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 (11/27) North and Central CA had minimal residual background swell producing waist high waves with south winds on the increase early. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were flat with light southerly winds outside the kelp. Southern California up north was maybe knee high and clean early. Down south waves were waist high and clean with just a hint of texture and looking kinda fun for how small it was. Hawaii's North Shore was getting north dateline swell with waves 2-3 ft overhead and kinda raw at exposed breaks. The South Shore was effectively flat and clean. The East Shore was getting wrap around swell with waves 1 ft overhead and windy.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a small gale that develop on the northern dateline region falling southeast Saturday (11/24) with 25 ft seas is hitting the Islands, expected to be fading on Wed (11/28). A far larger gale is forecast wrapping up in the Eastern Gulf starting Tuesday evening (11/27) peaking late Wednesday with seas in the 26-78 ft range then fading some but holding into Friday with 24 ft seas targeting primarily the US West Coast. But much weather is likely to accompany the swell from Pt Conception northward.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (11/27) a split jetstream flow continued in control with the split point west of the dateline and better defined than in weeks past. A consolidated flow tracked off Japan then split heavily mid-way to the dateline with the northern branch tracking hard north into the Bering Sea, turning east and stair stepping southeast down into the Gulf of Alaska forming a deep and steep trough with 140 kts winds feeding it off the US West Coast. Good support for gale development in this trough. The southern branch fell southeast from the split point then tracked east pushing into Southern Baja. Over the next 72 hours the trough off the US West Coast is to hold if not become better defined with winds still 120 kts feeding into it. Continued support for gale development expected. Beyond 72 hours the trough is to push inland over North CA late Sun (12/2) while the northern branch of the jet pushes further north above the Bering Sea. Yet another trough is forecast developing in the Gulf of Alaska late Monday into Tuesday (12/4) but winds are to only be 100 kts not offering much in terms of support for gale development. No clear support for gale development forecast elsewhere in the North Pacific.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (11/27) a broad area of low pressure at 984 mbs was developing in the Central Gulf of Alaska (see Gulf Gale below). High pressure at 1028 mbs was locked over the Northern Dateline region extending southeast to Hawaii. All weather was flowing north of this high through the Bering Sea then falling southeast down into the Gulf of Alaska. A second gale was landlocked over the Kuril Islands and Kamchatka Peninsula, looking to track north. Over the next 72 hours the Gulf gale is to continue to circulate off the Pacific Northwest, easing slowly east.
Also another gale is forecast developing over the Dateline on Thursday (11/29) just east of the jetstream split point and between the two flows, effectively cut off from any real upper level energy. Pressure to be 1000 mbs with 35 kt north winds developing in it's west quadrant aimed south and mostly bypassing any route to Hawaii to the west. Seas building from 18 ft. The gale is to hold strength and position in the evening with 22 ft seas building at 43N 177E aimed a bit better at Hawaii down the 320 degree path. Winds building to 40 kts Friday AM (11/30) over the same area with seas still 22 ft at 40N 175E (314 degrees HI). Winds fading from 35 kts Friday evening falling south with 24 ft seas at 38N 176E aimed a bit west of the 312 degree path to Hawaii. The gale is to be fading Sat AM (12/1) with seas 22 ft at 35N 177E aimed a bit west of the 307 degree path to Hawaii. Residual 30 kt west winds to start traveling east in the evening with 18 ft seas at 30N 178W (300 degs HI) generating what would effectively be windswell. Fetch to fade through mid-Sunday (12/2) with seas dropping from 18 ft at 30N 170W (312 degs HI). More windswell being generated.
If all this were to occur some degree of 14 sec period northwest swell is possible for the Islands by late in the weekend. Something to monitor. No swell expected to result for the US West Coast.
North Dateline Gale (Hawaii)
A new small gale was developing in the Northern Dateline region Friday AM (11/23) with 40 kt northwest winds and seas to 26 ft at 48N 178E targeting Hawaii (331 degs). It is to be falling southeast Friday evening (11/23) with northwest winds down to 35 kts over a small area and seas 25 ft at 48N 177W (333 degs HI). Saturday AM 35 kt northwest winds to continue falling southeast with seas 24 ft at 45N 174W (335 degs HI). By evening the gale is to be fading with winds 30 kts and seas dropping from 22 ft at 41N 168W (337 degs HI). This system is to be gone by Sunday AM.
Swell arrived in Hawaii on Monday afternoon (11/26) building to 4 ft @ 15 secs (6 ft faces) and holding overnight. Swell still 5.1 ft @ 13 secs Tuesday AM (11/27) (6.5 ft faces) slowly fading through the day. Residuals fading on Wed (11/28) from 3 ft @ 11 secs (3 ft). Swell Direction: 331-337 degrees
Starting Monday AM (11/26) a primer gale developed 1200 nmiles west of San Francisco in the bottom of a steep upper trough located there and from the remnants of the North Dateline Gale (see above). 30 kt north winds were modeled at 37N 147W targeting only open ocean (east of Hawaii and aimed south of the US West Coast). Seas building. Winds built to 30-35 kts in the evening with the same results. Tuesday AM (11/27) the gale was starting to fall apart while easing east off the US West Coast. Still 30-35 kt northerly winds were indicated with seas 18-20 ft over a broad area at 40N 150W. This was serving to rough up the oceans surface but not generate any real swell. But by the evening a far stronger batch of wind energy is to be falling southeast towards the remnants of the primer gale with a broad fetch of 35-40 kt northwest winds forecast in the Western Gulf targeting the US West Coast with a small area of 45-50 kt northwest winds just south of the Eastern Aleutians falling southeast. Seas 26 ft at 48N 162W but 20 ft seas covering a broader area extending south to 44N 144W. Wednesday AM (11/28) 35-40 kt northwest winds to be tracking southeast with 26 ft seas at 40N 150W (285 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal) and 20 ft seas down to 36N 145W (270 degs NCal, 283 degs SCal). Northwest to west winds to be fading from 35 kts in the evening over a broad area off the US West Coast. 27 ft seas forecast centered roughly at 39-40N 142W (284 degs NCal, 293 SCal) and lesser seas over a broad area south of there down to 35N 140W (281 degs SCal). The gale to still be solid Thursday AM (11/29) with 35 kt west winds and 25 ft seas over a broad area centered roughly at 37N 139W (273 degs NCal, 286 degs SCal) but reaching down to 33N 140W (275 degs SCal). No real change is forecast through Friday AM (11/30) with 35 kt west winds and 23 ft seas at 38N 137W. The gale is to finally dissipate Friday PM with seas fading from 24 ft at 38N 134W 600 nmiles due west of San Francisco (279 deg path NCal, 292 SCal). persistent 20-25 kt west fetch to continue off the Pacific Northwest down to Central CA through mid-Sunday (12/2) resulting in westerly windswell.
