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 (11/17) North and Central CA had new swell from the Northern Dateline region producing waves at 10 ft and fairly powerful, but foggy early with south winds and south bump on it. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were head high to maybe 1-2 ft overhead and torn apart by south wind. Southern California up north was flat and clean. Down south waves were knee to maybe waist high and weak but clean. Hawaii's North Shore had dropping North Dateline swell with waves 2 ft overhead and clean. The South Shore was effectively flat and clean. The East Shore was getting the same swell as the North Shore with waves up to 1 ft overhead and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Northern dateline swell is starting to hit California Saturday bigger than expected and with solid period but with poor local conditions. This swell originated from a gale that started wrapping up in the Bering Sea late Monday (11/12) with fetch just barely south of the Aleutians near the dateline generating seas to 28 ft building to 41 ft Tuesday then fading while pushing east with 22-26 ft seas holding in the Northern Gulf through Thursday (11/15). Remnants of this system fell southeast through the Gulf into Saturday with seas 22-24 ft setting up several days of north angled swell for the US West Coast. Weather to be an issue. A second pulse of gale winds is forecast developing in the Gulf Monday (11/19) producing more 22+ ft seas through Wednesday and tracking on a more westerly swell angle for the US West Coast mid-week on into the Thanksgiving weekend. Nothing else of real interest is charted behind. Take what you can get.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (11/17) a split jetstream flow continued in control with the split point on the dateline. The northern branch was ridging north tracking over the Central and Eastern Aleutians with winds at 170 kts then starting to fall southeast into the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska with a trough developing off the Pacific Northwest. Support for gale development was occurring in that trough. The southern branch was very weak flowing flat east on the 25N latitude eventually pushing into Northern Baja. Another weak trough was just west of the dateline, west of the split point, but very small in size with only 120 kt winds flowing into it. Maybe some limited support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hours the dateline trough is to evaporate by Saturday evening discontinuing support for gale development there. The trough in the Eastern Gulf is to fall southeast with 140 kt winds feeding it pushing over the Oregon-CA boarder on Sunday. Limited support for gale development there until it moves onshore. But a second trough is to dig out in the Eastern Gulf Sunday evening (11/18) with 130 kt winds feeding it into Tuesday (11/20) providing decent support for gale development and slowly easing east into British Columbia into Thursday AM (11/22). Back to the west wind energy levels are to drop way off with the jet remaining very split if not getting worse into the following weekend (Sat (11/24) with no troughs forecast to feed surface level low pressure development.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (11/17) the Gulf Gale (Part 2 of the North Dateline Gale) was circulating in the Eastern Gulf with winds still 35-40 kts producing seas aimed at the US West Coast (see Gulf Gale below). High pressure at 1028 mbs was locked midway between Hawaii and the Aleutians continuing to form a pressure gradient in the gale's southwest quadrant and producing most of the winds mentioned above. This high was the result of the split jetstream flow aloft. Also a small gale developed well off Japan Friday evening (11/16) producing 35 kt north winds west of the dateline aimed south at open ocean. No seas of interest yet. On Saturday AM (11/17) this gale was to basically get sheared by the larger high in front of it. Some 35 kt north winds are forecast from it into Saturday generating 22 ft seas near 32N 162E aimed south-southeast, somewhat at Hawaii. Maybe some tiny 13 sec period swell to result with luck.
Over the next 72 hours blocking high pressure north of Hawaii is to weaken substantially and track southeast opening the door a crack for some gale development. Yet another pulse of Gulf energy is forecast developing over the Eastern Aleutians falling southeast on Sunday evening (11/18). 35-40 kt north winds forecast starting to take root over the Aleutians with 30 kt fetch falling mid-way into the Gulf. The core of the gale is to be just off North Canada. By Monday AM (11/19) a solid fetch of 35 kt northwest winds is forecast embedded in a flow of 30+ kt northwest winds extending from the Aleutians to the Oregon Coast. Fairly impressive in size. Seas building from 22 ft at 48N 158W. By evening the core of the fetch (30-35 kt northwest winds) is to be tracking southeast through the Gulf reaching to just off the North CA coast with 22-24 ft seas forecast at 43N 148W (294 degs NCal). Tuesday AM (11/20) 30-35 kt winds to be fading in the Eastern Gulf with 24 ft seas at 40N 145W (285 degs NCal/295 SCal) starting to fade into the evening with 20 ft seas at 38N 135W (280 degs NCal, 290 degs SCal) then fading. But residual winds and seas at 20 ft to hold off Oregon into Wednesday. It certainly looks like some degree of shorter period raw swell is possible for the US West Coast. Will Monitor.
