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 (9/1) North and Central California had fading swell coming out of the Gulf of Alaska with waves chest high with some northwest texture but not too bad. It's rideable. Southern California was still getting a small amount of that same Gulf swell with thigh high waves up north and clean. Down south it was maybe waist high with a slight texture on it, but not bad. Hawaii's North Shore was flat with brisk northeast trades. The East Shore was getting limited thigh high northeast windswell with onshore winds and chopped. The South Shore had some knee to thigh high sets with brisk trades in effect.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for remnant Gulf swell to be fading out on Wednesday with only tiny local north windswell on Thursday and Friday. In short, things going pretty quiet for a few days. Southern California is to have faint and fading northern Gulf swell on Wednesday then going flat through the end of the workweek. The North Shore of Hawaii is not expected to see any rideable surf during the workweek or beyond. The East Shore is to see building easterly windswell, at waist high on Wednesday pushing chest high Thursday then back to waist high and holding into the weekend. The South Shore is to be near flat for the foreseeable future.
Over the long term no southern hemi swell activity is forecast for the next week. Up north high pressure has taken over the Gulf of Alaska, but that is to be a short term situation with a new gale pattern now forecast to push into the Eastern Gulf starting Thursday and continue with a better pulse late Friday (9/4) with more after that. Looks like Fall is continuing to try and dig in. Certainly a huge change from 2 weeks ago.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (9/1) the North Pacific jetstream continued tracking east mostly over the Aleutians on up into Alaska offering no real support for gale development at the oceans surface. A pair of weak cut-off upper low pressure systems were present too, one over the dateline and the other off British Columbia but not strong enough to do anything from a gale production standpoint. Over the next 72 hrs the jet is to get a bit better consolidated and dropping south, absorbing both the cutoff lows and they are to import some energy into the flow, possibly helping to carve out a respectable trough in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska by late Thursday (9/3) with 160 kt northwest winds blowing through it's western quadrant, helping to support gale development with the focus off all energy being the US West Coast north of Pt Conception. A secondary but much weaker trough is forecast for the dateline. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to push east into the Pacific Northwest on late Saturday (9/5) reaching well into Central CA with the whole jet sinking south to 45N. Pretty nice. Two new troughs are forecast 7 days out, one off the Kurils Islands with 120 kt winds and another in the Gulf with 150 kts winds both capable of supporting gale development. Looks like your usual early Fall setup.
At the surface on Tuesday AM (9/1) high pressure at 1028 mbs was sitting right in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska with weak low pressure at 1016 mbs off British Columbia. No real swell producing fetch was indicated. Trades at 15-20 kts were blowing into the east shores of the Hawaiian Islands over a shallow area helping to generate some minimal east windswell, but nothing more. Over the next 72 hours that high is to weaken and retrograde, opening up the Gulf of Alaska some. Low pressure in the Bering Sea is to drop southeast late Wednesday (9/2) and is to start developing producing 35 kt northwest winds by Thursday AM (9/2) but rapidly tracking east generating 15 ft seas at 43N 144W and possible 10 sec period windswell pushing towards Oregon down to Central CA for early in the weekend.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (9/1) a very weak low pressure system associated with an upper low in the Gulf was off Oregon creating a weaker north wind flow down the CA coast, mostly at 10 kts. The weak windflow is to hold through Wednesday, then high pressure is to try and show up again, setting up north winds at 20-25 kts mainly over Pt Conception but affecting up to the San Francisco Bay area into Friday. A building low pressure pattern forecast for the Gulf of Alaska is to make short work of that high pressure system, and by Saturday a weak windflow is again forecast (for a day), then north winds behind a weak front are to return Sunday (9/6) and Monday affecting all of Central CA, finally lifting north on Tuesday to Cape Mendo with an eddy flow taking control south of there.
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 65 nmiles southwest of the southern tip of Baja with sustained winds 110 kts and tracking to the north-northwest at 10 kts. Jimena is not in the US swell window, with the critical eastern quadrant well outside it (to the east). Current forecasts have Jimena turning more northerly while weakening then turning northeast and pushing over Central Baja Thursday AM (9/3). Again, all fetch is to be outside the South CA swell window and no swell is to result, though it will be interesting to see what impacts (if any) it has on Southern CA weather (likely just high clouds).
Former Tropical Depression Kevin has been downgraded to tropical low status with winds barely 25 kts. It was located 900 nmiles south-southwest of Pt Conception and offers no swell production capacity. It is to be totally dissipated in 48 hours.
At the surface on Tuesday (9/1) high pressure at 1024 mbs was southeast of Tahiti ridging south to the Ross Ice Shelf pretty much choking off the South Pacific storm corridor. A storm was south of New Zealand producing up to 50 kt southeast winds, but all encased in ice offering no swell producing fetch. Limited winds were in-place north of the Ross Ice Shelf associated with this system, but were all blowing south towards Antarctica. No hope here. Over the next 72 hours that high pressure is to only build 9to 1028 mbs) while holding it's position in the Central South Pacific continuing the lockdown there.
