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 Tuesday (8/18) North and Central California had more locally generated northwest windswell but with a little more period resulting in waves waist high or so with a bit of texture on it early. Southern California had knee high northwest locally generated windswell with maybe a few thigh high sets at top spots and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The East Shore had shoulder high east swell from Guillermo hitting exposed breaks. The South Shore had some rare waist high sets, mostly just wrap around from the East Shore.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for slowly fading locally generated north windswell dropping to the waist high range on Thursday (8/20) then starting to rebound a little over the weekend (5 ft @ 8 secs) to the chest high range. Also some form of small southern hemi swell from a storm that was off the Ross Ice Shelf last week is expected to arrive in time for the weekend at 2.5 ft @ 17 secs (3.5-4 ft faces) on Saturday and holding into Sunday (8/23). Southern California is to remain effectively flat through the week until late Friday when the southern hemi swell starts showing to 2 ft @ 18 secs (3.5-4.0 ft faces) holding Saturday into Sunday (3 ft @ 15 secs - 4.5 ft faces). The North Shore of Hawaii is to remain flat for the next 7 days. The East Shore is already starting to see a little energy from Guillermo and is to continue at 6.5 ft @ 10-11 secs on Wednesday (7 ft faces) retreating into pure windswell on Thursday (4 ft @ 9 secs - 3.5 ft faces) and fading out. But local northeast windswell is to move in right behind on Friday and slowly fading through the weekend. The South Shore is expecting to see some sideband southern hemi swell by late Wednesday pushing 2 ft @ 16 secs (3.5 ft faces) on Thursday (8/20), when swell from a storm that was off the Ross Ice Shelf arrives (more below).
Looking out over the long term a storm formed just off the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf on Wed/Thurs (8/13) tracking east with 50-55 kt winds confirmed and generating confirmed seas of 38 ft just barely ice free, pushing more towards Central America than north towards the US or Hawaii. Still some rideable sideband swell is expected in to Hawaii by Thurs (8/20) and the mainland by Sat/Sun (8/23). And that system reformed with a double pulse on Sun/Mon (8/17) in the Southeast Pacific producing 32 ft seas, with Mondays pulse pushing a bit more energy to the north. Decent utility class swell is expected in US Mainland Mon-Wed (8/26). Up north the models keep teasing about something in the Gulf of Alaska about 4-6 days out, but that is not really believable just yet. But historically 8/15 was when the North Pacific Fall swell window opened, so it is not out of the question.
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 450 nmiles west of Oregon ridging northeast into British Columbia and generating the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino CA producing north winds there at 25 kts resulting in limited north windswell for Central CA. This high was also producing a pressure gradient with the remnants of Tropical Storm Guillermo tracking northwest and 330 nmiles northeast of Hawaii resulting in 40 kt winds between the two aimed mostly to the west, but likely still pushing some windswell down towards the Hawaiian Islands. A second high pressure center was positioned over the dateline and south of the Aleutians, not producing any fetch but bound to the east, likely setting up reinforcements for high pressure off the US West coast. Over the next 72 hours Guillermo is to head off to the northwest and slowly dissipate, though possibly making it to nearly the dateline before completely disintegrating. There is persistent rumors fostered by the models of a low pressure system building in the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska on Thursday (8/20) and sinking southeast while interacting with high pressure northeast of Hawaii possibly generating minimal gale force winds producing 20 ft seas at 48N 142W Friday AM (8/21). But that is hardly believable. Still it's something to monitor. Otherwise that same high pressure system is to push some decent 15-20 kt northeast fetch into the Hawaiian Islands by Thursday (8/20) resulting in increase tradewind windswell along east facing shores there.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (8/18) high pressure at 1028 mbs was holding off the Pacific Northwest producing the usual pressure gradient and north winds at 25 kt up at Cape Mendocino, but pulled away from the coast south of there with generally light winds in effect. The local gradient is forecast to dissipate on Wednesday on reaming non-existent through Friday (8/21). high pressure might try to get a nose into Cape Mendocino on Saturday resulting in 25 kt north winds there and some building windswell into early next week, but local winds to remain light from Pt Arena southward and into early Tuesday (8/25) as a building low pressure pattern takes over the Gulf.