North Dateline Gale (Part 1)
On Sunday (11/11) a gale developed in the West Pacific while lifting northeast generating 35-40 kt north winds aimed at open ocean. Seas were building. In the evening the gale continued it's northward trek approaching the Aleutians near the dateline still producing 35-40 kt north winds and seas to 22 ft aimed south into open ocean not targeting our forecast area. By Monday AM (11/12) the gale strengthened with 45 kt northwest winds building over a small area just south of the Aleutians on the dateline with seas building. Limited fetch aimed at Hawaii. In the evening this system reached storm status with 50 kt west-northwest winds modeled just south of the Aleutians and the core of the storm in the South Bering Sea on the dateline. 29 ft seas were modeled at 49N 179E. On Tuesday AM (11/13) a solid area of 50 kt west fetch was occurring on the dateline free and clear of the Aleutians aimed east with seas building to 41 ft at 50N 175W (336 degs HI, 307 degs NCal). In the evening fetch was fading from 40-45 kts over a solid area aimed east with seas fading from 32 ft at 50N 172W (same headings as before). On Wednesday AM (11/14) fetch was fading from 35 kts over a moderate area aimed solely to the east if not northeast with seas fading from 30 ft up at 53N 166W (309 degs NCal and bypassing HI to the east). In the evening a modest area of 30-35 kt west winds was moving into the Northern Gulf of Alaska with seas fading from 24 ft at 53N 160W (309 degs NCal, 313 degs SCal).
Some degree of modest longer period energy is to be pushing towards the US West Coast with smaller sideband energy targeting Hawaii.
North CA: Swell arrived Friday (11/16) and by 4 PM was up to 3.5 ft @ 18 secs (6.0 ft) and on the increase. This was more than expected. Swell was on the verge of peaking Saturday AM (11/17) with pure swell 7.1 ft @ 16 secs (11.5 ft faces), again bigger than anticipated. Swell fading into Sunday but also being reinforced/overridden by more local energy starting to arrive at the same time (see below). Swell Direction: 304-309 degrees
Gulf Gale (Part 2)
The remnants of the North Dateline Gale were trying to hold together in some form Thursday AM (11/15) with 30 kt west-northwest winds regenerating and seas holding at 23 ft at 50N 154W, then winds down to barely 30 kts in the evening but coming more from the northwest with seas fading from barely 22 ft at 48N 149W (307 degs NCal). 35 kt northwest winds rebuilt solidly Friday AM (11/16) falling southeast with seas 20 ft at 48N 150W (304 degs NCal). Solid 35 kt northwest winds held in the Gulf in the evening with seas up to 25 ft at 44N 142W (298 degs NCal). The gale was fading in coverage Saturday AM but still producing 35 kt west wind while moving into the Pacific Northwest with seas up to 26 ft off Oregon at 45N 139W (303 degs SF Area), then dissipating by evening. Residual low pressure energy and secondary wind energy to push up to the California coast by Sunday into Monday (11/19) at 25 kts with seas 18 ft.
Another pulse of fairly large but raw shorter period local swell is expected reaching into North California starting Sunday (11/18) with swell 10 ft @ 13-14 secs (13-14 ft faces) from 295-300 degrees with shorter period and less size continuing Tuesday (6.6 ft @ 12-13 secs (8 ft) into Wednesday (11/21).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (11/17) one front had pushed through Central California and was working it's way south with a second queued up for Saturday evening. South to southwest winds were in control down to Pt Conception and expected to rebuild by evening. Even a weak southerly flow was occurring in Southern CA. Rain fading in Central CA but rebuilding in the evening. Up to 10 inches of snow forecast for Tahoe at high elevations. Sunday south winds to continue, but weakening in the SF Bay Area as the day continues and turning west. Rain fading early in the north but continuing down to Morro Bay as a front sweeps south. Light to modest south winds forecast south of Monterey Bay on Sunday all day. Light winds in Southern CA. 6-8 inches of snow for Tahoe. A light south wind pattern to continue for the Central Coast Monday and Tuesday but calm in the Morro Bay area (where the dividing line will be) turning light northwest for Southern CA. Stronger south winds over Northern CA. Rain remaining for Pt Arena reaching down to Pt Reyes Tuesday and San Francisco and Monterey Bay Tuesday night reaching to Morro Bay Wednesday AM. High pressure is to finally get a toe in the door Wednesday afternoon with a calm wind pattern taking hold and clearing skies. North winds building over Point Conception on Thursday to 15 kts as high pressure gets more established then backing off with a light north winds pattern for the whole state Friday and Saturday. No precip forecast except for the most northerly reaches of the state.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast.
