New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 (12/2) North and Central California was getting 2-3 ft overhead glassy surf coming out of the the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska and pretty fun. Southern California had clean lined up waist high sets up north and looking pretty fun for the size. Down south it was about the same and sunnier but not as lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more north angled swell with waves up to 2 ft overhead and reasonably clean with a little warble running through it. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore is not being monitored for the winter and presumed to be asleep with waves 2 ft or less.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for another Gulf pulse to arrive for Friday at 8 ft (faces). Saturday surf drops from 4.0 ft with new Gulf swell possibly arriving Sunday to 6.0 ft. Monday the Gulf swell drops out at 3 ft and pretty much flat by Tuesday. Southern California is to see waist high wrap around Gulf swell arriving on Friday fading from knee to thigh high Saturday but with new swell building to thigh to waist high for later Sunday all from a pretty northerly direction. knee high leftovers early Monday and then flat Tuesday. The North Shore of Oahu is to see that northeast angled swell dropping out on Friday though some new northeast windswell might be wrapping into select break in the chest high range. Saturday and Sunday no ridable swell is forecast. Monday might have some waist high northwest swell late pushing chest high or so Tuesday with luck. The East Shore is to see east windswell at 3-4 ft overhead on Friday. East windswell drops to 2 ft overhead on Saturday and head high Sunday. chest high east windswell for Monday then fading out. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
Another little gale was falling southeast out of the Northern Gulf on Thursday expected to reach a point 700 nmiles west of Oregon on Friday producing up to 40 kt northwest winds and 24 ft seas Friday AM, possibly setting up more little swell reaching down into CA for Sunday (12/5). And a broader but weaker gale is to follow in the Northeastern Gulf on Sun-Tues (12/7) with 35 kt north winds and 24 ft seas, likely making more swell the middle of next week. Period is to remain below 14 secs though on any of these and pretty north angled making only for fun sized ridable surf. A little gale is forecast developing 600 nmiles north of Hawaii on Wednesday (12/8) maybe generating 20 ft seas aimed south, so some north swell might push into the Islands with luck. But overall a broad fetch of east winds (aimed at Japan) and 25 ft seas are to be holding solid over the dateline pushing west, meaning high pressure and a brick wall remains in place in the middle of the traditional Aleutian storm corridor. Such is our fate thanks to La Nina. Take what you can get and be thankful for it.
The La Nina induced backdoor coldfront pattern still appears to be in control repositioned a bit west, focused more on Oregon and over the ocean, but still expected to provide a bit of fresh powder for the Central Sierras for later in the weekend. Get the 84 hr hi-res forecast here: Snow Forecast
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Thursday (12/2) the ever present split jetstream pattern remained in effect over the North Pacific, guided by a heavy-handed La Nina. The jet was pushing northeast off Japan with the main flow pushing over the Aleutians almost into the Bering Sea at the dateline and then falling southeast over the Eastern Gulf of Alaska with a weak semi permanent trough holding up off British Columbia down into just west of the Pacific Northwest supporting the development of low pressure there. The split point in the jet was off Japan with a weak secondary flow tracking southeast over Hawaii and fragmenting and almost dissipating east of there. Over the next 72 hours no real change is forecast with the split point easing even further west with most energy taking the northern route through the Southern Bering Sea dipping south forming a stronger trough over the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska by Sunday (12/5) with 120 kt northwest winds feeding that trough. This should provide better support for gale development then. Beyond 72 hours no change is forecast and if anything, the split jetstream pattern is to only get more pronounced with the split point moving directly over Japan but with more energy moving into that trough in the Eastern Gulf, with 120 kt winds pushing almost right up to the Central CA coast on Wed (12/8) providing more support for gale development in the lower levels of the atmosphere off Washington into Thursday.