On Tuesday (8/18) Tropical Storm Guillermo was positioned 330 nmiles north of the Big Island of Hawaii and rapidly decaying, but not expected to fade completely. It was generating a pressure gradient as it interacted with high pressure off to it's northeast, which was generating the majority of the 40 kt westerly winds reported in it's north quadrant. Most of this fetch was aimed well north of the Islands, though some portion of small windswell is expected to continue being generated pushing south. Windswell of 6.5 ft @ 10-11 secs (7 ft faces) is expected on Wednesday (8/19) fading to 4.1 ft @ 9 secs (3.5 ft faces) on Thursday (8/20), then dissipating.
The Active Phase of the MJO is fading over the East Pacific, which likely will reduce the odds of tropical storm formation over the coming days for the next 3 weeks:
Tropical Storm Vamco was positioned 650 nmiles east of Saipan (and a bit west of the dateline) tracking almost due north with sustained winds 50 kts and forecast to build to near 105 kts by Saturday (8/23) while holding on that unusual northern heading. This is good news. It is expected to eventually get picked up by the jetstream and head northeast towards the Gulf of Alaska a week out. But for now, it is only of interest to the shipping lanes. No immediate swell production is forecast.
On Tuesday (8/18) and extremely muddled jetstream pattern was in play, with the northern branch still flowing more or less flat west to east on the 30S latitude through undulating and weak. The southern branch was a mess with portions of energy going every which way, though a defined ridge was pushing hard to the south of the Central Pacific with another behind it pushing south under New Zealand. A trough was in the extreme Southeast Pacific with 130 kt winds pushing north, but almost east of the US swell window. Only this trough held any potential, and that was weak. Over the next 72 hrs a major ridge is to continue pushing hard to the south over the Southwest Pacific totally shutting down any odds for gale formation there. A weak trough is to persist in the far Southeast Pacific, but outside the US swell window targeting only Chile and Peru. Beyond 72 hours that ridge in the Southwest Pacific is to hold and push east, totally shutting down any potential for gale development over the vast majority of the South Pacific. And with Antarctic Ice at it's actual maximum, to near 62S in the West and 67S in the west, that further minimizes the real estate available for productive gale development.
At the surface on Tuesday (8/18) high pressure at 1024 mbs was well southeast of New Zealand ridging over the Ross Ice Shelf and totally blocking the storm corridor in the center of the South Pacific. The remnants of the New Zealand Storm (see details below) continued circulating in the far Southeast Pacific with winds to near 40 kts east, but were fading fast and effectively gone mid-day as far a swell production goes. No other swell producing systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours high pressure at 1028 mbs is to remain locked down right in the middle of the storm corridor in the Central South Pacific totally eliminating any odds for gale development.
New Zealand Storm
A vigorous storm started building fast on Wednesday AM (8/12) over the Ross Ice Shelf with 50 kt west-southwest winds confirmed at 60S 175W aimed 20 degrees east of the 205 degree great circle path to CA and in the heart of the Tahitian swell shadow 45 degrees east of the 188 degree path to Hawaii. 30 ft seas were modeled building at 60S 180W just barely ice free. In the evening 50-55 kts winds were confirmed moving rapidly northeast to 55S 158W aimed 30-35 degrees east of the 203 degree path to CA and 65 degree east of the 180 degree path to Hawaii. 38 ft seas were modeled at 58S 165W and building, moving a little more clear of the Ross Ice Shelf. The Jason-1 satellite passed over the southeast quadrant and reported seas 36.4 ft with a peak reading on 41 ft were the model suggest seas should have been 32-33 ft. This was much better than what was expected. Winds were fading fast Thursday AM (8/13) from 40 kts, not adding any energy to the seas generated the day before. 38 ft seas from previous fetch were modeled at 56S 156W and fading fast. Thursday PM no fetch of interest was forecast with seas fading from 33 ft at 55S 146W. The Jason01 satellite passed over this area and confirmed seas at 32.4 ft with a peak reading to 37.1 ft where the model suggested 30 ft seas. Again, the models appeared to be on the low side.
