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 (8/29) North and Central California had new swell from the Gulf of Alaska, the first real push of the Fall season with waves in the 1-3 ft overhead range and a bit windy, but surf none the less. Southern California was starting to see the first signs of this swell late up north with waves waist to chest high and clean. Down south it was head high or even better and clean, though near flat in San Diego. Hawaii's North Shore had some head high peaks from this same Gulf swell, but trades were a little too north. The East Shore was getting the same north swell with onshore winds and chopped. The South Shore had some waist high sets, mostly fading background southern hemi impulse swell and sideshore textured.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for the Gulf swell to fade some on Sunday dropping into the shoulder to head high range but with slightly better local winds. That swell to fade even more on Monday morning, but a new Gulf swell is expected in late at 1 ft overhead holding into early Tuesday (9/1). Southern California is to have a decent amount of that Gulf swell on Sunday early at chest high, but fading and dropping more on Monday. New Gulf swell is expected at exposed breaks on Tuesday at waist high or so. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see a new swell from the Gulf arriving late on Sunday to head high holding Monday then heading down pretty fast. The East Shore is not expected to see any windswell, but should see that same north swell as the North Shore. The South Shore is to be near flat for the foreseeable future.
Over the long term the southern hemi is to remain quiet with no swell in the water and nothing forecast. Up north high pressure is to take over holding through the week and offering nothing or real interest.But the charts suggest something may be trying to develop in the far West Pacific a week out, but that more of a rumor than anything.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Saturday (8/29) the North Pacific jetstream was mostly all positioned over the Aleutians or north of there offering no support for gale development at the oceans surface. A weak trough was trying to form in the Gulf of Alaska, but just wasn't strong enough to do anything. Over the next 72 hrs the jet is to get a bit better consolidated, but still flowing over the Aleutians, but at least in one long stream rather than fractured like before. Two cutoff lows are forecast to develop, one over the dateline nd one in the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska. They might provide a little support for low pressure development at the oceans surface, but not much. Beyond 72 hours the jet is to drop south and is to start absorbing those cutoff lows, helping to energize the overall flow and focused mostly in the Gulf of Alaska. A weak trough is forecast there on late Thursday (9/3) with 140 kts winds flowing into it providing some support for gale development there focused mostly on British Columbia down into the Pacific Northwest.
At the surface on Saturday AM (8/27) high pressure at 1028 mbs was over the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutians and dropping fast to the southeast, putting a virtual lock on gale development. A second high was off Japan and a third was off Oregon, solidifying the grip of high pressure, at least for a bit. No swell producing fetch was occurring. Over the next 72 hours that high is to track southeast and stall in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska with pressure 1028 mbs and holding through Tuesday (9/1) a weak cutoff low is forecast forming over the dateline, but offering no swell producing fetch. Pretty quiet for a few days.
Typhoon Vamco Gale
The extratropical remnants of Typhoon Vamco developing in the Western Gulf over the Aleutians Islands on Thursday AM (8/27). 40 kt northwest winds were modeled partially obscured by the Aleutians Islands with seas starting to build from 23 ft at 51N 170W. On Thursday PM (8/27) 40 kt north-northwest winds from this system were confirmed at 50N 167W aimed 30 degrees south of the 306 degree path into Central CA and right down the 350 degree path to Hawaii. 25 ft seas were modeled at 48N 167W. Friday AM (8/28) 35 kt northwest winds were fading fast 45N 160W pushing more to the west or 30 degrees south of the 297 degree path to Central CA and 40 degrees east of the 358 degree path to the Islands. 23 ft seas were modeled at 46N 163W. Residual 25 kts winds were indicated at 45N 152W in the evening with 20 ft seas at 45N 155W all pushing east-southeast towards the mainland (Central CA) with limited sideband energy towards the Islands.
