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 (11/6) North and Central CA had new west swell from a secondary gale that tracked northeast up the coast 2 days earlier producing solid waves in the double overhead range and clean with light east wind early. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were head high with sets 2 ft overhead and clean and swell lined up. Southern California up north was shoulder to head high and clean and swell lined up. Down south waves were waist to chest high and clean and nicely lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was decent with north angled Gulf swell producing waves 1-3 ft overhead and clean but with an underlying warble and well lined up. The South Shore was effectively flat and clean. The East Shore was getting the same north swell with waves 1-2 ft overhead and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a secondary gale that tracked fast northeast from just north of Hawaii Saturday into Canada on Sunday (11/4) with seas in the 25 ft range has peaked along the Central CA coast. A broad but weaker system is developing on the dateline Tues (11/6) expected to peak in the evening with seas in the 24 ft range targeting primarily Hawaii. Possible fun swell to result. A local gale is forecast falling south off Oregon late Thursday (11/8) producing 18-20 ft seas targeting the Central CA coast but with much winds on it when the swell arrives. After that a rather calm period is forecast, with no swell producing fetch forecast till Tues (11/13) when a small gale is to fall south out of the Eastern Bering Sea perhaps generating some fetch and seas just south of the Eastern Aleutians targeting the Pacific northwest down to maybe Central CA. But for now the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to continue to be an obstacle for the North Pacific.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (11/6) the jet was pushing flat off Japan forming a trough just west of the dateline with winds 140 kts flowing into it over a tiny area, the lifting northeast some eventually pushing into British Columbia. Limited support for gale development in the dateline trough. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to lift north and pinch off on the dateline while a ridge develops north of Hawaii supporting high pressure down at the oceans surface. A small trough is to develop off Vancouver Island Wed (11/7) falling south and pushing inland over San Francisco late Thursday offering only limited windswell development potential. Beyond 72 hours the dreaded split jetstream pattern is to set up Mon (11/12) with the split point well west of the dateline completely shutting down potential for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (11/6) the only weather system of interest was a gale developing on the dateline. It actually started organizing west of the dateline on Monday (11/5) with 30-35 kt northwest winds and seas at 18-20 ft. It reached the dateline Tues AM (11/6) with increased north winds at 40 kts and seas building briefly to 28 ft at 45N 170E pushing due south and targeting no-one. Secondary seas of 20 ft were at 34N 173E targeting Hawaii down the 302 degree path. Over the next 72 hours fetch in this system is to move to the gales southwest quadrant in the evening fading from 35 kts but providing good coverage with seas still 24 ft but shrinking in coverage at 38N 172E (311 degs HI). Additional 30 kt north fetch to continue Wed AM (11/7) resulting in 20 ft seas at 38N 175E (313 degs HI). This system is to be fading in the evening while tracking northeast with north fetch fading in coverage at 30 kts providing no real seas of interest.
Possible small swell for Hawaii to result by Friday afternoon (11/9) at 4.5 ft @ 13 secs (5.5-6.0 ft) from 304 degrees.
Also a small gradient is to develop just off the Pacific Northwest on Thurs AM (11/8) resulting from high pressure at 1032 mbs in the Gulf of Alaska and a weak non-closed isobar low over Washington. It's to producing a small area of 35 kt north winds and seas building from 19 ft at 44N 133W (318 degs NCal) falling south. 30-35 kt north winds to hold into the evening with 19-20 ft seas at 41N 131W (301 degs NCal). A quick fade is forecast Friday AM (11/9) as the gale dissipates off the Central CA coast. Possible local windswell to result for Central CA.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday (11/6) no tropical systems of interest were occurring and none were forecast.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (11/6) a neutral pressure pattern was in control of the US West Coast with light winds and clear skies and warmer temperatures. But weak low pressure as building in the Northern Gulf of Alaska and high pressure at 1030 mbs was building southeast of it. But by Wednesday the high pressure system is to be building to 1036 mbs and starting to ridge into the North CA coast with north winds building over North CA at 25 kts pushing south covering all of Central CA on Thursday at 15-20 kts. Also on Thursday a fetch of gradient north winds associated with low pressure pushing down the coast is to be just off the NCal Coast. Rain is to be pushing down the state reaching San Francisco mid-afternoon and into Southern CA by evening. Light snow at Tahoe by sunset with 5-6 inches accumulation by sunrise. By Friday the gradient is to start fading and local winds to be north but only 10 kts or so for North and Central CA. Light rain fading through the day. Another 1-2 inches of snow for Tahoe down into the Southern Sierras. North winds continuing Saturday in the 10 kts range, but Southern CA to see north winds at 20 kts all day Friday and Saturday. A possible offshore flow to develop Sunday for all locations.
