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 (10/7) in North and Central CA surf was shoulder high and a bit warbled and wonky with modest northwest winds on it. Down in Santa Cruz surf was chest to head high on the sets and clean and lined up but weaker and smaller than days past. Tide was having a negative impact early. But it was still good by summertime standards. In Southern California up north surf was shoulder to head high and clean and lined up though a bit on the soft side coming from what was Hurricane Simon. Down south hurricane swell was producing waves at head high to 1 ft overhead and lined up and fairly impressive but pushing hard from the south. Hawaii's North Shore was getting north dateline windswell with waves head high to 1 ft overhead and well lined up with clean conditions. The South Shore was still settling down with background swell producing waves in the waist high range and clean. On the East Shore dateline swell was wrapping in producing surf in the shoulder high range and clean with no trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
For the North Pacific a gale pushed off Kamchatka on Sunday (10/5) with seas to 37 ft late targeting Hawaii well. Swell is in the water and expected to arrive in the Islands later today (Tues 10/7). And the remnants of Typhoon (Phanfone) pushed east off Japan and have merged with a cold core gale that previously tracked off Kamchatka. It is to reach the dateline generating a small area of up to 37 ft seas aimed east targeting the US West Coast well. Nothing significant size wise, but likely well rideable. Something to monitor. And yet another typhoon (Vongfong) was building south of Japan projected to reach Super Typhoon status later today into Wednesday (10/8) east of the Northern Philippines and then turn north possibly recurving northeast long term. And a cold core low is forecast developing near the dateline a week out. Something to monitor. Down south the southern hemisphere is effectively asleep for the foreseeable future.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (10/7) the jetstream was pushing east off North Japan with winds to 150 kts then fading some while reaching to the dateline and starting to fall into what looks like a small trough 1200 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii. East of there the jet fell apart with winds from the aforementioned trough tracking north up into the Bering Sea. Limited support for gale development north of Hawaii. Over the next 72 hours winds are to start building off Japan while pushing east at 150 kts eventually reaching over the dateline then turning gently to the east-northeast terminating just off Washington Fri (10/10). A bit of a trough is forecast on the dateline on Friday offering some support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere. In all this pattern to look pretty nice. Beyond 72 hours those winds are to push east with a bit of a small .cgiit pushing off the Kurils on Sunday (10/12) but with a consolidate jet rebuilding behind it over the Northern Kurils by Tues (10/14). By then the small .cgiit pocket is to be on the dateline. Still, there is to be some support for gale development in the southern part of the .cgiit flow, possibly supporting formation of a cutoff low. By Tuesday (10/14) 140 kt winds are to be in the consolidated portion of the jet over the Gulf of Alaska pushing inland over North CA and forming a bit of a trough and offering some support for local low pressure development over the Eastern Gulf.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (10/7) swell from a winter gale that built off Kamchatka was in the water pushing towards mainly Hawaii (see Kamchatka Gale below). Otherwise the remnants of the Kamchatka Gale and the remnants of Typhoon Phanfone were consolidating forming an extratropical gale just west of the dateline and pushing east (see Extratropical Storm Phanfone below). A weak high pressure pattern was over the East Pacific with no trades of interest relative to Hawaii and no gradient induced windswell of interest forecast relative to North and Central CA.
Over the next 72 hours the extratropical storm is to be the only weather system of interest.
On Sunday AM (10/5) a gale was developing just east of Kamchatka generating 45 kt northwest winds and 30 ft seas over a small area at 48N 162E. By evening winds are to build to 50 kts with seas increasing to barely 38 ft at 46N 167E 2300 nmiles from Hawaii (319 degs) and 3150 nmiles form NCal (304 degs). Fetch is to be fading fast Mon AM (10/6) from 35 kts with seas dropping from 33 ft at 44N 171E (319 degs Hi, 300 degs NCal). Assuming all goes as forecast some decent 17-18 secs period swell could result for Hawaii with much smaller size for the mainland.
