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 Thursday (9/24) North and Central California had waist high local windswell mixed with fading energy from the Gulf and foggy and heavily textured early. Southern California was maybe knee high up north but pretty clean early, and thigh high down south. Mostly just background non-descript southern hemi background energy mixed with local windswell. Hawaii's North Shore was getting inconsistent long period energy from Typhoon Choi-Wan from when it was off Japan last weekend in the shoulder high plus range and clean when it hits, with larger swell from it's reincarnated remnants building at the outer buoy mid-day. The East Shore had knee high local east windswell. The South Shore had thigh high southern hemi background sets and clean.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for a few long period small pulses of energy from Choi-Wan are expected to start hitting on Friday but mostly buried under locally generated short period northwest windswell at shoulder high. Southern California is to see limited small locally generated northwest windswell Friday at thigh high or so. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see new stronger longer period swell originating from across the dateline maxing out on Friday then fading slowly through the weekend (see details below). The East Shore to see steady local east windswell to thigh-waist high on Friday and moving into the solid waist high range for the weekend into early next week. The South Shore is to get even smaller by Friday and then effectively flat for the foreseeable future.
Small long period swell from Typhoon Choi-Wan, when it was off Japan, is hitting Hawaii and moving towards Central CA and the Pacific Northwest. Larger swell when Choi-Wan redeveloped off the coast of Kamchatka on Monday then turning to the east reaching the dateline on Tuesday, is on the way expected for Hawaii on Friday and the mainland on Saturday and beyond. This system had top winds up to 50 kts generating seas to 36 ft, but was a long ways from the US West Coast with fetch aimed a bit east of the great circle paths to Hawaii. In all some decent utility class swell is still expected in for the Islands and the mainland. Beyond no systems of interest are on the charts with a rather calm spell forecast. The Active Phase of the MJO is forecast to be making headway into the North Pacific next week and beyond, and when this occurs an increase in storm activity is expected. But until then, we have to deal with the ill effects of the tail end of the Inactive Phase (currently in control of the East Pacific).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (9/24) the North Pacific jetstream was tracking generally west to east over the 42N latitude with 90 kts winds in the west dipping into a weak trough over the dateline then lifting northeast at 130 kts into a ridge off the US West Coast. No clear support for surface level low pressure was evident. Over the next 72 hrs the whole flow is to lift north as a large ridge builds over the dateline pushing the flow coming off Japan north east up and over the Aleutian Islands, pretty much eliminating any odds for surface level gale development. a overall flow is to weaken, with a mild ridge building in the West and a stronger one in the East off California. A steep weak trough is forecast diving south in between the two Fri/Sat (9/26). Maybe some limited support for low pressure development could occur here, but it just isn't modeled to look that impressive. Beyond 72 hours that ridge is to slowly settle down with the flow dropping south again to about 45N by Tues (9/29) with a trough pushing down the US West Coast to as far as Oregon, maybe making for winter like weather there for a day. But nothing to support surface level gale development is suggested. Maybe a weak trough is to try and start getting some legs west of the dateline by Thurs (10/1), but that is just a guess.
At the surface on Thursday (9/24) the remnants of what was extratropical storm Choi-Wan were still circulating in the Western Gulf of Alaska producing only limited 25 kt northerly fetch aimed south towards Hawaii with seas 18 ft and fading fast (see details below). Otherwise high pressure at 1028 mbs was off the Pacific Northwest and ridging into British Columbia with a second high at 1032 mbs off the Kuril Islands. A weak gradient was building over Cape Mendocino CA with winds to 25 kts there generating weak north short period windswell starting to push south. Trades at 15 kts were pushing up to the Hawaiian Islands offering only minimal easterly windswell. Over the next 72 hours the Gulf low is to drift north and actually build some, with a decent etch of 35-40 kt east winds forecast by Friday but all tucked up in the far northern Gulf of Alaska and aimed at Northern Canada. No swell generation potential forecast for south of Washington (at best). Otherwise strong high pressure at 1040 mbs is forecast taking hold of the Gulf of Alaska from the dateline eastward and totally shutting things down there. A gale is forecast trying to organize off the Kuril Islands, but quickly getting shunted north by this high blocking off the normal storm corridor into the Gulf of Alaska. Pretty dismal for now.
