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 (8/18) North and Central California was seeing knee high plus background windswell up north with south wind 5 kts early adding a slightly southerly bump to it. Down south there were some knee high sets and chopped. Southern California was effectively flat up north with brisk onshore winds mid-day and chopped. Down south minimal windswell was pushing thigh to waist high on the biggest sets and chopped with northwest winds in effect. Hawaii's North Shore was flat. The South Shore was getting more southern hemi background swell with waves at chest to head high and clean with light trades in effect. The East Shore had knee high easterly tradewind generated windswell with lightly chopped conditions.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
The North Pacific high was gone on Tuesday with no local windswell of interest in the water.Instead weak low pressure was trying to get a foothold in the Northern Gulf of Alaska with a small gale forecast late on Wednesday and perhaps another for Thurs-Fri, but not good fetch is expected to be aimed at anything but Alaska and the Aleutians. At least it's trying. Much activity is forecast for the far Western Pacific too, but all staying in-place there and having no impact on our forecast area. By the weekend high pressure is to return to Cape Mendocino generating generic small north windswell for Central CA and trades with east windswell for Hawaii. Down south a gale alongside of New Zealand produced only a small pulse of 32 ft seas on Tues AM (8/16) pushing north-northwest, with minimal swell currently hitting Hawaii (Tues-Wed 8/24) and expected for CA late Thurs (8/25). Another gale building under New Zealand Mon (8/22) producing a short pulse of 32 ft seas but whatever swell results is to get buried by something bigger behind. A very strong storm is developing Tuesday (8/23) with 50 ft plus seas forecast for 24 hours Wed-Thurs tracking from under New Zealand east-northeastward. A very solid long period swell is expected to result if all goes as planned. Something to look forward to.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
At the surface on Tuesday (8/23) high pressure remained well suppressed over the Northern Pacific with fragments in the 1020 mbs range covering a broad swatch from just off Japan to the California coast, but generating no fetch of interest. trades were light in Hawaii and north winds not present along the CA coast as a result. Weak low pressure was in the Northern Gulf of Alaska but not doing anything. A previous low in this area generated a decent sized fetch of 20-25 kt west winds up at 48N aimed at the Pacific Northwest on Saturday (8/20), fading from 20 kts on Sunday. Small windswell with period in the 10 secs range has hit the Pacific NW with far smaller energy currently trying to reach down to Central CA Tues (8/23) and expected to continue for 2 more days. Unremarkable regardless. Over the next 72 hours a new low is to try and develop in the Northern Gulf on Wed-Thurs (8/25) producing up to 40 kt southwest winds and 18 ft seas, but all targeting Alaska. Maybe some sideband swell to push into Canada. And a second low is to form just south of the Eastern Aleutians on Thurs-Fri (8/26) producing 30-35 kt west winds and 17 ft seas, again good for some small windswell targeting British Columbia and maybe reaching down into the Pac NW longterm. Nothing remarkable though. Also high pressure is to start redeveloping off the CA coast on Thursday (8/15) generating a shallow flow of north winds at 15 kts sweeping down the entire CA coast with some hope for locally generated windswell longer term.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm 14W Nanmadol was 300 nmiles east of the Philippines with winds 45 kts tracking lowly north. It is expected to reach typhoon strength on Thursday AM (8/25) maybe pushing 75 kts over the weekend and slowly turning north-northeast. No significant curvature to the northeast is forecast.
The GFS model has depicts another broader tropical system developing east of Nanmadol Wednesday (8/24) and also tracking/inching north over the weekend into early next week. No significant curvature to the northeast is forecast with no swell production likely relative to our forecast area.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (8/23) high pressure was all but gone off the Northern CA coast with no real winds nearshore or off Cape Mendocino. Relatively slack winds off the CA coast is to hold through mid-Thursday before high pressure tries to get a toehold in by the evening with 15 kt north winds starting to blow over the entire CA coast. Those winds to hold if not build Friday to 20 kts after sunset with the core of the fetch starting to lift north, finally setting up off Cape Mendo on Sat (9/27) at 25 kts late with an eddy flow finally taking over most of Central CA down into Southern CA and continuing unchanged on Sunday. More of the same expected on Monday (8/29) but with core winds down to 20 kts off Cape Mendocino, then rebuilding to 25 kts on Tuesday with the eddy flow holding from Pt Arena south. Maybe up to 30 kt north winds forecast up north by Wed (9/31).
