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 (10/21) in North and Central CA surf was 13-15 ft faces on the sets and reasonably clean early coming from the Gulf. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 3-4 ft overhead with double overhead sets and clean and lined up. Fall is settling in nicely. In Southern California up north surf was head high on the sets and clean and lined up looking fun. Down south waves were head high if not 1 ft more and clean and lined up. Hawaii's North Shore was getting residual dateline swell with sideband Gulf swell intermixed at head high to 1-2 ft overhead and clean and lined up with light trades. The South Shore was getting background swell with waves waist high and clean and weak. On the East Shore was getting northwest wrap around swell with waves shoulder to head high and a bit warbled with light trades adding some bump.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from the extratropical remnants of Typhoon Vongfong that tracked over the dateline and into the Gulf of Alaska with seas 28-30 ft continues hitting California, but starting to fade and continues dropping through Wednesday. A small gale was tracking through the Eastern Central Gulf Tues (10/21) with seas 28 ft targeting mainly British Columbia. Sideband swell down into Central CA. Another broad but weak fetch to set up behind in the Gulf on Wed-Fri (10/24) generating 20-24 ft seas falling southeast targeting CA well with modest swell possibly for the weekend. And the remnants of Hurricane Ana to recurve and track northeast merging with a cold core low eventually moving into the Pacific Northwest late Monday (10/27). Maybe swell to result from it too. More swell likely focused on the US West Coast.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (10/21) the jet was pushing off Northern Japan tracking northeast and splitting with some energy tracking up into the Bering Sea and the rest turning east. The two streams consolidated on the dateline building with winds to 160 kts over the Gulf of Alaska then fading some before pushing inland over the Oregon/CA border. Something that looked a bit like a trough was over the Gulf offering more support for gale development there. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to ease slowly east and get deeper but winds fading some, down to 140 kts on Thursday then almost pinching off on Friday 600 nmiles off the Central CA coast. Still decent support for gale development is likely in this trough. Back to the west the jet is to be almost split with two parallel flow tracking off Japan and the Kurils ridging gently north to the Eastern Aleutians, then consolidating and falling into the aforementioned trough off the US West Coast. No support back there. Beyond 72 hours the split flow is to push east and get only more split, moving over the Western Gulf on Tues (10/28). A split flow is to be set up over interior Asia too pushing off the Kurils. something that almost looks like a trough is to be over the West Pacific at that time, but offering no signs of support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (10/21) swell from a gale that tracked over the dateline and into the Gulf of Alaska was fading in Hawaii and past it's prime in North CA (see Another Gulf Gale below).
A new gale developed behind it in the Eastern Gulf starting Mon AM (10/20) generating 35 kt west winds aimed well at Southern Oregon down to North CA. By Mon PM winds were 40 kts over a tiny area generating 26 ft seas at 48N 148W (308 degs NCal) targeting mainly the Pacific Northwest down into Central CA. 40 kt northwest winds held into Tues AM (10/21) as the gale lifted northeast with seas increasing to near 30 ft at 49N 140W (319 degs NCal). The gale is to lift north in the evening with winds still barely 40 kts and seas 26 ft over a small area at 52N 137W outside the NCal swell window and targeting only British Columbia south to Vancouver Island. Perhaps a decent pulse of raw local swell to result for the Pacific Northwest with lesser energy down into Central CA.
North CA: Expect swell arrival near sunset Wed (10/22) building to 5 ft @ 15 secs (7.5 ft) peaking Thurs AM (10/23) at 6.5 ft @ 13 secs (8.5 ft faces) but shadowed in the SF Bay area. Swell fading Friday (10/24) from 5.5 ft @ 12 secs (6.5 ft) early. Swell Direction: 310-320 degrees
Over the next 72 hours the above gale is to redevelop in the Eastern Gulf on Thurs (10/23) generating a small area of 30-35 kt northwest winds and seas building from 20 ft at 50N 150W (310 degs NCal). That fetch is to fall southeast in the evening holding at 35 kts with seas 25 ft at 45N 148W (300 degs NCal). The fetch to hold at 35 kt and fall south Fri AM (10/24) with 20 ft seas at 40N 143W (285 degs NCal and targeting SCal better - 295 degs SCal). This system to regroup directly off Cape Mendocino Friday PM pushing into Oregon Saturday AM (10/25). No additional swell production expected, but a decently healthy front with south winds and rain to push into North and Central CA late Friday evening. If all goes as forecast swell is expected for Central CA early in the weekend.