Extratropical Storm Choi-Wan
On Sunday PM (9/20) the extratropical remains of what previously was super Typhoon Choi-Wan were reorganizing just east of the Kuril Islands with west winds confirmed at 50 kts positioned at 44N 160E aimed right up the 302 degree path to Central CA and 20 degree east of the 313 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were on the increase.
On Monday AM (9/21) this storm pushed east with confirmed west winds of 50 kts at 44N 165E aimed right down the 301 degree path to Central CA and 25 degrees east of the 314 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were on the increase from 30 ft at 45N 160W. In the evening 40 kt west winds were confirmed aimed due east at 41S 173E pushing up the 297 degree path to Central CA and 30 degree east of the 317 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were modeled at 36 ft at 45N 166E.
On Tuesday AM (9/22) 35-40 kt west winds were confirmed at 40N 180W aimed right up the 293 degree path to Central CA and 45 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii. Seas were modeled at 35 ft at 43N 175E pushing well towards the US West Coast. In the evening residual 30 kt west fetch was confirmed at 41N 175W with seas from previous fetch fading from 30 ft seas at 43N 180E.
By Wednesday AM (9/23) winds were below 30 kts with residual seas from previous fetch at 25 ft at 41N 173W and fading out.
Note: No Jason-1 satellite data is available to confirm seas heights. Satellite went into Safe-Hold mode on 9/15 and is not expected to become operational again until early next week.
This was not an exceptional system, with only 50 kts winds and mid-30 ft seas aimed mostly to the east. That is about right on-track for this point in an El Nino year. But compared to the last 3 years, it is a wonderful sight. The net result is some degree of utility class swell with period in the 17 secs range is expected to push into the Hawaii Islands late week and into California for the weekend. Nothing over the top, just solid fun-sized longer period swell. Certainly a step up from the summer.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival starting Thurs (9/24) at 2 PM with swell period 20 sec and size tiny but slowly building. Swell to start peaking early Friday AM (9/25) as period turns to 17 secs (2 AM). Swell 7.0-7.5 ft @ 17 secs (12-13 ft faces). Swell to still be most solid at sunrise with period in the 15-16 secs range through the day, finally dropping down to 14 secs at sunset. 13 sec residuals expected on Saturday (9/26). Swell Direction: 316-323 degrees
Central CA: Expect small 20 sec energy from when this system was a typhoon off Japan arriving Friday AM with swell 2.5 ft @ 20 secs (5 ft faces), moving towards 17 secs early Saturday. But the bulk of the real swell (from when this system went extratropical west of the dateline) is to start arriving Friday (9/25) at 8 PM with period 20 secs and size tiny if even noticeable. Size building overnight with 18 sec energy arriving mid-morning Saturday (9/26). Swell to start peaking mid-afternoon at swell 6.0-6.8 ft @ 17 secs (10-12 ft faces). Size slowly settling down overnight with swell 6.0-6.5 ft @ 15 secs Sunday AM (9.0-10.0 ft faces) and period slowly dropping to 14 secs later in the afternoon. Swell Direction: 296-302 degrees
Southern CA: Expect small 20 sec energy from when this system was a typhoon off Japan arriving Friday near 4 PM with swell 1.3 ft @ 20 secs (2.5 ft faces), moving towards 17 secs mid-Saturday. But the bulk of the real swell (from when this system went extratropical west of the dateline) is to start arriving Saturday (9/26) at 4 AM with period 20 secs and size tiny if even noticeable. Size building through the morning with 18 sec energy arriving mid-afternoon. Swell to start peaking near 10 PM with swell 2.9-3.3 ft @ 17 secs (4.9-5.6 ft faces). Size slowly settling down overnight with swell still 2.8-3.2 ft @ 16 secs Sunday AM (4.5-5.0 ft faces) and period slowly dropping to 15 secs later in the afternoon. Swell Direction: 300-306 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (9/24) high pressure at 1028 mbs was building east into the California coast, the leading edge of a large pocket of high pressure seeping east from the Central Pacific. It was already starting to generating north winds at 25 kts over Cape Mendocino and a much lighter north flow down the Central CA coast, and that pattern is expected to continue if not intensify. Fetch off the Cape is to build to 25-30 kts Friday and hold, though the wind vector is to be a little more in the offshore direction relatively to Central CA late Friday into Saturday, but winds speeds are to push more towards the 30 kt range. A decent amount of windswell is expected to be radiating south from this local fetch. This fetch is to finally start fading later Sunday (9/27) as the high pushes onshore over British Columbia. A brief break is forecast locally on Monday, but a massive high is to build right behind filling the entire Northeast Pacific late Monday ushering in more northwest winds at 20-25 kts to the entire Pacific Northwest Coast down into Central CA on Tuesday (9/29) and over the Channel Islands late and holding through Wednesday. A blown-out choppy mess is forecast. The Inactive Phase of the MJO is not going away lightly. A little bit of break is forecast on Thursday (10/1), but more is likely behind that.