On Tuesday (8/23) a split jetstream pattern continued over the South Pacific with the southern branch running just a bit north of the northern edge of Antarctic Ice across the width of the South Pacific. No defined troughs of interest were occurring though a pocket of 130 kt winds had moved under New Zealand pushing east and was capable of supporting gale development in that region. Over the next 72 hours that wind area is to pushing northeast some almost setting up a trough though winds are to slowly drop to 100 kts by late Wednesday. This to provide some more limited support for gale development in this area. Beyond 72 hours the southern branch of the jet is to continue flowing flat west to east while slowly sinking some to the south 62S latitude (late Sat 8/27), and offering nothing of interest in terms of support for gale development. And by Mon (8/29) a big ridge is forecast taking over the West Pacific sweeping fully into Antarctica.
At the surface on Tuesday AM (8/23) a strong a build storm was positioned under New Zealand. This was easily the most powerful storm of the winter season in the Southern Hemi (see Storm #7S below). Over the next 72 hours no other swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
A strong storm started developing tracking under New Zealand on Tuesday AM (8/23). Southwest winds were modeled at 55 kts with a core to 65 kts (hurricane force) aimed right up the 210 degree path to California (shadowed by Tahiti) and 30 degrees east of the 197 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were on the increase fast from 32 ft just of the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. A large area of 50 kt southwest winds to be in-place in the evening with a solid core to 55 kts all aimed directly up the 208 degree path to California (and shadowed by Tahiti) and blowing 45 degrees east of the 191 degree great circle path to Hawaii. Seas building fast to 45 ft at 57S 180W and pushing just north of flat east.
By Wednesday AM (8/24) a large area of 50-55 kt southwest winds to continue tracking east-northeast aimed right up the 203 degree great circle path to CA and blowing 40 degrees east of the 184 degree path to Hawaii. Seas building to a magnificent 51 ft at 55S 170W (205/207 degs NCal/SCal) and shadowed by Tahiti and 187 degs relative to HI but alot of fetch passing east of the great circle tracks heading there. A quick fade is forecast in the evening with a broad area of 45 kt southwest winds forecast blowing 35 degrees east of the 198 degree path to CA and effectively useless to Hawaii. Seas to be peaking at a large 52 ft at 53S 157W pushing up the 200/203 degrees path to NCal/SCal and passing out of the eastern edge of the Tahitian swell shadow. Limited sideband energy pushing up the 179 degree path to Hawaii.
This system to effectively be gone by Thursday AM (8/25) but seas from previous fetch to still be 50 ft at 50S 148W pushing up the 196/199 degree path to NCal/SCal and effectively unshadowed by Tahiti. Residual seas fading from 41 ft Thursday PM at 47S 139W pushing up the 191/194 degree paths to NCal/SCal.
The good news about this system is the models are stable and continue to suggest rather large if not huge seas resulting all within the next 36 hours. A total of 36 hrs of seas in excess of 50 ft are forecast, a very unusual projection. The bad news is that the bulk of the energy is to be shadowed by Tahiti relative to California. And the fetch itself is to be traveling far more to the east than the north, meaning only sideband energy is to reach up into Hawaii with no direct fetch pushing up in that direction. Regarding California, at least the fetch itself is pushing almost right up the great circle paths there, but the whole of the fetch is to be traveling almost perpendicular to the Golden State, which will limit resulting swell size, consistency and number of waves per set. Most energy to be traveling towards Peru and Northern Chile. Regardless, a solid very long period swell seems likely affecting the whole of the Eastern Pacific Basin.
