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 Sunday (9/9) North and Central CA had dateline swell fading but still producing waves at shoulder to maybe head high at top breaks and reasonably clean early with a light northwest flow still in effect. Down south in Santa Cruz wrap around dateline swell was producing surf at waist to maybe chest high and clean. Southern California up north was thigh high at best coming from the dateline and textured. Down south dateline swell was thigh to waist high and crossed up with north wind bump intermixed. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting small dateline swell at waist high or so and clean with light trades in effect. The South Shore was effectively flat with a few thigh high sets lapping through and clean with 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 was starting to move back east generating 15 kt north winds along the Central CA coast and not quite yet producing any windswell of interest. The last of the dateline swell produced last week was pushing into Central CA and Hawaii. High pressure was also producing the usual fetch of 15 kt easterly trades pushing over the Hawaiian Islands resulting in modest easterly windswell there. The forecast calls for the usual North CA pressure gradient forming courtesy of high pressure off the coast by late Monday peaking Tuesday (9/11) producing 30 kt north winds and windswell for Central CA. Trades to all so set up extending from CA to HI at that time for about 24 hours, offering hope for more windswell along east facing shores. Also a little low was in the extreme Northeast Gulf on Sun (9/9) with 30 kts winds and 17 ft seas, but mostly east of the CA swell window. Maybe some windswell for the Pacific Northwest. Beyond there's no indication of swell production for the next week. Down south a small gale tracked east with seas to 34 ft last Thurs (9/6). Maybe some tiny energy is pushing north for CA later this week. And another small gale is forecast developing in the extreme East Pacific on Tues (9/11) pushing due north with seas to 32 ft, targeting only Southern CA and points south of there. But for now we're really just waiting for Fall to get started.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Sunday (9/9) the jet was displaced well to the north running west to east along the 50N latitude with winds 90-100 kts with a small weak trough near the dateline and another in the extreme Eastern Gulf of Alaska. No support for gale development was indicated. Over the next 72 hours the dateline trough is to push east but only weaken with no other trough formation forecast. Beyond 72 hours winds energy is to start pushing east from Kamchatka at 150 kts forming a small steep trough near the dateline next weekend, but it is to be so steep as to not offer much if any support for gale development.
Surface - On Sunday (9/9) the Northeast Pacific high pressure system was tracking east again ridging slightly into the US West Coast starting to produce a limited fetch of 20 kts north winds over Pt Conception, but unremarkable. The high was also producing trades over Hawaii at 15 kts getting a little footing east of there offering modest east windswell into east facing shores of the Islands.
Over the next 72 hours the high is to peak on Tuesday at 1028 mbs producing up to 30 kt north winds in the California gradient, now relocated to Cape Mendocino with an eddy flow over all of Central CA offering modest local north windswell for Central CA and southerly winds. But by Wednesday the gradient is to be fading fast, gone by evening with windswell from it dropping too. Trades driven by the high are to be peaking relative to Hawaii on Mon-Tues at 15 kts extending for brief periods the whole way from California to Hawaii, offering increased odds for local east windswell. But by late Wednesday that too is to fade.
A small low wound up up in the extreme Northeastern Gulf of Alaska on Sunday (9/9) producing 30 kt northwest winds and seas to 17 ft at 52N 132W and effectively north and east of the Central CA swell window. 11 sec windswell possible for the Pacific Northwest from this system late Mon (9/10) but nothing for CA.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
As of Sunday (9/9) no tropical systems of interest were being monitored. The models suggest something forming in both the East and West Pacific Wed-Thurs (9/13), but until winds actually start blowing, it's just a fantasy.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (9/9) high pressure was slowly starting to build along the North and Central CA coast resulting in an modest northerly windflow. That trend to continue into Monday but perhaps break down late as a gradient forms over Cape Mendocino with an eddy flow setting up over Central CA, becoming more developed on Tuesday then holding but slowly fading through the remainder of the work week. A weak eddy flow to continue for Southern CA. Next weekend a weak winds pattern is forecast for the entire CA coast. looks like Fall is getting a toe in the door.