The Inactive Phase of the MJO remains in-control of the Eastern Pacific, expected to continue influencing the area through 9/28 or so and likely hampering odds for tropical storm formation in the East Pacific. But a more favorable pattern is to follow starting in the West:
No tropical storms of interest are occurring nor forecast to occur for the next 3 days.
At the surface on Thursday (9/24) a moderate sized gale was trying to build in the Central South Pacific with 40 kt south winds at 60S 155W aimed due north and just clear of the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. Over the next 72 hours the models suggest this gale is to build Friday (9/25) producing a moderate fetch of 40-45 kt south winds due south of Tahiti and continuing north of the Ross Ice Shelf, drift steadily east from 55S 152W Fri AM and holding into early Saturday at 60S 135W, resulting in 32 ft seas Friday AM at 53S 153W building to 35 ft in the evening 50S 145W then dropping to 32 ft Sat AM at 46S 140W, then dissipating. This fetch is to be aimed well to the north, or up the 193-198 degree great circle paths to California (unshadowed by Tahiti) and possibly setting up limited sideband swell into Hawaii up the 175-178 degree paths (slightly shadowed by Tahiti). If this occurs a good pulse of southern hemi swell could result.
New Zealand Gale
A gale formed under New Zealand on Wed (9/16) with 45 kt west winds over a small area at 58S 175E aimed due east, holding into the evening at 58S 173W then sinking southeast and fading. 30 ft seas were modeled over a tiny area Wed AM (9/16) at 58S 175E building into the evening to 35 ft at 57S 175W, holding into Thursday AM at 35 ft at 58S 164W. But all energy was pushing due east with no decent swell expected to radiate north towards Hawaii or the US West Coast. There are low odds of swell reaching 1.6 ft @ 16 secs (thigh to waist high faces) hitting Hawaii on Thurs (9/24) from 190 degrees, then fading from 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 a large area of high pressure at 1036 mbs is to drift east through the Gulf of Alaska Sun-Tues (9/29) with no sign of low pressure in the East Pacific generating northwest fetch ahead of it at 25+ kts sending windswell down into Oregon and North CA when the fetch hits the coast on late Monday/early Tues (9/29). The Cape Mendocino pressure gradient is to activate at that time too, with 25 kt north winds forecast from then into Thurs (10/1). This is likely to drop water temps in the region. This high is to also increase northeast trades pushing into the Hawaiian Islands to the 15-20 kt range, likely increasing the odds for modest windswell there. Otherwise no low pressure or gale development is forecast.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Thursday (9/24) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) remained in the Inactive Phase, but slowly fading. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index had pushed well into positive territory. The Daily SOI index was down to 6.36 (10 days in a row positive). The 30 day average was up to 4.51 (effectively neutral) and the 90 average was down to 2.22. The SOI index was on the rise, but we believe about peaked out, typical of the Inactive Phase of the MJO.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated that strong easterly anomalies remained in control of the entire Eastern equatorial Pacific, with a faint signal present on the dateline and building solidly while extending east into and over Central America. It had previously looked like this event was reaching a close, but has since re energized in the East. This event is expected to slowly subside loosing coverage through 9/26, but not out, then finally dying by 10/8. The models also indicate that western anomalies associated with a building Active Phase of the MJO remained present in the Indian Ocean, and holding in the solid range compared to previous model runs, We remain skeptical whether this is a real change, or just the usual fluctuations in the model. But the apparent suppresion of storm signals from the GFS model in the week ahead suggest this is a real change. Regardless, the Active Phase is to start exiting the Indian Ocean in the next week pushing into the Western Pacific, then holding north of New Guinea while slowly pushing towards and reaching the dateline by 10/8. The models continue to depict this event as ungraded in strength. This is pretty typical of the models, in that they show the system stronger than reality out of the gate, then downgrade it, only to upgrade it again as it actually develops. We are in the 'actually develops' phase of that lifecycle.