Surface - On Tuesday (11/6) no swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
On Thursday (11/1) a small storm was in the deep Central Pacific producing 50 kt west winds and seas to 38 ft at 55S 138W. It is to start dissipating in the evening with fetch fading from 45 kts but seas from previous fetch up to 41 ft at 53S 131W. No additional fetch of interest forecast. the mostly straight east trajectory is a problem for our forecast area. Just the same, Southern CA to see some small southern hemi swell from this one from 190-195 degrees starting Thurs (11/8) with period 20 secs (2 ft @ 20 secs late - 4 ft faces) peaking late on Friday (11/9) at 2.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (4 ft). Residuals on Saturday (11/10) at 2.3 ft @ 15-16 secs (3.5 ft).
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 gale is forecast tracking off Japan traveling northeast on Sat (11/10) developing north of the Aleutians in the Bering Sea Monday (11/12) with 45 kt west fetch pushing south of the Eastern Aleutians late Tuesday (11/13) aimed east with seas building to 28 ft up at 51S 169W (308 degs NCal). This is just a wild guess by the models and not believable. But it does speak to a rather poor circulation in the greater North Pacific, suggesting that high pressure is in control of a good portion of the sea there.
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 (11/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -9.74. The 30 day average was down some at 4.39 with the 90 day average up at 1.17. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated modest east anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) reaching to the dateline with weaker east anomalies extending into Central America. This is indicative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO over the West Pacific. A week from now (11/14) neutral anomalies are forecast to start taking over the Maritime Continent and dateline with weak east anomalies south of Hawaii. This suggests that the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to be fading in the West Pacific moving east towards the Central Pacific, typical of the MJO (moving west to east).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 11/5 remain in agreement over the short term suggesting a fading Inactive Phase was over the West Pacific with a solid Active Phase in the Indian Ocean. The statistical model suggests the Inactive Phase it is to fade some while tracking east over the next 2 weeks positioned south of Hawaii by 11/19 with a large Active Phase building in the Indian Ocean and pushing well into the West Pacific and wrapping around the vestiges of the Inactive Phase south of Hawaii. The dynamic model conversely suggests the Inactive Phase to weaken and fade out 2 weeks from now but with the Active Phase also fading, moving into a dead neutral pattern by 11/19. Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in the year, we believe a return to a normal MJO cycle is likely with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. The current Inactive Phase is evidence of that, and if the theory is correct, the Active Phase should appear as scheduled and with equal if not stronger intensity by mid-November. The statistical models clearly indicates that. An increase in swell producing storms would seem likely then. But until then, storm production in the North Pacific is to remain dampened (through about 11/16).
More warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). A weak Kelvin Wave propagated east erupting along the Central American coast late October but did little to replenish the warm water pool only holding it at a steady state. A second Kelvin wave developed due to a prolonged WWB event in the West Pacific between Sept 2 and Oct 9. That Kelvin Wave has 2-3 deg C warmer than normal subsurface water and is located on the equator at 155W. It is expected to reach the Central America coast by December but will only be enough to keep things in the normal range and not add any net additional warm water into the mix.
And what appears to be a strengthening MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) suggests a return to a neutral ENSO pattern. Latest projections from the CFSv2 model are not supporting any form of El Nino development but rather a return to a neutral state by November or almost a return to La Nina with -0.6 deg C water temps by January into February, then slowly returning to normal if not slightly warmer by June 2013. So the warm spurt in July 2012 was just a false start, a typical seasonal variation.
It appears that neither El Nino or La Nina is imminent. But we are in a better place than the previous 2 years under the influence of La Nina. The expectation is this winter will be followed by at least one year of slightly warmer temps (2013) ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2014 or 2015). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Finally updated 10/6/12
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch 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