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 (11/20) in North and Central CA surf was 3 ft overhead and a bit warbled and sectioned, but with light southeast winds and clean. Still, it looks stormy. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high to 1 ft overhead and clean but a bit soft and warbled. In Southern California up north surf was waist to chest high and clean and lined up but weak. Down south waves were head high with sets 1-2 ft overhead and clean and lined up and looking solid on the sets. Hawaii's North Shore was getting residual sideband Gulf swell with waves head high or so and clean and lined up. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting east windswell generated by trades at shoulder high plus and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a gale that developed off Central CA on Mon-Tues (11/18) with 23 ft seas arrived there on Wed (11/19) and was holding decently but with less period on Thursday, and was peaking early in Southern CA. A small gale peaked in the Northwestern Gulf on Thurs (11/20) with 34 ft seas aimed east to northeast, with swell expected into California for the weekend. And a broader but weaker secondary gale to track through the dateline-Western Gulf region Fri-Sat (11/22) producing 25 ft seas aimed east. Swell expected for the Islands late weekend and then for CA beyond. A local gale is forecast off Central CA on Thurs (11/27) with another over the Northern Dateline region targeting Hawaii. But that's a long ways off and much could change between now and then. Also of interest, sea surface temperature anomalies are building consistently across the Nino 3.4 region, at 1.0º C above normal over the entire region.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (11/20) the jet was pushing flat east off South Japan at 35N with winds building while tracking over the dateline, then ridging just slightly with winds building to 160 kts north of Hawaii reaching up to 42N, then falling into a trough with it's apex just off Cape Mendocino CA and pushing inland over San Francisco. Support for low pressure development over North CA. Over the next 72 hours that trough is to move quickly inland Fri AM (11/21) with a new trough building over the dateline pushing to a point 900 nmiles northwest of Hawaii on Sun (11/23) with 160 kt winds feeding into it and the trough starting to look a bit pinched. Support for low pressure development possible in the trough. Beyond 72 hours the nearly pinched trough is to push east while a ridge builds east of it, with winds falling into the trough weakening on Tues (11/25) down to 120 kts. Still support for gale development is possible. By Thurs (11/27) a weaker but still barely consolidated jet is to hold back to the west while the trough continues pushing east into Thurs (11/27), then stalling in the Eastern Gulf and looking to regenerate beyond. More support for gale development possible. A split flow is depicted building over Japan then.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (11/20) residual swell from a local gale off California was still hitting. A small local gale produced swell off CA on Wed (11/19) targeting mainly North and Central CA (see Local CA Fetch below). Another gale built in the Northwestern Gulf on Wed-Thurs (11/20) targeting Central CA northward (see Northwestern Gulf Gale below). And secondary fetch was starting to building in the Western Gulf Thurs (11/20) targeting Hawaii and CA (see Secondary Gulf Gale below).
Local CA Fetch
On Wed AM (11/19) a small fetch of 30 kt west winds built 900 nmiles west of Cape Mendocino holding into the evening and getting traction on the oceans surface generating 18 ft seas at 40N 142W (286 degrees NCal). A quick fade occurred thereafter with winds falling below 30 kts.
Small proto-swell is pushing towards California expected to arrive in the San Francisco Area Friday (11/21) with swell building to 6.5 ft @ 13 secs (8 ft faces) later with much lesser period energy intermixed. Swell fading Sat AM (11/22) from 5 ft @ 12 secs (6 ft). Swell Direction: 286-288 degrees
Northwest Gulf Gale
Also on Wed AM (11/19) a new gale was building on the southern periphery of low pressure circulating in the Eastern Bering Sea. Southwest winds were 40 kts just east of the dateline with the core of the low lifting northeast fast. In the evening 45 kt northwest winds were over a small area in the Western Gulf with seas building from 28 ft at 46N 163W (298 degree NCal). On Thurs AM 45 kt west winds were south of the Eastern most Aleutians with 34 ft seas over a small area at 49N 157W mainly pushing towards Canada but also targeting the Pacific Northwest down to maybe Central CA (308 degs NCal). Winds to be fading from 40 kt in the evening with 31 ft seas fading at 53N 153W (313 degs NCal). Small swell possible for Central CA northward. Maybe limited sideband swell for Hawaii too (see QuikCASTs).