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (9/24) indicates only subtle change over the past month, 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 holding at 2.0-3.0 deg C above normal in the east with perhaps a pocket to 3+ deg. This is suggestive of a moderate El Nino. The expanse of the warmer waters has actually built north of the equator, solidifying it's grip up the coast of Mexico and Baja up into Southern CA, and now into the Central California coast and extending west almost to Hawaii. There was no change in the area over dateline, but not retracting any either, suggesting the warm pool is holding and building in areal coverage, but not building in intensity. Cooler than normal waters (-1.5 deg C) were fading off Africa, almost gone now with warm anomalies covering the entire tropical North Atlantic. Perhaps there is some hope for the tropical season there, but is likely a case of 'too-little too-late' to make a difference.
Below the surface on the equator things continue to look up. A steady flow of warmer than normal subsurface water continues tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America as it has for months now. A solid pocket of 2-3 deg warmer than normal waters are in control from 135W extending the whole way into Central America in one non-stop contiguous stream. This is the Kelvin Wave we had been tracking earlier in the month. Arrival was initially forecast at 9/27, and that continues to look to be the case, with the core now at 110W. This Kelvin Wave was the result of a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) in the West Pacific that occurred on 7/25-8/2. Expect to see surface water temperatures jump up in late Sept and early Oct off Central America, feeding the developing warm water pool there and fueling El Nino as this Kelvin wave impacts the coast. The interesting part is another little core of 2 deg warm water appeared under the dateline on 9/17, moved east to 175W by 9/22 and 172W on 9/24. At this point is looks like a new Kelvin Wave has developed with temps solidifying at 2deg above normal. This is associated with a persistent weak westerly surface wind flow that had been in place west of the dateline from 9/8-9/17. At this point it looks like it's developing into a full blown Kelvin Wave. It is embedded in a continuous stream of 1+ degree warmer than normal water extending from 155E under the dateline and into the existing warm pool off Ecuador. So all looks good for maintaining the existing warm pool for a while if not building it. But for more than a weak El Nino to form, we need more warm water over the long haul.
Today very light west winds were in-effect on the equator in the far West Pacific up to the nearly the dateline, then gave way to easterly trades as it has all month (and longer). For weeks now (since 9/8) a moderate westerly anomaly has been in-play from the west up to the dateline. These westerly anomalies started with Typhoon Dujuan and continued with Choi-Wan. This is gently feeding the subsurface warm water flow. At a minimum it suggests reinforcements for the newly developing Kelvin Wave (see above) and that in turn is reinforcing the Kelvin Wave impacting Central America. Not too bad. But more is required. The hope is that it will happen in this next incarnation of the Active Phase of the MJO.
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. All data suggests this will not be a strong El Nino, more likely a moderate one. NOAA's most recent update today forecasts 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, but started to come on a little strong in Sept. Regardless, 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 current 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, which appears to be gaining ground today (9/22), right on track. The models indicate it is pretty strong and to hold for a few weeks. Also water temps need to hold if not build (as is happening now). A final confirmation should be possible in the next week or so. In the mean time, the current Inactive Phase currently in-progress faltered as it passed over the West Pacific, a good thing in that it allowed the prime area for Westerly Wind Bursts to remain unscathed, allowing the warm pool to continue 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 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 the models suggest a completely zonal flow is to take over the South Pacific driven by high pressure well east of New Zealand pushing all weather system fast to the east and any fetch aligned generally on a west to east track. No swell production 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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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