At the surface on Thursday (12/2) swell from a weak gale low at 980 mbs that was tucked up into the extreme northern Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday producing 35 kt northwest winds at 54N 145W and resulting in 23 ft seas at 53N 140W had produced northerly swell that was pushing into Central CA. The gale itself was long gone though. High pressure at 1032 mbs was locked in 1200 nmiles north of Hawaii reaching north almost to the eastern start of the Aleutians. This continued to force the storm track up into the Bering Sea then make it fall southeast into the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska, just as it has been most of this Fall. On Thursday AM (12/2) another small gale had developed in the Northern Gulf with a small area of 35-40 kt northwest winds (from the interaction of the low itself with high pressure at 1036 mbs north of Hawaii). The gale is to fall southeast in the evening with more 40 kt northwest winds at 50N 146W generating seas of 20 ft over a tiny area at 50N 147W. The gale is to be falling southeast Friday AM with 35 kt northwest winds at 45N 141W with 25 ft seas 46N 143W. The gale is to be gone by Friday evening with seas from previous fetch fading from 23 ft at 42N 140W or 800 nmiles west of the Oregon-CA border. If all this comes to pass some degree of northwest swell is expected to result for Northern and Central CA arriving on Sunday (12/5) at 5 ft @ 12-13 secs (6.0-6.5 ft faces) from 305 degrees.
Over the next 72 hours another broad low pressure system is to drop out of the Bering Sea into the Gulf of Alaska on Saturday PM (12/4) producing 35 kt northwest winds over a decent sized fetch area at 50N 160W with 24 ft seas setting up at 49N 162W. The gale is to continue to ease southeast with 30 kt northwest winds at 47N 157W Sunday AM with 23 ft seas at 47N 155W holding and pushing to 44N 153W in the evening. On Monday AM (12/6) more 30-35 kt northwest winds expected at 45N 152W moving to 40N 147W building seas to 25 ft in the evening at 42N 150W. The main fetch is to be fading on Tuesday AM though 23 ft seas are to persist pushing towards mainly California though a secondary fetch of 35 kt is to develop near the gales core at 48N 150W generating more seas of 25 ft up at 48N 150W in the evening. In all this is not to be a particularly strong system, and if anything down right weak (winds only 35 kts). But given the complete lack of any real swell or storms, this is to be a notch above the rest. Some limited sideband swell energy might be expected for Hawaii if all goes as forecast, but the lions share of the energy is expected pushing towards Central CA. Don't expect anything too much, but the swell might actually be decently rideable 9local wind permitting). At least it's something to monitor.
Also the strong high pressure system that was building north of Hawaii on Thurs (12/2) was generating east winds at 25 kts aimed at the Islands and is expected to hold into Friday (12/3) resulting in larger windswell for Eastern Shores of the Hawaiian Islands. That windswell should start arriving Friday and hold through the early weekend in the 9-10 ft @ 9 sec range (8 ft faces) from 60-80 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (12/2) a near neutral pressure pattern was in effect for the California coast save a ridge of high pressure trying to reach Cape Mendocino from it's core 1200 nmiles north of Hawaii. regardless, winds were light along the entire coast. A front associated with a previous gale that moved into the Pacific northwest was stalled over Northern CA with light rain and snow in the higher elevations there and expected to maybe reach the north SF Bay area Thursday evening. A new local low pressure system is to start spinning up 500 nmiles west of Southern CA on Friday tracking northeast bringing south winds to Central and South CA late (after sunset) and pulling rain into South and Central CA by early Saturday along with stronger south winds. By Saturday (12/4) a secondary low is to be following the same route tracking northeast from off the Central CA coast reinforcing south winds and rain with more snow for the Central down into the Southern Sierras Sunday into the early morning hours of Monday. But by Monday proper a clearing pattern is forecast for Southern CA though a far larger gale is to be filling the Eastern Gulf with south winds already impacting Northern Ca reaching central CA late and continuing well into mid week. the rain line is to be at Morro Bay. Maybe light snow Wed for the Central Sierras.
At the oceans surface no swell producing fetch was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no change is forecast with no swell producing weather systems modeled.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
72 hrs a cutoff low is to start circulating on the dateline Sunday
(12/5) blocked by going anywhere by high pressure at 1032 mbs falling
south over the dateline, generating a pressure gradient and east winds
at 35 kt all aimed towards Japan. The core of the low is to start actually tracking northwest (the exact opposite of what direction a low should heading) and increasing in areal coverage, generating up to 26 ft seas, and eventually impacting the northern Kuril Islands on Wednesday (12/8). This is not favorable nor a good sign.