Some minimal background sideband energy is expected to travel north towards the Islands with larger but slightly shadowed energy pushing up towards the US mainland. But the main issue here is that although the Jason-1 satellite reported seas higher than what was modeled, almost all the fetch was aimed well east of any great circle path to either Hawaii or the US mainland, instead focused more on Central and South America.
Expect swell to arrive in Hawaii on Thurs early AM (8/20) with swell pushing to 2 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.5-4.0 ft faces) in the afternoon. Swell fading from 2 ft @ 15 secs (3.0-3.5 ft faces) on Fri (8/21). Swell Direction: 182-186 degrees
Expect swell arrival in California on late Friday afternoon in SCal with swell 1.5 ft @ 19 secs (2.5-3.0 ft faces) and building overnight. Swell to peak early Sat (8/22) in SCal and late in NCal at 2.5 ft @ 17 secs (4.0-4.5 ft faces with top spots to 5.0 ft). Period dropping to 16 secs on Sunday. Swell Direction: 205 degrees SCal/202 degrees NCal.
Second Pulse - From the Southeast Pacific
On Saturday (8/15) the remnants of the New Zealand Storm (see details above) were positioned mostly over the Ross Ice Shelf, though a fragment of it's winds in the 30-35 kt range were still blowing over Ice free waters at 52S 145W resulting in a small area of 30 ft seas off the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at 58S 150W.All of this was aimed due east towards Chile rather than north towards US interests. This system reorganized better in the Southeast Pacific lifting a bit north on Sunday AM (8/16) with central pressure 948 mbs (over Antarctic Ice) with a fetch of 40-45 kt southwest winds building at 50S 140W generating 30 ft seas at 54S 147W aimed 40 degrees east of the 192 degree route into California. That fetch continued into Sunday evening aligned about the same way with 35-40 kt southwest winds at 49S 130W aimed 45 degree east of the 190 degree path to NCal (193 SCal) generating 32 ft sea at 48S 138W. Some form of 16-17 sec swell is expected to push north towards CA, though Central and South America to get the best of it.
A secondary decent push of 40 kt south winds occurred Monday AM (8/17) at 53S 140W aimed almost straight to the north generating more 32 ft seas at 54S 130W holding into the evening with more 32 ft seas at 52S 132W, then fading after that. A better pulse of small swell is to result tracking up into the California and Central America swell windows.
Southern CA: Expect swell arrival on Mon (8/24) at 2.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (4 ft faces with top spot to 5 ft) holding at 2.3 ft @ 16 secs (4 ft faces) on Tues. Additional swell to move in on Tuesday from the second pulse at 3 ft @ 17 secs (5 ft faces with top spots to 6 ft). Swell to continue Wednesday at 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5-5.0 ft faces) then fading into late Thursday (8/27) Swell Direction: 193 degrees.
Northern CA: Expect swell arrival on Mon (8/24) at 2.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (4 ft faces with top spot to 5 ft) holding at 2.6 ft @ 16 secs (4 ft faces) on Tues. Additional energy from the second pulse to arrive late Tuesday pushing up to 3 ft @ 16 secs on Wednesday (5 ft faces with top spots to 6 ft), then settling down into Thursday and early Fri (8/28). 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 the high pressure system in the Northeast Pacific is to retrograde fully, falling back west to almost the dateline and totally opening up the Gulf of Alaska by Tuesday (8/25). Theoretically more low pressure, one in a long line of pulses that has been migrating northeast off Japan for 2+ weeks now, is to get sucked up the western flank of it, arch north to the Aleutians, then drop southeast into the Gulf while building. To post any details at this early date would be pure speculation, but it appears that just maybe a pattern might start building and the Fall season might kick off, right on time. At the same time a string of tropical low pressure systems is modeled following in the footsteps of Felicia and Guillermo tracking a bit further south, right towards the Big Island. Note: It is always the El Nino years that the Islands are in most danger of a direct hit. And it is always the El Nino years when the strongest storm form, typically late in the tropical season. Just something to remember and something to monitor, though no specific threat is apparent at this time.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (8/18) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was moving into the Inactive Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remained just bit in negative territory, but not much. The Daily SOI index was down to 1.40 ending what was a 25 day negative run (since 7/21), typical of the Active Phase. The 30 day average was holding at -4.15 and the 90 day average was up to 0.85. The SOI index has regaining some of the ground it lost when the MJO went Inactive in early July, but not much.