The net result is to be larger raw and windblown west swell for the entire California Coast up into Southern Oregon, with better conditions possible for Southern CA. Something to monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tues (11/27) Tropical Storm Bopha was located in the far West Pacific about 600 nmiles north of eastern New Guinea. Winds were 45 kts and it was traveling due west. Steady strengthening is forecast over the next 5 days with winds to 100 kts by Sunday (12/2) and starting to make a turn to the northwest. At this time no swell production potential exists, but it does bare monitoring.
Otherwise no tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (11/27) building low pressure was filling the Gulf of Alaska with the leading edge of it positioned off the US West Coast with south winds already affecting from Pt Conception northward into Canada with reinforcing low pressure building in from the Bering Sea. Wednesday south winds at 25-30 kt are forecast for all of North and Central CA but only 3-5 kts down into Southern CA. Rain building to Pt Conception by late morning, heavy for North CA. Light rain for all of Southern CA late. 5 inches of snow for the Sierras and up to 11 inches for high elevations (Kirkwood). Thursday (11/29) more south winds continue but the worst of it for North CA early, with south winds 20 kts from Monterey Bay northward. Rain continues in the north but dry during daylight hours (or at least till 2 PM) for San Francisco northward. Possible heavy rain starting Thursday night for San Francisco. 3 inches of snow to Tahoe. More south winds Friday at 30 kts near San Francisco but only 15 kts down to Pt Conception. Heavy rain for San Francisco early and light rain down to Pt Conception. Rain or snow for Tahoe (snow likely confined to highest elevations - need to get in range of the hi-res snow models to know for sure). Saturday southwest winds 15 kts for Pt Conception northward. Light rain for Pt Conception northward. 2-3 inches snow accumulation for Tahoe. Sunday south winds 25 kts down to Big Sur and 15 kts to Pt Conception and 10 kts for all of Southern CA. Heavy rain for Central CA in the morning. Multiple feet of snow for the Sierra possible. Finally on Monday (12/3) a light wind pattern and clearing skies to take hold for the entire state continuing into Wednesday (12/5).
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 cutoff gale is forecast forming on the dateline on Tues (12/4) producing 35-40 kt northwest winds and 26 ft seas at 32N 180W aimed pretty well down the 300 degree path to Hawaii.
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 (11/27) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to -6.37. The 30 day average was down to 3.07 with the 90 day average down at 3.03. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino. Negative values are due to a subtropical low traveling east positioned south of Tahiti.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated neutral to slightly west anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) and the dateline fading south of Hawaii then turning easterly off Central America. This is suggestive of the Inactive Phase of the MJO moving into the East Pacific. A week from now (12/5) moderate east anomalies are forecast building over the Maritime Continent and the dateline fading fast east of there and neutral on into South America. This suggests the Inactive Phase is not done with the West Pacific yet. But that seems a bit inconsistent with other data. Regardless, the split jetstream flow over the North Pacific is likely a result of no coherent MJO signal or an Inactive signal. In short, we're in a weak meandering weather pattern with no forceful direction one way of the other.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 11/26 suggest a weak Active Inactive Phase in-play over the West Pacific/Maritime Continent. The statistical model suggests this to hold for one week, then give way to a weak Active Phase 8-15 days out (starting 12/4) The dynamic model also suggests an somewhat building Inactive Phase for the next 7 days, then rapidly collapsing with a neutral pattern taking hold 8 days out and staying that way till 15 days out (12/11).
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 collapse of the MJO 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 and if anything building every so slightly. The update on 11/22 & 11/26 depicts no cold water intrusion anywhere on the equator over the width of the Pacific, with pockets of embedded warmer water to maybe +1.0 C out near the dateline. This is an improvement. Perhaps the last Kelvin wave was more beneficial than previously suspected. But the split jetstream throws the El Nino supposition into question. A split jet suggests a very weak wind flow aloft. If any flavor of El Nino or an Active Phase was in play, the jet would not be split. If anything, perhaps we're still in the netherlands between a weak El Nino in the ocean and a dissipating La Nina in the upper atmosphere. Until such time as some sort of Active Phase develops 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 outcome. So we will likely remain in a weak but consistent gale pattern favoring the Eastern Gulf of Alaska.
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 and initially we thought it did little to replenish the warm water pool, only holding it at a steady state. But the latest analysis suggests a more positive impact (see above). Fragments of it showed up in the Nino1+2 temp analysis mid-November and have migrated west now, centered in the region south of Hawaii to the dateline. This is looking almost like the start of a Midoki El Nino (a guess). 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 in pockets under the equator centered near 140W. 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 to slightly enhanced 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 has collapsed (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 over 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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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