Another pulse of near mid-period swell is tracking southeast towards Central CA for early next week and Hawaii as early as late weekend (Sunday). Nothing special, but certainly a push in the right direction towards Fall.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Sunday (8/30) at sunset with size building to 5.0-5.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (6.5-7.7 ft faces) near 9 PM and holding decently into sunrise on Monday at 5.0 ft @ 12-13 secs (6 ft faces). Swell Direction 348-356 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival starting late Monday evening (8/30) with period 14-15 secs and size building reaching 4.7-5.1 ft @ 13-14 secs (6.2-7.1 ft faces) from 6 PM-3 AM Tuesday (9/1). Still some rideable surf expected for Tuesday after sunrise. Swell Direction: 297-306 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (8/29) high pressure centered in the far Western Gulf of Alaska was ridging east just barely touching the Central CA coast and generating a weak pressure gradient and north winds at 15-20 kts making a mess of what was to be a decent swell coming from the Gulf of Alaska. More of the same is forecast on Sunday, then the gradient and north winds are to dissipate as very weak low pressure associated with an upper low in the Gulf takes over on Tuesday (9/1). A weak windflow is to hold through Wednesday, the high pressure is to try and show up again, setting up north winds at 20 kts mainly over Pt Conception but affecting up to the San Francisco Bay area into Friday. The latest run of the models suggests a new surface low is to wrap up off Cape Mendocino on Friday 99/4) generating 25 kt north winds and likely generating windswell for Central CA next weekend, but the fetch is to stay off the coast.
The Inactive Phase of the MJO has faltered over the far West Pacific and not expected to return, which likely will not hamper odds of tropical storm formation over the coming 3 weeks, though not amplify it any either:
Hurricane Jimena was located 300 nmiles south of Manzanillo Mexico with sustained winds 90 kts and tracking to the west-northwest at 10 kts. Jimena is forecast to strengthen reaching 120 kts mid-day Sunday and up to 125 kts on Monday (8/31) but still shadowed from California. A north-northwesterly track is forecast putting Jimenna barely in the Santa Barbara swell window on Monday with winds still 110 kts. This is a most encouraging prognosis. But again this is only a forecast and those winds, if all goes as expected, will only be aimed at targets west of Pt Dume. Something to monitor.
A Tropical Depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm status and names Kevin, located 1250 nmiles south of Pt Conception CA tracking west-northwest at 4 kts with sustained winds 40 kts. The models suggest a slight turn to the north with winds building to maybe 50 kts on Sunday, then slowly fading from there. Given the rather distant position and weak winds, no swell is expected for either California or Hawaii.
At the surface on Saturday (8/29) high pressure at 1028 mbs was in-control of the Southeast Pacific ridging south to about the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf and blocking the South Pacific storm corridor there. No low pressure of interest was occurring. In the west no swell producing low pressure was present either. Over the next 72 hours that high pressure is to drift east and dissipate while a large storm builds southwest of New Zealand (Sunday (8/30) and sinking southeast with most fetch aimed towards the Ross Ice Shelf. Maybe some background sideband energy might result pushing up towards Hawaii, but it is to be very small whatever results (impulse class swell).
