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 (9/6) North and Central CA had local north windswell producing waves at waist to shoulder high and clean with a light northwest flow. Down south in Santa Cruz residual southern hemi swell was still producing surf at thigh to maybe waist high and textured. Southern California up north was waist high or a little more still coming from the southern hemi and clean. Down south southern hemi swell was still producing sets in the waist to chest high range and pretty clean even later. Hawaii's North Shore was flat and clean with trades in effect. The South Shore was near flat with some barely rideable waves at thigh high and clean with modest trades in effect. The East Shore had east windswell producing waves at chest high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Up north high pressure had retrograded west away from the US West Coast with no real fetch occurring. Still small windswell from previous fetch was still pushing in. Trades were fading fast over Hawaii too as the high was retreating west, but again, windswell was still pushing into eastern shores. Of more interest was a low pressure system that tracked through the Bering Sea producing 35-40 kt westerly winds and seas to 28 ft south of the Aleutian Islands on Tuesday (9/4). Small swell is heading southeast expected to impact the US West Coast and Central CA by late Saturday and the Islands a day earlier. Beyond high pressure is to start ridging east again with the usual gradient and north windswell in place by Tuesday (9/11). Also a little low is to wind up in the extreme Northeast Gulf on Sun (9/9) with 30 kts winds and 18 ft seas. Maybe something to result with luck for CA. And a stronger system is forecast for the northern dateline region a week out. Looks like Fall is starting, and not a moment too soon.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Surface - On Thursday (9/6) the Northeast Pacific high pressure system was retrograding west and not ridging significantly into the US West Coast. A limited fetch of 20 kts north winds was being generated by it off British Columbia, generating small windswell targeting Oregon down into Central CA, but pretty weak. Also trades over Hawaii were starting to back off with the fetch that had extended from California over the Islands now gone.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to remain off to the north and west and of no interest until maybe later Monday (9/10) when the high again starts pushing east forming the usual pressure gradient over Cape Mendocino producing north winds at 25 kts pushing 30 kts on Tuesday with windswell on the way up mainly for Central CA, then starting to fade as the high ridges inland. Fetch is to also start extending from California to Hawaii by later Monday into early Wednesday with increasing odds for modest easterly windswell impacting along east facing shores of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also the models suggest a small low winding up in the extreme Northeastern Gulf of Alaska on Sunday (9/9) producing 30 kt northwest winds and seas to 18 ft at 53N 133W and effectively north of the Central CA swell window. 12 sec windswell possible for the Pacific Northwest if this occurs but nothing for CA.
North Dateline Gale
The remnants of Typhoon Bolaven redeveloped slightly while pushing east off Kamchatka late Friday (8/31) tracking east to the Western Gulf Sunday (9/2) with winds 20-25 kts just south of the Aleutian Islands producing 15 ft seas. Minimal windswell to result for Hawaii and the US West Coast (see QuikCASTs for details). Additional non-tropical low pressure energy built at the intersection of the Aleutians and the dateline Monday evening (9/4) with pressure dropping to 972 mbs and winds building to 40-45 kts extending just south of the Aleutians. 40 kt west winds continued over a small area pushing east Tuesday (9/4) generating seas to 26 ft at 50 177W in the AM and 25 ft in the evening at 50N 170W. Small swell with period in the 15 sec range is radiating southeast from there expected into North CA late Saturday (9/8) and Hawaii on Friday (9/7). See QuikCASTs for details.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
As of Thursday (9/6) no tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (9/6) high pressure was retreating from the US West Coast leaving a weak wind pattern over California coastal waters. More of the same is forecast into Saturday AM when the first fringes of high pressure start pushing into Pt Conception generating north winds there at 20 kts and steadily building up the Central CA coast, reaching Cape Mendocino Sunday evening. North winds to 15 kts to cover everywhere but Southern CA. By Monday (9/10) the usual pressure gradient is to start organizing over Cape Mendocino with 30 kts north winds there and dropping to 15-20 kts over the rest of Central CA. Finally an eddy flow to set up for all of Central CA on Tuesday holding for the remainder of the work week. A weak eddy flow to continue for Southern CA.
Jet stream - On Thursday (9/6) a split jetstream pattern remained locked over much of the South Pacific with the southern branch pushing hard south into Antarctica. No support for gale production indicated. Another ridge is forecast building under New Zealand pushing into Antarctica Saturday (9/8) eliminating any support for gale production indicated. Beyond 72 hours yet a third ridge to be pushing east under New Zealand on Tues (9/11) sweeping east.
