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 Tuesday (12/14) North and Central California was getting south wind, rain and little in terms of surf with waves chest high and blown out as the first in a series of fronts push through. Southern California was getting residual Gulf swell with occasional chest high sets and pretty clean though a little bit weak and warbled. Down south exposed breaks were waist to chest high with rare head high sets and clean though a bit weak in between. It was a mixture of southern hemi swell and northwest wrap around windswell. Hawaii's North Shore was getting background northerly swell with waves shoulder to head high and reasonably lined up and clean, looking nice and fun. 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 raw local northwest semi-swell arriving for Wednesday at 8 ft (faces) fading from 6 ft on Thursday and down to 4 ft on Friday. More raw local windswell arrives for Saturday at 5.5 ft holding Sunday (5.5 ft faces). Southern California is to see new northwest swell arriving Wednesday pushing chest to shoulder high later up north then fading Thursday from waist to chest high early at top spots. Friday thigh high leftovers continue with reinforcing swell moving in Saturday but only reaching knee to thigh high, pushing thigh to waist high on Sunday. The North Shore of Oahu is to see new almost head high north windswell arriving Wednesday fading from shoulder high early Thursday with west swell in the mix at about the same size. Friday waist high leftover west swell fades. Saturday nothing of interest is expected but on Sunday supposedly the first of a long run of north swell arrives pushing 3-4 ft overhead later. The East Shore is to see maybe up to chest high east windswell later Wednesday fading from waist high Thursday then gone with no return in sight. The South Shore is asleep for the winter.
On Sunday a gale developed in the Central Gulf in the semi-perpetual upper trough carved out there pushing south, but with seas only 18 ft range initially aimed a bit at Hawaii, then turned more towards the CA coast while tracking east and building slightly with seas near 20 ft Tuesday just off the Oregon coast. Smaller raw semi-swell is expected for the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA on Wed (12/15). Another similar gale is to build in the northern Gulf Wednesday (12/15) falling south-southeast Thurs-Sat (12/18) with seas in the 24 ft range targeting primarily Hawaii (possible longer run of north swell), then turning east Sat-Sun (12/19) generating 22 ft seas aimed at Central and North CA. Possible small swell arriving early next week. An anemic gale developed on the dateline with 35 kt northwest wind and 24 ft seas on Sun-Mon (12/13) expected to result in a little sideband swell for Hawaii on Thurs (12/16). And non-stop east winds are forecast to continue on the dateline aimed at Japan driven by the interaction of high pressure just south of the Aleutians and a cutoff low pressure system south of there, choking off the normal storm track that juts east just south of the Aleutians. The Active Phase of the MJO is trying to push into the West Pacific supposedly offering better opportunity to support gale development for 3 weeks to follow, but the models are not picking up on any substantial improvement just yet..
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (12/14) the jetstream continued in the same old funk, pushing flat off Japan then splitting heavily just off the coast with the northern branch tracking due north almost up into the Bering Sea then turning east and southeast falling weakly into the Central Gulf of Alaska and feeding a bit of a semi-permanent trough there tracking on over and into and the Oregon Coast. The southern branch fell south into a weak trough on the dateline, then ridged slightly and pushed east rejoining the northern branch off the Northern CA coast pushing on into Oregon. The trough in the Gulf was not really supportive of gale development with winds only 70 kts. The little trough on the dateline was again supporting a weak low pressure cell at the oceans surface, pretty much locked in place there. Over the next 72 hours the same basic pattern is to hold with the split over the dateline amplifying some (i.e. pushing further south and north) then the two flows rejoining north of Hawaii and flowing fast (140 kts) into Northern CA. A weather/rain & snow event is likely there. Beyond 72 hours more of the same is forecast but with more energy tracking though the northern branch and spilling eventually into that trough in the gulf of Alaska by Monday with winds finally reaching the 130 kt range with a steeper trough carving out there, bottoming out about 600 nmiles west of Morro Bay by Monday (12/20) and just locked in-place there. This trough will likely support gale development with precipitation and winds pushing into the CA coast and some degree of raw swell underneath it all. But overall it continues to look like a classic La Nina pattern.
