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 Tuesday (9/25) North and Central CA had dateline swell fading from 3 ft overhead on the sets and reasonably clean, but still a little warbled and jumbled. Down south in Santa Cruz dateline swell was wrapping in producing waves at shoulder to head high and clean but mushed. Southern California up north was getting decent dateline swell at shoulder to head high and clean and well lined up. Down south dateline swell was chest high and clean but with a light texture taking hold. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting dateline swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and well lined up and clean with light trades in effect. The South Shore was getting southern hemi swell producing waves shoulder high with some bigger sets and clean. The East Shore had wrap around dateline swell at chest high and and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Up north another gale was formed in the Northern Gulf Mon-Tues (9/25) with 35 kt winds and and tiny area of 20 ft seas. But swell from it is to be overrun by swell from another gale forecast forming in the Northern Gulf on Wed-Thurs (9/27) with 35 kts winds and 22-24 ft seas. Swell possible for CA by the weekend but little for the Islands. A tropical system is to race from Japan to the dateline late in the weekend into early next week possibly generating 26-26 ft seas bu all aimed mainly towards the Pacific Northwest. Something to monitor. Down south on Monday (9/17) a modest gale developed under New Zealand with seas to 34 ft aimed a little bit to the northeast offering limited potential for small southern hemi swell long term. That swell is hitting Hawaii and bound for CA by late Wed (9/26). And another system formed southeast of New Zealand Thursday (9/20) pushing better to the northeast with seas at 36 ft fading some Fri (9/21) with seas down to 34 ft. Small summer like swell is pushing towards Tahiti, Hawaii (9/27) and the US West Coast (9/29). But the weather pattern is now very much favoring the Northern Hemisphere.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (9/25) the jet was running flat west to east on the 45N latitude with a bit of a trough trying to get going centered near the dateline with winds under it at 160 kts. Over the next 72 hours this trough to deepen slightly while traveling east through the Gulf of Alaska Wed-Thurs (9/27) offering limited support for gale development. The trough to then fade some while pushing inland over Canada, but not out. Beyond 72 hours another trough is to develop in the Western Gulf on Friday (9/28) with 130 kts winds feeding it but pinching off and collapsing by Sunday (9/30). Doubtful if anything will develop will form. The jet is to continue with decent wind speeds early next week but with a bit of a split pattern forecast developing over the Gulf of Alaska for a few days, then collapsing with a more cohesive jet mid-week. No clear evidence of support for gale development indicated though.
Surface - On Mon-Tues (9/25) a small gale tried to form in the Western Gulf over the Aleutians with northwest winds 35 kts and seas barely to 20 ft at 50S 165W for 6 hrs Tuesday AM. No swell of interest to result. But it does speak to the change towards a Fall pattern that is becoming established. A tropical system was off Baja and 2 others in the far West Pacific (see Tropics section below).
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is forecast developing in the Northwest Gulf of Alaska Wednesday (9/26) AM producing a moderate to large area of west-northwest winds at 35 kts tracking slightly to the east but mostly stationary into Thursday AM (9/27) then fading. Seas forecast at 24 ft Wednesday PM at 48N 153W and holding there into Thursday AM, then fading from 20 ft in the evening at 47N 148W. If all goes as forecast some decent 13-14 sec period swell could be expected for the Pacific Northwest late week tracking southeastward into Central California for the weekend from a rather northerly direction. Will monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday AM (9/25) Super Typhoon Jelawat was located 275 nmiles east of the Northern Philippines with sustained winds 140 kts (160 mph) tracking slowly north-northwest. Jelawat is to be approaching Taiwan on Thursday AM with winds down to 115 kts then make a turn to the northeast and start accelerating, fading to tropical storm status on Saturday (9/30) positioned 250 nmiles south of Southern Japan. The models depict another stall occurring with Jelawat moving into Southern Japan within 24 hours.
Tropical Storm Ewiniar was located 600 nmiles south of Tokyo Japan with winds 50 kts taking a generally northwards track. Ewiniar is to continue on this heading with little change in strength through Thursday midday (9/27) (winds to 60 kts), and is then to start racing off to the northeast. The models suggest it is to possibly develop some on the dateline early next week. Will monitor.
