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 Saturday (12/15) North and Central CA had generic north angled Gulf windswell producing waves in the chest high range and pretty clean but kinda wonky with a bit of south wind push starting to build. Down south in Santa Cruz waves were flat and clean.Southern California up north was thigh high, clean and lined up but weak with calm wind. Down south waves were knee to maybe thigh high and clean. Hawaii's North Shore was getting some Northwest Pacific swell with waves chest to head high and a few bigger ones and a bit warbled by brisk 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.
A 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 hit Hawaii (less size than hoped for) and is expected into the mainland by Sunday (12/16). Longer term a somewhat more promising storm pattern is forecast for the Gulf of Alaska, though nothing like what the models were touting a few days ago. The split jetstream pattern is to remain, but with the northern branch dipping through the Gulf tracking into the US West Coast providing a small pocket supportive of gale development mainly for the US West Coast. First a weak gale is to develop in the Western Gulf tracking east Sat-Mon (12/17) with 20 ft seas a bit off the North CA coast. Follow-on energy dropping down just off the Pacific Northwest to generate 24 ft seas. And another system is to form behind those in the northern dateline region Mon (12/17) with 26 ft seas, stalling in the Northern Gulf Tues (12/18) and building Wednesday with with up to 38 ft seas falling southeast late Wednesday. Sideband swell possible for Hawaii with larger but raw swell more likely for the US West Coast mixed with a fair amount of weather. In all a local raw swell pattern is expected for the US West Coast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (12/15) a somewhat diffuse jetstream flow was tracking off Japan hitting the dateline and splitting slightly with most energy ridging northeast and gaining speed, with winds to 200 kts at the apex of the ridge just south of the Eastern most Aleutians. from the the flow fell southeast down the US West Coast before moving inland over Baja. No troughs capable of supporting gale development were evidenced. Over the next 72 hours that energetic ridge is to drop south some and almost form a trough in the Eastern Gulf but quickly moving inland over Northern CA late Monday (12/17). Some support for gale development in that trough off the immediate US West Coast. On the dateline the split jetstream pattern is to become more pronounced. Beyond 72 hours the northern branch of the jet is to start rising up over the Eastern Aleutians then falling into the Gulf creating a standing wave trough falling towards the US West Coast starting Wed (12/19) with 160 kt winds feeding it. The trough is to hold into the weekend. A ridge west of the trough and over the dateline is to push hard north reaching well north of the Bering Sea likely dragging much cold air south as it tracks through the Gulf. By Next weekend (12/22) there evidence of more energy building over Japan with a more solid consolidated flow looking to build providing some hope for the future for the West Pacific and dateline regions.
Surface Analysis - On Saturday (12/15) a weak gale was developing on the dateline tracking east (see First Gulf Gale below). High pressure at 1028 mbs was locking down 700 nmiles north of Hawaii forcing east-bound weather to take a road over the top of the high, then dropping southeast down the US West Coast. But a bit more of a gap was opening between the high and Alaska to the north. A weak gale was trying to get some traction in this pocket in the Northern Gulf producing pockets of 35 kt northwest winds and 20 ft seas at 50N 140W (319 degs NCal and 110 nmiles out - Small swell for NCal by Mon 12/17). But it is to be gone in 12 hours. Over the next 72 hours the First Gulf Gale is to develop (see details below). Also another gale is to start developing off Japan on Sunday (12/16) racing northeast for the Gulf of Alaska (see Second 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 well decayed and inconsistent sets for the US West Coast are expected by late in the weekend (Central CA: 4.2 ft @ 16 secs - 6.5 ft faces from 300 degrees on Sunday (12/16 - though this is probably a high estimate).
First Gulf Gale
Starting Friday evening (12/14) high pressure started to relent a little more in the Gulf of Alaska allowing a gale to develop on the dateline, then building Saturday AM (12/15) with 45 kt northwest winds and seas building. In the evening west winds to fade to 40 kts aimed mostly east but with increased coverage and the gale tracking east and seas building to 20 ft at 41N 168W (290 degs NCal and aimed mostly east of the 338 degs path to Hawaii). West winds to fade to 35 kts Sunday AM (12/16) with 20 ft seas moving to 43N 154 W targeting only the US West Coast (291 degs NCal). The gale is to race east and build with 45 kt northwest winds build into the evening just off the Pacific Northwest with 26 ft seas tracking east from 46N 133W (319 NCal). On Monday AM (12/17) the gale is to be pushing into the Pacific Northwest with 30 ft seas impacting the Oregon-Washington border and outside the CA swell window. Possible modest sized raw 13 sec period swell for the US West Coast if all goes as forecast. But the models have been most unstable and nothing is guaranteed.
