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 (9/22) North and Central CA was seeing the first real swell from the Gulf of Alaska producing waves at double overhead on the sets and a bit lumpy but not chopped and shrouded in fog. Down south Gulf swell was hitting there too with waves head high and sets to 2 ft overhead and clean but warbled. Southern California was waist high plus up north, lined up and clean but foggy. Down south there was some southern hemi background energy with no real northerly swell indicated and waves waist high and pretty bumpy. Hawaii's North Shore was getting Gulf swell too with waves head high with a few bigger sets and clean. The South Shore was waist high with some chest high sets rarely and clean with light trades in effect. The East Shore was getting the Gulf swell too at head high or so but pretty torn up.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view
On Thursday (9/22) the first real Fall swell of the 2011-2012 season was hitting CA and Hawaii, originating in the Gulf of Alaska Sun-Mon (9/19) with up to 45 kt winds and up to 32 ft seas on Monday AM. That gale regenerated slightly early Wed (9/21) generating 20 ft seas and is to be followed by another pulse just off British Columbia late Thursday with 18 ft seas. This is to ensure some degree of limited northerly angled swell pushing down the Pacific Northwest into Central CA through the weekend. Another weaker system is forecast just off North CA late Sunday with 18 ft seas. Beyond another broader gale is forecast in the Southeastern Gulf mid-week with 18 ft seas with a stronger one forecast for the northern dateline late next week. In short, a fair amount of smaller 10-12 sec period swell seems likely for the US West Coast from Pt Conception northward with some sideband energy for Hawaii, but nothing that really gets our attention just yet. Down south a tiny gale tracked east through the extreme Southeastern Pacific with potential at best only for Southern CA on Tues (9/27), with better odds for Chile. Longterm the southern hemi under New Zealand is projected to turn somewhat more active with a gale forecast there Mon-Wed (9/28), but that's still a ways from occurring.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (9/22) the jetstream had one consolidated flow riding off Kamchatka over the dateline then falling into a solid trough in the Central Gulf of Alaska with 180 kt winds flowing into it, offering good support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to ease east with winds fading to 160 kts on Saturday then fading Sunday while pushing directly into the Northern CA coast late. Decent support for gale development into early Sunday in the Mid-to-Eastern Gulf. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to try and make a comeback Tuesday (9/27) with winds rebuilding to 120 kts and deepening some but also moving pretty close to the Oregon coast, almost pinching off Thursday and looking to move onshore just after that. Limited support for gale development possible. The good news is more energy is to be building over the dateline for the days beyond.
At the surface on Thursday (9/22) swell from the 2nd Gulf Gale (details below) was hitting Hawaii and California. The extratropical remnants of Typhoon Songa were trying to organize 1000 nmiles west of North California (see Follow-on Pulse below). Over the next 72 hours the remnants of Typhoon Roke (currently tracking northeast up the Kuril Islands) are to fall into the Central Gulf and try and organize just off Oregon late Sunday (9/25). What previously looked quite promising by the models is now looking far less interesting. Still, some swell might result.
2nd Gulf Gale
On Sunday AM (9/18) a gale developed in the Western Gulf of Alaska with pressure down to 968 mbs and a solid fetch of 40 kt northwest winds building and seas on the increase. By Sunday evening a small fetch of 45 kt northwest to west winds was at 48N 163W targeting primarily the US West Coast with seas building from 26 ft (if not higher). By Monday AM the gale was fading some with pressure holding at 968 mbs and winds still 40 kts in it's south quadrant at 45W 157W with seas to 32 ft at 46N 160W (299 degs Central CA 1750 nmiles out). Solid utility class swell was being generated. By evening the gale was fading with winds down to 30-35 kts over a solid area and seas fading from 30 ft at 45N 154W (1484 nmiles form Central CA on the 298 degree path).
If all this comes to pass the first real utility class swell of the season is to push east offering good potential for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA with even energy possible for Southern CA.
Relative to Central CA, swell arrival is expected near 10 PM Wed (9/21) building to 7.5 ft @ 17 secs (12-13 ft) near 3 AM Thurs. Swell fading from 7.5 ft @ 15 secs (11-12 ft) at sunrise. Residuals on Friday at 7 ft @ 12 secs (8.0-8.5 ft).
Remnants of the 2nd Gulf Gale were invigorated some by more energy streaming east into it on Tuesday AM (9/20) resulting in more 35 kt west winds in the evening getting good traction on an already agitated ocean surface and lifting somewhat northeast. Winds built to 45 kts Wed AM (9/21) as this fetch lifted fast to the northeast just off the coast of Central Canada. More 20-22 ft seas were modeled at 50N 138W on Wed AM 1000 nmiles from Central CA on the 319 degree path possibly resulting in more reinforcing 13 sec period swell for Friday AM (9/23) relative to Central CA and earlier for the Pacific Northwest. Something to monitor.
