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 (3/26) in North and Central CA surf was head high, peaky and textured but sunny and pleasant looking. Windier and more tattered at exposed breaks. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to chest high and pretty windy and textured. In Southern California up north surf was waist to maybe chest high on the sets and lined up but closely spaced. Still it was clean and fun looking. Down south waves were waist to chest high and heavily textured coming out of the west. Hawaii's North Shore was getting more Gulf windswell with waves head high or so and pretty textured from strong east-northeast trades. The South Shore was still getting southern hemi swell with set waves to chest high at top breaks and clean. The East Shore was getting waist to chest high Gulf windswell and chopped from brisk trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Windswell from weak sub-gale class activity in the Gulf was hitting the US West Coast and Hawaii. Another gale was pushed east through the Gulf on Tues-Wed (3/26) with a small area of 22 ft seas targeting mainly the US West Coast. And another gale developed off North Japan on Wed (3/5) tracking east over the dateline with 25 ft seas projected late Thurs (3/26) holding Friday then pushing up into the Gulf of Alaska on Sat (3/28) with seas fading from 20 ft. Possible swell for HI and CA. In all, steady small surf from the west and northwest is likely. But after that a far quieter pattern is projected in the north. Swell from the remnants of Super Pam that tracked through the Southwest Pacific producing 39 ft seas on Wed (3/18) was fading in Hawaii. This system tracked east and rebuilt Fri-Sun (3/22) in the East Pacific with seas building to 42 ft aimed east-northeast. Small swell is heading towards the US West Coast and has hit well in South America. The models continue to suggest a slowly building pattern in the southern hemi long term.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (3/26) the jet was tracking east off Southern Japan and a bit fragmented over Asia, but consolidated over the West Pacific forming a bit of a trough there with winds building to 180 kts while ridging northeast from the trough over the dateline, then falling into a second weak trough just northeast of Hawaii before splitting with the northern branch tracking northeast up into British Columbia. There was some support for gale development in the trough off Japan. Over the next 72 hours the Japan trough is to push east and wind energy associated with it fading, down to 130 kts on Sun (3/29) and positioned 600 nmiles north of Hawaii. A weak and split jet is to be west of there and the jet is to be split east of there. Limited support for gale development is forecast in this trough as it progresses east. Beyond 72 hrs the jet is to be weak and split over the entire Pacific by Mon (3/30) with no change forecast through Thurs (3/2). A pulse of winds energy at 135 kts is forecast pushing off North Japan on Thurs (3/2) but there's no clear indication of a trough forming or support for gale development occurring. The close of the 2014-2015 Winter Season appears near, especially considering the impending demise of the MJO.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (3/26) residual windswell from previous Gulf gale and low pressure activity was hitting California and Hawaii, but nothing noteworthy. A gale was tracking through the Gulf (see Another Gulf Gale below).
Over the next 72 hours another gale is to be tracking from Japan over the dateline into the Gulf (see West Pacific Gale below).
Another Gulf Gale
A broad area of low pressure started building in the Gulf of Alaska on Tues AM (3/24) producing 35 kt northwest winds positioned due north of Hawaii with seas building from 17 ft. Winds held while tracking east in the evening with seas on the increase, building to 20 ft at 40N 156W targeting the US West Coast (286 degs NCal). The gale tracked northeast Wed AM (3/25) with winds fading from 30 kts and seas fading from 20 ft at 42N 150W targeting only the US West Coast (287 degs NCal). This system was gone after that. Some sideband swell is hitting Hawaii and modest swell is expected for NCal on Sat (3/28).
Hawaii: Windswell fading from 3 ft @ 10 secs (3 ft) Fri (3/27). Swell Direction: 330 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival late Fri (3/27) building in to Sat AM (3/28) building to 4.5 ft @ 12 secs (5.0 ft). Residuals fading Sun AM (3/29) from 3.5 ft @ 11 secs (3.5-4.0 ft) with larger locally generating shortly period windswell intermixed. Swell Direction: 287 degrees.