Second Gulf Gale
Beyond 72 hours another gale is forecast developing west of the dateline Sunday AM (12/16) with 40 kt west winds and seas building. Winds to fade to 35 kts in the evening as the gale races east-northeast generating 24 ft seas at 41N 160E (299 degs NCal, 310 degs HI). 35 kt southwest winds to hold into Monday AM (12/17) as the gale reaches the intersection of the dateline and the Aleutians with 22 ft seas lagging behind over a modest area at 45N 172E (302 degs NCal, 319 degs HI). Winds to hold at 35-40 kts in the evening just barely clear of the Eastern Aleutians with seas 23 ft at 50N 170W targeting only the US West Coast (305 degs NCal). Theoretically this system is hold in the Northern Gulf on Tuesday AM (12/18) building with 45 kt northwest winds building and seas regenerating to 28 ft initially at 52N 158W (310 degs NCal). A broad area of 50 kt northwest winds are to take hold in the evening in the northern Gulf with seas 35 ft at 52N 150W (311 degs NCal). Winds to hold Wednesday AM (12/19) at 50 kts and with 35 kt+ winds building southeast into the Central Gulf with seas 35 ft at 50N 148W (311 degs NCal). The gale is to start falling southeast in the evening with a broad area of 45 kt northwest winds in the core of the Gulf and 39 ft seas at 48N 148W (308 degs NCal). The gale to continue southeast on Thursday AM (12/20) with 40-45 kt northwest winds positioned well off Washington targeting primarily California with seas 35 ft at 43N 143W (296 degs NCal). Residual 35 kt northwest fetch to be fading in the evening off Cape Mendocino with 32 ft seas at 42N 134W (292 degs NCal). This system to be gone by Friday. This system has potential to generate relatively local longer period swell targeting the entire US West Coast. But the accuracy of the model beyond 2 days has been laughable so don't hold your breath.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are occurring.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (12/15) a weak trough was off the California coast driving a southerly flow down to Pt Conception expected to move over the coast in the evening bringing light rain to the region. Southern CA had light winds and maybe only a few sprinkles forecast just before sunrise Sunday. Maybe 0.5 inch of snow forecast for Tahoe. That front to push south Sunday and dissipate off Southern CA with calm to light south winds for Central CA but building strong south winds for North CA. Heavier rain for North CA and light rain building late for Central CA. 4 inches of snow for Tahoe with low snow levels. Southern CA to be protected. Monday the front is to push down the CA coast reaching San Francisco at sunrise and down to Pt Conception at sunset. Rain along that track. South winds building to 20 kts down to Monterey Bay but lighter south of there. Southern CA to be calm. 16 inches 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, pushing even 25 kts in Southern CA. Another 6-8 inches of snow for Tahoe possible with low snow levels. Wednesday a stronger front builds in the Gulf while CA clears out. A light winds flow forecast locally tough south winds to build late in the north. Thursday the front to push down to Morro Bay with south winds 20+ kts the rule. The rain line to start at San Francisco pushing to Morro Bay late. Another 18-24 inches of snow for Tahoe possible overnight. Residual south winds and rain expected through the weekend down to Pt Conception. Perhaps another 2 ft of snow for Tahoe with low snow levels.
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 no additional storm development is projected.
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 some at -9.50 (9 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 through Tues (12/19). The 30 day average was down to -5.16 with the 90 day average down some at 0.02. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
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 then turning to light east anomalies over the dateline continuing in pockets all the way to Central America. A week from now (12/21) near neutral anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent and through the dateline continuing on into South America. This suggests a continuation of neutral MJO pattern over the Pacific.
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/14 suggest a moderate Inactive Phase was in-play over the Pacific with a weak instance of the Active Phase south of Hawaii. A weak Active Phase was in the Indian Ocean. Both models are now in agreement indicating the Inactive Phase is to slowly fade while easing east through the next 2 weeks. This would support a continued split jetstream and no real support for gale development.
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 (12/15) it seems the MJO is dead or weakly Inactive. And 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. At this point in the season we're now thinking on significantly downgrading the long range outlook, being that it appears we're in a dead neutral pattern and no energy pushing the global weather pattern in any direction. This would result in a long term pattern of depressed levels of storm potential.
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. It has reached the Central America coast and has provided a little boost to water temps, but nothing dramatic. At a minimum it should keep things in the normal range. Water temps off Ecuador have returned to normal of even slightly warmer as of 12/13.
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 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. So 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. Based on current data the outcome for this Winter is not looking good. We had expected a normal number of storms and swell, but the total lack of any real activity so far is going to make us downgrade that projection. 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
The Psychology of Big Wave Surfing with Greg Long - A must see for any aspiring big wave rider: http://vimeo.com/51117940
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/
New Weather Models With the activation of our new server we have now released a new block of weather models including North America jetstream, wind and precipitation, local coastal wind forecasts in 1 hr increments and snow and mountain wind forecasts in both 1 and 3 hours increments. The new animations can be found here (look for those items tagged with the New! icon): http://www.stormsurf.com/mdls/menu_wx.html
New Weather Model Server Stormsurf has installed another weather model production server. This has enabled us to spread the load across more servers allowing us to post both wave and weather model updates much quicker. Also we are testing new content (like North America jetstream, winds and precipitation, local wind forecasts in 1 hr increments and snow and mountain wind forecasts in both 1 and 3 hours increments). The model menus will be updated shortly with these new links.
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table