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 (12/13) North and Central CA had new combo Gulf swell mixed with Oregon windswell producing waves in the 8-10 ft range on the face and fairly clean early, but a bit dishelved and sporadic. Wind was offshore early. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were chest high and clean but soft with northwest winds blowing hard outside the kelp. Southern California up north was maybe waist high on the sets and weak with onshore winds blowing exposed breaks. Down south waves were thigh high and trashed by modest northwest wind. Hawaii's North Shore was getting minimal northerly windswell with waves waist high at select breaks and warbled by brisk east-northeast trades.The South Shore was flat. The East Shore was getting east tradewind windswell at 1 ft overhead and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Relatively local raw north swell is hitting California combined with remnant Gulf swell making for something a bit larger to ride, but not optimum. We'll take what we can get. Another poorly organized gale developed over the extreme Northwest Pacific Mon-Tues (12/11) producing seas in the 26-30 ft range, but making little easterly progress. Some small swell expected for Hawaii Friday and the mainland by Sunday (12/16). Longer term a better storm pattern is forecast for the Gulf of Alaska. The jetstream is to remain split, but with the northern branch dipping further south as it tracks through the Gulf pushing into the US West Coast opening up a small gap to support local gale development relative to the US West Coast mainly. First a weak gale is to develop in the Western Gulf tracking east Sat-Mon (12/17) with up to 32 ft seas a bit off the North CA coast. Another system is to form behind it in the northern dateline region Mon (12/17) with 32 ft seas, then growing in the Northern Gulf Tues (12/18) with up to 40 ft seas, fading while falling southeast and seas dropping to 30 ft late Wednesday. Sideband swell possible for Hawaii with larger but raw swell more likely for the US West Coast mixed with weather. Perhaps a third system to follow in the Northern Gulf Thursday (12/20) falling southeast. And maybe another behind that. In all no swell producing fetch is to even start blowing on the oceans surface till Saturday, and even at that the models are unstable from one run to the next.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (12/13) a solid jetstream flow was in place tracking off Japan in a single flow with winds 130 kts arching slowly northeast and making it in-tact the whole way to the North Gulf of Alaska, then diving south just off British Columbia forming a backdoor trough just off Southern CA. Remnant split energy was still present tracking over Hawaii and into Baja, joining the main flow there. In all there were no real troughs capable of supporting gale development. The backdoor trough was only bringing colder air down into California, but no real weather. Over the next 72 hours the same basic pattern is to hold but with winds in the Gulf pushing 200 kts late Friday into Saturday falling down and over the Pacific Northwest moving inland over the Oregon CA border. Some support for gale development possible later in the period as a trough starts digging out in the Gulf by Sunday (12/16). Beyond 72 hours the jet is to split more noticeably on the dateline rising up over the Eastern Aleutians then falling into the Gulf with a series of troughs falling towards the US West Coast (at least 3 modeled). Winds to be in the 130 kt range associated with each trough. Good support for Gulf gale development. Of note: the split flow it to start really pushing north even north of the Bering Sea by Thurs (12/20) with the split flow becoming more entrenched. .
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (12/13) swell from a gale that developed over Northern Japan tracking northeast Sun-Tues (12/11) was pushing towards Hawaii and the US West Coast (see West Pacific Gale below). Solid high pressure at 1032 mbs was locking down 800 nmiles north-northeast of Hawaii forcing east bound weather to take the high road over the top of the high, then dropping down the US West Coast. But not swell producing systems of interest were charted. Over the next 72 hours the first of possible series of gale is to start developing in the Western Gulf tracking towards the US West Coast (see First Gulf Gale below).
West Pacific Gale
Another gale built over Japan easing east Sunday (12/9) producing 35-40 kt west winds in pockets with seas on the increase. By Monday AM (12/10) the gale was producing 40 kt west winds and seas to 30 ft over a tiny area at 37N 158E (306 degs HI, 298 degs NCal) then lifting north into the evening with winds barely 40 kts and 30 ft seas fading at 41N 163E. The gale faded more and lifted northeast thereafter with 35-40 kt west winds and seas 30 ft at 45N 169E (301 degs NCal) and not aimed at Hawaii any longer. This system is to be gone by Tuesday PM (12/11) with residual seas from previous fetch fading from 24 ft at 46N 175E (302 degs NCal). At this time some background westerly swell seems possible for Hawaii late in the workweek (Oahu: 4.4 ft @ 16 secs - 7 ft faces from 305 degrees on Friday (12/14) with well decayed and inconsistent sets the US West Coast by late in the weekend (Central CA: 4.2 ft @ 16 secs - 6.5 ft faces from 300 degrees on Sunday (12/16).