Surface - At the surface on Thursday AM (9/6) in the South Pacific a broad but ill defined gale was tracking east over the Central South Pacific. A small area of 45 kt west winds were in play starting to generate 30 ft seas at 52S 165W. In the evening 45-50 kt westerly winds to build in coverage some tracking east with seas building to 34 ft at 52S 151W, but tracking flat east. The fetch is to start lifting east-northeast in the morning and fading out with seas from previous fetch fading from 32 ft at 49S 142W. Low odds of small swell pushing northeast towards California and HI. The best of this fetch is to be on the eastern edge of the Tahitian swell shadow at 194 degrees relative to CA and perpendicular to Hawaii. Will monitor.
A weather system previous forecast pushing into the Tasman Sea offering potential for Fiji on Fri-Sat 99/8) looks far less promising now with seas only to 30 ft.
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 windswell is to drop out for both Hawaii and California but another small gale is forecast forming on the Northern Dateline by Thurs (9/13) with 45 kt northwest winds setting up over a small area. But this is a long way from becoming a reality. Still, it's a step in the right direction. And a tropical system is to be in the far West Pacific with limited hope for it recurving northeast and into our swell window. Again, it's a step towards Fall.
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 (9/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) jumped to 14.09 breaking a previous 9 day in a row run near 0. The 30 day average was up some at -3.14 with the 90 day average at -5.46.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a modest size area of strong west anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) pushing into modest east anomalies but covering a larger area over the dateline. Neutral anomalies were over the East Pacific on into Central America. This suggests that perhaps a Westerly Wind burst was trying to set up in the West while the remnants of the Inactive Phase were dissipating over the dateline (a good thing for maintaining the warm water pump). A week from now (9/14) neutral anomalies are forecast to be in control of the Maritime Continent and dateline with modest east anomalies exiting to the east over the East Pacific suggesting the end of the Inactive Phase. This is what we were hoping for to help reinvigorate the warm water pump.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/4 are now in agreement suggesting a near neutral Phase is now in- play with a weak Active Phase trying to build weakly over the Maritime Continent. This pattern is to hold for the next 2 weeks per the statistical model with the dynamic model depicting it fading out 10 days out. regardless, the previous forecast of a renewed Inactive Phase are a distant memory. This all favor some degree of maintenance plan in favor of holding the existing weak warm water pool off Ecuador, but not adding much to it.
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. Since then (through 9/3) a steady but weak degradation of the warm pool has occurred, but areal coverage actually expanded and is building more solidly up into Southern CA. Also of interest is the recent degradation of the cool pool that has dominated between California and Hawaii and a steady build up of very warm water migrating east from Japan towards the US West coast (presumably driven by the north quadrant of the North Pacific High). Also something that we're now calling a weak Kelvin Wave appears to be propagating east both subsurface (2 deg C anomaly at 120W) and at the surface (1 deg C anomaly). If this is real, it would help to replenish the warm water pool maybe 3-4 weeks out. The most recent updates of the seas surface temp anomaly charts (8/27, 8/30, 9/3. 9/6) depict a thin trail of cooler than normal water starting to track west off Ecuador on the equator, right through the heart of the warm pool. But there is no indication that it is building. We are in need of a warm water source to stabilize the warm pool, and quickly. Hopefully the Kelvin Wave (mentioned above) pushing east will do the trick. Will know more in the next few weeks as it impacts the Ecuadorian coast.
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, the current event is looking more like a weak El Nino 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 9/6). Remnants of La Nina are still affecting the atmosphere and will likely continue for several months into the middle of Fall (mid-Oct), but steadily degrading. 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 fetch 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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Chasing Mavericks - The Jay Moriarty Movie: Two trailers for the new movie about Jay, Frosty and Mavericks has been posted. Movie opens on 10/26/12. Here's the link: http://www.mtv.com/videos/movie-trailers/818957/chasing-mavericks.jhtml & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNdYoX9Vfxg&feature=relmfu
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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".
Timmy Reyes - Curt Myers from Powerlines Productions found this little gem with Timmy Reyes providing a brief statement about which sites he uses for swell chasing. Thought we'd pass it on. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P30ZCQOsYwY
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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