West Pacific Gale
Another gale was forecast forming over the Kuril Islands Wed AM (3/25) with 35-40 kt northwest winds and seas building while pushing east. 35 kt west winds held in the evening with seas building from 22 ft over a small area at 36N 159E targeting Hawaii. 35 kt west winds held Thurs AM (3/26) with 23 ft seas at 38N 172E. 35 kt west winds to hold in the evening with seas 25 ft at 38N 180E (316 degs HI). 35 kt west winds to race into the Western Gulf on Fri AM (3/27) with seas holding near 26 ft at 40N 172W (336 degs HI, 290 degs NCal) and a new fetch building east of it with winds 35 kts and seas building. 35 kt west fetch to continue pushing east from the Western Gulf in the evening generating 24 ft seas tracking northeast up into the Gulf at 42N 163W (290 degs NCal). Fetch is to be fading from 30-35 kts Sat AM (3/28) with seas fading from 20 ft at 43N 153W (294 degs NCal), then dissipating late. Something to monitor relative to both Hawaii and the US West Coast.
Hawaii: For planning purposes expect swell arrival later on Sun (3/29) building to 4.6 ft @ 14-15 secs (6.5 ft) at sunset. Swell fading from 4.5 ft @ 13 secs (5.5 ft) on Mon (3/30). Swell Direction: 310-320 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical storm activity is being tracked.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday (3/26) weak high pressure at 1022 mbs was in control off California generating 10-15 kt north winds along the coast. North winds to continue Friday at 10-15 kts from Pt Conception northward and building late, pushing 20-25 kts on Saturday (3/28) and up to 30 kts over Pt Arena Mendocino late. A summer like gradient to continue Sunday at up to 25 kts over Cape Mendocino falling south and covering all of North and Central CA Mon (3/30) at 20 kts, building to 25 kts Tuesday and about the through Thursday. A Springtime pattern is here
Surface Analysis - No swell producing fetch of interest is occurring nor forecast to occur over the next 72 hours.
That said, a gale is forecast developing in the far Southeast Pacific on Sat AM (3/28) producing a small area of 45 kt west winds generating 30 ft seas at 57S 121W aimed at Southern Chile. 40 kt west winds to continue pushing east into the evening generating 32 ft seas at 58S 116W mainly out of the California swell window, mainly targeting Chile. Maybe some sideband swell to bleed north relative to Southern CA, at best. .
The extratropical remnants of what was Super Typhoon Pam on Tues AM (3/17) were just east of Central New Zealand producing 50-55 kt west winds and seas to 34 ft at 41S 171W targeting Hawaii and the US West Coast somewhat (190 degs HI, 215 degs NCal, 218 degs SCal), but mainly aimed east of the great circle tracks up there. 45-50 kt west winds held over a small area in the evening with 32 ft seas continuing at 42S 170W aimed like before. More of the same occurred Wed AM (3/18) with 45-50 kt west winds and 38 ft seas at 42S 169W aimed east and higher seas aimed southeast (towards Antarctica) (190 degs HI, 215 degs NCal, 218 degs SCal). Fetch was fading in the evening with seas aimed more southeast than east. Maybe 32 ft seas aimed east at 42S 163W. Limited odds for small sideband swell pushing north towards Hawaii and the US West Coast. Better odds for Central America and points southward.
This system tracked east traveling through the Tahiti swell shadow relative to California with seas in the 32-36 ft range, then regenerated Fri PM (3/20) with 50-55 kt south winds building and 40 ft seas developing over a tiny area at 42S 136W aimed east-northeast (189 degs NCal, 192 degs SCal). Additional 45-50 kt south fetch developed Sat AM (3/21) feeding up into the core fetch with seas building from 36 ft at 42S 133W (184 degs NCal, 187 degs SCal) aimed northeast with seas from previous fetch still 42 ft at 41S 127W. More 45 kt southwest fetch continued in the evening with 38 ft seas at 40S 125W pushing northeast. Fetch was fading from 40 kts Sun AM (3/22) with 32 ft seas fading at 46S 125W and 38S 120W aimed from California southward though most energy was targeting Peru.
