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 Saturday (9/29) North and Central CA had Gulf swell hit producing waves at 2-3 ft overhead and clean, well lined up and pretty solid. Down south in Santa Cruz Gulf swell was head high with bigger sets and clean early. Southern California up north was getting the leading edge of the Gulf swell at waist to chest high but warbled by wind. Down south a mixture of new southern hemi swell and swell from the Gulf was producing waves at shoulder high with bigger sets and pretty warbled by wind. Hawaii's North Shore was getting Gulf swell too at head high to 2 ft overhead and clean. The South Shore was getting southern hemi swell producing waves in the waist to chest high range and a little warbled. The East Shore had wrap around Gulf swell at shoulder high and lightly chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a gale that developed in the Northern Gulf on Wed-Thurs (9/27) with 35 kts winds and 22-24 ft seas to continue Sunday in California then fade through the early part of the week dropping below really rideable levels by late week. A pair of tropical systems are to race from Japan northeast over the weekend into early next week possibly generating 30 ft seas on the dateline Wed (10/3) aimed well to the east but not making much if any eastward progress. Something to monitor. Another tropical system is to be behind that too taking a similar path but development if any is not likely. Down south a gale formed southeast of New Zealand Thursday (9/20) pushing well to the northeast with seas at 36 ft fading some Fri (9/21) with seas down to 34 ft. Modest summer-like swell is fading in Hawaii and expected to hit the California CA coast Sunday on the middle of the workweek, with modest follow on energy into late in the workweek. Nothing else of real interest to follow with the weather pattern now looking more like Fall.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (9/29) the jet was ridging some in the west then falling into a decent trough in the Western Gulf dropping down to 35N with 120 kt winds feeding into it making one thing that something should develop there. But within 24 hours that trough is to pinch off. Over the next 72 hours the flow is to be generally flat west to east relocated northward at 48N with no troughs of interest forecast. Beyond 72 hours a bit of a split pattern is forecast developing over the Gulf of Alaska into Thursday (10/4) supporting high pressure down at the surface there with another steep trough trying to build near the dateline with 160 kts winds feeding it, not looking very supportive of gale development initially. But the trough is to hold into the weekend with additional wind energy pushing from Siberia eastward, possibly shoring up reinforcements and providing hope for the future.
Surface - On Saturday (9/29) high pressure was in control of the dateline at 1032 mbs with no low pressure of interest occurring. Swell from a gale in the Gulf was hitting Hawaii and California (see Gulf Gale below). Trades were blowing at 15 kts in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands but of no swell production interest. Over the next 72 hours tropical energy from Japan (Elwiniar) is to race east reaching the dateline Sun-Mon (10/1) serving only to dislodge high pressure there. A second tropical system (remnants of Super Typhoon Jelawat) is forecast tracking to the dateline and building west of there on Tuesday AM (10/2) with 50 kt northwest winds and seas building from 28 ft at 47N 170E. In the evening winds are to be fading from 45 kts over a small area with seas peaking at 32 ft at 48N 178E. Wednesday AM (10/3) the gale is to be dissipating with winds fading from 35 kts and seas dropping from 26 ft at 48N 175W and gone by evening. If all goes as forecast there some potential for small long period swell tracking towards the US West coast with limited sideband swell glancing the Hawaiian Islands. Will monitor.
A gale developed in the Northwest Gulf of Alaska Wednesday (9/26) AM producing a moderate to large area of west-northwest winds at 30-35 kts tracking slightly to the east but mostly stationary into Thursday AM (9/27) then fading. Seas were modeled at 26 ft Wednesday PM at 50N 153W dropping from 24 ft Thursday AM at 47N 152W, then expected to fade from 20 ft in the evening at 47N 148W. Some modest decent 13-14 sec period swell is likely in the water heading southeast towards the Pacific Northwest late week moving into Central California for the weekend from a rather northerly direction. Expect swell of 5.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (7.5 ft) Saturday AM (9/29) and about the same Sunday AM at 5.7 ft @ 13 secs all coming from 303 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Saturday AM (9/29) Typhoon Jelawat was located just south of southern Japan tracking northeast and accelerating with winds 75 kts. It is expected to track over Eastern Japan Saturday evening and emerge off the Northern Japan coast on Sunday at tropical storm strength and fading, racing towards the dateline. See details above of what is to happen longer term.
Tropical Depression Ewiniar was located 500 nmiles east of Northern Japan and accelerating to the Northeast. Winds were 35 kts and fading. See details above of what is to happen longer term.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (9/29) high pressure was ridging into Washington and of no interest fore the California coast. A generally light wind pattern was in play. The Cape Mendocino gradient is supposed to return on Sunday generating 20 kt north winds there, but again a light winds pattern is forecast for everywhere south of Pt Arena. The gradient is to continue on Monday with winds to 30 kts likely generating some windswell for Central CA but a light eddy flow is forecast for Pt Arena southward holding into Thursday, but with the gradient fading to 20 kts then and ready to die. A light wind pattern is forecast for the entire CA coast beyond with no pressure features of interest. This continues to look like the start of a Fall weather pattern.
Surface - On Saturday (9/29) no swell producing fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours there's suggestion that a gale could develop in the deep Southeast Pacific on Monday (10/1) with 40-45 kt west-southwest winds generating 32 ft seas at 55S 118W and barely in the Southern CA swell window. by evening it is to be out of even the SCal swell window with 32 ft seas at 52S 110W, of interest only to Chile and Peru and dissipating by Tues AM (10/2). Low odds of sideband swell radiating due north into the California swell window.
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 (9/28) 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
Expect 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 limited tropical energy is forecast trying to coalesce off the Kuril Islands on Sat (10/6) producing a limited fetch of 35+ kts west winds. But this is a real reach for the models. No other swell production is 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 Saturday (9/29) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding near 7.37. The 30 day average was up some at 3.65 with the 90 day average steady at -1.02. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated a modest area of strong west anomalies in full swing over the Maritime Continent (WPac) much stronger than it has been in previous weeks. Neutral winds were holding 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 then faded on 9/25 is returning with gusto (a good thing for setting up a Kelvin Wave and feeding warm water eastward). A weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was in control over the West Pacific. A week from now (10/7) weak easterly anomalies are forecast to be trying to settle in over the Maritime Continent with neutral anomalies over the dateline east to the East Pacific suggesting perhaps a return of a weak flavor of the Inactive Phase. Even if that happens, we have had a good long run of the Active Phase (since at least 9/1 if not longer).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/28 remain in agreement suggesting now a moderate 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 2 weeks, but slowly fading, but not gone even 2 weeks out. Both models hint at some flavor of weak Inactive Phase building in the Indian Ocean. This all favors some degree of 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 9/27 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 no real signs it is weakening and 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 per the CFS model, and just barely within El Nino thresholds. But the newer and supposedly better CFS2 model run on 9/27 indicates a total collapse of the warm pool with a return to neural conditions by mid-January. There's some suggestion of a slight rebound in warmer temp by next summer, but that is just a guess.
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, and the projections from the CFSv2 model, our bets are for this warm event to not reach a real El Nino status and instead decay to neutral. 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 there's some suggestion of a gale developing under New Zealand on Friday (10/5) with 50 kt west winds and seas building to 38 ft at 60S 170E, then fading fast 12 hours later.
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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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