Also on Tuesday in the East Pacific Hurricane Miriam was located 300 nmiles south west of Cabo San Lucas with winds 85 kts and making a turn to the north. It was located 900 nmiles south-southeast of San Diego and on the 168 degree path to Dana Point. Maraim to continue on a northerly course while slowly fading and moving over colder waters the next 5 days. Something degree of small swell has already been produced and is expected to reach Southern CA starting Wed (9/26) assuming a 13-14 sec period. Pure swell 3.1 ft @ 13-14 secs (4 ft faces) continuing on Thursday AM (9/27) from 165 degrees.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (9/25) a small area of weak high pressure at 1024 mbs continued ridging into the North CA coast generating a modest north windflow at 20 kts over Cape Mendocino draping south off the Central Coast producing limited north windswell. An weak eddy flow was over nearshore Central CA down into Southern CA. More of the same is forecast Wednesday but with north winds to 25 kts over Cape Mendocino, then rapidly fading as low pressure builds in the Gulf of Alaska. Light winds continuing for all of CA through the weekend. A slight resurgence of north winds over Cape Mendo on Sunday to 20 kts then building to 25 kts over a large area Monday and 30 kts Tuesday (10/2) off Oregon as high pressure at 1032 mbs moves into the Eastern Gulf. But nearshore water for California to remain under light wind.
Surface - On Tuesday (9/25) no swell producing fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
New Zealand Gale
On Monday AM (9/17) a gale organized under New Zealand producing a small area of 45 kt west-southwest winds and seas building from 32 ft early at 56S 172E (213 degs CA and unshadowed by Tahiti). This system tracked east and held in the evening with winds to near 45 kts and seas peaking at 34 ft at 57S 179E (194 degs HI and 209 degs CA right in the edge of the Tahiti swell shadow). 45 kt winds barely held Tuesday AM (9/18) tracking flat east with and seas fading from 32 ft at 58S 168W.
Possible small southern hemi swell could result for both Hawaii starting Tues (9/25) at 1.6 ft @ 17 secs (2.5 ft) and starting late Wednesday peaking Thursday (4/27) for California at 2 ft @ 17 secs (3 ft) from 206-212 degrees centered on 211 degs.
Another New Zealand Gale
On Thursday AM (9/20) a new gale formed southeast of New Zealand on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf with winds 40-45 kts over a broadish area and seas building from 32 ft at 60S 175E (207 degs CA and shadowed by Tahiti and 192 degs HI). The fetch built to 50 kts in the evening aimed well to the northeast while drifting east with seas up to 37 ft up at 56S 176W. Fetch started fading from 40 kts Fri AM (9/21) though covering a broad area with seas up to 36 ft at 53S 168W (205 degs CA and in the heart of the Tahiti swell shadow and 182 degs HI). Fetch held on at 35-40 kts in the evening with seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 50N 160W. 35 kt south winds held Saturday AM (9/22) with seas 34 ft over a small area at 46S 157W. Wind are actually forecast to build to 40 kts in the evening aimed due north with seas still 30 ft at 43S 144W (194 degrees CA and emerging from the Tahitian swell shadow). The gale to fade out Sunday. In all some degree of decent swell is possible for HI and CA if one is to believe the models, though sets will be pretty broken up.
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Thurs (9/27) building to 2.6 ft @ 19 secs (5 ft) peaking early Friday at 3 ft @ 17 secs (5.0-5.5 ft) and holding through the day. Swell fading Saturday from 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 182-190 degrees
Rough data suggest swell arrival in Southern California on Sat (9/29) building to 2 ft @ 19 secs late (3.5 ft) peaking Sun (9/30) at 2.5 ft @ 17 secs (4 ft) fading Monday (10/1) from 2.8 ft @ 16 secs (4.0-4.5 ft). Swell Direction: 203 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 hours tropical energy from near Japan is to race northeast over the weekend flaring up over the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutians by Monday AM (10/1) with 45-50 kt southwest winds and 28 ft seas at 50N 173W mostly targeting the Aleutians and pushing into the Eastern Aleutians in the evening. Potential for sideband swell energy targeting mostly the Pacific Northwest up into Canada.