Swell from all positions to be hitting California at the same time, making for a spread of directions.
South CA: Swell arrival expected Fri AM (3/27) with swell 2 ft @ 20 secs (4 ft) and inconsistent but starting to build late. Swell to become solid Sat AM (3/28) at 3 ft at 17-18 secs peaking late at 3.3 ft @ 17-18 secs (5.5-6.0 ft with sets to 7 ft). Swell holding near 3.3 ft @ 15-16 secs (5 ft with sets to 6 ft) through the day Sun (3/29). Swell fading from 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft) Mon (3/30). Swell fading from 3 ft @ 14 secs Tues (4 ft). Swell Direction: Primarily 185-195 degrees but some energy at 218 degrees.
North CA: Swell arrival expected Fri (3/27) building to 2.3 ft @ 20 secs (4.5 ft) late. Swell to become solid Sat AM (3/28) at 2.6 ft at 18-19 secs (4.5-5.0 ft with sets to 6 ft). Sun (3/29) swell holding near 2.7 ft @ 16-17 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 5.5 ft). Mon (3/30) swell fading from 3 ft @ 16 secs (4.5 ft with sets to 6 ft). Swell fading from 2.6 ft @ 14-15 secs Tues (3.5-4.0 ft). Swell Direction: Primarily 184-194 degrees but some energy to 215 degrees.
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 swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
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).
(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 Thursday (3/26) the daily SOI was holding at 2.60. The 30 day average was rising slightly from -10.04 and the 90 day average was down some at -6.36. The near term trend based on the daily and 30 day average was indicative of a steady state Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady state Active Phase of the MJO. Weak lower pressure was holding west of Tahiti and expected to slowly track east and perhaps build. Slowly dropping negative SOI values are possible. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated moderate westerly anomalies were still over the Eastern Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline then continuing from there to a point south of Hawaii. Weak west anomalies continued near the Galapagos Islands too. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated moderate plus strength westerly anomalies in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area extending to a point south of Hawaii. A Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) started on 1/15 fading on 2/20 (a month in duration) then regenerated 2/25 positioned more to the east building to the strong category on 3/7. It peaked on 3/10 and held solidly to 3/17. A more modest version of it continued into 3/25. This was already a decent event from the Jan-Feb anomalies, before it rebuilt strongly on 3/7, and was supporting Kelvin Wave development. But with the additional strong west winds, far more warm water transport is now in progress. A week from now (4/3) modest westerly anomalies are to continue in pockets over the East Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline. Weak east anomalies are forecast south of Hawaii extending half way to the the Galapagos. Neutral anomalies are expected from there to the Galapagos. This suggests the Active Phase is to be fading a week out but not gone. This was a significant WWB and moving into the range of the historic event of last year at this same time.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/25 suggests a weakening Active Phase of the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was dissipating east of the dateline while a strong Inactive Phase was moving over the Western Pacific from the Indian Ocean. Beyond the Statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to dissipate 5 days out while the Inactive Phase continues pushing through the West Pacific in the moderate to strong category and continuing east through the next 15 days. The Dynamic model suggests the Active Phase also fading while pushing east, completely gone 4 days out. But this model also suggests the Inactive Phase is to totally dissipate too while pushing east, with a dead neutral pattern in play 10-15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 3/26 depicts a weak Inactive Phase is entering the West Pacific tracking east, and is to be fading with it's remnants eventually pushing into Central America 4/25. Another modest Active Phase to start developing in the West Pacific on 4/13 pushing east and holding reaching the East Pacific on 5/5. And Inactive Phase is to follow starting in the West on 4/25. 