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 secondary fetch associated with low pressure at 988 mbs in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska is to set up on Friday AM (9/4). A fetch of 30-35 kt northwest winds is forecast at 45N 142W with seas on the increase. By the evening 35 kt northwest winds are forecast solid at 46N 135W resulting in 19 ft seas at 45N 148W and 30 kt northwest winds holding at 45N 133W into Saturday AM with 22 ft seas forecast at 45N 135W. A quick fade is forecast thereafter with the gale pushing into British Columbia and a front down to Washington. Possible 13 sec period swell could result if this materializes pushing southeast towards Oregon and Central CA for the weekend. but it's still too early to claim that with any certainty.
Otherwise a broad area gale is to develop early next week (Tues 9/8) in the Northern Gulf with a solid fetch of 30-35 kt northwest winds aimed at the US West Coast while another gale sets up off the Kuril Islands producing 40-45 kt west winds targeting Hawaii decently. Possible swell to results for both if this occurs, though it's a bit of a leap of faith to belief in it just yet. Still, it's the type of pattern we would hope to see during a moderate El Nino year.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (9/1) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was in the Inactive Phase but it still was still not obvious. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index remaining slightly negative. The Daily SOI index was down to -2.20 after being up to 12.81 and 10.68 the 2 days before. The 30 day average was up slightly to 4.00 and the 90 average was up to -1.51. The SOI index was likely bottomed out, and has not really gained nor lost any ground, but still has not re-achieved it's meager 30 day ave negative peak from June (-10).
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated that modest easterly anomalies have now built over the entire East equatorial Pacific typical of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. This was a much stronger signal than the models had indicated even 24 hours earlier. As usual, we suspect the models took a while to latch onto the trend that was currently occurring. But of better interest, the models also indicate that western anomalies associated with a building Active Phase of the MJO were starting to develop over the Indian Ocean. This same pattern is to hold through 9/10 with the Easterly anomalies fading out while tracking east over Central America while the Westerly anomalies push into the Western Pacific but loosing strength. By 9/15 only a weak area of westerly anomalies are to remain not reaching to the dateline with the Easterly Anomalies gone over Central America. By 9/20 a dead neutral pattern is forecast. So the big question is how far off the mark are the models, and will the Westerly Anomalies develop stronger than currently forecast and hold longer too. It's too early to tell, but our guess is that might be the cast. Such a scenario would only aid the development of El Nino.
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, very much so. 2-3 deg warmer than normal waters are in control from 135W all the way into Central America. And the Kelvin Wave we have been tracking of late is still present, and still appears stalled at 165W, the result of a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) in the West Pacific that occurred on 7/25-8/2. But it is covering a much broader area, from 175E to 150W. Between it and the Kelvin Wave off Central America, a nearly continuous pool of 2+ deg C warmer than normal water is present from west of the dateline into Central America save the span from 150W-135W. This is most impressive and very good news f if it holds for a few more days, meaning that it is not just a temporarily blip on the charts. This is exactly the sort of situation we've been looking for and is critical to the formation of a legitimate El Nino. We expected the dateline Kelvin wave would take 2 months from the time it is generated to reach it's target (9/27 or so). But with it being stalled, we were beginning to wonder what was occurring. Now we're beginning to suspect there is a large confluence of warm water backing up across the length of the thermocline, that could possibly feed a continuous stream of warm water into the Central America coast for months to come. This is interesting.
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, continuing steady 8/31. This is good news and might continue to gently feed the subsurface warm water flow 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 were perhaps starting to appear under the dateline, and they continue today (9/1). Not so much a distinct Kelvin Wave, but more of a continuous stream of warm water. This situation is a bit unusual, but it is very early in the cycle and is hard to determine exactly what is occurring. At a minimum it suggests 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. All data suggests this will not be a strong El Nino, more likely a moderate one. NOAA is 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 data indicates that the warm pool will continue to build.
The next milestone we're looking for is development of the next Active Phase of the MJO, expected sometime near the 3rd week of Sept. The models (as of 9/1) now indicate it is forecast to develop as hoped for. Also water temps need to hold if not build (as is happening now). A final confirmation should be possible in mid-Sept. In the mean time, the current Inactive Phase currently in-progress appear to have faltered, and the warm pool continues to build. 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, a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, but without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. 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 the only perplexing indicator. But we're becoming more disposed to think the SOI of more of a lagging indicator, at least for this event.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours virtually no swell producing fetch is forecast aimed towards US interests. A bit of a front is forecast under New Zealand on Fri (9/4) possibly generating 30 kts seas, but all energy is to be aimed due east and traveling due east, faring South America. Nothing really is forecast to result for US interests.
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