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 Saturday (12/4) North and Central California was getting left over waist high or so glassy surf coming from what was a gale in the Northeastern Gulf of Alaska. Southern California was dead flat and clean up north. Down south it was maybe thigh high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover north angled swell with waves head high or so on the sets at top spots and clean though still a little warbled. 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 new Gulf swell to arrive Sunday at 6.0 ft (faces) and likely troubled by south winds. Monday the swell drops out at 2.0 ft with much south chop on top, then even flatter by Tuesday. Possible larger swell building on Wednesday to 13 ft fading from 13 ft early Thursday. Southern California is to see new swell building to thigh to waist high for later Sunday from a northerly direction. Knee high leftovers expected at best early Monday and then flat Tuesday. Possible new northerly swell on Wednesday to near head high late pushing 1 ft overhead or more early Thursday at exposed breaks. The North Shore of Oahu is to see waist high leftover north swell on Sunday. Monday might have some new waist to chest high northwest swell pushing in late reaching 2 ft overhead on Tuesday with luck and then to 13 ft on Wednesday then fading from 12 ft on Thursday. The East Shore is to see east windswell dropping from head high Sunday then waist high Monday and fading out. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
A gale fell southeast through the Eastern Gulf Thursday to a point 1000 nmiles west of Northern CA late Friday (12/3) producing up to 40 kt northwest winds and 26 ft seas Friday AM at 47N 142W setting up some rideable swell for California by Sunday (12/5). And a broader gale remains forecast to follow in the Northeastern Gulf on Sun-Mon (12/6) peaking into early Tuesday with 40-45 kt northwest winds and now up to 35 ft seas at 40N 147W (on Tuesday) aimed both at Hawaii and California likely making larger swell arriving at both locations by Wed (12/8). Otherwise a broad fetch of east winds (aimed at Japan) and 25 ft seas are holding solid over the dateline pushing west into later next week (Thurs 12/9) suggesting that high pressure and a barrier remains in place in the middle of the traditional Aleutian storm corridor. The only hope is energy falling out of the Northern Gulf.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Saturday (12/4) the unfavorable split jetstream pattern remained in control of the North Pacific. The jet was pushing east off Japan with the main flow pushing hard northeast over the Aleutians into the Bering Sea at the dateline and then trying to fall southeast over the Eastern Gulf of Alaska but not making it, veering hard north again. A cutoff trough was somehow able to hang on off California slightly supportive of low pressure there. The split point in the jet was just off Japan with a weak secondary flow tracking southeast and now pushing even south of Hawaii and fragmenting east of there. It doesn't get much more unfavorable. Over the next 72 hours things are to clear out of the Northeast Gulf with a new trough pushing hard southeast on Monday (12/6) with winds building to 150 kts in the jet holding into Wednesday AM and wrapping under the trough, providing decent odds to support gale development there. But back in the west the split jet pattern is to get even more pronounced with the split point moving directly over Japan and the northern branch tracking up the Kuril Islands over Kamchatka then into the Bering Sea. Beyond 72 hours the split jetstream pattern is to only get more pronounced with the northern branch of the jet pushing well up into if not north of the Bering Sea, only to fall hard south again feeding the trough in the Eastern Gulf. That said, near the California coast a ridge is to start building and pushing north, driving the eastern flank of the Gulf trough north up into British Columbia. Looks like gale development potential in that trough will be fading later in the week, and precipitation potential will start falling off for California at that time too.
At the surface on Saturday (12/4) a confused weather pattern was in play. Low pressure was in the Eastern Bering Sea at 986 mbs getting ready to fall south into the Northern Gulf of Alaska. Another fading low was 600 nmiles west of Pt Conception and starting to integrate with a weaker low just off the San Francisco Bay area. They were rotating around each other. But mainly high pressure was 800 nmiles north of Hawaii generating trades there in the 20 kt range with another high at 1036 mbs falling south along the dateline and forming a gradient with weak low pressure south of it generating 35 kt east winds aimed at Japan and totally blocking the normal winter storm corridor.