Hawaii (Oahu): Expect swell arrival Wednesday (10/8) late evening peaking near 1 AM Thurs (10/9) with pure swell 5.6 ft @ 18 secs (10 ft Hawaiian). Swell holding into sunrise at 5.6 ft @ 16-17 secs (9 ft Hawaiian evening then fading some late afternoon. Residuals holding into Fri AM (10/10) at 4.8 ft @ 15 secs (7 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction: 319 degrees
NCal: Expect swell arrival Fri AM (10/10) with period at at 18 secs and size building peaking at sunset at near 3 ft @ 17 secs (5 ft faces), but shadowed in the San Francisco area. Swell to continue into Saturday AM (10/11) at 3 ft @ 15 secs(4.5 ft faces) and fading from there. Swell Direction: 301-302 degrees
Potential Extratropical Storm Phanfone
On Tues AM (10/7) the remnants of what was Typhoon Phanfone (when it was south of Japan) were fully merged with the remnants of a gale that previously tracked off Kamchatka (see Kamchatka Gale above) forming a broad new extratropical gale approaching the dateline with 45 kt northwest winds and seas building from 26 ft at 38N 165E. In the evening this system is to be sweeping quickly east with winds building to 50 kts and seas 30 ft at 40N 180W (318 degs HI, 292 degs NCal). By Wed AM (10/8) west winds are to still be 50 kts over a small area with seas building to 36 ft at 43N 172W (333 degs HI, 294 degs NCal, 301 degs SCal). In the evening this system is to stall and lift north some with 45 kt west winds holding up at 46N 170W with seas 35 ft up at 46N 168W (340 degs HI, 298 degs NCal). By Thurs AM (10/9) 45 kt west winds to still be in.cgiay easing east with seas 37 ft over a tiny area at 46N 168W bypassing Hawaii and pushing down the 298 degree track to NCal. 40 kt west winds to hold in the evening with the gale easing east-northeast into the Northern Gulf with 30 ft seas fading at 48N 164W (303 degs NCal). Winds fading from 35 kts Fri AM (10/10) with seas fading from 26 ft at 48N 158W (304 degs NCal).
At this time this system is starting to become real, but the track has moved further north than previous projections and is a bit weaker. Still it's something to monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Typhoon Vongfong was 100 nmiles north of Guam on Sun 18Z (10/5) with winds 90 kts and tracking west-northwest. Steady strengthening occurred while holding it's west-northwest track into Tuesday AM (10/7). At that time winds were 120 kts with seas 44 ft positioned 900 nmiles south of Kyoto Japan. Vongfong is to peak out Tues PM into Wed AM (10/5) with winds to 135 kts (155 mph) putting it at Super Typhoon status positioned 750 nmiles south of Southern Japan and 600 nmiles east of the Northern Philippines. A hard turn to the north is forecast thereafter with weakening forecast. The GFS model has this system eventually curving northeast tracking right up the middle of Japan starting Mon (10/13) then moving up into the North China Sea, not moving clear into the North Pacific. Still this system is worth monitoring.
Hurricane Simon on Tues (10/7) was down to tropical storm status and poised to move inland over Central Baja and eventually Arizona. Swell from earlier in it's life is in the water relative to Southern CA and is past it's peak. No more swell production is forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (10/7) high pressure at 1018 mbs was between California and Hawaii generating no fetch and not moving anywhere. No pressure gradient was along the North CA coast and trades were light relative to Hawaii. On Wednesday north winds are to build to 15 kts pushing down the immediate Central CA coast holding Thursday then breaking up some on early Friday only to rebuild in the afternoon as high pressure builds offshore to 1022 mbs ridging towards Oregon while large low pressure starts moving into the Gulf of Alaska. The gradient is to start lifting north isolated to North CA on Sat AM (10/11) with north winds there 20 kts and holding into Sunday. The gradient is to fall south to Central CA on Monday with north winds isolated there at 15-20 kts. Low pressure is to be building in the Gulf.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (10/7) residual swell from a gale that tracked east across the width of the South Pacific a week back was hitting the US West Coast but steadily dropping. Otherwise no swell producing fetch was occurring and none is forecast for the next 72 hours.
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 another weak but broad low pressure center is to start developing just west of the dateline on Sun (10/12). Winds are to be below 35 kts with no seas of interest forecast yet. But, this is looking promising with high pressure north of it blocking it's path to a northern escape. Something to monitor.
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.cgianet. 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 .cgiit 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).
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) On Tuesday (10/7) the daily SOI was down to -3.81. The 30 day average was holding at -5.60 and the 90 day average was down some at -6.80. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a fading Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a stable Active Phase of the MJO. A lower pressure regime is forecast building over and south of Tahiti starting Thurs (10/9) with falling SOI numbers possible.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated modest west anomalies still holding over the Maritime Continent turning neutral on the dateline and then light easterly from a point south of Hawaii to a point mid-way to the Galapagos. Neutral anomalies were east of there. A week from now (10/15) weak east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent turning to neutral anomalies on the dateline continuing south of Hawaii and onwards to the Galapagos. The current westerly anomalies co.cgied with a new wave of tropical development in the West Pacific indicates a westerly wind burst is occurring in the West Pacific. It started 9/28 and is projected holding to 10/8 near 130-160E. This is well positioned to support Kelvin Wave development. The TOA array indicates moderate west anomalies over the western equatorial Pacific. It is presumed an Active Phase of the MJO is in control there. CDAS winds indicate westerly anomalies in the far West Pacific have been in.cgiay near 140E since at least 9/20 and are on the way down.
