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 Tuesday (12/9) in North and Central CA surf was 10-12 ft on the face and lined up but warbled and lumped by south winds and functionally unrideable. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 7-8 ft and completely trashed by south winds. In Southern California up north surf was head high and lined up but getting hacked by southerly winds, yet still rideable. Down south waves were head high and unrideable due to tide and wind. Hawaii's North Shore was getting secondary Gulf swell with waves in the 10-12 ft range but pretty warbled from northeast winds. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting wrap around Gulf swell with waves head high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from the third in a series of gales that moved through the Gulf was hitting both Hawaii and California. It was the least organized of the bunch, and developed north of Hawaii pushing east-northeast Mon-Tues (12/9) with 30-32 ft seas before moving into the Eastern Gulf with a broad area of 22-25 ft seas filling the Gulf on Wednesday before fading from 20 ft Thursday. Swell to continue for Hawaii and the US West Coast into the weekend. And yet another storm is developing, tracking from the dateline into the Western Gulf region Wed-Fri (12/12) with 43 ft seas initially, then fading from 30 ft on Sat (12/13) in the Gulf. A run of solid surf has started and looks to continue well into next week. A sort break in the action then another small storm is forecast for the Western Gulf on Wed (12/17) with 42 ft seas and a far larger system is to develop off Japan Thurs-Fri (12/19).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (12/9) the jet was pushing off Japan but starting to weakly .cgiit with winds only 120 kts. The .cgiit flow consolidated on the dateline while ridging north some with winds building from 150 kts, then felling into a trough just off California with wind 180 kts and offering good support for gale development. Over the next 72 hours the apex of this trough is to track over Big Sur mid-Friday (12/12) with a new pocket of 170 kt winds starting to build over Japan pushing east while the .cgiit in the jet moves over the dateline and then reconsolidates north of Japan with winds back up to 130 kts pushing towards California. A mild trough to be developing north of Hawaii and just east of the reconsolidation point offering limited support for gale development and tracking east through the weekend poised just off Central CA late Sunday (12/14) offering continued support for gale development. Meanwhile the new wind pocket in the west is to be bulldozing east with winds 180 kts tracking from Japan and ridging slightly northeast over the dateline with it's leading edge almost starting to feed into the trough off the U S West Coast. no clear support for gale development from the winds pocket, but it seems like just a matter of time. Beyond 72 hours the trough off California is to push onshore late Tues (12/17) with it's apex down near the Baja/CA border while a new pocket of wind energy builds over Japan to 180 kts with 120-130 kt winds filling the North Pacific forming a broad trough on the dateline. That trough to push east Wed-Thurs (12/18) offering more support for gale development while the new wind pocket pushes to the dateline and Western Gulf with winds 180 kts. A very impressive jetstream pattern is forecast for the next week offering mult.cgie opportunities for gale if not storm development.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (12/11) swell from the third in a series of gales was hitting Hawaii and poised for California (see 3rd Gulf Gale below). A new storm was building on the dateline (see New Dateline Storm below).
Over the next 72 hours a new gale is to develop west of the dateline on Wed AM (12/10) producing 55 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase. In the evening 55 kt northwest winds to be approaching the dateline with 46 ft seas at 36N 172E (304 degs HI). On Thurs AM (12/11) 50 kt northwest winds to be on the dateline with 42 ft seas over a modest area at 38N 180W (315 degs HI, 290 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). The storm is to be fading in the evening with winds barely 50 kts and seas 39 ft pushing due east at 40N 171W (312 degs, 289 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). 45 kt northwest winds to continue holding solidly north-northwest of Hawaii Fri AM (12/12) with near 40 ft seas at 42N 164W (292 degs NCal, 297 degs SCal). Winds fading from 40 kt from the northwest over a solid area in the evening with 36 ft seas at 40N 158W (286 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). The gale to solid fad and continue east into Sat PM fading from 30 ft at 44N 149W (302 degs NCal). This is certainly one to monitor.
