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 Sunday (12/2) North and Central CA had continuing west swell from the Gulf but down from previous days with waves in the 8-10 ft range and winds turning west (instead of south). Basically a mess. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were 2 ft overhead and blow to bits with strong south wind. Still unrideable. Southern California up north was doing well with waves head high to 2 ft overhead and clean and well lined up though fairly soft. Down south waves were head high and clean but fairly weak looking. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover Gulf swell with waves chest high and pretty tattered by southerly wind. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting the Gulf swell too at shoulder high and fairly bumpy.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Residual swell from a multi-day Gulf gale is to be slowly fading out along the California coast while a significant jetstream reconfiguration takes shape well to the west. The split jetstream flow that has been plaguing the North Pacific is finally forecast to start healing allowing a series of small gales to develop on the dateline. The first is forecast Wed-Thurs (12/6) with 34 ft seas and a second Sat-Sun again with 34 ft seas. Hawaii to be the primary recipient of any swell energy produced. These are to not be big systems, but hopefully point to a brighter storm track in the weeks ahead.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Sunday (12/2) a split jetstream flow continued in control with the split point a bit west of the dateline. A diffused flow tracked clear of Japan then split heavily with the northern branch ridging hard north above even the Western Bering Sea, arching east then dropping hard southeast down over Western Alaska down into the Gulf of Alaska forming a weak trough with 100 kt winds feeding it before tracking into North CA. Limited support for gale development in this trough. The southern branch fell southeast from the split point then tracked east pushing just northwest of Hawaii then merging with the northern branch just off North CA. This looked very much like a pineapple express set-up relative to the California coast. Over the next 72 hours the giant ridge pushing over the Bering Sea is to disconnect from the main flow and dissipate while a significant push of wind energy starts building over Japan. Winds only 160 kts but consolidated and covering a good sized area and reaching nearly to the dateline with no signs of splitting. This is very good news. East of there the jet is to be diffuse and meaningless with the northern branch flowing flat into British Columbia and the southern branch into Central CA. Beyond 72 hours the single flow pushing off Japan is to continue to build in areal coverage reaching solidly to the dateline with winds up to 200 kts by Sat (12/8) and starting to form a bit of a trough on the dateline. A split flow to continue east of there. But the powerful consolidated flow is looking to signal the start of a new weather pattern for the Pacific, one that favors good support for storm development in the favored dateline region.
Surface Analysis - On Sunday (12/2) Remnants of a gale that had been circulating in the Gulf of Alaska were fading while moving into and over California and the Pacific Northwest. Another weak low was circulating 1000 nmiles northwest of Hawaii with pressure 992 mbs. Winds were 25 kts and no swell of interest was being generated. No other swell producing weather systems were in-play. Over the next 72 hours the low above Hawaii is to fade while it's energy is stolen by remnants of the Gulf Gale. No swell to result. Of interest is a new gale forecast developing off Japan on Tuesday (12/4) pushing west. No swell production is expected immediately, but this is one to watch (see long term forecast).
A gale developed 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 was 996 mbs with 30 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 had 35 kt north winds and held it's position in the evening with 22 ft seas building at 43N 177E aimed a bit better at Hawaii down the 320 degree path. Winds built to 40 kts Friday AM (11/30) over the same area with seas 22 ft at 40N 175E (314 degrees HI). Winds faded from 35-40 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 was fading Sat AM (12/1) with seas 21 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 180W (300 degs HI) generating what would effectively be windswell. Fetch faded thereafter.
Some degree of 14 sec period northwest swell is expected for the Hawaiian Islands by late Sunday (12/2) with pure swell 4 ft @ 14 secs (5 ft) peaking Monday AM at 6 ft @ 12-13 secs (7.5 ft). Swell fading from 7 ft @ 12 secs (8 ft) early Tues (12/4). Swell Direction: 300-314 degrees
No swell expected to result for the US West Coast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Tuesday (11/29) 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 occurred and by Thursday (11/29) winds were 50 kts with a turn to the west-northwest expected. Bopha reached hurricane/typhoon status Friday AM and built. By Sunday (12/2) winds were 135 kts located about 600 nmiles east of the Southern Philippines. Latest projections have Bopha slowly tracking west-northwest while loosing energy positioned just off the Southern Philippines Monday afternoon (12/3) with winds 120 kts, moving inland there. At this time no swell production potential exists for our forecast area.
