Swell Classification Guidelines
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate/Utility Class: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft).
Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Thursday (10/23) in North and Central CA surf was 2 ft overhead on the faces and clean early coming from the Gulf. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high and clean and lined up. A fun looking day. In Southern California up north surf was chest high on the sets and clean and lined up but soft. Down south waves were chest high and soft coming out of the north with a little texture at worst. Hawaii's North Shore was getting residual sideband Gulf swell with waves waist high or so and clean but weak. The South Shore was getting background swell with waves waist to chest high and clean. On the East Shore was getting east windswell at knee to thigh high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Sideband swell from a small gale that tracked through the Eastern Gulf on Tues (10/21) with 28 ft seas was hitting North and Central California. Another broad but weak fetch was tracking through the Gulf on Wed-Fri (10/24) generating 18-20 ft seas falling southeast targeting CA well and forecast to regenerate just off the Central CA coast on Saturday generating 20 kts seas. Modest swell expected for the weekend in CA, but with weather too. And the remnants of Hurricane Ana to recurve and track northeast merging with a cold core low but getting sheared in the process eventually moving into the Pacific Northwest late Monday (10/27). No real swell to result except for the Pacific Northwest. A stronger Gulf gale to develop longterm targeting Hawaii and the mainland.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (10/23) the jet was .cgiit pushing off Northern Japan and the Kurils tracking northeast and merging in the Central Bering Sea with winds there to 150 kts, then falling hard south into the Gulf of Alaska and forming a nice trough there with 130 kt feeding it before turning east and pushing into Oregon with winds 140 kts. Decent support for gale development possible in the Gulf. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to ease slowly east and start pinching off off Central CA on Fri PM (10/24) with winds fading from 110 kts and the trough moving onshore over Oregon mid-day Saturday. Limited support for gale development through that period. Beyond 72 hours on Monday (10/27) a .cgiit flow is to over the entire North Pacific eventually consolidating some, but varying greatly in path. Wed (10/29) a pinched trough is to be off the Kurils ridging hard over the dateline up into the Bering Sea, then falling into a broader trough in the Gulf with 140 kts winds feeding it before pushing into Oregon. That trough is to hold into Thursday but already starting to pinch some offering only limited support for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (10/23) swell from a small gale that tracked through the Gulf was hitting California (see Small Gulf Gale below). Also a new gale was trying to develop in the Gulf (see Second Gulf Gale below). Over the next 72 hours the Second Gulf Gale is to be the only system of interest.
Small Gulf Gale
A new gale developed behind it in the Eastern Gulf starting Mon AM (10/20) generating 35 kt west winds aimed well at Southern Oregon down to North CA. By Mon PM winds were 40 kts over a tiny area generating 26 ft seas at 48N 148W (308 degs NCal) targeting mainly the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA. 40 kt northwest winds held into Tues AM (10/21) as the gale lifted northeast with seas increasing to near 30 ft at 49N 140W (319 degs NCal). The gale is to lift north in the evening with winds still barely 40 kts and seas 26 ft over a small area at 52N 137W outside the NCal swell window and targeting only British Columbia south to Vancouver Island. Perhaps a decent pulse of raw local swell to result for the Pacific Northwest with lesser energy down into Central CA.
North CA: Swell fading Friday (10/24) from 5.5 ft @ 12 secs (6.5 ft) early. Swell Direction: 310-320 degrees
Second Gulf Gale
The above gale was starting to redevelop in the Eastern Gulf on Thurs AM (10/23) generating a modest area of 30-35 kt northwest winds and seas building from 20 ft at 50N 147W (312 degs NCal). That fetch is to fall southeast in the evening and fade from 30 kts with seas 18-20 ft at 47N 145W (307 degs NCal). That fetch to fade with a new core developing 600 nmiles west of San Francisco Fri AM (10/24) with winds building from 30 kts and seas 16 ft at 45N 143W from the original fetch and a new area developing at 34N 142W from the new core. This system to regroup directly off San Francisco Friday PM with northwest winds 35 kts and seas 18 ft at 39N 137W (283 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). By Sat AM (10/25) the new mini gale is to be pushing northeast up into Oregon with 30 kt north winds still in.cgiay off North CA with 20 ft seas over a tiny area at 37S 130W targeting San Francisco (270 degs) to Pt Conception (290 degs SCal). The gale is to move inland over the NCal-Oregon border later Sat AM with no additional swell production expected. A decent front with south winds and rain to push into North and Central CA Saturday AM. If all goes as forecast swell is expected for Central CA early in the weekend.
