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 Wednesday (12/5) North and Central CA had local westerly windswell at shoulder high and crumbled with light onshore winds and rain. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were waist high and chopped with south winds and rain. Southern California up north was thigh high, clean and lined up but weak. Down south waves were knee high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting dateline swell with waves head high and clean. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting wrap around dateline swell with waves waist high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A slightly improved jetstream configuration is starting to take shape especially over the dateline. That is helping to support formation of a gale there pushing east and targeting Hawaii with 26-28 ft seas into Thursday (12/6), good for possibly some modest swell by the weekend. This gale to reorganize over the weekend well north of the Islands targeting the US West Coast with a small area of 32 ft seas tracking through the northern Gulf of Alaska. Maybe some swell next week for the mainland from this system. After that some form of disorganized gale is forecast over the extreme Northwest Pacific early next week but seas are to just barely exceed 20 ft.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Wednesday (12/5) a split jetstream flow continued in control with the split point just barely east of Japan. Two separate streams developed on the dateline and just barely separate from each other tracking parallel and east from there, one pushing into the Pacific Northwest and the other into Central California. Winds were about 110 kts in each in pockets, with no trough indicated capable of supporting gale development. If anything the southern branch was making for a rather wet and warm flow over California and the Sierras. Of interest was building winds over Japan at 160 kts, possibly the start of something better. And a small trough was developing on the leading edge of those winds approaching the dateline. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to pinch off with it's remnants rising hard to the north riding along the northern branch of the jet. Limited support for gale development indicated. Also the pocket of wind over Japan is to gain traction, with wind speeds reaching 180 kts by Saturday (12/8) and pushing more or less flat off Japan, reaching to the dateline with a bit of a trough developing there capable of supporting gale development. Beyond 72 hours the single flow pushing off Japan is to continue to build in areal coverage reaching solidly to the dateline with winds 150 kts by Wed (12/12) and forming a bit a trough over the Northwest Pacific supportive of gale development. 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 Wednesday (12/5) a gale was over the dateline tracking towards Hawaii (see Dateline Gale below). Weak high pressure at 1024 mbs was building over the East Pacific. No other weather systems of interest were occurring. Over the next 72 hours the Dateline Gale is to track east then northeast up into the northern Gulf of Alaska while high pressure ridges south of it into the Pacific Northwest setting up an offshore flow. A new diffuse gale is forecast developing over Japan.
A gale developed west of the dateline Tuesday PM (12/4) with 30-35 kt west winds down at 33N 169E and seas on the increase. By Wednesday (12/5) AM pressure was 984 mbs with west winds building to 40 kts over a small area in the gales south quadrant. Seas building from 24 ft at 33N 172E. In the evening winds to hold at 40 kts but aimed more to the south with the gale itself pushing east and seas building to 28 ft at 34N 173E (aimed a bit south of the 299 degree path to HI - as west as it can get relative to Oahu's North Shore). The gale is to hold on Thursday AM (12/6) with northwest winds still 40 kts and the gale tracking east. Seas 26 ft at 34N 178E (304 degs HI). Additional fetch of nearly 45 kt is to rebuild as the gale lifts northeast in the evening with 26 ft seas at 35N 176W aimed well at Hawaii (306 degs HI). 45 kt northwesterly winds to be holding Friday AM (12/7) with seas 27 ft at 39N 172W (330 degs HI). Fetch is to build Friday evening to 45 kts over a modest area as the gale stops lifting north and starts to move east. 28 ft seas building at 42N 170W (1300 nmiles from HI pushing down the 336 deg path). Beyond all fetch to be aimed at the US West Coast (see long term forecast).
Assuming all this comes to pass some degree of decently rideable swell will finally be targeting the Hawaiian Islands with arrival expected Saturday morning (12/8) peaking late afternoon at 7.5 ft @ 15-16 secs (11-12 ft faces) from 300-305 degrees. Swell fading sunrise Sunday (12/9) from 7.0 ft @ 13-14 secs (9.5 ft) from 310-320 degrees. Additional but smaller more northerly angled swell expected for Monday.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Wednesday (12/5) Typhoon Bopha was still churning in the China Sea just west of the Philippines with winds 75 kts. This system is forecast to stall in the middle of the China Sea and slowly fade through Monday (12/10) with winds down to 35 kts. No swell production potential exists for our forecast area.
