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 (12/16) in North and Central CA surf was 10-12 ft early from the dateline with southeast winds pretty much tearing it up except at protected breaks. Down in Santa Cruz surf was 7 ft early and trashed by south winds. In Southern California up north surf was 1-2 ft overhead with lines to the horizon and offshore winds. It was about as good as it gets. Down south waves were head high with bigger sets at better breaks and trashed by southerly winds. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting dateline swell with waves 1-2 ft overhead and clean and lined up. Looking very fun. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting wrap around dateline swell with waves head high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell from a storm that tracked from the dateline into the Western Gulf region Wed-Fri (12/12) with 43 ft seas initially, was fading out in Hawaii and starting to drop along the US West Coast too. Another small storm was developing while projected tracking from the dateline through the Western Gulf on Wed-Thurs (12/18) with 43 ft seas over a small area setting up more sideband swell for Hawaii and decent sized direct energy for the US West Coast. And a broader system is to develop off Japan Thurs-Fri (12/19) with up to 40 ft seas aimed east, but dissipating quickly after crossing the dateline Sat (12/20). Nothing else of interest to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (12/16) the jet was pushing off Japan with a new pocket of winds building over Japan at 200 kts. Wind faded some approaching the dateline to 140 kts forming a modest trough, then ridged slightly north of Hawaii still at 140 kts, before falling into a trough that was moving over Southern CA. Some support for gale development in the trough just west of the dateline. Over the next 72 hours the dateline trough is to be building pushing east-northeast into the Gulf on Wed (12/17) with 160 kts winds feeding it. Good support for gale development there. Also 200 kt winds are to be streaming off Japan reaching to almost the dateline by late Wed (12/17) and pushing over the dateline early Friday (12/19) forming a bit of a trough back on the dateline. Limited support for gale development there. Beyond 72 hours the dateline trough is to continue tracking east with 160 kt winds feeding it into Saturday offering good support for gale development. That trough to hold together but starting to get pinched while moving into the Central Gulf Sunday (12/21) offering good support for gale development while a new wind pocket pushes off Japan but ridging north some with wind 150 kts. The Gulf trough is to collapse on Tues (12/23) with an almost split pattern setting up there while 150 kts winds continue pushing flat off Japan reaching to the dateline. It is assumed it will push east and trough out mid-next week offering yet again more opportunity for gale development.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (12/16) residual swell from a previous Dateline Storm was fading out in Hawaii with residuals expected for one more day for the US West Coast (see new Dateline Storm below). A new storm was building on the dateline (see 2nd Dateline Storm below).
Over the next 72 hours a broad but not well defined gale is to build over Japan on Wed AM (12/17) with 40-45 kt west winds trying to push off land and getting some traction on the oceans surface east of Japan. Seas on the increase. By the evening 40-45 kt west winds to be off the coast of Japan over a solid area aimed east with seas building from 34 ft at 36N 155E (301 degs HI). 40-45 kt west winds to continue Thurs AM (12/18) tracking east with seas building to 40 ft over a tiny area with 30+ ft seas over a solid area at 37N 155E (303 degs HI). In the evening 40-45 kt west winds to continue tracking east with 41 ft seas at 37N 164E (305 degs HI, 293 degs NCal, 297 degs SCal). 40 kt west winds to continue pushing east but loosing coverage on Fri AM (12/19) generating 39 ft seas at 36N 173E (308 degs HI, 290 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Fetch is to quickly dissipate from there with the bulk of the low pressure relocating to the Northern Gulf of Alaska. 35 kt west winds are forecast on the dateline Fri PM (12/19) with 34 ft seas at 37N 178W (315 degs HI, 288 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). 30-35 kt west winds to continue Sat AM (12/20) with seas fading from 33 ft at 38N 175W (324 degs HI, 289 degs NCal, 292 degs SCal). Residual seas from previous fetch fading from 28 ft in the evening at 37N 167W (332 degs HI, 284 degs NCal, 290 SCal). Possible solid west swell for Hawaii with less size and consistency for the US West Coast.