NCal: Rough data for.cgianning purposes - Expect small swell from the first pulse of this gale to reach exposed breaks Sat AM (10/25) at 4.5 ft @ 13 secs (5.5-6.0 ft faces) fading some late. Southwest windchop intermixed. Swell from the more local component to hit mid-day Sun (10/26) at 7 ft @ 12 secs (8.0-8.5 ft). Swell Direction: First Pulse 307+ degrees, Second Pulse; 270 degrees
SCal: Rough data for.cgianning purposes - Expect swell arrival Sunday building through the day peaking late at 4.1 ft @ 12-13 secs (5 ft) at exposed breaks. Swell Direction: 290-295 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Ana was 550 nmiles west-northwest of Kauai on Thurs AM (10/23) with winds 45 kts moving northwest 12 kts generating 15 ft seas. Ana to start accelerating to the north and then northeast with winds building to 50-55 kt range over the weekend. See the Longterm forecast below for details.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (10/23) another low pressure system was filling the Northeast Gulf of Alaska with weak high pressure at 1020 mbs just barely touching Central CA, generating north winds at 15 kts limited to Pt Conception. A light winds flow was everywhere else. Light rain was over north CA and falling south. South winds to be moving into extreme North CA early Friday reaching down to Monterey Bay later in the day. Rain lifting north. South winds to reach to Morro Bay Sat AM with 20 kt south winds from San Francisco northward and up to 30 kts over Cape Mendocino then fading and turning west by evening. Rain falling south from San Francisco Sat AM reaching Morro Bay later in the day with perhaps light showers down to Monterey Bay into Sun AM. High pressure and north winds building Sun AM to 20 kts by late in the day for North and Central CA holding Monday then confined to Pt Conception later Tuesday as low pressure rebuilds in the Gulf. A light northwest flow is forecast for North and Central CA Wed-Thurs. Light rain possible for North CA for the same timeframe.
Surface Analysis - 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 the remnants of Hurricane Ana are to continue tracking north then curving northeast Friday (10/24) while accelerating with winds rebuilding to 55 kts. This system is to start accelerating to the northeast and start becoming absorbed in a cold core low 900 nmiles north of Hawaii Saturday PM (10/25). The consolidate gale is to be off Washington late Sunday with winds 50 kts and moving onshore 24-36 hours later. The official hurricane track has Ana still with 45 kt winds off Vancouver Island Tues AM (10/28). That seems far fetched. Still, it's something to monitor.
Also a new gale is forecast developing in the Northwestern Gulf on Tues AM (10/28) with 35 kt winds building over a solid area and falling southeast wit seas building from 22 ft at 47N 166W (350 degs HI, 301 degs NCal). Winds to build to 45-50 kt over a small area in the evening with seas 29 ft at 48N 160W (358 degs HI, 304 degs NCal). Fetch is to fall southeast Wed AM (10/29) still at 45 kts with 34 ft seas at 45N 158W aimed more at the mainland (296 degs NCal) than Hawaii (360 degs). A quick fade to follow.
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 Thursday (10/23) the daily SOI was holding at -24.18. The 30 day average was down some at -5.84 and the 90 day average was down some at -8.23. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a rebuilding Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO. A weak low pressure regime is in control south of Tahiti and is forecast to continue for the next week with gently falling 30 day average SOI numbers expected.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies over the Maritime Continent fading as they approach the dateline. Neutral anomalies to light west anomalies continued from the dateline to a point south of Hawaii and onward to the Galapagos. A week from now (10/31) weak east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent continuing over the dateline and building to modest strength, then fading to neutral under Hawaii. West anomalies to set up half way to the Galapagos continuing to the Galapagos. A modest Westerly Wind Burst developed in the West Pacific 9/28-10/8, then faded. But residuals from it redeveloped into another WWB over the dateline 10/12-10/22. This pattern suggests the area favorable for tropical development (westerly anomalies) is near Hawaii and is to continue shifting east over the coming week, and then onshore over Central America beyond. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated solid westerly anomalies still over the West Pacific. It started 10/16 and has held through 10/22. It is presumed an Active Phase of the MJO was in control there and is pushing east.