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 (3/26) a weak warm water/El Nino like regime has taken control of the entire equatorial Pacific. And warmer water is starting to get solid traction along the Peruvian Coast pushing north up to the equator, something not seen last year at this time. Still, the warmer water only extend maybe 2-3 degrees south of the equator. TAO data indicates +0.5 anomalies are building over the entire equatorial East Pacific with a warmer pocket to +0.5-1.0 degs at 115W with a pocket of +1.0-1.5 deg anomalies on the dateline. The CDAS NINO 3.4 Index suggest water temps are holding at +0.6 degs, previously peaking late Nov at about +1.0 then falling to 0.0 in early January.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue warming and expanding. As of 3/26 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was in control under the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up. And a large pocket of +4-5 deg anomalies continues building in coverage now positioned at 150W, suggesting that the extended WWB that occurred 1/15-2/20 has created a Kelvin Wave. And with strong westerly anomalies now in-play in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area, additional warming is expected beyond. This Kelvin Wave is expected to start erupting over the Galapagos on roughly 5/1 peaking on 6/10. But according to TAO data, +3 degs anomalies are already rushing east, flowing into the Galapagos ahead of schedule and deflecting up and down the South America Coast. Satellite data from 3/14 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies over the West and Central equatorial Pacific with a core to +15 cm over the dateline, indicative of an open pipe with an embedded solid Kelvin Wave. Neutral anomalies cover from 100W eastward. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (3/19) indicates +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies are growing in coverage between 160E-108W with +1.0-1.5 degs from 167E-118W and a core of +1.5 deg anomalies from 170E-133W. And now a tiny core of 2 deg anomalies are indicated at 160W. This also supports the thesis that another Kelvin Wave, and strong at that, is in-flight. Theoretically the peak of what was thought to be a developing El Nino occurred (12/21/14) with no more Kelvin Wave development expected beyond if last year was to be a single year event. But if this is a true multiyear Modoki El Nino event, then it would not be unexpected to see another Kelvin Wave develop in the Jan-Feb 2015 timeframe (as is actually occurring). See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 3/12 was more encouraging than previous indications. The current is pushing moderately west to east over patches in the West Pacific reaching east with less energy north of the equator in the East Pacific. A very weak east current was in control south of the equator in the East. Anomaly wise - strong west anomalies were firmly in control on the equator over the West Pacific then north of the equator in pockets south of Hawaii, then moving back centered on the equator in the East.
This data suggests a general west to east bias in the current suggesting warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 3/24 for the Nino 3.4 region are stable. It suggests water temps are at +0.8 deg C and are to slowly warm into July reaching +1.4 degs C, and continuing to +1.9 degs by Nov, then dropping off. This suggests that perhaps we are moving from a multi-year steady state Modoki event to perhaps a full blown El Nino. But it is too early to believe that just yet. The mid-March consensus Plume suggests a continuation of Modoki ENSO. See the chart based version here - link.
Analysis: Multiple downwelling Kelvin Waves generated by suppressed trades and occasional Westerly Wind Bursts occurring late 2013 though 2014 in the West Pacific. Those Kelvin Waves warmed waters over the Eastern equatorial Pacific, but not sufficiently to declare an official El Nino. Still some degree of teleconnection or feedback loop between the ocean and the atmosphere is in play. The focus now becomes whether this warming and resulting teleconnection will persist into 2015 and transition into a multi-year event, or fade in the March-June 2015 Spring Unpredictability Barrier. At this time we're assuming the situation will move to a multiyear, Modoki event (the better of all options).
We remain in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in-play per NOAA. But we continue monitoring Westerly Wind Bursts and Kelvin Wave development, suggestive of continued warming East Pacific equatorial waters for the 2015 (meaning enhanced support for the jetstream and storm development in Fall/Winter 2015-2016).
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. A small gale is to track under New Zealand on Mon AM (3/30) generating 45 kt west winds and 34 ft seas at 58S 160E, but quickly fading. Something to monitor.
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