NCal: Expect swell arrival on Sat afternoon (11/22) with shorter period energy building to 6.5 ft @ 12-13 secs (8 ft) at sunset with size peaking near 11 PM. Swell fading by sunrise Sun (11/23) from 7.5 ft @ 14 secs (10 ft). Swell Direction: 298-306 degrees
Secondary Gulf Gale
On Thurs AM (11/20) a broad secondary fetch of 35 kt west winds were building over the dateline associated with the Bering Sea low generating 20 ft seas at 45N 175W. That fetch is to build in coverage in the evening at 35-40 kts generating 24 ft seas at 45N 173W (334 degs HI, 297 degs NCal). Fetch is to hold Fri AM (11/21) at 35 kts over a solid area aimed east with 24-25 ft seas moving east to 44N 169W (340 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). More of the same is forecast in the evening with 25 ft seas at 44N 160W (bypassing HI, 296 degs NCal). Fetch is to start fading Sat AM (11/22) from 30-35 kts with seas 24 ft at 45N 160W (296 degrees). Fetch is to be fading from 25 kt over a large area in the Western Gulf in the evening with seas fading from 21 ft at 46N 140W (304 degs NCal). A decent pulse of 14 sec period swell is possible for the US West Coast with sideband energy for Hawaii. Something to monitor.
Hawaii (Oahu): For rough planning purposes swell to arrive on Sun AM (11/23) building to 6 ft @ 14 secs late (8.5 ft faces). Swell continuing on Mon AM (11/24) at 6.6 ft @ 13-14 secs (8.5 ft faces) fading as the day progresses. Swell Direction: 340 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical storms of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (11/20) low pressure and a weak front was moving into Central CA with rain ending around 2 PM. Maybe an inch of snow fell overnight in Tahoe above 7500 ft with more falling during the day. More light snow expected Thursday evening with 3-4 inches of accumulation for Tahoe. Light northerly winds are forecast on Friday for North and Central CA except northwest winds 20 kts for Pt Conception. Light rain for Cape Mendocino Friday afternoon. A front with south winds to pass quickly Sat AM for North and Central CA with light rain from Big Sur northward and perhaps moderate rainfall near Pt Arena over a short timeframe and 1-2 inches of snow for Tahoe at higher elevations. High pressure and north winds take over Sun AM at 15 kts for San Francisco and 20 kts for Pt Conception, building to 20-25 kts late. North winds to be fading quickly Monday AM as high pressure moves onshore over South Oregon with a light offshore flow on Tuesday for all of CA as a new low and front build off the coast. South winds build in again for Central and North CA on Wed then fading Thurs to calm with light rain for North CA only.
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 another low is forecast pushing off Kamchatka Sun (11/23) tracking east over the Aleutians Mon-Tues (11/25) generating up to 40 kt west winds just south of the Aleutians resulting in 28 ft seas Tues AM at 50N 173E (330º HI). The system is to fade after that while tropical air from Japan races northeast and filters into the remnants of this gale Thurs (11/27) again producing 40-45 kt northwest winds with seas rebuilding to 24 ft at 50N 180W (334º HI). Swell possible for Hawaii if all goes as forecast.
And a second gale is to try and develop off California on Tues AM (11/25) associated with a trough in the upper atmosphere there producing 30 kt northwest winds for 24 hrs producing 18 ft seas at 40N 141W. That fetch to quickly fade but a new fetch is to develop just northwest of there Wed PM (11/26) at 30-35 kts falling southeast and building to 45 kt on Thurs (11/27) with seas building to 28 ft at 39N 140W late (285º NCal, 296º SCal). Something to monitor while we wait for the MJO to turn Active.