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, 9/10-9/17, and stronger 9/20-10/8 (a WWB) west of the dateline with another 10/12-10/22 on the dateline. Neutral anomalies filled the gaps. A Kelvin Wave (modest at this point) is in-flight associated with westerly anomalies during June, July into mid-August and is impacting the Galapagos and another Kelvin Wave is developing in the dateline region being fed by westerly anomalies there. That's two WWBs over the past 20+ days. 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 10/22 are generally in sync. They both suggest a modest Inactive MJO pattern over the West Pacific. The Dynamic model depicts this Inactive Phase holding for the next 15 days though fading over that duration, while the Statistic model has it fading completely 10 days out. Neither model has it tracking east at all. The ultra long range upper level model run 10/23 depicts a very weak Inactive pulse in the West Pacific and tracking east but decaying, all but gone by Nov 2. A dead neutral pattern is to follow into early December. 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 (10/16) 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 and building slowly. TAO data suggests 1.0 deg C anomalies present from the Galapagos to the West Pacific on and just north of the equator. Hi res data suggests a string of pockets of +2.0 deg anomalies from the Galapagos to 125W, and then 1.25-1.5 deg pockets from 155W to well west of the dateline (Kelvin Wave Generation Area), suggesting more warm water is poised to track east. It now appears warm water is building on the surface in the NINO 3.4 region based on TAO and hi res imagery.
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. 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.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 near 140W. The significant feature of late is that this pocket is in rapid decline and being r.cgiaced with normal if not slightly warmer than normal waters. Given this situation, it suggesting a warm regime is getting the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin, rather than isolated only to the North Pacific as it has been most of this year. 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 10/23 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with two embedded pockets of +2 deg anomalies at 170W and 100W tracking towards the Galapagos. This is good news in that it indicates the pipe is open and at least one if not two Kelvin Waves are in flight. The leading edge of the first Kelvin Wave is theoretically now reaching the Galapagos (with limited evidence of it at the surface now starting at 120W. Satellite data from 10/15 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 as predicted. Other models collaborate the presumption of Kelvin Wave genesis. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (10/15) indicates the first modest Kelvin Wave has developed in the west reaching east to 100W but is making no easterly headway. It is presumed the warm water is building on the surface there. A bit of a cooling followed (the presumable upwelling phase) and a new Kelvin wave is building back at 145E-165W, in sync with the satellite data and warmer and larger than this last one. It is assumed steady light westerly anomalies and 2 recent WWBs events over the past 20 days are feeding more warm water into the pipe. At this time we are well over the proverbial 'hump' and some sort of warm event is underway. As the first or the pair of Kelvin Waves arrives at the Galapagos now, more warm water will reinforce the existing warm pool theoretically pushing things into minimal El Nino territory. And if when the second Kelvin Wave pushes east (about 3 months from now or Feb 10) then we are set. Of course what is good enough to feed storm develop and what constitutes an official El Nino are two different things. We are focused on the former. The quandary now is whether this will be a one year event, or something longer.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 10/6 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. If anything it's moving into the moderate to strong category from the West Pacific to a point south of Hawaii. On and just south of the equator the current was generally pushing east to west in the moderate category. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest between 130E-170E and in pockets reaching to the Galapagos. 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.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 10/23 are stable and in an interesting way. It suggests water temps have built to +0.5 deg C and are to slowly but steadily increase building to +0.75 deg C in early November and are to hold through the Winter into Spring. But the real interesting part is that water temps are hold decently if not start building from +0.8 degs in May 2015, pushing +1.3 degs C by July. 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. A weaker one followed in July with yet another developing in October. 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, even 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 2-3 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 finally Rachel. And then even a few inches of snow in the Sierra on Sept 27 and again on Oct 15. The last time any of this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. And now mult.cgie recurving tropical systems pushing off Japan reaching the Gulf of Alaska in October. The only argument against the feedback loop now is a weak west moving Pacific Counter Current (rather than flowing east).
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 believable swell producing fetch of interest is forecast. A gale with 38 ft seas is forecast tracking under New Zealand on Tues (10/28) and quickly fading while tracking into the Tasman Sea. Swell possible for Fiji if this comes to pass.
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