Another Gulf Gale
The extratropical remnants of Typhoon Vongfong moved from a position just east of the Kuril Islands on Tuesday (10/14) pushing off Kamchatka on Wed AM (10/15) tracking just south of the Central Aleutians near the dateline Thurs AM (10/16) then moved to the Gulf by Fri AM (10/17). Seas were 35 ft over the dateline fading to the 28 ft range in the Gulf. Swell hit NCal on Mon afternoon (10/20) and SCal on Tues (10/21).
North CA: Swell dropping Wed AM (10/22) from 5.5 ft @ 12-13 secs (6.5 ft). Swell Direction: 290-294 degrees
Southern CA: Swell to be fading on Wed (10/22) from 4.6 ft @ 14 secs (6.5 ft). Residuals on Thurs (10/23) at 2.3 ft @ 12-13 secs (2.5-3.0 ft). Swell Direction: 293-296 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Tropical Storm Ana was 300 nmiles west-southwest of Kauai on Tues AM (10/21) with winds 45 kts moving due west at 9 kts generating 18 ft seas. Ana to start accelerating to the northwest and then north with winds holding in the 40-45 kt range into Thurs AM, then turning northeast. See the Longterm forecast below for details.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (10/21) a large area of low pressure was filling the Gulf of Alaska with high pressure at 1022 mbs just barely nosing into Central CA, generating north winds at 15-20 kts from Monterey Bay southward to Pt Conception. Wednesday north winds to start retreating south but still 15-20 kts over Pt Conception, but much lighter to the north up into Monterey Bay. South winds to be moving into extreme North CA late then pushing south into Thursday reaching Pt Reyes mid-day. South winds holding over Pt Conception at 15 kts. Light rain over North CA late Wednesday pushing to the Golden Gate Thursday evening. A new local gale to wind up Friday off North CA with south winds building to 20 kts down to Monterey Bay late and 35 kt over North CA. Solid rain possible down to San Francisco late pushing fast to Morro Bay Sat AM, then dissipating. South winds fading on Saturday for all of Central CA, turning northwest 10 kts for North CA. High pressure and north winds building Sunday for all of North and Central CA focused on Pt Conception (to 25 kts there). More low pressure is to be moving into the Pacific Northwest on Monday with north winds fading for North CA and south winds building, pushing south to Pt Reyes on Tuesday, with rain down to the Golden Gate late Tuesday and likely pushing south from there.
Surface Analysis - No swell producing fetch was occurring and none is forecast for the next 72 hours.
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 the remnants of Hurricane Ana are to track north through Thurs (10/23) then curving northeast Friday (10/24) with winds rebuilding to 55 kts. This system is to start accelerating to the northeast and start becoming absorbed in a cold core low 900 nmiles north of Hawaii Saturday PM (10/25). The consolidate gale is to be off Washington late Sunday and moving onshore 24 hours later. Still a short lived fetch of 45 kt north winds are forecast well off Washington Monday AM (10/27) generating 26 ft seas at 44N 147W (015 degs HI, 300 degs NCal) falling south. Something to monitor.
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).
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) On Tuesday (10/21) the daily SOI was down to -24.88. The 30 day average was down some at -4.84 and the 90 day average was down some at -7.78. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a rebuilding Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO. A weak low pressure regime is in control south of Tahiti and is forecast to continue for the next week with gently falling SOI numbers expected.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies over the Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline. Neutral anomalies continue east from south of Hawaii and onward to the Galapagos. A week from now (10/29) weak east anomalies are forecast over the West Maritime Continent turning neutral east of there reaching to the dateline and continuing neutral under Hawaii and continuing to the Galapagos. A modest Westerly Wind Burst developed in the West Pacific 9/28-10/8, then faded. But residuals from it redeveloped into another WWB over the dateline 10/12-10/20. This pattern suggests the area favorable for tropical development is near Hawaii and is to continue shifting east. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated solid westerly anomalies over the entire West and Central equatorial Pacific starting 10/16 and holding through 10/20. It is presumed an Active Phase of the MJO was in control there and is pushing east.