3rd Gulf Gale
Another broad gale started developing in the Western Gulf on Sun PM (12/7) with a modest fetch of 45 kt west-northwest starting to get traction on an already roughed up ocean surface with a tiny area of 29 ft seas developing at 41N 180E. The gale started moving into the Central Gulf on Mon AM (12/8) with 45 kt west winds 1000 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii and seas 34 ft over a building area at 39N 168W (336 degs HI, 287 NCal, 293 degs SCal). Fetch raced east still at 45 kts in the evening with seas 32 ft at 39N 154W targeting only the US West Coast (284 degs NCal, 292 degs SCal). 40 kt west winds were lifting northeast on Tues AM (12/9) off Oregon with 30 ft seas at 44N 138W (302 degs NCal). The core gale to fade after that. But a broad area of 30-35 kt northwest to west winds were in.cgiace Tues AM stretching from the dateline into the Gulf aimed at Hawaii and the US West Coast with 26 ft seas at 35N-39N 163W (347 degs HI, 280 degs NCal, 287 degs SCal). Secondary swell possible. A large area of 30-35+ kt west winds continued into the evening with 26 ft seas moving roughly to 38N 150W targeting Hawaii but also targeting the US West Coast (281 degs NCal, 288 degs SCal). This fetch held into Thursday AM (12/11) producing 23 ft seas at 35-40N 148W (270-292 degs NCal, 280-295 degs SCal).
Hawaii: Swell fading Fri (12/12) from 7.2 ft @ 13 secs (9.5 ft). Swell Direction: 325-330 degrees
North CA: Swell to continue on Fri (12/12) at 10 ft @ 14-15 secs (14.5 ft) with much windswell intermixed. Swell fading Sat (12/13) from 9.1 ft @ 15 secs (13-14 ft). Residuals on Sunday fading from 5.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (7.0 ft). Swell Direction: 280-285 degrees
New Dateline Storm
A new gale developed west of the dateline on Wed AM (12/10) producing 55 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase. In the evening 55 kt northwest winds approached the dateline with 42 ft seas at 35N 172E (306 degs HI, 292 degs NCal). On Thurs AM (12/11) 55 kt northwest winds continued on the dateline with 42 ft seas over a modest area at 38N 180W (315 degs HI, 290 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). The storm is to be fading in the evening but still with winds barely 55 kts and seas 42 ft pushing due east at 40N 165W (347 degs HI, 287 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). 45 kt northwest winds to continue holding solidly north-northwest of Hawaii Fri AM (12/12) with near 42 ft seas at 40N 164W (287 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). Winds fading from 40 kt from the northwest over a solid area in the evening with 35 ft seas at 39N 158W (285 degs NCal, 293 degs SCal). The gale to fade and continue east into Sat PM with seas fading from 28 ft at 42N 150W (286 degs NCal, 295 degs NCal). Solid swell is expected to result for Hawaii and CA.
Hawaii: Swell from this system is to start hitting the North Shore of Oahu at sunrise Sat 912/13) with period 19 secs and size building steadily, peaking near sunset at 9.8 ft @ 16-17 secs (16 ft Hawaiian). Swell continuing on Sunday (12/14) with pure swell 10.5 ft @ 15 secs (15.5 ft) fading slightly through the day. Residuals on Monday (12/15) 6.6 ft @ 12-13 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 310 moving to 347 degrees.
North CA: Rough data suggests swell peaking mid-Monday with period 18 secs with south winds and rain.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (12/11) a large low pressure system was impacting the California coast with more fetch a nd rain queued up off the coast. South winds and chop and rain were the rule. Snow started falling in Tahoe about 2 PM at 6,700 ft and above. Heavy rain is expected to impact Big Sur at sunset and overnight. Heavy snow for Tahoe starting Thurs AM working into the Southern Sierra and continuing for the entire Sierra overnight then slow fading through the day Friday. Winds on Friday northwest 10 kts. Light winds Saturday and clear. A new front moves into North and Central CA on late Sunday with south winds 20 kts well after dark in Central CA. Rain starting in North CA Mon AM working down to Southern CA in the evening with moderate snow for Tahoe Mon PM into late Wed evening. Continued rain for all locations into late Tuesday PM. Winds light on Tues for North and Central CA building from the northwest to 15 kts later Wednesday. Light winds Thursday with another low queuing up off Central CA late Thursday. .