New Dateline Storm
A gale developed west of the dateline on Wed AM (12/10) producing 55 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase. In the evening 55 kt northwest winds approached the dateline with 42 ft seas at 35N 172E (306 degs HI, 292 degs NCal). On Thurs AM (12/11) 55 kt northwest winds continued on the dateline with 42 ft seas over a modest area at 38N 180W (315 degs HI, 290 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). The storm was fading in the evening but still with winds barely 55 kts and seas 39 ft pushing due east at 39N 172W (347 degs HI, 288 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). 45 kt northwest winds continued holding solidly north-northwest of Hawaii Fri AM (12/12) with seas 37 ft at 40N 166W (288 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Winds faded from 40 kts from the northwest over a solid area in the evening with 37 ft seas at 40N 162W (287 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). The gale faded and continue east into Sat PM with seas fading from 28 ft at 40N 156W (286 degs NCal, 295 degs SCal). Residuals faded on Sat PM in the Gulf with seas 28 ft at 40N 150W (285 degs NCal, 294 degs SCal). Solid swell is expected to result for Hawaii and CA though weather to be an issue at both locales.
North CA: Residuals fading on Wed (12/17) from 7 ft @ 11-12 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 285-288 degrees Weather to be an issue.
2nd Dateline Storm
A tiny storm started developing on the dateline on Tues AM (12/16) generating a small area of 50 kt northwest winds with seas on the increase from 22 ft. In the evening west winds to build to 55 kts moving into the Western Gulf with seas 36 ft at 43N 172W (338 degs HI, 295 degs NCal). West winds to continue at 55 kts with the storm lifting northeast in the Gulf on Wed AM (12/17) with seas 43 ft at 43N 162W bypassing Hawaii (293 degs NCal). The storm to continue east in the evening with west winds fading from 50-55 kts targeting Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwest with seas building to 46 ft at 46N 155W (298 degs NCal). A slow and steady fade to follow Thurs (12/18) with the gale lifting northeast through the Gulf and winds turning more northwest at 45-50 kts. Seas 42 ft at 47N 150W (302 degs NCal). The gale to stall in the Eastern Gulf in the evening with winds fading from 40-45 kts and seas 38 ft at 47N 145W (306 degrees NCal). Possible modest sideband swell for Hawaii but moderate plus sized solid period swell for the US West Coast with secondary energy from a more northerly direction. Something to monitor.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (12/16) a new low was queued up off the California coast and starting to impact the North and North-Central portions with south winds there at 25 kts. Those winds to move into the North and Central coast near nightfall Tuesday with rain pushing down to Southern CA Wed AM. 3 inches of snow for Tahoe through noon Wednesday. Northwest winds to develop on the coast Wed AM 15-20 kts mainly from San Francisco northward but quickly fading with south winds again developing Thursday AM from Pt Conception northward. No rain forecast. Maybe a hint of southerly winds Friday for the North and Central Coasts with a weak front pushing through. Rain for the North Coast early reaching Big Sur later in the day with 1-2 inches of snow for Tahoe Friday early evening. Then weak high pressure starts to build Saturday with north-northeast winds 10 kts for the North and Central Coasts pushing 15 kts near Pt Conception and turning more decidedly north for the North and Central Coast on Sunday. North winds 15 kts Monday and Tuesday for all of North and Central CA with high pressure building in.
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 high pressure is to build over the dateline Mon (12/22) at 1036 mbs interrupting the storm track. A gale is to build over Kamchatka Monday too generating 40 kt south winds targeting only the Central Aleutians. No swell generation expected. But secondary 30-35 kt west fetch is to build behind extending from the Kurils to the north dateline region. 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).
(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 Tuesday (12/16) the daily SOI was rising slightly at 1.76. The 30 day average was rising at -4.97 and the 90 day average rising from -6.61. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weak Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a steady-state Active Phase of the MJO with the 90 day average near -8 since 10/20, but loosing a little ground. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak east anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning to weak west anomalies over the dateline then fading to neutral south of Hawaii. Neutral anomalies continued into the Galapagos. A week from now (12/24) weak west anomalies are to develop over the Maritime Continent building some over the dateline reaching to a point south of the Hawaiian Islands. Neutral anomalies to continue on into the Galapagos. Down at the surface the TOA array indicated light east anomalies over the far West equatorial Pacific but weak west anomalies south of Hawaii with neutral anomalies over the rest of the equatorial Pacific.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 12/15 are in sync. They both suggest a dead neutral MJO pattern was in play over the equatorial Pacific. The Statistic model depicts a weak Inactive Phase building in the West Pacific 8 days out and continuing east 15 days out while building some. The Dynamic model depicts the same thing but with the Inactive Phase strengthening 10 days out and holding 15 days out. The ultra long range upper level model run on 12/16 depicts a weak Active Phase exiting the East Pacific with a weak Inactive Phase developing over the West Pacific tracking east and progressively fading through 1/10. A weak Active Phase to follow pushing into the far West Pacific 1/15-1/25.