Otherwise no tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Wednesday (12/5) a front was dissipating over Central CA with a light wind pattern in control. Southern and Northern CA had high pressure and north winds starting to build in over outer waters at 15 kts. Thursday high pressure is to build in with north winds starting at 15 kts taking control of all coastal locations pushing 20+ kts late other than protected spots in Southern CA. More of the same expected Friday and Saturday with north winds up to 25 kt near Pt Arena. Southern CA to remain mostly protected. Sunday the high is to start pushing into the Pacific Northwest with 25 kt north winds over Cape Mendocino but with an offshore flow starting to build over the rest of the state. The same pattern to hold Mon-Tues (12/11), then the high is to drop back south with north winds 25 kts for all of Central CA (lesser north winds for North CA) and light winds for Southern CA. More of the same Thursday too.
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 the dateline gale is to start tracking east through the Gulf of Alaska by Saturday AM (12/8). Winds to be 45 kts over a small area with seas building to 32 ft at 44N 162W (296 degs NCal). Winds to be fading from 40 kts in the evening with the gale lifting northeast with 30 ft seas at 50N 158W (306 degs NCal). The gale is to be racing northeast Sunday AM (12/9) with 40 kt southwest winds in control and 32 ft seas at 53N 153W aimed mostly east of the 315 degree path into NCal. By evening the gale is to be out of the NCal swell window. Some degree of small longer period swell is possible for the US West Coast.
Another gale is to be building over Japan easing east by Monday (12/10) producing 40 kt west winds and seas to 26 ft at 38N 150E and holding into the evening with 26 ft seas at 38N 153E. The gale to fade some and lift northeast there after with seas fading to 24 ft Tuesday PM (12/11) at 40N 170E and fading from there. At this time some background westerly swell seems possible for Hawaii. Something to monitor.
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 Wednesday (12/5) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at 6.43. The 30 day average was down to 3.56 with the 90 day average unchanged at 3.33. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated moderate plus strength easterly anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) extending to the dateline, then dying to dead neutral there and extending east into Central America. This indicates the Inactive Phase of the MJO was firmly in control of the West Pacific. A week from now (12/13) 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 (and the split for the past several weeks) is likely tied to the current Inactive Phase.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/4 suggest a modest Inactive Phase is in-play over the West Pacific/Maritime Continent extending to the dateline. Both models now suggest the core of the Inactive Phase is to ease east over the next 5 days while the Active Phase builds in the Indian Ocean. 6 days out the models diverge, with the statistic model depicting the Inactive Phase building while pushing east, reaching a point south of Hawaii 10 days out (12/14) with the Active Phase building in the far West Pacific and holding there 15 days out (12/19). Weirdly the dynamic model has the Inactive Phase backtracking 10 days out and building over the West Pacific holding the Active Phase captive in the Indian Ocean through 12/19. That does not seem realistic. If the consolidated jetstream flow builds over the West Pacific as forecast (symptomatic of the Active Phase), then the statistic model will be vindicated.
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 occurring with the Inactive and Active Phases becoming more pronounced and regular. But the collapse/stalling of the MJO in November had us rethinking that position. As of now (12/5) it seems the MJO is just stalled, but not weakened. And if anything, the jetstream flow aloft is symptomatic of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. At a minimum 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. The semi-Pineapple Expresss weather pattern that has been occurring over California the past week is a classic sign of 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.
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. Some data suggested a slightly strong impact, but nothing remarkable. A second Kelvin wave developed due to a prolonged WWB event in the West Pacific between Sept 2 and Oct 9. That Kelvin Wave had 2-3 deg C warmer than normal subsurface water and was located in pockets under the equator. We believe it has or is reaching the Central America coast and will possibly provide a little boost to water temps shortly, but most data suggests nothing dramatic. At a minimum it should keep things in the normal range. That said - waters temps are below normal now in the Nino-1 region.
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 we are in a dead neutral ENSO pattern with neither El Nino or La Nina imminent. But that is a far better place than the previous 2 years under the direct influence of La Nina. Still, the exact outcome for this Winter is in doubt. We had expected a normal number of storm and swell, but we are considering downgrading that shortly. A complete lack of ENSO energy typically signals a lack of storm energy, and is perhaps a harbinger of the coming 5 months. Longer term 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