And yet another follow-on pulse (the extratropical remnants of Typhoon Songa previously off Japan) pushed over the dateline streaming east and then started to build off North CA Thursday AM (9/22) with 35-40 kt west to southwest winds at 43N 142W. Seas 17 ft. This fetch is to lift hard northeast in the evening with winds to 55 kts at 49N 135W resulting in 18 ft seas at 48N 135W off Vancouver Island (317 degs CCal 950 nmiles out) possibly resulting in more reinforcing 12 sec period swell Saturday afternoon (9/24) for Central CA from a very northerly angle. Larger swell possible up into the Pacific Northwest but raw.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thursday (9/22) the remnants of what was Typhoon Roke were tracking northeast over the Kuril Islands and bound for the Northern Dateline/Bering Sea. See details in the Long Term Forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (9/22) weak high pressure at 1018 mbs was barley hanging-on over the CA coast producing north winds at 15 kts over Cape Mendocino with next to no effect nearshore or south of Pt Arena. A weak eddy flow (south winds) was over Central CA. A building gale low was off Oregon with a front and southerly winds moving to within 600 nmiles of the CA coast. Fall is at hand. A weak eddy flow is to continue for California on Friday with the low off the coast racing northeast and gone but the front lingering 600 nmiles out. A new localized low is to push the front to within 200 nmiles of Central CA on Saturday and then maybe just touching the coast briefly from San Francisco northward Sunday AM before vaporizing. Yet more low pressure is to build off the coast reinforcing a frontal boundary 400 nmiles off Central CA but actually pushing into North CA on Monday with yet another front 600 nmiles out on Tuesday. But through all of this a light flow is forecast for CA. High pressure, displaced well to the south due to all the low pressure in the Gulf is to set-up camp over Pt Conception, with north winds there starting Monday at 15-20 kts easing north into Tuesday (9/27) reaching San Francisco Wed-Thurs at 10-15 kts. Stronger high pressure is to be building north of Hawaii then at 1028 mbs, possibly setting up more northerly winds for the long term. But for now, a generally slack wind pattern is forecast.
At the surface on Thursday (9/22) high pressure was in control of the entire South Pacific with no swell producing fetch indicated. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
Previously, a cutoff low developed Monday PM (9/19) on the eastern edge of the CA swell window with 45 kt southwest winds over a tiny area in the Central Pacific. By Tuesday AM winds were near 55 kts but it had quickly turned flowing due east. 34 ft seas were modeled at 34 ft Tuesday AM at 38S 130W covering only a tiny area. In the evening seas to build to 36 ft at 37S 125W over a tiny area all aimed to the east. 38 ft seas forecast at 37S 119W Wed AM (9/21) before fading and moving out of even the Southern CA swell window. Some degree of tiny south angled sideband swell is possible for Southern CA by Tues AM (9/27) with luck 91.6 ft @ 16-17 secs - 2.5 ft from 189 degrees).
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 the extratropical remnants of Typhoon Roke are to race northeast traversing the Aleutian Islands over the dateline then drop southeast into the Dateline-Western Gulf region on Saturday AM (9/24) but highly degraded over the long journey east, with only 25 kt northwest remaining winds and fading into the evening. no seas of interest forecast. The gale is to try and reorganize somewhat in the Eastern Gulf Sunday AM (9/25) with west winds 35 kts early lifting just a little northeast by evening with 35 kt winds covering a better area and seas building to 17 ft at 40N 139W with all energy bypassing Hawaii and targeting the US West Coast. The gale is to move onshore over Washington on Monday AM with no seas of interest remaining in the California swell window. In short, what was looking to be a solid gale a few days ago is now forecast to barely produce windswell for Central CA.
Continued 20-30 kt northwest fetch is to fall southeast through the Gulf Mon-Wed (9/28) generating varying degrees of 16-18 ft seas and limited northwest windswell likely for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA. but nothing of real interest. Theoretically a real gale is to develop over the Northern Dateline region on on Thurs (9/29) with 40+ kt northwest winds and building seas. But that is so far from forming it's not even worth looking at just yet. At least the models are providing some hope for the future.
As of Thursday (9/22) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down slightly at 13.61. The 30 day average was up some at 7.49 with the 90 day average up slightly to 6.21. The 30 day average had been hovering in the +2.0-4.0 range for a month indicative of a neutral ENSO pattern, but was now on the increase.
Current wind analysis indicated light to moderate easterly anomalies were blowing from the Eastern equatorial Pacific to the dateline then fading a bit east of there. This suggests the Inactive Phase of the MJO was still in-control of the West Pacific as it has been for months. The models indicate that easterly anomalies are to build over the Central and West Pacific a week out (9/30) with the Inactive Phase still in control. Another long term model we use suggests that if anything a weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO is in-fact building over the West Pacific and is to push to the dateline two weeks out (10/6) while the Inactive Phase migrates into the East Pacific. But this has been the case with this model for a few weeks now. It is hard to believe that any significant change will occur, with the expectation that the current pattern will remain locked in place as it has been for months now. Will continue monitoring but we suspect there is no good impact expected in relation to the North Pacific storm pattern over the next few weeks.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (9/22) continues to indicate that cooler waters (-1 C degs) had a grip on the equator covering from a point south of Hawaii to the dateline and holding steady if not increasing their coverage slightly. Cooler than normal waters present in feeder bands originating off the US West Coast and Chile sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, serving to continue the existing La Nina pattern. This is typically what is referred to as a 'horseshoe pattern'. At least the cooler waters off the US West Coast were not expanding coverage anymore nor getting cooler as they had in late July into August. But warmer than normal waters are not building anymore over the Galapagos Islands extending west to a point south of Hawaii, and if anything were shrinking as trades increased there with a defined but thin cool patch now evident on the equator extending from the Galapagos into Central America. Overall the big picture looks very much like La Nina.