Hawaii: Rough data suggest swell arrival on Mon (8/29) with tiny little lines building through the day with period 23 sec early falling to 21-22 secs late and size slowly building. Maybe rideable late with luck to 1.6 ft @ 22 secs (3.5 ft). Solid energy is forecast by Tuesday (8/30) with swell period 18-19 secs through the day, longer periods and smaller size early. Swell to peak late pushing 3.9 ft @ 19 secs late (7 ft faces with sets to 9 ft). Swell to continue near peak size early Wednesday (8/31) with pure swell 3.9-4.1 ft @ 17 secs (7 ft with sets to 9 ft), then fading slowly through the day. 15 sec residual energy to continue through Thurs (9/1) with lesser energy into early in the weekend. Swell Direction: Centered on 187 degrees with energy ranging from 179-192 degrees
Second New Zealand Gale
On Sunday PM (8/14) 40-45 kt south fetch is to start building just southeast of New Zealand with seas building to 28 ft pushing into New Zealand on Monday. But by Monday AM a new area of 45+ kt south fetch was building off New Zealand resulting in seas to 30 ft seas in the evening at 50S 172W targeting primarily Hawaii. The fetch faded by Monday night with more 32 ft seas at 45S 175W on Tuesday AM. A quick fade occurred thereafter. Small swell pushed north towards Hawaii and arrived late on Mon (8/22) peaking Tues at 2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3.5 ft). But little fetch was aimed northeast towards the US mainland. Maybe some fragments arriving in California by late Thursday (8/25) but of no consequence.
Southeast Pacific Gale
New Zealand Primer Gale (Hawaii)
On Thursday AM (8/18) a modest gale was circulating in a weak trough over the Southeast Pacific producing a moderate area of south winds at 40-45 kts. Seas were on the increase. By evening 40 kt south winds held and inched just a little more to the east. 28 ft seas were modeled building at 55S 142W. On Friday AM the fetch was all but gone but seas from previous fetch reached to 32 ft at 52S 138W. Seas dissipated quickly thereafter. Another small pulse of 17 sec period swell is radiating north up the 188/190 degree paths to North and South CA respectively. It was 5254 nmiles from SCal on the 192 degree path with swell arriving Sat 9 AM (8/26) with period 17 secs, and 5476 nmiles from NCal on the 189 degree path with 17 secs period swell arriving Sat (8/26) at 6 PM. Size again to be minimal if even noticeable.
On Saturday (8/27) a small but decently organized gale pushed under New Zealand with 40-45 kt southwest winds building in coverage still at 40 kt in the evening, then fading from 35 kts Sunday AM. 26 ft seas supposedly resulted at 52S 171W Sunday AM (8/28) , but faded before exceeding that height. This system mainly served to rough up the oceans surface acting as a primer for more energy that followed directly behind.
On Sunday evening (8/21) a new small gale organized south of New Zealand with southwest winds to 45 kts over a small area. That fetch pushed hard to the northeast over night with a moderately large area of 40-45 kt southwest winds forecast Monday AM (8/22) with 34 ft seas building at 55S 176E pushing up the 195 degree path to Hawaii. But the fetch faded fast in the evening with only 35 kt southwest winds remaining and seas fading from 30 ft at 50S 176W and pushing up the 186 degree path to Hawaii. This was good for swell pushing into Hawaii at 2 ft @ 16-17 secs (3 ft faces) late on Sun (8/28) with pure swell to 3 ft @ 16 secs (4.5-5.0 ft) on Monday all from 191 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 hrs more generic low pressure is to be tracking just south of the Aleutians Sat (8/27) and then again on Sun (8/28) offering brief pulses of 30 kt west winds and maybe 17 ft seas, but no swell to speak of.
High pressure is to continue building some off California starting to ridge into the Pacific Northwest over the weekend (8/27) generating 20-25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino and producing limited north local windswell for Central CA. Fetch to fade to 20 kts on Monday, then regroup back up to 25 kts Tuesday and increasing in areal coverage, likely setting up increased north windswell for Central and even South CA mid-next-week.
By Saturday (8/27) the high is to be organized enough to push trades over the Hawaiian Islands to 15 kts and slowly increasing in coverage into early next week, perhaps enough to set up the usual minimal easterly short period windswell over East Shores there.
As of Tuesday (8/23) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was still low. The daily SOI was down to -7.47. The 30 day average was down slightly to 4.20 with the 90 day average down to 4.67. These readings are lagging indicators of the Active Phase of the MJO that traversed the Central Pacific the week of 8/13-8/20.