The good news is that what appeared to be resurgence of the MJO is now returning to a very weak pattern, suggesting that El Nino is now gaining traction again. Normally the MJO fades away during El Nino events. The fading of the MJO supports the El Nino hypothesis. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
Surface Water Temps: The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of the most recent low res imagery (12/15) a moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific (up some since early Sept) and stabilized. A clear but weak El Nino signature is holding. Warm water has good traction and appears to be building some just west of the Galapagos while tracking west between 90W to 160W, likely the result of the leading edge of the second in a pair of Kelvin Waves impacting the Galapagos region (as expected). This weak El Nino signature is stable but not getting progressively stronger, TAO data suggests +0.5-1.0 deg C anomalies are present over a continuous area on the equator from the Galapagos to the far West Pacific with a pocket of 1.5 deg anomalies at 110W (new Kelvin Wave eruption area) with 1.5 deg anomalies starting to build near 160E. Warm water is clearly present on the surface in the NINO 3.4 region based on TAO and hi res imagery.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water. There are virtually no signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California. Warm water remains entrenched along the California coast suggesting the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weaker relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is also starting to build in warmth with only on small cool pocket well off Chile, not reaching even north to 10S and in decline. A warm regime has the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 12/16 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with a broad embedded pocket of +4 deg anomalies centered near 110W pushing east and starting to reach the Galapagos embedded in with a steady stream of +2.0 deg anomalies pushing east from the dateline into the Galapagos. The +4º C anomalies are the second in a pair of recent Kelvin Waves in-flight. Satellite data from 12/9 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies in the Eastern equatorial Pacific indicative of a Kelvin Wave in flight pushing east. Other models collaborate the presumption that a Kelvin Wave is in flight. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (12/9) indicates the second of a pair of recent modest Kelvin Waves started building back at 145E-160W in Sept and is now pushing east reaching to 95W and is the second strongest Kelvin Wave of this ENSO event.The interesting thing is the satellite imagery depicts no warm water remaining in the far West Pacific at depth. This typically suggests the end of the ENSO cycle is at hand.
When the second Kelvin Wave arrives in the east (about Dec 30) we will be set for the winter. Of course what is good enough to feed storm develop and what constitutes an official El Nino are two different things. We are focused on the former. The quandary now is whether this will be a one year event, or something longer.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 12/11 is mixed. The current is pushing moderately west to east over the entire Pacific north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. It is strongest north of New Guinea and again south of Hawaii. But on the equator a steady modest east to west flow was in control over the width of the Pacific. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest near 115W. East anomalies were on the equator, strongest at 170E. This data continues to suggest a mixed pattern but generally supportive of warm water transport to the east.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 12/16 for the Nino 3.4 region are back up again. It suggests water temps are up to +1.0 deg C and are to fade some to between +0.5-0.6 through April 2015. But the interesting part remains that water temps are to start building from +1.0 degs in June 2015, pushing +2.00 degs C by late 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 (and therefore swells) mainly in the Pacific Basin that may or may not have the same impacts as a full blown El Nino. So our criteria is certainly less than the threshold of NOAAs. That said, considering the size and duration of the westerly wind bursts in Jan-April, and the Kelvin Wave that preceded it, it seem hard to believe that at least some Pacific Basin wide 'change' was not already well entrenched even early this year, and had been developing since perhaps as early and Aug of 2013 (when the first Kelvin Wave of the series started taking shape). We will continue monitoring westerly wind anomalies and warm subsurface water buildup in and under the Kelvin Wave Generation area. Also monitoring of the NPac jetstream (which has already been productive) and Atlantic hurricane activity (which was nonexistent) are key. But at this time odds continue stacking up in favor that a global teleconnection is now established. If that's true, the focus then becomes estimating how deep the ENSO cycle will become, or whether it will stay shallow but transition into a multi-year event. At this time we're predisposed to the multiyear, Midoki scenario. And that is actually the better of all options.
Officially we are still in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in-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