Looking at the trend over the past few months there has not been a extended period of enhanced trades so far this year, and we're over 280 days into the year. The trend is clearly towards westerly anomalies (suppressed trades) which suggests a bias towards El Nino. Big westerly wind bursts occurred Jan-April, followed by a neutral period May into early June. The TOA array surface sensors (the ground truth) indicated moderate westerly anomalies re-developed west of the dateline 6/25-7/6, then again 7/11-7/20, building into a WWB and holding through 8/10. Light westerly anomalies developed again 8/20-8/22, 8/29-9/2, 9/10-9/17, and stronger 9/20-10/8 (a WWB) west of the dateline with another 10/12-10/19 on the dateline. Neutral anomalies filled the gaps. A Kelvin Wave (modest at this point) is in-flight associated with westerly anomalies during June, July into mid-August and is impacting the Galapagos and another Kelvin Wave is developing in the dateline region being fed by westerly anomalies there. That's two WWBs over the past 20+ days. Compared to La Nina where enhanced trades (20+ kts) would be blowing non-stop, we're in great shape and have been all year. No easterly anomalies of interest have occurred all year. It would be hard to make a case stating some flavor of weak El Nino was not in play at this point.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 10/18 are generally in sync. They both suggest a modest Inactive MJO pattern over the West Pacific. The Dynamic model depict this Inactive Phase holding for the next 15 days, while the Statistic model has it fading some. Neither model has it tracking east at all. The ultra long range upper level model run 10/21 depicts a modest Inactive pulse in the West Pacific and tracking east reaching the East Pacific 11/5, fading over the journey. A weak Active Phase to follow starting 11/5 in the West Pacific reaching the East Pacific on 11/30. Recent experience this year suggests this model overhypes any projected Inactive Phases. The models are calibrated assuming a neutral global weather pattern, and typically either overcall weather events during La Nina and undercall then during El Nino in the Pacific Basin. This suggests that warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some gentle guiding impact on the atmosphere above. 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 (10/16) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific, down some from the peak of the Kelvin Wave eruptions in late June in the east, but up some since early Sept and building slowly. TAO data suggests 1.0 deg C anomalies present from the Galapagos to the West Pacific on and just north of the equator. Hi res data suggests a string of pockets of +2.0 deg anomalies from the Galapagos to 125W, and then 1.25-1.5 deg pockets from 155W to well west of the dateline (Kelvin Wave Generation Area), suggesting more warm water is poised to track east. It now appears warm water is building 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. And serious warm water is entrenched along the California coast and building in coverage, the exact opposite of the trend of the past 3+ years.This is significant in that is suggests the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weakened relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is mostly normal/neutral except for cool water streaming off Southern Chile pushing west reaching up to the equator near 140W. The significant feature of late is that this pocket is in rapid decline and being replaced with normal if not slightly warmer than normal waters. Given this situation, it suggesting a warm regime is getting the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin, rather than isolated only to the North Pacific as it has been most of this year. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific remains most impressive, while the South Pacific is starting to trend in the same direction.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 10/21 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with two embedded pockets of +2 deg anomalies at 170W and 100W tracking towards the Galapagos. This is good news in that it indicates the pipe is open and at least one if not two Kelvin Waves are in flight. The leading edge of the first Kelvin Wave is theoretically now reaching the Galapagos (with limited evidence of it at the surface now starting at 120W. Satellite data from 10/15 depicts a broad area of +5 cm anomalies are covering the dateline region and tracking east reaching the Galapagos, indicative of a Kelvin Wave starting to impact that area. This is as predicted. Other models collaborate the presumption of Kelvin Wave genesis. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (10/15) indicates the first modest Kelvin Wave has developed in the west reaching east to 100W but is making no easterly headway. It is presumed the warm water is building on the surface there. A bit of a cooling followed (the presumable upwelling phase) and a new Kelvin wave is building back at 145E-165W, in sync with the satellite data and warmer and larger than this last one. It is assumed steady light westerly anomalies and 2 recent WWBs events over the past 20 days are feeding more warm water into the pipe. At this time we are well over the proverbial 'hump' and some sort of warm event is underway. As the first or the pair of Kelvin Waves arrives at the Galapagos now, more warm water will reinforce the existing warm pool theoretically pushing things into minimal El Nino territory. And if when the second Kelvin Wave pushes east (about 3 months from now or Feb 10) then we are set. 