Surface Analysis - No swell producing fetch of interest 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 be developing in the Western Gulf on Tues AM (12/16) generating a small area of 45 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase. In the evening west winds to build to 55 kts moving to the Central Gulf with seas 39 ft at 44N 163W. West winds to continue at 50 kts with the gale lifting northeast in the Gulf on Wed AM (12/17) with seas 44 ft at 47N 154W. 50 kt west winds targeting Vancouver Island to continue in the evening with seas building to 47 ft at 48N 145W. A quick fade to follow. possible solid swell for Central CA northward from a more northerly direction.
A large gale is to build over Japan on Wed AM (12/17) with 45 kt west winds over a solid area. Seas on the increase. By the evening 45-50 kt west winds to be off the coast of Japan with seas building from 38 ft at 40N 154E. 45-50 kt west winds to continue Thurs AM (12/18) with seas building to 43 ft over a solid area at 41N 158E. In the evening 45 kt west winds to continue tracking east with 44 ft seas at 40N 165E. Large thick swell possible for Hawaii with less size and consistency for the US West Coast. .
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.cgianet. 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 .cgiit 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).
(1st paragraph in each section is new/recent data. 2nd paragraph where present is analysis data and is updated only as required).
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) On Thursday (12/11) the daily SOI was up some at -2.80. The 30 day average was rising from -4.23 and the 90 day average rising from -6.97. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weak Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO with the 90 day average near -8 since 10/20. A weak pressure pattern was south of Tahiti and expected to hold in some fashion, perhaps falling with a trough building there on Tues (12/16). 30 and 90 day averages expected to rise some more then.cgiateau. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies over the Eastern Maritime Continent turning to weak east anomalies over the dateline. Neutral to weak west anomalies continued into the Galapagos. A week from now (12/19) weak east anomalies are to continue over the Central Maritime Continent fading to neutral over the dateline turning moderate west south of the Hawaiian Islands turning neutral on into the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated light east anomalies over the far West equatorial Pacific.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/10 are in sync. They both suggest a very weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was pushing east over the far West Pacific. The Statistic model depicts this weak Active Phase fading 10 days out with a neutral pattern following to 15 days out.The Dynamic model depicts the same thing but with a weak Inactive pulse on the dateline 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 12/11 depicts a weak Inactive Phase over the West Pacific tracking east and fading quickly through 12/31. A weak Active Phase to follow 12/31-1/20.
The good news is that what appeared to be resurgence of the MJO is now returning to a very weak pattern, suggesting that El Nino is now gaining traction again. Normally the MJO fades away during El Nino events. The fading of the MJO supports the El Nino hypothesis. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
Surface Water Temps: The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of the most recent low res imagery (12/11) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific (up some since early Sept) and stabilized. A clear but weak El Nino signature is holding. Warm water (not just pockets) has gotten good traction while tracking continuously east between 90W to 160W, likely the result of the first of a pair of Kelvin Waves impacting the Galapagos region (as expected). This weak El Nino signature has stabilized but is not getting any stronger, TAO data suggests +0.5-1.0 deg C anomalies are present over a continuous area on the equator from the Galapagos to the far West Pacific and appears to be pushing east, cooling slightly near the Galapagos. Warm water is clearly present on the surface in the NINO 3.4 region based on TAO and hi res imagery.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water. There are virtually no signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California. Warm water remains entrenched along the California coast suggesting the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weaker relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is also starting to build in warmth with only on small cool pocket well off Chile, not reaching even north to 10S and in decline. A warm regime has the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 12/11 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with a broad embedded pocket of +4 deg anomalies centered near 120W pushing east and starting to reach the Galapagos embedded in with a steady stream of +2.0 deg anomalies pushing east from the dateline into the Galapagos. The +4º C anomalies are the second in a pair of recent Kelvin Waves in-flight. Satellite data from 12/4 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies in the Eastern equatorial Pacific indicative of a Kelvin Wave in flight pushing east. Other models collaborate the presumption that a Kelvin Wave is in flight. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (12/4) indicates the second of a pair of recent modest Kelvin Waves started building back at 145E-160W in Sept and is now pushing east reaching to 100W and is the second strongest Kelvin Wave of this ENSO event.The interesting thing is the satellite imagery depicts no warm water remaining in the far West Pacific at depth. This typically suggests the end of the ENSO cycle is at hand.
