to chest high range and textured by northwest winds early and fog pretty low to the deck. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was thigh to waist high and clean inside the kelp but blowing outside. Southern California up north was thigh to waist high on the sets and wind blowing in the afternoon. Down south waves were waist to maybe chest high and a bit warbled with eddy winds having an impact. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with trades and sideshore bump lapping in. The South Shore was thigh high and weak but clean with light 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 easing towards the Central CA coast generating a typical pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino with winds to 25 kts there producing limited northerly windswell pushing down the coast and unremarkable. Trades were in control of the Islands at 15 kts making for weak easterly windswell. Minimal hurricane Gilma was well southwest of Cabo tracking northwest. High pressure is forecast to surge a little generating a somewhat stronger pressure gradient over North CA resulting in more local windswell for CA for the early weekend then backing off but not fading into early next week. Trades to falter some falling below the 15 kt threshold by Friday and hold there through the weekend into next week with no real windswell expected. Gilma to fade out pretty fast with little to no swell being produced relative to California.
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 other than some background pulse for CA over the weekend (8/11). Of more interest is a storm developing well off Southern Chile on Thurs (8/9) and just barely in the California swell window with up to 38 ft seas building pushing northeast and developing further with seas to 41 ft but pushing out of even the Southern CA swell window. This one is better suited for Central America and points southward. Nothing forecast behind it either.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (8/9) the North Pacific high pressure system was at 1028 mbs centered 600 nmiles west of Oregon nosing into the Pacific Northwest generating the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino down the Central CA coast resulting in a fetch of north winds at 25 kts over North CA producing modest short period local north windswell reaching into exposed breaks in Southern CA. It was also generating easterly trades at 15 kts over the Hawaiian Islands and the immediate vicinity resulting in weak small east windswell along east facing shores.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to try and hold on generate more of the usual pressure gradient over North CA strongest late Friday in to early Saturday (8/11) producing 25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino resulting in more north local windswell for Central CA. The gradient to fade some Sunday then rebuild slightly Mon-Tues (8/14) with the commensurate change in local windswell size. An eddy flow to start developing over Central CA late Friday as the gradient lifts a little north resulting in cleaner conditions at north facing break prevail nearshore south of Pt Reyes.
As the high eases a little north on Friday (8/10) trades to start faltering over the Hawaiian Islands, fading to the 10-15 kt range with less east windswell expected and holding well into the following week.
Also weak low pressure is to try and get a foothold in the Western Gulf of Alaska Saturday (8/11) producing up to 30 kt southwest winds targeting mostly Northern Canada and then fading while tracking northeast on Monday (8/13). No real windswell to result but at least it's the start of a hint of Fall.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Kirogi formed in the far West Pacific on Tuesday (8/7) traveling northwest from Wake Island with winds 40 kts and very disorganized. By Thursday (8/9) it was 500 nmiles south-southeast of the southern most Kuril Islands with winds 35 kts and fading while racing northwest. It is expected to track over the Kuril Islands and dissipate Friday (8/10). No swell to result for our area.
Hurricane Gilma was 1100 nmiles due south of Pt Conception on Thursday (8/9) AM tracking northwest with sustained winds at 65 kts (minimal hurricane force) with seas estimated at 28 ft. Gilmas actually peaked 6 hrs earlier with winds to 70 kts positioned 1100 nmiles from Dana Point on the 180 degree track. Gilma is expected to continue on it's northwesterly course while fading with winds below hurricane force Friday AM (8/10) and quickly dissipating from there. There's some odds for small swell pushing up into the Southern CA swell window, arriving near 1 AM Saturday with period 14 secs. Swell size maybe 2 ft with luck from 180- 182 degrees and even that is optimistic.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (8/9) north winds were building off the North and Central coast again to 25 kts over outer waters and 10 kts or so nearshore, the result of high pressure ridging into the Pacific Northwest. More of the same is forecast Friday as the gradient builds more up to the north. The good news is that by Saturday an eddy flow to develop nearshore for all of Central CA and expanding northward over the weekend as the fetch slowly retreats over Northern CA. Windswell continues but with improving conditions. Reinforcing high pressure to push into the Pacific northwest on Monday (8/13) and Tuesday with north winds still 25 kts over Cape Mendocino generating more local north windswell pushing down the Central CA coast but the eddy flow expanding reaching up into Pt Arena on Tuesday. The gradient to fade starting Wednesday but with the eddy flow holding. Southern CA to remain in an eddy flow for the next 7 days.
