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 Sunday (12/14) in North and Central CA surf was 1-2 ft overhead and clean with southeast flow light but picking up and swell a little on the soft side but well rideable. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high and lined up and clean but very soft. In Southern California up north surf was waist to chest high and sheet glass but inconsistent and soft. Down south waves were bigger and more powerful at head high to 1 ft overhead and lined up and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting new dateline swell with waves in the 10-12 ft range on the face with a few bigger sets but pretty ragged with northeast winds blowing strong. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting wrap around dateline swell with waves head high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A storm tracked from the dateline into the Western Gulf region Wed-Fri (12/12) with 43 ft seas initially, then faded from 30 ft on Sat (12/13) in the Gulf. Swell from this system is hitting Hawaii toady and bound for the US West Coast early in the week. Another small storm is forecast for the Western Gulf on Wed-Thurs (12/18) with 40 ft seas over a tiny area setting up more sideband swell for Hawaii and direct energy for the US West Coast. And a broader system is to develop off Japan Thurs-Fri (12/19) but dissipating quickly after crossing the dateline Sat (12/20).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Sunday (12/14) the jet was pushing off Japan with winds 170 kts ridging slightly northeast with solid energy pushing over the dateline, then falling into a almost pinched trough in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. the jet .cgiit there with most energy pushing into Central CA with some tracking north up into Alaska. Good support for gale development in the trough in the Gulf but this was mainly associated with a previous trough and gale that tracked over the dateline Wed-Sat (12/13). Over the next 72 hours the Gulf trough is to push east with it's apex pushing over Southern CA on Tues (12/16) and winds starting to wither offering weather opportunities for much of the US West Coast. Meanwhile a new wind pocket is to be building over Japan with winds 190 kts and a broad trough is to be setting up over the dateline on Tues (12/16) pushing east-northeast into the Gulf on Wed (12/17) with 140 kts winds feeding it. Support for gale development possible in the Gulf trough and also associated with the building area of now 200 kts winds streaming off Japan to almost the dateline by Wed (12/17). Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough to push east Thurs (12/18) offering more support for gale development and eventually pushing over North Oregon on Fri (12/19). Meanwhile the Japan-Dateline wind pocket is to expand eastward while loosing some power with 150-160 kt winds stretching from Japan to a point just off Oregon late Fri (12/19) supporting a broad trough over the dateline offering a new opportunity to support gale development. That trough to hold it's ground into Sunday (12/21) while a new wind pocket pushes off Japan but ridging north some with winds to 200 kts before starting to fall into the pre-existing dateline trough. Increasing odds for support for gale development on the dateline. A solid jetstream pattern is forecast to remain in.cgiay offering mult.cgie opportunities for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Sunday (12/14) swell a Dateline Storm is hitting Hawaii and bound for the US West Coast (see New Dateline Storm below).
Over the next 72 hours a new tiny storm is to start developing on the dateline on Tues AM (12/16) generating a small area of 55 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase. In the evening west winds to hold at 55 kts moving into the Western Gulf with seas 40 ft at 43.5N 170W (337 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). West winds to continue at 50 kts with the storm lifting northeast in the Gulf on Wed AM (12/17) with seas 40 ft at 45.5N 162W bypassing Hawaii (297 degs NCal). The storm is to be downgraded to gale status in the evening with west winds fading from 40 kts targeting Vancouver Island and the Pacific northwest with seas fading from 36 ft at 48N 154W 9304 degs NCal). A slow and steady fade to follow Thurs (12/18) with the gale lifting north through the Gulf. Possible small sideband swell for Hawaii but small but solid period swell for the US West Coast with secondary energy from a more northerly direction. Something to monitor.
New Dateline Storm
A 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 was fading in the evening but still with winds barely 55 kts and seas 39 ft pushing due east at 39N 172W (347 degs HI, 288 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). 45 kt northwest winds continued holding solidly north-northwest of Hawaii Fri AM (12/12) with seas 37 ft at 40N 166W (288 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Winds faded from 40 kts from the northwest over a solid area in the evening with 37 ft seas at 40N 162W (287 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). The gale faded and continue east into Sat PM with seas fading from 28 ft at 40N 156W (286 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Residuals faded on Sat PM in the Gulf with seas 28 ft at 40N 150W (285 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). Solid swell is expected to result for Hawaii and CA though weather to be an issue at both locales.
