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 Thursday (12/6) North and Central CA had a new pulse of Gulf windswell producing waves at 3 ft overhead and a bit wonky with northwest winds blowing firmly on top. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were waist high on the sets and clean but generally weak. Southern California up north was waist high and a little more on best sets, clean and lined up but weak. Down south waves were thigh high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover swell with waves chest to maybe head high and clean and pretty lined up. The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting wrap around swell with waves waist high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
An improving jetstream configuration is starting to have an improved effect on gale development over the dateline. A gale is falling south along the dateline targeting Hawaii with 26-28 ft seas into Thursday (12/6) and likely resulting in modest swell by the weekend. This gale to reorganize Fri-Sat (12/8) well north of the Islands targeting the US West Coast with a small area of 28-30 ft seas tracking through the northern Gulf of Alaska. Maybe some small swell to result next week for the mainland. After that another poorly organized gale is forecast over the extreme Northwest Pacific early next week producing seas in the 30 ft range, but making little easterly progress.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (12/6) an improving jetstream flow was developing off Japan with a singular flow tracking east-northeast with winds 160 kts falling into a pinched trough on the dateline providing some support for gale development there. The jet split on the eastern side of the dateline trough with the northern branch flowing flat into the Pacific Northwest and the southern branch tracking over Hawaii and then moving over Pt Conception CA. Winds were up to 130 kts in the northern branch east of the dateline, but no troughs were present offering no support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hours the trough on the dateline 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 pushing up into the Northwestern Gulf of Alaska. Also the pocket of wind over Japan is to gain traction, with wind speeds reaching 180 kts by Sunday (12/9) 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 lifting slightly to the northeast and reaching solidly to the dateline with winds 160 kts by Wed (12/12) and forming a bit a trough over the Northwest Pacific supportive of gale development. Winds to drop to 130 kts by early Fri (12/14) but a bit more of a trough is to be carving out mid-way between Japan and the dateline, perhaps offering better support for gale development there. A very split flow to continue over the Eastern Pacific supportive only of high pressure over and north of Hawaii extending east to just off the California coast.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (12/6) a gale continued over the dateline tracking towards Hawaii (see Dateline Gale below). Modest high pressure at 1028 mbs was building over the East Pacific with north winds on the increase along the California coast. A new gale was brewing over Eastern China starting to get legs into the extreme West Pacific. 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 there. The gale over Eastern China is to slowly build over the Southern Kuril Islands moving east (see long term forecast for details).
Part 1 - 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 held 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 held on Thursday AM (12/6) with northwest winds still 40 kts and the gale tracking east. Seas 28 ft at 33N 178E (303 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 175W aimed well at Hawaii (305 degs HI). 45 kt northwesterly winds to be holding Friday AM (12/7) with a small area of seas at 27 ft at 41N 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 43N 170W (1300 nmiles from HI pushing down the 337 deg path). Beyond all fetch to be aimed at the US West Coast (see Part 2 below).
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 AM (12/9) from 6.6 ft @ 13-14 secs (8.5 ft) from 310-320 degrees. Additional but smaller more northerly angled swell expected for Monday fading from 4.5 ft @ 13 secs (5.5-6.0 ft) from 325+ degrees.
Part 2 - 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 in the gale south quadrant with seas building to 28 ft at 46N 167W (297 degs NCal). Winds to be fading from 40 kts in the evening with the gale lifting northeast with 30 ft seas at 50N 163W (aimed a bit east of the 307 deg path to NCal ). The gale is to be racing northeast Sunday AM (12/9) with 40 kt southwest winds moving over the eastern Aleutians with 30 ft seas at 53N 160W aimed mostly east of the 313 degree path into NCal. By evening the gale is to be inland over Alaska. Some degree of small longer period swell is possible for California starting Tues (12/11).
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thursday AM (12/6) Tropical Storm Bopha was tracking northwest in the China Sea just west of the Philippines with winds 50 kts. This system is forecast to continue northwest then stall in the middle of the China Sea on Saturday 912/8) and slowly fade through Monday (12/10) with winds down to 20 kts. No swell production potential exists for our forecast area.
Otherwise no tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (12/6) high pressure at 1034 mbs was building into the North and Central CA coasts 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 just off the coast. Lighter winds nearshore all locations early. Southern CA to remain mostly protected. Sunday the high is to start pushing into the Pacific Northwest with 25 kt north winds just off 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). Wednesday a bit of a backdoor front is possible as the high drops back south with north winds 20-25 kts along all of Central CA (lesser north winds for North CA) and light winds for Southern CA. Light rain possible along the coast with a few inches of snow for Tahoe with low snow levels. Clearing by Thursday but more north winds forecast along the coast.
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 another gale is to be building over Japan easing east by Sunday (12/9) producing 35-40 kt west winds with seas on the increase. By evening a small fetch of 40-45 kt west winds is forecast off Northern Japan generating seas to 28 ft at 39N 152E (304 degs HI, 301 degs NCal). Monday AM (12/10) the gale is to be producing 40 kt west winds and seas to 30 ft at 40N 160E (307 degs HI, 298 degs NCal) then lifting north into the evening with 30 ft seas fading at 42N 165E. The gale to fade some and lift northeast thereafter with 40 kt winds and seas 32 ft at 47N 168E (303 degs NCal) and not aimed at Hawaii any longer. This system is to be gone by Tuesday PM (12/11). At this time some background westerly swell seems possible for Hawaii and the US West Coast. 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 Thursday (12/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was down some at 1.04. The 30 day average was up to 3.92 with the 90 day average down slightly at 3.18. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated moderate 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 (12/14) 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 12/5 suggest a weak Inactive Phase was in-play over 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 (12/20). Weirdly the dynamic model has the Inactive Phase backtracking/retrograding 10 days out and building over the West Pacific holding the Active Phase captive in the Indian Ocean through 12/20. 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 has 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 occurred over California the past week (11/28-12/5) 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. So the best this Kelvin wave will do is return temps to normal.
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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The Making of 'Chasing Mavericks' - See some background footage on how the movie was made: Part1, Part2
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Greg Long XCel Core Files - Here's a great profile of Greg Long and his contributions toward pushing the state of big wave surfing. Well Done - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd9pqgiXfxk&feature=player_embedded
Chasing Mavericks - The Jay Moriarty Movie: Two trailers for the new movie about Jay, Frosty and Mavericks has been posted. Movie opens on 10/26/12. Here's the link: http://www.mtv.com/videos/movie-trailers/818957/chasing-mavericks.jhtml & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNdYoX9Vfxg&feature=relmfu
Props from the Pros: Stormsurf was mentioned over the past week in two different media sources. One was in an interview Kelly Slater did with the New York Times and another was in a promotional piece Ramon Navarro did for the Big Wave World Tour. Many thanks to Curt Myers from Powerline Productions for alerting us and of course thanks to Kelly, Ramon and the Tour for using our service. Here's the links:
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
Buell Wetsuits - When surfing in Santa Cruz, we've been seeing a new wetsuit in the line-up worn by many top flight surfers. They're getting good traction and are well respected. Take a look: http://www.buellwetsuits.com/
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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