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 at 1028 mbs in the Gulf of Alaska is to slowly fade to 1024 mbs by Friday while the cutoff low over the dateline slowly drifts northeast. Next weekend (9/5) that low is to be building while tracking into the Northern Gulf with another broader low pressure system at 996 mbs builds off Japan. And the high pressure system in the Gulf is to be dissipating from 1020 mbs. So the short story is, if one is to believe the models, it looks like a better pattern is to be shaping up for the week that follows (9/8). Otherwise the high pressure system is to generate trades at 15-20 kts pushing over the Hawaiian Islands on Wednesday (9/2) and holding into the early weekend. Maybe some small short period windswell to result along east facing shores, but that's it.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Saturday (8/29) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Inactive Phase but it was still not obvious. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index continued to defy expectations by remaining negative. The Daily SOI index was up to -3.28 after having dropped to -14.99 on 8/28 making it effectively a 41 day negative run (since 7/21), more typical of the Active Phase. This was being caused by a slow moving low pressure system that was tracking east under Tahiti. But it has now dissipated and high pressure is moving into the picture, likely to send the SOI up. The 30 day average was holding at -5.01 and the 90 day average was down to -1.82. The SOI index continues to try and regain some of the ground it lost when the MJO went Inactive in early July, and is doing pretty well.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated that effectively neutral winds were in control of the entire equatorial Pacific with no anomalies indicated. For the Inactive Phase and it's impact on the developing El Nino, this is great news. Nothing other than purely normal conditions are forecast to hold over the Pacific from 8/31 through 9/17. We still believe the Active Phase will appear weakly in early Sept (say 9/10), but it normally takes a while for the models catch up to reality when changes occur. If this happens, this means the Inactive Phase scheduled for the late August early Sept timeframe will be skipped all together (a good thing). Will monitor.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (8/27) indicates no real change since the last update on 8/20, with a solid area of warmer than normal water extending 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 the California coast, the result of northerly winds over the past week. Much cooler than normal waters (-2.0 deg C) are mirrored streaming off Africa and pushing east reaching South America, but diminishing some from previous weeks. 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 warmer than normal subsurface water has been tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America for months now. And if anything that pattern is building. 2-3 deg warmer than normal waters have mysteriously re-appeared off Central America. The Kelvin Wave we have been tracking of late is still present, but appears stalled at 165W, the result of a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) in the West Pacific that occurred on 7/25-8/2. It has strengthened now with temperatures 2 deg C to 3 deg C above normal 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). But with it being stalled, we're beginning to wonder if it will make the journey intact.
Fully blowing westerly winds in the far West Pacific and westerly anomalies reached to the dateline starting 8/12. They had pretty much settled down by 8/19, and were reduced to weak anomalies by 8/20, and those weak westerly anomalies continued even today (8/29). Looking at the models slack winds are forecast on the equator west of the dateline for the next week (through 9/3). This is good news and might continue to prime the warm water pump pushing east. We've been looking for perhaps another Kelvin wave to result from this slack wind flow/weak Westerly Wind Burst of late. Starting 8/25 the first faint signs of a second pocket of warming water was perhaps starting to appear under the dateline and continues today (8/29). This is very preliminary data at best, but it suggests that reinforcements for the existing Kelvin Wave already in-transit are on the way. Will continue monitoring this situation.
The belief at this time is this developing El Nino is past the critical juncture, and 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 far from black and white, though it is coming a bit more in focus. 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 August now, and is still the case today. 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 the delineation of whether development will continue versus stall is dependent upon more WWBs. And the scales continue to tip in favor or more development rather than less.
The next milestone were looking for is development of the next Active Phase of the MJO, expected sometime near the 3rd week of Sept. Also water temps need to hold if not build (i.e.or whether another WWB will occur - as is maybe happening now). A final confirmation should be possible in Sept. In the mean time, 21 days of the Inactive Phase that were in progress appear to have faltered entirely, or at least much weaker than previously forecast. 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.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours virtually no swell producing fetch is forecast aimed towards US interests. Another gale is forecast under New Zealand on Fri (9/4), but all energy is to be aimed at the Ross Ice Shelf.
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 Wave Models Updated: On Friday (2/6) we installed the latest upgrade to our wavemodels. A year in the works, this upgrade essentially is a total re-write of every wave model product we produce. They now take advantage of the new Version 3 of the Wavewatch wavemodel. This version runs at a much higher resolution, specifically 0.0 X 0.5 degrees for the global grib with local products at 0.1667 X 0.1667 degrees, and it uses the hi-res GFS model for wind speeds. And of even more interest, the model now identifies primary swell and windwave variables. As such we now have new model images which displays this data. Also we've included out special 3D topographic land masks into all models. In all it makes for a radical step forward in wave model technology. We'll be upgrading minor components (FAQ, new menu pages etc) for a few weeks to come, but all the basics are available for your use now. Check it out here: http://www.stormsurf.com/mdls/menu_wam.html
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table