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 Thursday (11/20) the daily SOI was down to -8.59. The 30 day average was rising at -9.56 and the 90 day average was holding at -8.02. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weakening 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 for a month now. A weak trough was trying to form south of Tahiti and is forecast finally building to some more interesting level on Sun (11/23) holding into Tuesday (11/25) then fading. But a series of 2 more local low are forecast tracking east from the tropical almost directly over Tahiti stating Thurs (11/27). A bit of a rise in the 30 and 90 day averages expected into Saturday, then falling some. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated moderate east anomalies continued over the Maritime Continent turning neutral near the dateline. Weak west anomalies developed south of Hawaii extending to the Galapagos. A week from now (11/28) weak east anomalies are forecast shrinking in coverage over the Maritime Continent turning neutral then redeveloping on the dateline, and continuing easterly to a point south of Hawaii before turning neutral while approaching the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated a mix of moderate east anomalies at 160E in the heart of the Kelvin Wave Generation Area, and modest west anomalies east of it at 155-170W. This is the first easterly wind event of the year and it started on 11/18.
Looking at the trend over the past year there has not been a extended period of enhanced trades, other than the one occurring now. 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 10/12-10/31 (WWB) on the dateline. More weak west anomalies occurred 11/11-14. Neutral anomalies filled the gaps. A modest Kelvin Wave is impacting the Galapagos (11/3-11/15) associated with westerly anomalies during June, July into mid-August. And another Kelvin Wave is in flight under the 160W region being fed by westerly anomalies in late October there. That's two WWBs over a 30 day window. We're in great shape for the 2014 year into early 2015. The question now becomes what, if any, effect the easterly wind event currently in-flight (starting 11/18) will have.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 11/19 are in sync. They both suggest a modest Inactive Phase of the MJO was over the far West Pacific. The Statistic model depicts the Inactive Phase pushing east over the next 15 days tracking over the dateline 15 days out. The Dynamic model has the Inactive Phase fading 8 days out and not pushing east. Both depict a robust Active Phase in the Indian Ocean pushing east, with the Statistic model suggesting it moving into the West Pacific 15 days out, but the Dynamic model showing only a vestige of it surviving that far. The ultra long range upper level model run on 11/20 depicts a modest Inactive pulse fading fast over the dateline region, gone by 11/25. This is in sync with the Dynamic OLR model (above). A weak Active Phase is to follow tracking west to east 11/30 through 12/20. A weak Active Phase to follow. The troubling development is that 1) both models are more or less in sync and 2) surface winds seem to be responding as if an Inactive Phase is in-fact in the West Pacific (note the presence of East Anomalies by the TOA array). This means the MJO is returning, which in turns suggests El Nino might be giving up some ground. Normally the MJO fades away during El Nino events. The other option is this is just a manifestation of a yet-to-develop Upwelling Phase the Kelvin Wave Cycle (probably well overdue). Something to monitor. 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 (11/20) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific (up some since early Sept) and still building. A clear but weak El Nino signature is developing. Warm pockets are getting better traction while tracking 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 been getting more defined since 11/10. TAO data suggests 1.0-2.0 deg C anomalies are present over a continuous area on the equator from the Galapagos to the far West Pacific. +1.5º C anomaly pockets are at 120W, 160W and 160E. Hi res data suggests a string of pockets of +1.0-2.0 deg anomalies from the Galapagos to the dateline (the new Kelvin Wave erupting there).Warm water is clearly 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. 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 11/20 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 near 140W pushing east embedded in with a steady stream of +2.0 deg anomalies pushing east from there into the Galapagos. the +4º C anomalies are the second in a pair of Kelvin Waves in-flight. Satellite data from 11/14 depicts a broad area of 0-5 cm anomalies are covering the entire equatorial Pacific from New Guinea to the Galapagos, with +5 cm anomalies south of Hawaii to 2/3rds of the way to the Galapagos 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 (11/14) 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 115W. When this second Kelvin Wave arrives in the east (about Jan 20) 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 11/16 remains improved. The current is pushing moderately strong 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 from New Guinea to 120W 's moving into the moderate to strong category over the entire area from the West Pacific to a point southeast of Hawaii. There were two pockets of easterly anomalies, both on the equator at 170E and 80W-120W. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 110-130W. This data suggests a improved picture is continuing to evolve and supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 11/20 for the Nino 3.4 region are holding in an upgraded position. It suggests water temps are up to +0.9 deg C and are to fade some to between +0.6-0.9 through April 2015. But the real interesting part is that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in May 2015, pushing +2.0 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 play. 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 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 and 6 inches on Oct 31. The last time any of this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. And multiple 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 place 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 9and 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-play. 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 place 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