When the second Kelvin Wave arrives in the east (about Dec 30) we will be set for the winter. Of course what is good enough to feed storm develop and what constitutes an official El Nino are two different things. We are focused on the former. The quandary now is whether this will be a one year event, or something longer.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 12/1 remains improved. The current is pushing moderately west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. It is strongest north of New Guinea. There was one pocket of easterly anomalies south of Hawaii. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 125W. This data continues to suggest an improved picture is continuing to evolve and supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 12/9 for the Nino 3.4 region are down a little from previous optimistic forecasts. It suggests water temps are up to +1.0 deg C and are to fade some to between +0.8-0.9 through April 2015. But the real interesting part is that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in May 2015, pushing +1.5 degs C by early August 2015.
This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year warm event, and not a weak one either. See the chart based version here - link. A consensus of other models are not as optimistic.
Analysis: A downwelling Kelvin Wave was generated and pushed east starting in Aug 2013, followed by a stronger one in Oct-Nov, and a massive one in Jan-April 2014. A weaker one followed in July with yet a modestly stronger one building under the dateline in October. The only interruptions have been attributable to the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle. Water temps in the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle have held remarkably consistent from May 2014 onward, even during upwelling phases. Continued suppressed trades with embedded weak westerly anomalies have held in the West Pacific all year so far producing the aforementioned Kelvin Wave with +3 degs C in flight now. There has been no signs of easterly anomalies or a shut down of the Kelvin Wave pipe for better than a year now. This is a huge step forward. See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
At this point a teleconnection or feedback loop between the ocean and the atmosphere is in.cgiay. Evidence includes a total breakdown of the Gulf of Alaska high pressure system this summer, resulting in very high water temps off California. Also the early season recurving of mult.cgie tropical low pressure systems tracking northeast off Japan bound for the dateline. And the pulse of tropical activity near Hawaii on the week of 8/4 and those systems continued evolution in the West Pacific is most telling. And then the near record pulse of tropical activity off Mexico (8/18-9/20) resulting in Lowell, Super Hurricane Marie, followed by Odile and Polo (though these last 2 produced no swell) and finally Rachel. And then even a few inches of snow in the Sierra on Sept 27 and again on Oct 15 and 6 inches on Oct 31. The last time any of this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. And mult.cgie recurving tropical systems pushed off Japan reaching the Gulf of Alaska in October (Fengshen and Vongfong). And then one more recurving tropical system in November (Super Typhoon Nuri). And even the Pacific Counter Current is now falling in line.
About 3 months of undisturbed heating is required for the atmosphere to start responding on a global level where the point of 'no return' could be achieved from our perspective. The warm pool starting forming in earnest on 5/1, and so the atmosphere would not trip over the 'no-return' point till 8/1. We have passed that threshold. As of 9/2, all the arguments against a feedback loop being in.cgiace were gone.
Note that what we consider 'teleconnected' and what NOAA considers threshold El Nino conditions are two different things and serve different purposes. We are focused on monitoring weather events that contribute to the production of open ocean storms (and therefore swells) mainly in the Pacific Basin that may or may not have the same impacts as a full blown El Nino. So our criteria is certainly less than the threshold of NOAAs. That said, considering the size and duration of the westerly wind bursts in Jan-April, and the Kelvin Wave that preceded it, it seem hard to believe that at least some Pacific Basin wide 'change' was not already well entrenched even early this year, and had been developing since perhaps as early and Aug of 2013 (when the first Kelvin Wave of the series started taking shape). We will continue monitoring westerly wind anomalies and warm subsurface water buildup in and under the Kelvin Wave Generation area. Also monitoring of the NPac jetstream (which has already been productive) and Atlantic hurricane activity (which was nonexistent) are key. But at this time odds continue stacking up in favor that a global teleconnection is now established. If that's true, the focus then becomes estimating how deep the ENSO cycle will become, or whether it will stay shallow but transition into a multi-year event. At this time we're predisposed to the multiyear, Midoki scenario. And that is actually the better of all options.
Officially we are still in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in.cgiay. But given all current signs, from a winter storm and swell production perspective, atmospheric transition is well underway and we are in a far better.cgiace than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest 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