Current wind analysis indicates light easterly anomalies were in control over the Central and Western equatorial Pacific abut fading north of Indonesia. Near normal winds were over the far Eastern Pacific with no anomalies indicated. This suggests that what was essentially a weak version of the Active Phase stationary over the extreme Western Pacific/Eastern Indian Ocean has faded, likely repositioned in the Western Atlantic. The models indicate that weak easterly anomalies are to hold over the West Pacific through at least 8/31 and likely much longer. This suggests a very weak Inactive Phase is starting to take control and will likely help to dampen storm development (especially in the Northern Hemisphere) for the next 3 weeks or so.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (8/22) remains essentially unchanged and continues to indicate that cooler waters (-1 C degs) had a grip on the equator covering from a point south of Hawaii to the dateline and holding steady if not increasing their coverage slightly. The larger issue was cooler than normal waters present in feeder bands originating off the US West Coast and Chile sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, serving to continue the existing La Nina pattern. This is typically what is referred to as a horseshoe pattern. At least the cooler waters off the US West Coast were not expanding coverage anymore nor getting cooler as they had in late July into August. Warmer than normal waters are not building anymore over the Galapagos Islands extending west to a point south of Hawaii. And tongues of warmer water are positioned in the both the Northwest and Southwest Hemispheres but are trying to make inroads to the east, a bit more effective in the north and in the south. For now the big picture still looks very much like La Nina.
Below the surface on the equator things have again made a dramatic reversal as of 8/23. Colder than normal water that had been locked all winter (2010-2011) southeast of Hawaii under the equator evaporated in late February 2011, then returned starting in early July. An impenetrable wall of colder than normal water (-3 degs C) developed in mid-July locked at 140W separating warm anomalies in the east and west, blocking any eastward progress of warmer subsurface water. On 7/21 it vaporized, with a clear subsurface path present allowing warmer subsurface water to flow eastward. But then as quickly as it redeveloped, it died with the cold pool re-emerging starting on 7/30 and built far stronger by 8/8 with waters -5 deg C below normal and holding strength and position on the equator and south of Hawaii through 8/18 and blocking the warm water flow eastward. It was down at 100 meters and was rising while gaining areal coverage. Then on 8/20 it looked a bit weaker, down to -4 degs below normal and by 8/23 vaporized with just residual -2 degree anomalies left behind. Regardless it is still blocking the normal warm flow to the east. This suggests the recent Active Phase MJO pulse in mid-August might have dislodged the cool pool, at least temporarily. It will likely rebuild with the demise of the Active Phase.
Ocean currents for the equatorial Pacific on 8/11 we flowing anomalously west in the far West Pacific with a small pocket of strong easterly flow at 120W. Previously we found anomalies developed flowing from west to east starting in February and were continuing through June 2011 (a little weaker towards mid-June than earlier in the month). Westerly anomalies continued in July to (thru 7/22) Easterly anomalies were isolated to a small area on the equator at 120W. We oft look at such symptoms as an El Nino indicator, but that does not seem likely given all the other data. But that coupled with a falling SOI at least it depicts a tendency towards normal conditions. Will monitor. Historically it is very unlikely if not impossible to have an El Nino form directly behind a La Nina. More typical is several years of a slow buildup before an actual El Nino event occurs. This suggest the warm waters currently pooling up off Ecuador will likely dissipate as summer progresses but at the same time, the cooler than normal horseshoe pattern over the North and South Pacific will dissipate too.
Remnants of what was a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) are still evident and momentum from this La Nina event are expected to hold well into the Fall of 2011 (and likely to early 2012) in the upper atmosphere regardless of how quickly La Nina's demise occurs in the ocean. In short, it's going to be tough for surfers on west facing shores in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, though east facing shores of the West Pacific and Atlantic might do well from the Inactive Phase's dominance, especially in summer months. That is not to say there will be no storms, in fact, there could be short periods of intense activity when the Active Phase gets an opportunity to come to fruition, but that will be the exception rather than the rule, with the Inactive Phase trying to keep a cap on storm activity. Best bet's at this time are for an enhanced tropical season in the Atlantic (2011).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest a follow-on gale to follow directly Fri-Sat (8/27) mainly in the Southeast Pacific with seas to near 40 ft. But that seems unlikely in that the main storm will likely sap all energy out of the atmosphere.
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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Stormsurf Maintenance Upgrades: Buoy 46059 and 46012 were replaced a month or so ago. Totally new buoys were installed. Here on Stormsurf we had to reset the algorithms used to calculate 'pure swell' for them. That was accomplished on 11/13. Pure swell numbers are now correct. Links: 46012, 46059
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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