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 (8/23) North and Central CA had local north windswell producing waves in the waist high range and a bit textured and crumbly, excluding fog and modest onshore winds. Down south in Santa Cruz surf was effectively flat, but clean at protected breaks. Southern California up north was flat with the usual onshore winds with building chop. Down south southern hemi swell was still producing some waist high sets and heavily textured if not chopped by northwest wind. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean with trades in effect. The South Shore was effectively flat with only windswell wrapping in at knee high or so. 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 ridging into Oregon producing a modest version of the usual pressure gradient along the North California coast resulting in north winds there at 25 kts producing small local northerly windswell at exposed breaks in Central CA. Trades were modest over the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts offering only minimal local windswell production. Beyond high pressure is to move stronger to the east through Fri (8/24) with north winds rebuilding to 25 kts solid along the North CA coast resulting in slightly improving local windswell, then fading fast on Saturday as a cutoff low falls down the Pacific Northwest Coast into early next week. high pressure to try and stage a comeback later in the workweek but winds not quite reaching the 25 kt milepost. Trades return at 15 kts or slightly more for Hawaii by Friday (8/24) holding into Saturday providing some limited hope for small east windswell, then becoming a bit less consistent but continuing through Monday before faltering more. No other swell producing weather systems are forecast.
Down south no swell producing fetch has occurred over the South Pacific relative to our forecast area for a while now. But there's finally some good news: A moderate gale is developing in the deep Central South Pacific expected to track northeast with seas in the 35 ft range into late Friday, then pausing and redeveloping late Saturday into Sunday with seas up to.38 ft on the southern edge of the California swell window. Maybe even a little sideband energy possible for Hawaii too. At this point we'll take anything.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Over the next 72 hours the high is to surge inland over the Pacific Northwest tightening the pressure gradient along the North California coast with north winds building to 25 kts on Fri (8/24) likely increasing the size and period of local windswell some with the swell pushing down the Central CA coast. Nothing remarkable, just rideable. But by Saturday weak low pressure is to be falling down the Canadian Coast cutting the high off and with the approach of the low, north winds to fade fast off North CA and the windswell with it. The low is to produce limited north winds at 15-20 kts, probably not enough to produce meaningful windswell along the Oregon or CA coasts. With the high easing east trades to hold over and east of the Hawaiian Islands at 15 kts through Saturday, incrementally increasing the odds for maybe some rideable windswell along east facing shores, but nothing more. After that trades to still be in the 15 kt range, but becoming spottier with less continuous coverage, resulting in smaller east windswell. In the extreme West Pacific tropical weather is of interest (see Tropics below).
Surface - On Thursday (8/23) the North Pacific high pressure system was better organized with pressure 1028 mbs centered 750 nmiles west of Oregon and was ridging east forming the usual pressure gradient along the North CA coast generating north winds at 20-25 kts resulting in small and weak short period windswell pushing down the Central CA coast. The southern quadrant of the high was also producing easterly trades over the Hawaiian Islands and open waters east of there at about 15 kts, just barely enough to produce minimal east windswell for the Islands.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thursday (8/23):
Typhoon Tembin was about to make landfall off southern Taiwan with winds 110 kts (125 mph) tracking west. It is to pass over Taiwan then do a full 180 degree turn regaining some winds speed to 105 kts, push back into the West Pacific and start heading north-northeast towards Japan by Tuesday (8/28) but fading with winds down to 65 kts. No swell is suggested for our forecast area.
Typhoon Bolaven was 600 nmiles south of the southern tip of Japan with sustained winds 105 kts tracking slowly northwest. It is expected to continue on a north-northwest track into the weekend with winds building to 120 kts (138 mph) late Saturday and still 400 nmiles south-southwest of Southern Japan. By Monday (8/27) Bolaven is toe just off the southwest coast of Korean with winds down to 100 kts (115 mph) eventually moving inland over North Korea 12n hrs later. No swell is expected for our forecast area.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (8/23) a modest north wind flow was in control of North CA waters with winds pushing 25 kts up near Cape Mendocino and an eddy flow building up into Central CA to Pt Arena. This pattern is to become better established and peak Friday AM when winds off Cape Mendo reach 25+ kts with the eddy flow holding over Central CA. An eddy flow to remain over Southern CA through the period. The Cape Mendo gradient is to start fading Saturday from 25 kts early and be gone by Sunday AM as weak low pressure at 1008 mbs drops south from Canada reaching a point off the Oregon coast Monday (8/27) easing inland over the next 24 hrs. As soon as the low pushes inland there late Tuesday high pressure to again start building east with north winds returning over Central CA nearshore waters at 20 kts becoming more focused on Cape Mendocino 24 hrs later and building to near 25 kts.