Looking at the trend over the past few months there has not been a extended period of enhanced trades so far this year, and we're over 280 days into the year. The trend is clearly towards westerly anomalies (suppressed trades) which suggests a bias towards El Nino. Big westerly wind bursts occurred Jan-April, followed by a neutral period May into early June. The TOA array surface sensors (the ground truth) indicated moderate westerly anomalies re-developed west of the dateline 6/25-7/6, then again 7/11-7/20, building into a WWB and holding through 8/10. Light westerly anomalies developed again 8/20-8/22, 8/29-9/2 and 9/10-9/17, and stronger 9/20-present west of the dateline. Neutral anomalies filled the gaps. Another Kelvin Wave (modest at this point) is in-flight associated with westerly anomalies during June, July into mid-August and continues to be fed up to the current date. Compared to La Nina where enhanced trades (20+ kts) would be blowing non-stop, we're in great shape and have been all year. No easterly anomalies of interest have occurred all year. It would be hard to make a case stating some flavor of weak El Nino was not in.cgiay at this point.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 10/6 are generally in sync. They both suggest a weak Active MJO pattern over the West Pacific. Both the Statistic and Dynamic models depicts that Active Phase fading to neutral 10 days out and then turning weakly Inactive. The ultra long range upper level model run 10/7 depicts a weak Active Phase over the West Pacific and forecast to push east through 10/22. A weak Inactive pulse to follow in the West Pacific starting 10/22 reaching the East Pacific 11/11. Another weak Active Phase to follow starting 11/6. Recent experience this year suggests this model overhypes any projected Inactive Phases. The models are calibrated assuming a neutral global weather pattern, and typically either overcall weather events during La Nina and undercall then during El Nino in the Pacific Basin. This suggests that warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some gentle guiding impact on the atmosphere above. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
Surface Water Temps: The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of the most recent low res imagery (10/6) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific, down some from the peak of the Kelvin Wave eruptions in late June in the east, but up some since early Sept. TAO data suggests 1.0 deg C anomalies present from Central America to 115W fading to 0.5 deg out to 130W, and then 0.0-+0.5 degs above normal between 130W-180W, down some from last week. This is curious, but high res imagery also indicated the downturn in temps in the heart of the NINO 3.4 area. +1.0 deg anomalies held near 160E (Kelvin Wave Generation Area), suggesting more warm water is poised to track east. Contrary to expectation, warm water is NOT building on the surface in the NINO 3.4 region at the moment (nor is it fading). But a new Kelvin Wave is poised to erupt over the Galapagos. Mixed signals continue.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water. There are virtually no signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California as would be expected this time of year. And serious warm water is entrenched along the California coast and building in coverage, the exact opposite of the trend of the past 3+ years. Waters temps in San Francisco are 62 degrees and holding solid. Very rare. But this is expected if El Nino were in.cgiay. This is significant in that is suggests the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weakened relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is mostly normal/neutral except for cool water streaming off Southern Chile pushing west reaching up to the equator just south of Hawaii. But even the areal coverage of that pocket is in decline, suggesting a warm regime is getting the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific remains most impressive, while the South Pacific is starting to trend in the same direction.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 10/7 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with an embedded pocket of +2-3 deg anomalies at 100-180W pushing up towards the Galapagos. This is great news indicating the pipe is open and at least one Kelvin Wave is in flight. The leading edge of this new Kelvin Wave is making quick advances now reaching the Galapagos. Satellite data from 9/30 depicts a broad area of +5 cm anomalies are covering the dateline region and tracking east reaching the Galapagos, indicative of a Kelvin Wave starting to impact that area. This is right as predicted. Other models collaborate the presumption of Kelvin Wave genesis. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (9/30) indicates this modest Kelvin Wave has developed in the west reaching east to 100W. Even better, a new Kelvin wave is building back at 145E-175W, in sync with the satellite data. It is assumed the light westerly anomalies and the recent WWB of late in the West Pacific are feeding more warm water into the pipe. At this time we are well over the proverbial 'hump'. As the first Kelvin Wave arrives at the Galapagos (~Sept 30), more warm water will reinforce the existing warm pool theoretically pushing things into minimal El Nino territory. And if a second Kelvin Wave is in development, then we are set into January. Of course that cannot be declared until the first Kelvin Wave hits, but everything is lining up. The quandary now is whether this will be a one year event, or something longer.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 10/1 suggests an unchanged pattern. The current is pushing west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. On and just south of the equator the current was generally pushing east to west. West anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest between 110-140W and also near 140E. There were no significant east anomalies indicated. This data suggests a somewhat mixed picture but continued slightly better than the last update and improving incrementally. But it appears the easterly current is no longer overtaking the westerly component. A slight improvement.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 10/7 are stable and in an interesting way. It suggests water temps have built to +0.5 deg C and are to start increasing building to +1.0 deg C in mid-Dec. But the real interesting part is that water temps are hold decently still at +0.9 into June 2015. This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year warm event. See the chart based version here - link.