Surface - At the surface on Sunday a broad but ill defined low was covering a huge area from Tasmania to well east of New Zealand and southward to Antarctica. It was producing 32 ft seas in the southern Tasman Sea offering some energy aimed obliquely towards Fiji, and is to try and push east, but is to be broken up by it's interaction with New Zealand, with maybe only some limited 40 kt southerly winds on Monday (9/10) just off the southeast New Zealand coast producing 28 ft seas at 47S 175E targeting Hawaii. But resulting period if it does form is to be only in the 14-15 sec range relative to HI. No other fetch of interest is forecast for the next 72 hours.
Previously 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 built in coverage some tracking east with seas building to 34 ft at 51S 151W, but tracking flat east. The fetch started lifting east-northeast Fri AM and fading out with seas from previous fetch fading from 32 ft at 49S 143W. Low odds of small swell pushing northeast towards California and nothing for HI. The best of this fetch is to be on the eastern edge of the Tahitian swell shadow at 194 degrees relative to CA but perpendicular to Hawaii. Small swell expected into Southern CA starting Thurs (9/13) at 1.8 ft @ 17 secs (3 ft) from 190 degrees then dropping Friday from 1.6 ft @ 15 secs (2.5 ft). Nothing for Hawaii forecast.
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 some degree of disorganized fetch is forecast forming on the Northern Dateline by Fri-Sat (9/15) with 25-30 kt northwest winds setting up over a fragmented area. No swell is expected to result. But another similar fetch is to be developing right behind it on Sun (9/17) off Kamchatka pushing east if one is to believe the models. At least there's some winds moving in that area. But the overriding concern is the north ward displacement of the jet. meaning that anything that does form is to also be displaced well to the north. This is a typical La Nina hangover effect.
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 Sunday (9/9) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding at 13.61 (4 days in a row at that general reading). The 30 day average was up to 0.00 with the 90 day average at -4.46. This is neutral territory.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a modest size area of moderate strength west anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) pushing to the dateline with modest east anomalies east of there fading south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies were over the East Pacific into Central America. This suggests that perhaps a Westerly Wind burst had set up in the West Pacific while the remnants of the Inactive Phase were dissipating east of the dateline (a good thing for maintaining the warm water pump). A week from now (9/17) neutral anomalies are forecast to be in control of the Maritime Continent and dateline all the way into the East Pacific suggesting the end of the Inactive Phase and the beginning of a weak Active Phase. This is what we were hoping for to help hold if not reinvigorate the warm water pump.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/8 remain in agreement suggesting a weak Active Phase is now in-play over the Indian Ocean in to the West Pacific with the Inactive Phase moving over Central America bound for the Caribbean and Atlantic Basin. This pattern is to hold for the next 2 weeks per the statistical model with the dynamic model depicting it fading 8 days out. This all favors some degree of weak maintenance plan for the warm water pool off Ecuador, but not adding much if anything 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). Something that looks very much like 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 (early Oct). The most recent update of the sea surface temp anomaly charts (9/6) depict no sign of a thin trail of cooler than normal water that were previously tracking west off Ecuador on the equator. This is good news. But there is no indication that the warm water pool is building. It's just in maintenance mode. Hopefully the Kelvin Wave (mentioned above) pushing east will add a little fuel And if in fact a WWB is occurring now in the far West Pacific, another Kelvin Wave could result with yet more warming expected a few months out.
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
Props from the Pros: Stormsurf was mentioned over the past week in two different media sources. One was in an interview Kelly Slater did with the New York Times and another was in a promotional piece Ramon Navarro did for the Big Wave World Tour. Many thanks to Curt Myers from Powerline Productions for alerting us and of course thanks to Kelly, Ramon and the Tour for using our service. Here's the links:
Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
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