Wind anomalies modeled at the 850 mb level (approx 1000 ft up) indicated that a strong area of easterly anomalies remained over the Philippines with lesser winds reaching to the dateline and east of there while extending back into the Indian Ocean and nearly Africa. This was the strongest Inactive Phase we've seen since April 2009 right before the start of a 3 consecutive Active Phase run in May and June. This current Inactive Phase is modeled much larger and stronger than previous forecasts. The models expect these easterly anomalies to hold solid through 9/1 reaching well into the Central and Eastern Pacific before slowly dissipating, but still not gone even by 9/6, with weak easterly anomalies still present over much of the equatorial Pacific. This is not good news. It will be quite interesting to see how much steam this Inactive Phase takes out of the developing El Nino, and whether it undercuts the developing warm pool in the east equatorial Pacific. Meanwhile the current Active Phase is making it's last stand over the far equatorial East Pacific and Central America gone by 8/24. A new Active Phase is forecast to start building over the Indian Ocean on 9/1. The model suggest this Active Phase is looking to be a weak event too. More bad news.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (8/18) 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 and are now pushing up over the California coast too. Much cooler than normal waters (-2.5 deg C) are mirrored streaming off Africa and pushing east, now reaching South America. This is probably the height of this Atlantic event. Looking back in the records, exactly the same flow developed during the big El Nino of 1997 and is likely to suppress Atlantic hurricane actively due solely to the frigid water temps.
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) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America. Another Kelvin Wave is migrating east from 165W, the result of a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) in the West Pacific on 7/25-8/2. It is 2 deg C above normal and building while feeding the warm water pump, providing reinforcements on the way to Ecuador. This is critical to the formation of a legitimate El Nino, but will take 2 months from the time it is generated to reach it's target (9/27 or so).
Of some interest is the appearance of more fully blowing westerly winds in the far West Pacific and developing westerly anomalies reaching to the dateline (starting 8/12). Only anomalies remains as of 8/18 but do not appear to be going anywhere. Looking at the models dead slack winds are forecast on the equator from the dateline west for the next week too. This almost makes no sense considering what the models are saying regarding the strong Inactive Phase supposedly in-play. Looking to the QuikSCAT satellite it's data also confirms that slack winds or limited west winds (10 kts) were blowing up to the dateline. So apparently 1000 ft up the winds are blowing hard east, but at the surface (the only thing that matters in regard to developing El Nino) winds are west. This is good news. If this pattern were to hold, even for 5 more days while the Inactive Phase is building in the West, it would be a significant event in that it could stimulate yet another Kelvin Wave. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.
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. It is certainly doing much better for much longer than last year. But the picture remains muddled. 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 was the case in late July into early August, but that pattern appears to be breaking. That coupled with the solid accumulation of warm water in the equatorial East Pacific is evidence in-favor of continued development. As long as there continues to be WWB's, then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold if not build, and the atmosphere above it will respond in kind to the change (towards El Nino). Therefore, in our minds the delineation of whether development will continue versus stall is dependent upon more WWBs. The next weeks wind activity 98/17-8/24) on the equator near the dateline might help to clarify what is really occurring.
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 (i.e.or whether another WWB will occur - as is maybe happening even now on 8/15),. A final confirmation should be possible in Sept. In the mean time, 21 days of the Inactive Phase are setting up with vigor. 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 storm and swell enhancement, 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.
An update to the Stormsurf El Nino forecast page remains in-work and should be posted in a few days.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast. A total shutdown of the South Pacific is 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table