Jet stream - We're thinking of starting to switch jetstream monitoring to the North Pacific. But for now we'll continue Southern Pacific monitoring.
On Thursday (8/23) the same old split jetstream pattern remained locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch displaced well to the south running flat east starting down at 73S. But a trough has actually developed in the Central South Pacific with winds to 120 kts pushing almost due north and pushing clear of Antarctic Ice supporting gale formation under it. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to continue to lift north and east while moderating with winds down to 100 kts Friday and relocated to the edge of the CA swell window. Additional wind energy at 140 kts is to push from the West Pacific eastward moving into the remnants of the trough Saturday (8/25) quickly moderating in 24 hours and pushing east and out of the US swell window. In all some solid support for gale development possible over a multi day period. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to remain temporarily displaced some to the north averaging on the 59S latitude into Tuesday (8/28), before a new ridge develops in the west and starts sweeping it all southward again.
Surface - At the surface in the South Pacific on Thursday (8/23) a storm was in-place starting to emerge north off the Ross Ice Shelf. Over the next 72 hours this is to be the only game in town. See details below:
Southeast Pacific Storm
A storm developed over Antarctic Ice with a modest area of 45-50 kt southwest winds becoming exposed over ice free waters north of there Thursday AM (8/23) with seas building to 34 ft over a small area at 58S 160W. That fetch to lift north in the evening with winds down to 40 kts and seas 35 ft at 55S 152W targeting California up the 199 degree path and east of the Tahiti swell shadow. Winds to hold at 40 kts Friday AM but over a smaller area still lifting and aimed north-northeast with seas 34 ft at 50S 143W (195 degs CA). This wind to barely hold into the evening with seas fading from 31 ft at 45S 137W (189 degs CA). Additional 40-45 kts more westerly fetch to build Saturday AM (9/25) with 32 ft seas at 48S 130W (186 degs CA) and continuing if not building to 45 kts solid into the evening. 36 ft seas are to be tracking east from 44S 120W and starting to move out of the CA swell window. 45 kt fetch is to be pushing east Sunday AM (8/26) with a small area of 38 ft seas building at 47S 120W (180 degs CA) tracking fast northeast and fading with maybe 34 ft seas in the evening at 42S 120W (180 degrees CA). A quick fade after that. This all looks pretty promising per the models. the good news is fetch is already generating seas pushing northward, so some swell from the initial push of this system seems likely for California down into Central America with maybe even some sideband energy radiating up into Hawaii. Will monitor.
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 weak surface low pressure is to be in place off Oregon on Monday producing no fetch and serving only to break up high pressure off the US West Coast causing windswell to fade. But by Wednesday (8/29) high pressure and the usual north wind regime is to start rebuilding with north winds 20 kts along the North and Central CA coasts and pushing near 25 kts on Thursday (8/30) off North CA. Maybe some small raw north windswell to result then.
Easterly trades over Hawaii to hold at 15 kts but covering less continuous area east of the Islands starting Monday (8/27) and holding through the work week unchanged suggesting only small easterly short period windswell at best for that time frame.
No signs of Fall on the models.