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 30 kt northwest winds over a decent sized fetch area at 51N 160W with seas on the increase. The gale is to continue to ease southeast on Sunday AM (12/5) with 30 kt northwest winds at 45N 160W generating 19 ft seas at 47N 162W building to 20 ft and pushing to 43N 158W in the evening. This swell should be pushing well towards Hawaii down the 355 degree path. On Monday AM (12/6) the gale is to get re-energized with 45 kt northwest winds expected at 45N 152W moving to 40N 150W in the evening building seas to 34 ft in the evening at 42N 151W. The main fetch is to be fading on Tuesday AM though pushing east with winds down to 40 kts at 40N 145W with 36 ft seas building at 40N 147W pushing towards California up the 287 degree path. In the evening the gale is to be fading out with 30 kts residual fetch and seas fading from 32 ft at 40N 140W (285 degrees NCal). In all this is not to be a particularly strong system, but it is a major upgrade from previous projections. With winds at 45 kts 15-16 sec period swell is possible with the bulk of the energy aimed towards the US West Coast and mainly California. Solid sideband swell energy might be expected for Hawaii too if all goes as forecast. This is just a projection so don't expect anything too much, but it's all we have to monitor.
Small Gulf Gale
On Thursday AM (12/2) a 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 fell 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 continued southeast Friday AM with 35 kt northwest winds at 45N 141W with 26 ft seas 46N 143W. The gale was 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. 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.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (12/4) low pressure was circulating 400 nmiles off Monterey Bay drawing warm moisture from the tropics up into it while another low was starting to develop just northwest of it and falling south. The net effect was south winds building along the Central CA coast with a moisture plume starting to push into the Pt Conception area and more queuing up off the coast. By Sunday the core of the initial low is to push onshore over Central CA with south winds in firm control down into Southern CA and rain expected down to Pt Conception. The second low is to be developing and pushing east at the same time, expected moving onshore in the evening into Monday AM. Rain and south winds down to Southern CA. Light snow is expected in the Central Sierras on and off over the weekend with no significant accumulation until the second low makes it's push inland Sunday evening into Monday AM, with maybe 10 inches of accumulation total. Snow level to be fairly high though (near 6000 ft). A clearing pattern is expected on Monday through south winds to linger early over Central CA while the next system builds in the Central Gulf with a front reaching extreme Northern CA late. Tuesday (12/7) south winds are to reach down to near Monterey Bay but rain holding north of the SF Bay area. Wednesday the front is to make it to San Francisco with south winds down to maybe Morro Bay and rain down to Monterey Bay, but going no further south. South wind to fade some on Thursday but still light south from Monterey Bay northward with rain continuing from Monterey Bay northward through Friday. No snow forecast for the Sierra, but instead rain, with temps high due to the inflow of tropical moisture from Hawaii. High pressure is to build in behind on late Friday setting up north winds at near 20 kts over Pt Conception, but not reaching up into North CA nor into Southern CA.
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 be 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 with winds to 40 kts again all aimed east, generating up to 30 ft seas, and eventually impacting the northern Kuril Islands on Thursday (12/9). This remains a highly unfavorable setup. .
Otherwise there's no other signs of swell production forecast for the next 7 days.
As of Saturday (12/4) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued well in positive territory. The daily SOI was at 27.30. The 30 day average was up some at 16.86 with the 90 day average down slightly at 19.74. Overall, averages remained high, though down slightly from the peak in mid-to-late October.
Wind anomalies as of Friday (12/3) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models finally indicated what we had suspected was occurring all along, namely that easterly anomalies were filling the North Pacific from Central America to New Guinea. They were not particularly strong, but were present none-the-less and are clearly indicative of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. That's the bad news. It's interesting, but we've gotten comfortable enough now with these models to see the holes in the long term wind record, and that enables us to grossly determine what the MJO is doing regardless of what the models predict. The good news is the Active Phase of the MJO is building in the Central Indian Ocean with west anomalies indicated there. East anomalies (Inactive Phase) in the Pacific are to be fading out through 12/13 while westerly anomalies (Active Phase) start pushing east into the Western Pacific at about the same time, arriving over New Guinea on 12/13, then fading there through 12/18 with a dead neutral pattern forecast by 12/23. But typically what 'really' happens, regardless of the models, is the remnants of the Active Phase push east into Central America. This is expected to hold through the first week in January. Since the Active Phase supports the development of low pressure in the Northern Pacific, if anything, the best shot for swell in Hawaii and the US West Coast will be roughly over the Christmas holidays. Then a week after the New Year the Inactive Phase will likely be coming back and shutting it all down into early February.
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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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table