Hawaii: 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: Expect perhaps small energy arriving at noon on Sun (12/14) with period 22 secs and size tiny. Size to build slowly through the evening as period drops to 20 secs near 8 PM. Decent size to be in.cgiace Mon AM (12/15) with pure swell peaking about 9 AM at 8.2 ft @ 17-18 secs (14 ft Hawaiian) with lesser period energy entering into the mix. Size holding if not building some late afternoon attributable to lesser period energy. Swell fading on Tuesday (12/16) from 8 ft @ 14-15 secs (11.5 ft). Residuals fading on Wed (12/17) from 7 ft @ 11-12 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 285-288 degrees Weather to be an issue.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Sunday (12/14) a new front was off the California coast with south winds at 30 kts a few hundred nmiles offshore. Those winds to move into the North and Central coast just after nightfall Sunday at 20 kts with rain starting to develop by 10 PM reaching down to Pt Conception mid-Monday and Southern CA Monday evening. South winds to follow that pattern too. Moderate snow starting for Tahoe Mon late morning. South winds to continue into Tuesday evening with rain for the entire state through Wednesday evening. Snow for Tahoe through Wednesday afternoon. Maybe 12-14 inches of accumulation. . Northwest winds to develop on the coast Wed AM 20 kts for the entire state (including Southern CA) but quickly fading with calm winds on Thursday. Maybe a hint of southerly winds Friday for the North and Central Coasts with a weak front pushing through. Rain for the North Coast early reaching Big Sur later in the day with a co.cgie inches of snow for Tahoe Friday evening into Sat AM. Then high pressure starts to build Saturday with north winds 10-15 kts for the North and Central Coasts pushing 20 kts near Pt Conception but perhaps northeast for the North Coast and turning northeast for the North and Central Coast on Sunday.
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 broad but not well defined gale is to build over Japan on Wed AM (12/17) with 45 kt west winds trying to push off land there. Seas on the increase. By the evening 40 kt west winds to be off the coast of Japan over a solid area aimed east with seas building from 34 ft at 37N 154E (302 degs HI). 40-45 kt west winds to continue Thurs AM (12/18) with seas building to 35 ft over a solid area at 36N 160E (300 degs HI). In the evening 40-45 kt west winds to continue tracking east with 38 ft seas at 36N 164E (304 degs HI). 40-45 kt west winds to continue pushing east but loosing coverage on Fri AM (12/19) generating near 40 ft seas at 37N 170E (306 degs HI). Fetch is to quickly dissipate from there with the bulk of the low pressure relocating to the Northern Gulf of Alaska. Residual seas from previous fetch fading from 34 ft at 35N 179E (311 degs HI). Possible solid west swell for Hawaii with less size and consistency for the US West Coast.
Continued 30-35 kt west winds are forecast from the above system in the Gulf Sat-Sun (12/21) resulting in generic seas 20-22 ft near 43N 163W. 13-14 secs period swell is possible to result 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 Sunday (12/14) the daily SOI was steady at -4.10. The 30 day average was falling at -5.48 and the 90 day average rising from -6.72. 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. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak east anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning to weak west anomalies over the dateline continuing to a point south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued into the Galapagos. A week from now (12/22) moderate east anomalies are to continue over the Maritime Continent fading and turning to weak west anomalies over the dateline reaching to a point south of the Hawaiian Islands. Neutral anomalies to continue on into the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated very light east anomalies over the far West equatorial Pacific but neutral anomalies over the rest of the 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 12/13 are in sync. They both suggest a very weak version of the Active Phase of the MJO was pushing east over the dateline with the Inactive Phase over the East Indian Ocean tracking east. The Statistic model depicts this weak Inactive Phase tracking east reaching the West Pacific 8 days out and continuing east 15 days out while fading. The Dynamic model depicts the same thing but with the Inactive Phase strengthening 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 12/13 depicts a weak Inactive Phase over the West Pacific tracking east and progressively fading through 1/7. A dead neutral pattern to follow 1/7-1/22.
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 12/14 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 110W 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 12/9 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 (12/9) 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 95W 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 12/11 is mixed. 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 and again south of Hawaii. But on the equator a steady modest east to west flow was in control over the width of the Pacific. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 115W. East anomalies were on the equator, strongest at 170E. This data continues to suggest a mixed pattern but generally supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 12/14 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 +0.5-0.6 through April 2015. But the interesting part remains that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in June 2015, pushing +1.55 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