Otherwise no tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (12/2) another warm frontal boundary associated with low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska was pushing down the Central CA coast with a healthy amount of rain and south winds ahead of it. South winds and rain to reach down to Pt Conception in the evening and then dissipate there. Monday (12/3) a light wind pattern and clearing skies to take hold until late, when another front starts setting up off the coast and south winds build for North CA. Rain in the north late. South winds and rain down to Pt Reyes Tuesday (12/4) with limited snow confined to the highest elevations in Tahoe. A light wind pattern south of there. The front is to dissipate over Central CA (san Francisco on Wednesday with a light wind pattern in control everywhere except Southern CA, where high pressure and north winds to be in control over outer waters. Thursday high pressure is to build in with north winds at 15 kts taking control of all coastal locations other than protected spots in Southern CA continuing Friday and Saturday with north winds up to 25 kt near Pt Conception. Sunday the high is to build stronger with 25 kt north winds over outer waters of the entire state and nearshore at 15-20 kts.
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 a new gale is to develop west of the dateline starting Wednesday (12/5) AM. Pressure is to be 984 mbs with winds building to 45 kts over a small area in the gales south quadrant. Seas building from 28 ft at 36N 162E. In the evening winds to hold at 45 kts pushing east with seas building to 34 ft at 36N 169E (304 degs HI). The gale is to be fading by Thursday AM (12/6) with winds down to 35 kts and dropping from there. Seas 30 ft at 34N 175E (304 degs HI). Additional fetch of 35 kt is to rebuild as the gale lifts northeast in the evening with 26 ft seas at 40N 178E aimed well at Hawaii (316 degs HI). 35 kt westerly winds to be fading Friday AM (12/7) from 35 kts with seas 24 ft at 39N 178W. Assuming all this comes to pass some degree of decently rideable swell will finally be targeting the Islands with arrival expected by the weekend.
Another similar low pressure system is forecast pushing off Japan on Friday (12/7) with a modest sized area of 35 kt westerly winds forecast and traveling east. By Saturday evening (12/9) winds to build to 40 kts with seas up to 30 ft at 36N 165E targeting Hawaii (302 degs). On Sunday AM (12/9) west-northwest winds to build to 45 kts over a small area with seas to 34 ft at 35N 170E (304 degs HI). This system is forecast continuing to push east supported well by a solid jetstream flow aloft.
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 Sunday (12/2) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down to 2.28. The 30 day average was up to 3.76 with the 90 day average up to 3.33. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated moderate easterly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) extending almost to the dateline, then dying to dead neutral there and extending east into Central America. This is suggestive of the Inactive Phase of the MJO in the West Pacific. A week from now (12/10) weak east anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent fading to dead neutral over the dateline and holding that way on into South America. This suggests the Inactive Phase is to be fading over the West Pacific. The Inactive Phase of the MJO typically results in a split jetstream flow over the North Pacific, and it is expected the existing split flow is likely tied to the current Inactive Phase.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/1 suggest a modest Inactive Phase is in-play over the West Pacific/Maritime Continent. Both models now suggest the core of the Inactive Phase is to ease east over the next week while the Active Phase builds in the Indian Ocean, starting to push into the far West Pacific 10 days from now (12/11) while the Inactive Phase still holds together in some form relocated south of Hawaii. The statistical model is more aggressive indicating the Active Phase is to move cleanly in to the West Pacific 2 weeks out while the dynamic model has it dissipating. It's too early to know for sure, but with the GFS model suggesting an improved jetstream flow in the West Pacific even 1 week out, we're voting in favor of the dynamic model.
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 the collapse/stalling of the MJO in November 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 over the Central Pacific. The update on 11/29 depicts cold water intrusion again showing up over the equator off Ecuador. But otherwise pockets of embedded warmer water to maybe +1.0 C were out near the dateline. 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 - A true neutral pattern. 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. So we will likely remain in a weak but consistent gale pattern favoring the Eastern Gulf of Alaska for now.
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 while a small pocket of cooler than normal water is in the East Pacific. This is looking almost like a weak 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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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