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 (8/23) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was moving back to positive territory up at 7.46. The 30 day average was up slightly at -11.02 with the 90 day average at -7.48. With the Inactive Phase of the MJO in control one would expect the SOI to be pushing well into positive territory. But two things have been occurring: Weak low pressure was pulsating south of Tahiti, and (so far) the Inactive Phase of the MJO has not built anywhere near as strong as what was previously modeled. All this is consistent with a developing El Nino. And the presence of two tropical systems in the far West Pacific (and Typhoon Bolaven developing fairly strong) during the core of the Inactive Phase, also hints to it's weakness.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a broad area of light east anomalies extending from the dateline to the mid- Maritime Continent (WPac). Light east anomalies were also over the far East Pacific into Central America. This suggests the Inactive Phase was trying to get a foothold, but just barely (a good thing for maintaining the warm water pump). A week from now (8/31) weak east anomalies are forecast in only small pockets over the Maritime Continent and dateline with neutral anomalies into the East Pacific. This suggests the Inactive Phase will still hang on for a week, but even that forecast is less than what was suggested a few days ago. If this plays out as forecast, that would not be a bad outcome, suggesting at best an anemic Inactive Phase.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 8/20 (still no update yet) are in agreement suggesting that the Inactive Phase was in-place over the Maritime Continent reaching the dateline area and pushing east. Both suggest the Inactive Phase has peaked, is to hold till 8/25, then is to fall into steep decline by 8/28 day out if not gone. And a weak version of the Active Phase is to be brewing in the Indian Ocean easing into the far West Pacific by 9/1. For now we will continue to play along and be somewhat concerned this Inactive Phase has the potential to degrade what is already a weak eastward moving warm water transport pattern (feeding the warm pool off Ecuador and Columbia), but current model runs are dampening those concerns.
More warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Warmer than normal water accumulated off Ecuador through 7/2 (part of a continuous pattern that started in Jan 2012) fueled by a Kelvin Wave, weaker than normal trades and a MJO pattern dominated by the Active Phase in early April and a continued weak MJO signal beyond. The warm water pattern peaked on 7/2 in an unmistakable El Nino-like configuration. Updates since then through 8/20 indicated some degradation of the warm pool, but areal coverage actually expanded as was no reaching up into Southern CA. Of most interest was the start of degradation of cooler than normal waters (as of the 8/23 update) that have dominated between California and Hawaii. Also something that almost looks like weak Kelvin Wave appears to be propagating east both subsurface (2 deg C anomaly) and at the surface (1 deg C anomaly). if this is real, it would help to replenish the warm water pool.
A weak MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) is a sign of the weak version of El Nino. Strong Active Phases accompanied by Westerly Wind Bursts (WWB) is a sign of a strong El Nino. Given the data to date, this is looking more like a weak El Nino event at best. As we move into the Fall months (starting late August), the tendency is for whatever pattern has been dominant to only become amplified. In short, the true MJO character will become exposed in Fall, with summer just being a build-up. The expectation is that a near failure of the MJO could occur with trades fading and more slow-but-steady warm water propagation continuing eastward. If this happens the question then becomes: Will it be slow enough and weak enough to turn into a multi-year warm event, or will the atmosphere switch as usual in February 2013 and usher in a new La Nina. It's way to early to know.
At this time there is only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern in-play (as of 8/21). Remnants of La Nina are still affecting the atmosphere and will likely continue for several months into the middle of Fall (mid-Oct). 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 it's momentum is not going to be easily be halted. The high has caused drought conditions over portions of North America and unrelenting north winds pushing down the California coast and stronger than normal trades over Hawaii. The high 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. But recent imagery suggest the high is shifting west some and north winds along the California coast are becoming less of an issue, with local water temperatures on the rise. This could be attributed to the change in season, or a fading La Nina, or a combination of both. We're in a hybrid atmospheric state but the trend is starting to shift more towards the normal category. The longer the MJO remains biased towards a neutral or Active state, and the longer warm water holds if not builds off Central America, and the more the cool pool fades between CA and Hi, the more the atmosphere will respond (especially come Fall) turning towards at least a neutral if not an El Nino-like configuration. The atmosphere is like a big ship, it takes a long time to turn. 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 its seems the Active Phases of the MJO are not strong enough to usher in some flavor of real El Nino, but the Inactive Phases are not strong enough to shut off the warm water pump to the East Pacific either. Regardless, we are effectively past the La Nina hump and the tendency will be for a return to a normal if not slightly El Nino-like enhanced state. All this is way 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 no swell producing weather systems are 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 has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
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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