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 10/6 suggests an unchanged pattern. The current is pushing west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. If anything it's moving into the moderate to strong category from the West Pacific to a point south of Hawaii. On and just south of the equator the current was generally pushing east to west in the moderate category. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest between 130E-170E and in pockets reaching to the Galapagos. There were no significant east anomalies indicated. This data suggests a somewhat mixed picture but continued slightly better than the last update and improving incrementally.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 10/21 are stable and in an interesting way. It suggests water temps have built to +0.5 deg C and are to slowly but steadily increase building to +0.75 deg C in early November and are to hold through the Winter into Spring. But the real interesting part is that water temps are hold decently if not start building from +0.8 degs in May 2015, pushing +1.2 degs C by July. This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year warm event. See the chart based version here - link.
Analysis: A series of downwelling Kelvin Waves have been generated 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 another developing in October. The only interruptions have been when the upwelling phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle took over. Water temps in the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle have held remarkably consistent from May-June 2014 onward, even during upwelling phases. Continued suppressed trades with embedded weak westerly anomalies developed in the West Pacific in July and have held through present time producing the latest Kelvin Wave with 2-3 degs C in flight now. Water temps have held in the Galapagos triangle in the +1.5 degree range for several months now. Certainly there is nor has been any 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.
Assuming westerly anomalies continue in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area (west of the dateline), more warm water will migrate east. This seems reasonable seeing how there has been virtually no easterly anomalies for the first 9 months of this year. And trades tend to weaken during Fall months in the northern hemi, meaning we're just now starting to reach the point in time where Westerly Wind Bursts should have the best support for development. Most El Nino's do not develop till the Fall, including the Super El Nino of '83/83. Only a few (namely the '97 Super El Nino) developed and survived strong through the summer and over the span of an entire year. A more 'normal' development life cycle would favor the alternating 'downwelling/upwelling' Kelvin Wave cycle. See currently Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here . Notice the alternating eastward migrating 'cool' and 'warm' cycles (upwelling/downwelling Kelvin Waves). Also note the CFSv2 model accurately depicted the upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase, with water temps in Nino1.2 fading in August then redeveloping in September.
Finally, there's the 'feedback loop' consideration. As far as we're concerned it is in-play. The largest argument in favor of that is the total breakdown of the Gulf of Alaska high pressure system, resulting in very high water temps off California. Also the early season recurving of multiple 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. The last time any of this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. And now multiple recurving tropical systems pushing off Japan reaching the Gulf of Alaska in October. The only argument against the feedback loop now is a weak west moving Pacific Counter Current (rather than flowing east).
Only once the ocean and atmosphere are coupled on a global level (that is, the ocean has imparted enough heat into the atmosphere to start changing the global jetstream pattern) can one begin to have confidence that a feedback loop is developing and a fully matured El Nino can result. 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 place were gone except the Pacific Counter Current.
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 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). Monitoring the number, location and track of tropical systems in the North Pacific over October will help to put the final nail in coffin, though given the current track record, it is only a formality at this time. 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 is 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.
At a minimum the ocean is well past recharge mode, with cold water from the multiyear 2010-2013 La Nina cycle dispersed and temperatures on the rise. Officially we are still in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in-play. But given all current signs, from a winter storm and swell production perspective, atmospheric transition is well underway. Even if we never reach official El Nino status this is a far better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. Still lingering concerns about what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998) will temper our forecasts.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no believable 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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