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 pulse of winds energy is to fall into the Gulf of Alaska Wed (11/22) tracking fast to the Northeast and developing into a gale just off the coast of Washington Thursday (11/22) producing 40+ kt west to and southwest winds and seas to 26 ft but all aimed northeast at Vancouver Island. No swell is expected to radiate south. Something to monitor.
Otherwise no swell producing fetch of interest 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 (11/17) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 4.26. The 30 day average was up to 3.54 with the 90 day average holding at 2.96. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated patches of light east anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) extending to the dateline before fading south of Hawaii then neutral from there into Central America. This is slightly indicative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO holding over the dateline, but equally suggestive of just a neutral pattern. A week from now (11/25) no real change is forecast with weak patchy east anomalies over the Maritime Continent fading to neutral on the dateline and holding into South America. This suggests that a very weak version of the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to be fading but still holding in the Central Pacific. This remains a disappointment as the Active Phase was to be moving into the area, and this could be a harbinger of what the Winter could turn into, especially considering the split jetstream flow over the North Pacific.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 11/16 have updated their initial synopsis yet again. They suggest a dead neutral pattern in play over the entire equatorial Pacific. The statistical model suggests a modest version of the Active Phase building a week out in the West Pacific by 11/23 and hold there into 11/30. (2 weeks out). The dynamic model continues to be conservative suggesting a neutral pattern now for the next week and half, with a weak flavor of the Inactive Phase returning two weeks out in the far West Pacific. Given the demise of what was almost an El Nino pattern earlier in the year, we believed a return to a normal MJO cycle was occurred with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. But this latest shift in the MJO (with it turning to almost a non-pattern) has us rethinking that position. Maybe El Nino is not completely gone? The interesting part of this equation is warm surface water is still present in the equatorial Pacific. But the split jetstream throws that into question. If anything, perhaps we're still in the netherlands between a weak El Nino and a dissipating La Nina, but not 'normal' either. Until such time as some sort of Active Phase develops a strong enough to reunite the split jetstream flow over the North Pacific, storm potential is to remain dampened. Unfortunately, no model is predicting such an outcomes with any believability.
The 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. That said, fragments of it are showing up in the Nino1+2 temp analysis, which is actually a bit better than hoped for, but just barely. 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 120W. It's actually racing east. It is expected to reach the Central America coast by December (if not sooner) and will possibly provide a little boost to water temps at that time. At a minimum it should keep things in the normal range.
And what initially appeared to be a strengthening MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) suggested a return to a neutral ENSO pattern. But that is in doubt now (see above). That said, 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 -0.4 deg C water temps by late January into February, then slowly returning to normal if not slightly warmer by June 2013. But virtually all the other ENSO models predict a slow decline from El Nino threshold temps into Spring 2013, but never dipping into negative territory. The CFSv2 model is a minority opinion, if not a complete outlier. This is a bit better than hoped for and still gives us a glimmer of hope for a normal Winter in terms of storm production. But looking at the atmosphere, there's no overt signs of anything remotely resembling El Nino, and if anything, with a split jetstream pattern developing in the North Pacific, it looks still like some vestiges of La Nina. Regardless, the warm spurt in July 2012 was just a false start.
It appears that neither El Nino or La Nina is imminent. But we are in a far better place than the previous 2 years under the direct influence of La Nina. The exact outcome for this Winter is in doubt. A complete lack of ENSO energy typically signals a lack of storm energy, and is perhaps a harbinger of the coming 5 months. But it's still a bit early to tell. 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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Steve Colleta Surfboards - Check out surfboards by local shaper Steve Coletta - A long time Santa Cruz local and master shaper. Progressive shapes for North and Central CA waves http://www.naturalcurvesboards.com
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