At the surface on Tuesday (12/14) high pressure at 1036 mbs was straddling the Aleutians on the dateline ridging southeast towards a point midway between Hawaii and Southern CA and blocking the normal eastward progression of low pressure systems tracking off Siberia. Low pressure was in the northeastern Gulf of Alaska at 984 mbs producing a fetch of 25-30 kt northwest winds extending from the eastern Aleutians into Oregon, the remnants of a previous gale in the Gulf (see Weak Gulf Gale below). A weak cutoff low pressure system remained locked over the southern dateline area (see Weak Dateline Gale). Over the next 72 hours another broad but diffuse gale is forecast developing in the Northern Gulf of Alaska starting Wed (12/15) with 30-35 kt northwest winds up at 50N 155W and holding in that general area through Thursday producing 20-22 ft seas generally at 47N 154N and still in that place Thursday night aimed well at Hawaii (360 degrees). The gale is to start falling south on Friday AM (12/17) with more 30-35 kt fetch wrapping into it's southwest quadrant and 24 ft seas forecast at 44N 152W in the evening aimed a bit east of Hawaii (015 degrees) and at bit south of Central CA (296 degrees). Still decent north swell is to be pushing towards Hawaii with modest swell starting to take aim on Central CA.
By Saturday (12/18) the fetch is to turn decidedly east with 30-35 kt northwest winds at 40N 142W with 22 ft seas at 40N 147W still pushing well south of the great circle paths to CA. By Saturday PM residual 25-30 kt west fetch is forecast at 40n 140W with 22 ft seas at 40N 140W pushing towards Central CA. Limited raw 13 sec period windswell is possible for the Central CA coast if all goes as planned.
Weak Gulf Gale
On Saturday (12/11) low pressure was slowly building in the Gulf of Alaska resulting in the production of 25 kt north winds falling from the Eastern Aleutians south towards Hawaii late pushing to near 30 kts Sunday AM at 45N 160W with 15 ft seas starting to build. By evening 30 kt northwest winds were modeled at 44N 155W with 18 ft seas at 45N 158W, or 1500 nmiles north of Hawaii and aimed well in that direction (355+ degrees). By Monday AM (12/13) that fetch wrapped into the gales south quadrant exclusively but only at 30 kts at 42N 144W aimed at NCal up the 290 degree path. Sea trying to regroup. The fetch continued pushing east in the evening at 35 kts at 42N 137W with 20 ft seas at 41N 138W (294 degrees). Tuesday AM the gale was fading with residual 30 kt west winds at 45N 133W (315 deg NCal) with 18-20 ft seas holding at 44N 132W (302 degs NCal and 600 nmiles out). Tuesday night the gale is to be pushing inland and dissipate with 18 ft seas from previous fetch just off Southern Oregon at 44N 125W (319 deg NCal).
Some degree of what is basically 11-12 sec period north windswell is expected to push into Hawaii late Tuesday (12/14) into Wednesday at 4 ft @ 11 secs (4.5 ft faces from 355 degrees) with larger but rawer windswell energy into Oregon and down to Central CA on Wednesday at 7 ft @ 11-12 secs (8 ft faces from 295+ degrees). Will monitor.
Weak Dateline Gale
Also a diffuse gale built just west of the dateline Sunday (12/12) producing 35 kt northwest winds at 38N 168E moving to 35N 168E in the evening aimed more south than west. Seas of 24 ft were produced at 36N 169E Sunday night holding while pushing to 32N 170E Monday AM (305 ->295 degs HI) and aimed pretty well to the south.