Jet stream - On Thursday (8/9) the same old split jetstream pattern was locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch pushing generally flat east from a very southerly position down at 70S, effectively over Antarctic Ice and offering no support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. A trough remained present in the far Eastern Pacific with winds 120 kts offering limited minimal support for gale development relative to maybe Southern CA and better for Chile and Peru. Over the next 72 hours the trough is to hold strength while easing east out of the CA swell window by Sat (8/11) while a strong ridge builds west of it pushing well into Antarctica and eliminating any hope for gale development over the Central and West Pacific. Beyond 72 hours that ridge is to push east and fade but remaining strong enough to shut down gale production in the East Pacific. A new trough is forecast forming under New Zealand on Mon (8/13) with 150 kt winds trying to push north off the Ross Ice Shelf but also tracking east fast. But at this time there's no indication it will successfully penetrate blocking high pressure to it's north and will instead remain locked over Antarctic Ice offering no support for gale production over ice free waters. Another weaker ridge to follow behind Wed-Fri (8/17) pushing the jet down to 72S and continuing the lockdown on gale production.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (8/9) a broad storm had developed in the far Eastern Pacific (see Chilean Storm below). Otherwise a weak pressure pattern was in control over the West and Central Pacific with no swell producing fetch indicated. Over the next 72 hours an utterly benign weather pattern is forecast offering nothing to effect traction on the ocean surface.
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).
A new gale developed in the deep Southeast Pacific over Antarctic Ice Wednesday (8/8) with 45-50 kt southwest winds becoming exposed to ice free waters in the evening while lifting northeast with seas building to 35 ft at 59S 125W. Thursday AM (8/9) a large fetch of 45-50 kts southwest winds were building seas to 39 ft at 56S 119W on the edge of the Southern CA swell window. in fact the Jason-1 satellite passed directly over the core of the fetch at 14Z and confirmed a 15 reading average of 39.9 ft with a single peak reading to 41.3 ft, right in line with what the wave model projected. The fetch is to be lifting northeast in the evening with winds fading from 45 kts and seas to 41 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 39 ft at 50S 108W targeting Chile and Peru well. A quick fade to follow with seas fading from 36 ft at 50S 98W in the evening.
This system was just barely in the Southern CA swell window Thursday AM and is to be moving out by the evening. But that should be enough to push some swell northward and provide a much needed diversion for an otherwise lackluster summer surf season. Far better energy is to be tracking towards Chile and Peru assuming this system plays out as forecast.
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 holding off the extreme Northern CA coast ridging into the Pacific Northwest producing 25 kt north winds and the local pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino through Wednesday (8/15) resulting in limited north windswell for exposed breaks in Central CA. But by late Thursday it is to totally dissipate with no windswell remaining.
Trades relative to Hawaii to hold in the 10-15 kt range by Monday (8/13) continuing through Wednesday, then fall to 10 kts or less beyond with no real windswell expected over the period.
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 (8/9) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -22.64 (negative or nearly so for 19 consecutive days). The 30 day average was down some at -3.36 with the 90 day average down to -6.38.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a small area of moderate west anomalies holding over the Maritime Continent (WPac) near 155E with light west anomalies over the dateline east to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies elsewhere. This suggests the Active Phase was weakly in control of the West Pacific and moving east, likely in the later stages of it's life there. A week from now (8/17) moderate east anomalies are forecast over a large part of the Maritime Continent with west anomalies covering a good portion of the East Pacific from Hawaii eastward. 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 8/7 are in agreement suggesting that a weak version of the Active Phase is all but gone over the Pacific, falling apart while tracking east from Hawaii to Central America while the Inactive Phase is already getting a foothold over the Maritime Continent pushing east. 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. Actually the dynamic model is less aggressive, with the inactive Phase fading 2 weeks out. For now the current Active Phase is continuing to gently pump warm water to the east, but the pending Inactive Phase is forecast to be troublingly strong, and has the potential to interrupt that warm water build-up. This in turn could disrupt the buildup of 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 on Tues (8/14) tracking east through the week pretty much continuing the gale lockdown in the greater South Pacific. No swell production 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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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