Below the surface on the equator things are unchanged. Colder than normal water that had been locked all winter (2010-2011) southeast of Hawaii under the equator evaporated in late February 2011, then returned starting in early July. An impenetrable wall of colder than normal water (-3 degs C) developed in mid-July locked at 140W separating warm anomalies in the east and west, blocking any eastward progress of warmer subsurface water. On 7/21 it vaporized, with a clear subsurface path present allowing warmer subsurface water to flow eastward. But then as quickly as it redeveloped, it died with the cold pool re-emerging starting on 7/30 and built far stronger by 8/8 with waters -5 deg C below normal and holding strength and position on the equator and south of Hawaii through 8/18 and blocking the warm water flow eastward. It weakened some in late August and by 8/23 had vaporized with just residual -2 degree anomalies left behind holding through the end of the month. Then on 9/8 the cold patch reappeared and dropped to -4 degs C only to rebound to -3 deg C on 9/11 and -2 deg C on 9/13, holding as of 9/15-22. Regardless of the fine details, this area of cool subsurface water was still blocking the normal warm flow to the east and suggests that a weak Active Phase of the MJO in mid-August might have tried to dislodged the cool pool, at least temporarily, but then it returned with the Inactive Phase in the West Pacific the last weeks of August into September and is showing no signs of budging.
Ocean currents for the equatorial Pacific on 9/5 were unchanged from the previous month flowing anomalously west in the far West Pacific with a small pocket of strong easterly flow at 120W. Previously we found anomalies developed flowing from west to east starting in February and were continuing through June 2011 (a little weaker towards mid-June than earlier in the month). Westerly anomalies continued in July to (thru 7/22) Easterly anomalies were isolated to a small area on the equator at 120W. We oft look at such symptoms as an El Nino indicator, but that does not seem likely given all the other data. But that coupled with a falling SOI at least it depicts a tendency towards normal conditions. Will monitor. Historically it is very unlikely if not impossible to have an El Nino form directly behind a La Nina. More typical is several years of a slow buildup before an actual El Nino event occurs. This suggest the warm waters currently pooling up off Ecuador will likely dissipate as summer progresses but at the same time, the cooler than normal horseshoe pattern over the North and South Pacific will dissipate too.
Remnants of what was a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) are still evident and momentum from this La Nina event are expected to hold well into the Fall of 2011 and likely into early 2012 in the upper atmosphere regardless of how quickly La Nina's demise occurs in the ocean. In short, it's going to be tough for surfers on west facing shores in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, though east facing shores of the West Pacific and Atlantic might do well from the Inactive Phase's dominance, especially in summer months. That is not to say there will be no storms, in fact, there could be short periods of intense activity when the Active Phase gets an opportunity to come to fruition, but that will be the exception rather than the rule, with the Inactive Phase trying to keep a cap on storm activity. Best bet's at this time are for an enhanced tropical season in the Atlantic (2011).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest a decent gale building under New Zealand Mon-Tues (9/27) with 40-45 kt southwest winds over a modest area and seas on the increase pushing 38 ft Tues AM at 55S 170E. This one has appeared and disappeared several times on the charts over the past 4 days. Will believe it when it happens.
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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Mavericks Surf Shop Grand Opening - Sunday, December 19 2:00 - 6:00 p.m. rain or shine! Check out the new home of Jeff Clark's Mavericks Surf Shop, now located at 25 Johnson Pier in Pillar Point Harbor. The shop features much of Clark's surfing memorabilia, classic boards and photos, as well as an entirely new line of Jeff Clark original Mavericks clothing, accessories and surfboards. The shop has been open in the new location since December 8, and the Grand Opening party is set for this coming Sunday, just in time for Christmas. The party starts at 2 p.m., with live music, food and drinks. Jeff Clark and many Mavericks surfers will be there to meet the public. Local restaurants Ketch Joanne's and Princeton Seafood will serve up delicious food, while San Francisco Wine Trading Company is providing the beverages. The shop will be open all weekend, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Stormsurf Maintenance Upgrades: Buoy 46059 and 46012 were replaced a month or so ago. Totally new buoys were installed. Here on Stormsurf we had to reset the algorithms used to calculate 'pure swell' for them. That was accomplished on 11/13. Pure swell numbers are now correct. Links: 46012, 46059
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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