Some sideband swell is to start reaching Hawaii late Wednesday into Thursday AM (12/16) at 4 ft @ 12 secs (5 ft faces) from 300 degrees.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (12/14) a front was pushing into Northern CA with light rain reaching down to Monterey Bay and snow falling in the upper elevations of the Sierra (like the base of Kirkwood at 7800 ft with 5 inches mid-day and the base of Sugar Bowl at 6900 ft) though raining in Truckee proper. The good news is snow levels are to be dropping into the evening with total accumulations int he 14-16 inch category through 2 AM Wednesday. Along the coast south wind and rain was in effect in Central CA. Clearing is expected on Wednesday with light northerly winds everywhere except north winds at 15 kts over Pt Conception. Light winds and calm early Thursday (12/16) but south winds and rain coming into extreme North CA late as the next front builds off the coast with rain and south winds likely for the entire state Friday (even rain and south wind in Southern CA late in the day). Moderate snow building into the Central Sierras. A full on rain and south wind event is expected Saturday too along the coast even down into Southern CA with heavy snow in the Central and southern Sierras (several feet). Sunday more rain and southerly winds forecast with lighter snow in the Sierra then theoretically another solid rain and south winds event for Monday with heavy snow for the Sierra into Tuesday (12/21).
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 the models suggest yet another diffuse gale developing in the Northern Gulf of Alaska starting Mon (12/20) with 30-35 kt northwest winds up at 50N 150W and falling southeast a bit quicker than previous ones. Any particular outcome at this early date is premature to speculate on, but in general it looks no different than those previous (i.e weak).
As of Tuesday (12/14) the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) continued well in positive territory though perhaps showing some signs of weakness. The daily SOI was down to 11.62. The 30 day average was down barely to 20.25 with the 90 day average down slightly at 19.85. Overall, averages remained high, though down slightly from the peak in mid-to-late October (90 day average near 22.0).
Wind anomalies as of Monday (12/13) at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models continued to indicated that easterly anomalies continued filling the North Pacific from Central America to the dateline, but were weakening and pushing to the east indicative of the last pulse of the Inactive Phase of the MJO. The Active Phase of the MJO was building in the Eastern Indian Ocean effectively filling it with west anomalies and starting to push into the West Pacific. Those east anomalies (Inactive Phase) are to be gone by 12/18 while westerly anomalies (Active Phase) start pushing east to the dateline and pushing east of it on 12/23 fully straddling it on 12/28 while fading some, then easing east into 1/2. We suspect the remnants of the Active Phase will push east into Central America into maybe the second 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-New Years Holidays. Then a week after the New Year the Inactive Phase will likely be coming back and shutting it all down into early February. Sometime soon after that north winds should start building along the US West Coast as Springtime high pressure builds in much stronger and earlier than usual.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (12/9) 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). Previously this pocket down to 7 degs below normal in mid- Sept and 6 degrees below normal on 10/18. But it has warmed to 3 degs below normal on 12/9 and was starting to move east. This is most interesting and possibly suggests the peak of La Nina may have already been reached.
Over the entire Equatorial Pacific trades were blowing all the way to the Philippines and beyond. From a historical 'normal' perspective these easterly winds were fully anomalous, blowing harder than normal from the east to the west, as would be expected looking at all the other data. But this only occurred starting in late Sept, with only normal winds indicated prior to 9/11. Looking at the Pacific equatorial current as of 12/5, it is now running slightly anomalously west to east, completely contrary to it's previous flow and a bit unusual for a La Nina year. It actually started this pattern in early November. This likely explains the rise in negative subsurface temperatures under the equator.
Of note; 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 did not waiver until Oct 2010. But trades never wavering 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). If this is true, and if the current change on the equator as of November is real, then we should start seeing signs of a faltering La Nina, with the pocket of cold subsurface water under the equator being the first piece of that puzzle. Something to monitor.
regardless, for now a moderate plus strength La Nina Pattern (where the Inactive Phase takes control) is in control and momentum from it is expected to hold 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