First Gulf Gale
Starting Friday evening (12/14) high pressure is to relent a little more in the Gulf of Alaska allowing a gale to develop on the dateline building Saturday AM (12/15) with 45 kt northwest winds and seas building from 24 ft at 38N 180W. In the evening west winds to fade to 35 kts aimed mostly east with the gale tracking east and seas holding at 24 ft at 40N 172W (289 degs NCal and aimed mostly east of the 335 degs path to Hawaii). 45 kt west winds to build into Sunday AM (12/16) with 26 ft seas moving to 43N 159 W targeting only the US West Coast (291 degs NCal). 50 kt northwest winds to build into the evening with 30 ft seas tracking east from 42N 147W (291 NCal). On Monday AM (12/17) 45 kt northwest winds to be a bit off the Northern CA coast producing a small area of 32 ft seas at 40N 140W (282 degs NCal). The gale is to be fading in the evening as it starts moving onshore over British Columbia with seas from previous fetch at 25 ft at 40N 134W. Possible larger raw swell for the US West Coast if all goes as forecast.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (12/13) high pressure at 1032 mbs was locked north of Hawaii and not quite making it to the US West Coast. North winds were up to 10 kts at more exposed breaks in Central CA. Friday (12/14) a weak low is to push down the coast with south winds maybe 10 kts for North and Central CA and northwest winds down south. Light rain for the whole state at times pushing north to south. Maybe and inch of snow for Tahoe. Light winds early Saturday turning south over Northern CA down to San Francisco late as a new weak front pushes south. Rain pushing south to Pt Conception late. That front pushes south Sunday and dissipates before reaching Point Conception with calm to light south winds for North and Central CA. Light rain associated with the font pushing south into Southern CA Sunday evening. 18 inches of snow for Tahoe with low snow levels. Southern CA to be protected. Monday the storm door opens with a possible gale pushing up to the Oregon with the front pushing south to San Francisco late. South winds building to 20 kts down to Monterey Bay. Rain down to Pt Conception,heavy late. Southern CA to be calm. Maybe 2 ft of snow for Tahoe. Low snow levels. Tuesday the front pushes down through Southern CA with high pressure and 20 kt north winds behind it affecting the entire state. Another 6-8 inches of snow for Tahoe possible with low snow levels. Wednesday another similar front pushes south down California reaching Pt Conception late. South winds 20 kts the rule. Rain down to Morro Bay late. Thursday north winds to follow the front near 20 kts for all of North and Central CA. Rain clearing late. another 10 inches of snow for Tahoe. Yet one more system to be queued up behind.
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 another gale is forecast developing west of the dateline Sunday AM (12/16) with 40 kt southwest winds and seas building. Winds to push 55 kts in the evening as the storm lifts east-northeast generating 30 ft seas at 46N 170E (303 degs NCal, 319 degs HI). 50 kt west winds to hold into Monday AM (12/17) with 32 ft seas over a modest area at 48N 178W (304 degs NCal, 333 degs HI). Winds to hold at 45-50 kts in the evening just barely clear of the Eastern Aleutians with seas 34 ft at 50N 165W targeting only the US West Coast (307 degs NCal). Theoretically this system is hold in the Northern Gulf on Tuesday AM (12/18) with 45-50 kt northwest winds and seas regenerating to 38 ft at 52N 155W (310 degs NCal). 55 kt northwest winds are forecast in the evening in the northern Gulf with seas 40 ft at 53N 151W (316 degs NCal). Winds to be fading Wednesday AM (12/19) from 45 kts and not falling southeast with seas 38 ft at 50N 148W (311 degs NCal). The gale is to be gone in the evening. This system has potential to generate relatively local longer period swell targeting the entire US West Coast.
And yet a third gale is forecast forming in the Northwestern Gulf Wednesday PM (12/19) with 55 kt north winds and seas building to 28 ft at 47N 168W (302 degs NCal, 350 degs HI). 45 kt northerly winds are to be falling southeast Thurs AM (12/20) producing 30 ft seas at 45N 160W (358 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). 45 kt northwest winds to be moving east in the evening with 34 ft seas building at 45N 152W (297 degrees NCal, 358+ degs HI). Another shot of swell possible primarily for the US West Coast.
But regarding all the above system, it is way too early to believe any of this just yet. At least there's some hope.
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 (12/13) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up slightly to -32.02 (6 days in double digit negative numbers) due to localized low pressure over Tahiti and not necessarily a direct El Nino or MJO symptom. The interesting thing about this scenario is that the low is to hold steady over Tahiti for the next week (thru 12/21). And another low was north of it on the other side of the equator (more details in the next paragraph). The 30 day average was down to -3.56 with the 90 day average down some at 0.32. This is neutral territory (for now) and not indicative of El Nino yet.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated light east anomalies over the Western Maritime Continent (WPac) giving way to modest west anomalies over the Eastern Maritime Continent continuing over the dateline with a pair of anomalous low pressure systems straddling either side of the equator near 180W. The northern low is not a true surface circulation, just anomalous winds rotating in a counter clockwise pattern. still, it is likely helping to support the west wind anomalies being seen on the equator. Light east anomalies were well off the coast of Central America. This indicates a burst of what looks like an Active Phase of the MJO. A week from now (12/21) light west anomalies are forecast holding over the Maritime Continent moving through the dateline then fading to neutral anomalies into South America. The lows straddling the dateline in the north and southern hemi's are to hold on the dateline. This suggests perhaps a weak Active Phase pattern might be trying to take hold. This might help to repair the split jetstream, but will do nothing to charge it up. A sustained WWB is required at minimum.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/12 suggest the Inactive Phase was in-play over the Pacific with a weak Active Phase south of Hawaii. No MJO signal was in the Indian Ocean. This seems at odds with what is being modeled now in the West Pacific. The statistical model suggests the Inactive Phase is to fade out in 7 days with a dead neutral pattern 8-15 days out. Conversely the dynamic model depicts the exact opposite with the Inactive Phase in place over the West Pacific and building 5 days from now (12/17) and holding there through the end of the model run (12/29) maybe weakening just a little with a weak Active Phase captive south of Hawaii and in the Indian Ocean. None of this makes any sense. The extreme divergence between the 2 models is striking. At this time there is no believable consensus and therefore no forecast worth talking about. The more likely outcome is more of the same, a weak MJO signal and a jetstream that is not real supportive of gale development. But the current pair of equatorial low pressure systems remains of interest.
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 (12/13) it seems the MJO is dead, or at least very weak. And if anything, the jetstream flow aloft is symptomatic of that MJO situation, rather weak and ineffective. 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 Express weather pattern that occurred over California the week of 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 -0.7 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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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
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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