Analysis: A series of downwelling Kelvin Waves have been generated starting in Aug 2013, followed by a stronger one in Oct-Nov, and a massive one in Jan-April 2014. And now a weaker one is in flight starting July and continuing non-stop through the present date. The only interruptions have been when the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle took over. Water temps in the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle have held remarkably consistent from May-June 2014 onward, event during upwelling phases. Continued suppressed trades with embedded weak westerly anomalies developed in the West Pacific in July and have held through present time producing the latest Kelvin Wave with +3 degs C in flight now. Water temps have held in the Galapagos triangle in the +1.5 degree range for several months now. Certainly there is nor has been any signs of easterly anomalies or a shut down of the Kelvin Wave pipe for better than a year now. This is a huge step forward.
Assuming westerly anomalies continue in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area (west of the dateline), more warm water will migrate east. This seems reasonable seeing how there has been virtually no easterly anomalies for the first 9 months of this year. And trades tend to weaken during Fall months in the northern hemi, meaning we're just now starting to reach the point in time where Westerly Wind Bursts should have the best support for development. Most El Nino's do not develop till the Fall, including the Super El Nino of '83/83. Only a few (namely the '97 Super El Nino) developed and survived strong through the summer and over the span of an entire year. A more 'normal' development life cycle would favor the alternating 'downwelling/upwelling' Kelvin Wave cycle. See currently Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here . Notice the alternating eastward migrating 'cool' and 'warm' cycles (upwelling/downwelling Kelvin Waves). Also note the CFSv2 model accurately depicted the upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase, with water temps in Nino1.2 fading in August then redeveloping in September.
Finally, there's the 'feedback loop' consideration. As far as we're concerned it is in.cgiay. The largest argument in favor of that is the total breakdown of the Gulf of Alaska high pressure system, resulting in very high water temps off California. Also the early season recurving of mult.cgie tropical low pressure systems tracking northeast off Japan bound for the dateline. And the pulse of tropical activity near Hawaii on the week of 8/4 and those systems continued evolution in the West Pacific is most telling. And then the near record pulse of tropical activity off Mexico (8/18-9/20) resulting in Lowell, Super Hurricane Marie, followed by Odile and Polo (though these last 2 produced no swell) and now Rachel. And then even a few inches of snow in the Sierra on Sept 27. The last time any of this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. The only argument against the feedback loop now is a west moving Pacific Counter Current.
Only once the ocean and atmosphere are co.cgied on a global level (that is, the ocean has imparted enough heat into the atmosphere to start changing the global jetstream pattern) can one begin to have confidence that a feedback loop is developing and a fully matured El Nino can result. About 3 months of undisturbed heating is required for the atmosphere to start responding on a global level where the point of 'no return' could be achieved from our perspective. The warm pool starting forming in earnest on 5/1, and so the atmosphere would not trip over the 'no-return' point till 8/1. We have passed that threshold. As of 9/2, all the arguments against a feedback loop being in.cgiace were gone except the Pacific Counter Current.
Note that what we consider 'teleconnected' and what NOAA considers threshold El Nino conditions are two different things and serve different purposes. We are focused on monitoring weather events that contribute to the production of open ocean storms mainly in the Pacific Basin that may or may not have the same impacts as a full blown El Nino. So our criteria is certainly less than the threshold of NOAAs. That said, considering the size and duration of the westerly wind bursts in Jan-April, and the Kelvin Wave that preceded it, it seem hard to believe that at least some Pacific Basin wide 'change' was not already well entrenched even early this year, and had been developing since perhaps as early and Aug of 2013 (when the first Kelvin Wave of the series started taking shape). Monitoring the number, location and track of tropical systems in the North Pacific over October will help to put the final nail in coffin, though given the current track record, it is only a formality at this time. We will continue monitoring westerly wind anomalies and warm subsurface water buildup in and under the Kelvin Wave Generation area. Also monitoring of the NPac jetstream (which has already been productive) and Atlantic hurricane activity (which is nonexistent) are key. But at this time odds continue stacking up in favor that a global teleconnection is now established. If that's true, the focus then becomes estimating how deep the ENSO cycle will become, or whether it will stay shallow but transition into a multi-year event. At this time we're predisposed to the multiyear, Midoki scenario. And that is actually the better of all options.
At a minimum the ocean is well past recharge mode, with cold water from the multiyear 2010-2013 La Nina cycle dispersed and temperatures on the rise. Officially we are still in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in.cgiay. But given all current signs, from a winter storm and swell production perspective, atmospheric transition is well underway. Even if we never reach official El Nino status this is a far better.cgiace than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. Still lingering concerns about what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998) will temper our forecasts. .
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours 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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table