No other fetch of interest forecast.
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 Tuesday (9/25) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) (no update since Saturday) was down to 1.73. The 30 day average was down some to 4.41 with the 90 day average up at -2.81. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated neutral anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) and the dateline and holding at neutral the rest of the way across the equatorial Pacific into Central America. This suggests that a weak Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started Sept 2 in the West Pacific and continued for 21 days in a row through 9/22 (a good thing for setting up a Kelvin Wave and feeding warm water eastward) has finally faded. A weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was in control over the West Pacific. A week from now (10/3) neutral anomalies or very light west anomolies are forecast to be in control of the Maritime Continent and dateline all the way into the East Pacific suggesting a very weak Active Phase (at best). This Active Phase and WWB is what we were hoping for to prevent further degradation of the warm pool.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/24 remain in agreement suggesting a weak Active Phase is in-play over the West Pacific with the Inactive Phase fading over Central America moving into the Caribbean and Atlantic Basin. The longer range outlook is now in agreement with the Active Phase holding for another 6-10 days, then fading away 2 weeks out, giving way to a neutral pattern. Both models hint at some flavor of weak Inactive Phase building in the Indian Ocean. This all favors some degree of weak maintenance plan for the warm water pool off Ecuador, if not slightly more due to the WWB currently in play.
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. But since then a steady but weak degradation of the warm pool has ensued. Starting in early September imagery depicted a thin track of cooler than normal water snaking it's way west through the heart of the warm pool off Ecuador. The latest update on 9/24 depicts the thin cool water trend building out to the mid-equatorial Pacific with spottier warm water coverage occurring over much of the tropical East Pacific. The warm pool certainly looks to be loosing ground.
We've also been tracking the cool pool that has dominated between California and Hawaii, generated by 2 years of La Nina and stronger than normal high pressure there. There's some small signs it is weakening, but it is still quite obvious and a force to be reckoned with atmospherically.
Something that looked very much like a weak Kelvin Wave propagated east both subsurface (2-3 deg C anomaly at 118W) and at the surface (1 deg C anomaly), moving east of 120 and off the charts by 9/17. If this is real, it would help to replenish the warm water pool maybe 3-4 weeks out (early Oct), but nowhere near the levels it was in July (our best guess). The overriding concern continues to be there is no indication that the warm water pool is building in temperature or areal coverage as one would expect if El Nino were developing, and plenty of evidence that it is in a slow but steady decline or at best just just barely hanging on in maintenance mode. In fact the models are now picking up on the decline in water temps in the Nino 3.4 region, depicting a sharp decline in temps of 0.5 degs there for late September.
Hopefully the Kelvin Wave (mentioned above) pushing east will add a little fuel. And if in fact the WWB that occurred 9/2-9/22 in the far West Pacific is productive, another Kelvin Wave could result with yet more warming expected 90 days out (Dec). But this is looking less like a legitimate El Nino and more like a pulse towards a neutral or slightly warm pattern. Water temps are now modeled only .75 degs above normal in the Jan-Feb 2013 timeframe for the Nino 3.4 region, just barely within El Nino thresholds. So the evidence is not promising, but the models are hopeful for some degree of rebound longterm.
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. As of right now, with the very weak MJO pattern in play, the weak evidence of any WWBs, the declining warm pool, our bets are for this warm event to not reach a real El Nino status. And this would actually be a good thing (see final paragraph).
At this time there is only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern in-play. 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 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. Recent imagery suggest the high is shifting west and north some and winds along the California coast are becoming less of an issue. But there has been no change in local water temperatures off Central and North CA.
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 and alot of energy 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. This is way better than where we've been for the past 2 years (under the influence of La Nina). The preference is that El Nino does not form this year, because that would only usher in another La Nina the year or two beyond. Rather, a neutral pattern biased slightly warm would be good, followed by at least another year of slightly warmer temps ultimately converging in a stronger El Nino 2-3 years out. And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts before a legit El Nino forms).So it will be interesting to see whether the pattern we are currently in is a tease or the real thing. The preference is for a tease with a slowly building storm pattern occurring over a multi-year period, culminating with a real El Nino 2 or more years beyond.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest 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 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