Otherwise there some suggestions that a little cutoff low might develop 600 nmiles north of Hawaii on Wed (12/8) generating a tiny area of 35 kt north winds and maybe 20 ft seas, good for some small north windswell for the Islands if all goes as forecast.
See the official El Nino/La Nina Forecast using the link posted below.
As of Thursday (12/2) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued well in positive territory. The daily SOI was at 22.39. The 30 day average was up some at 16.31 with the 90 day average unchanged at 20.45. Overall, averages remained high, though down slightly from the peak in mid-to-late October.
Wind anomalies as of Wednesday (12/1) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models indicated no real anomalies other than a tiny area of east anomalies over norther Australia. Neutral wind conditions are forecast for the next 3 weeks (thru 12/21). We continue to suspect this is an undercall by the models and that a weak inactive Phase is actually in-play. This pattern would suppress gale development. Overall the current state of the environment looks very much like the Inactive Phase of the MJO is occurring embedded in a moderate plus strength La Nina. We have hopes that the Active Phase might develop in mid to late December (more supportive of gale development) but are beginning to suspect that even that is just an optimistic assessment.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (12/2) continues to indicate that cold waters (-2 C degs or cooler) had a stable grip on the equator covering solidly from South America west to the dateline and beyond, but are not getting any colder and not expanding their coverage. And if anything, the areal coverage of the coldest waters seems to have dissipated some. Maybe we have already reached the peak of this La Nina event, but that is likely just wishful thinking. The models suggest a second surge of this La Nina event is to develop and take hold by late Jan-early Feb, which will likely send water temps much colder. Colder than normal waters covered the equator from Ecuador west to New Guinea with feed bands originating off the US West Coast and South America sweeping fully to the intersection of the dateline and the equator, only serving to reinforce what is already a solid La Nina pattern. These colder waters are a reflection of stronger than normal high pressure built in over both hemispheres causing upwelling in the Gulf of Alaska and off South America. Looks like a classic La Nina setup. Below the surface on the equator no Kevin Wave activity was present and if anything colder than normal water was strong on the equator south of Hawaii and locked in position (sort of like a stationary cold Kelvin Wave). This pocket was -5 degs below normal (up from the -6 degs below normal on 10/18 and -7 degs in mid- Sept). Regardless, it is not moving and is not expected to move for months. This is not good.
Over the entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to the Philippines and beyond. And now from a historical perspective these easterly winds were now fully anomalous, blowing harder than normal from the east to the west, as would be expected looking at all the other data. But this is a rather recent development, with only normal winds indicated prior to 9/11. The interesting twist to all this is that the Pacific current that runs along the equator turned abruptly from flowing towards South America to flowing towards the Philippines in mid-March (2010), right as the SOI started it's impressive drive into positive territory and the North Pacific winter storm machine abruptly shut down. And it has not wavered since. But trades never waiver from the normal range. This suggests trade wind anomalies might be a byproduct of the Pacific equatorial current change and not the other way around i.e. the trades do not drive the temperature change initially, but the current change does. And then the atmosphere responds in kind to the change, building high pressure and reinforcing the flow and water temps. Said a different way, the change in the current might actually foretell a coming change in the trades, and then with the advent of the trade wind change, it only serves to reinforce the current in a self amplifying loop, until such time as the cycle runs it's course and the self feeding system collapses over a multiyear period. At that time the current then switches direction, and a whole new self-enforcing cycle stars anew. Something to consider (regarding the formation and El Nino/La Nina).
A moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) is expected for the remainder of 2010 extending well into 2011 and likely to early 2012. In short, the next year and half is going to be tough for surfers on west facing shores in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, though east facing shores of the West Pacific and Atlantic might do well from the Inactive Phase's dominance. That is not to say there will be no storms, in fact, there could be short periods of intense activity when the Active Phase gets an opportunity to come to fruition, but that will be the exception rather than the rule, with the Inactive Phase trying to keep a cap on storm activity.
See more details in the El Nino update.
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