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.
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On Tuesday (1/27) in North and Central CA surf at top spots was 2-3 ft overhead on the face on the sets, lined up and but pretty warbled from southerly winds. Down in Santa Cruz surf was shoulder to head high and clean but not well lined up. In Southern California up north surf was chest to near head high on the rare sets and clean and lined up. Down south waves were shoulder to near head high and fairly clean with just a bit of texture on it. Hawaii's North Shore was still getting secondary dateline swell with waves occasionally 2-3 ft overhead at top breaks but mostly head high and clean. The South Shore was flat and clean. The East Shore was getting some windswell at thigh high and chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Swell was fading in Hawaii and California, remnant energy from a secondary gale that developed over the dateline last week. Swell from another small gale that developed off the Kuril Islands on Sat (1/24) with 36 ft seas then fading before reaching the dateline was poised to hit Hawaii and eventually reach California,but smaller. A small gale is forecast falling south from the northern dateline region producing 26 ft seas on Wed-Thurs (1/29) targeting areas a bit west of Hawaii. A very weak gale is projected just off Japan on Mon-Tues (2/3) generating 22-23 ft seas aimed reasonably well at Hawaii, but making almost zero eastward progress. Not much swell to result. In short, a pause in the swell action is projected.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (1/27) the jet pushing east off Southern Japan at 140 kts and splitting just east of there with some energy pushing up and over Kamchatka then falling back south, while most energy tracked east pushing over the dateline with winds rebuilding there to 150 kts reaching a point north of Hawaii, then splitting just east of there. Most energy then fell southeast before splitting again and pushing up into Baja. Remnant energy in the northern branch of the split east of Hawaii was pushing over Vancouver Island. A weak trough was trying to organize over the dateline, but was not overtly supportive of gale development. Over the next 72 hours the split east of Japan is to become even more pronounced light up into the North Bering Sea then falling south over the dateline helping to carve out the developing trough there more by Thurs AM (1/29). Winds to hold at 140 kt in the apex of that trough providing some support for gale development into Fri (1/30) as it moves east into the Gulf of Alaska. Beyond 72 hours the Gulf trough is to evaporate later Sat (1/31) as the split west of the dateline fades (a good thing). Beyond there a sense the jet will start rebuilding some, with a flat west to east flow projected by Tues (2/3) with winds to 170 kts pushing over the dateline falling into a small trough 900 nmiles north of Hawaii offering some support for gale development, but the split holding strong at 145W. A weak flow is projected also tracking west to east over the Bering Sea suggestive of a split over Asia, which could limit storm production some. But over all a somewhat improved pattern is forecast long term in the upper atmosphere.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (1/27) swell from a gale that developed off the Kuril Islands is pushing east poised to hit Hawaii later today and then into California later in the week (see Kuril Island Gale below). Otherwise over the next 72 hours a new gale is to build over the Northern Dateline region on Wed AM (1/28) producing a small area of 35 kt north winds and 22 ft seas at 49N 176W aimed due south (338 degs HI). Winds are to grow in coverage and hold velocity into the evening with 23 ft seas at 44N 175W (331 degs HI). 30-35 kt north winds to push south into Thurs AM (1/29) generating 24 ft seas at 43N 172W (325 degs HI). Fetch to fade from there with residual 24 ft seas moving to 39N 171W (331 degs HI). A small pulse of north angled swell is possible for the Islands early in the weekend if all plays out as forecast.
Kuril Island Gale
A gale developed off the Kuril Islands on Fri (1/24) with 50 kt west winds aimed east holding late and generating seas to 30 ft at 41N 152E. Winds faded to 45 kts Sat AM (1/24) with seas 37 ft over a small area aimed east at 41N 160E (308 degs HI, 299 degs NCal). Winds faded from 40 kts in the evening with seas 35 ft at 40N 168E (310 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). Winds continuing to fade Sun AM (1/25) from 35 kts with seas 30 ft at 40N 171E (313 degs HI, 296 degs NCal).
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival Tues(1/27) late building to near 4.8 ft @ 18 secs at sunset (8.5 ft). Swell to continue on Wed AM (1/28) at 7.3 ft @ 16 secs (11.5 ft) holding through late AM. Residuals fading Thurs AM (1/29) from 7.0 ft @ 14 secs early (10 ft). Swell Direction: 308-313 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Thurs (1/29) building to 3 ft @ 17-18 secs late (5 ft). Swell peaking Fri (1/30) at 4.5 ft @ 15-16 secs (7 ft). Residuals on Sat (1/31) at 4.5 ft @ 13-14 secs (6 ft). Swell Direction: 296 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest are being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (1/27) local low pressure was generating southerly winds along much of the California coast. 3-4 inches of snow fell at high elevations in Tahoe. That is to be gone by Wednesday with a weak offshore flow replacing it. A new high is to build just off the Pacific Northwest on Thurs (1/29) setting up northerly winds over outer waters at 15-20 kts pushing 20 kts on Friday then fading to 10-15 kts Saturday and weaker still on Sun (2/1) as low pressure builds in the Gulf. A weak northerly flow to continue Monday building some Tuesday, but low pressure just north of Hawaii is to be pushing east.
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 there's some suggestions of a gale trying to form just east of Japan on Sat (1/31) generating mostly 35 kt west to northwest winds making little eastward progress and continuing into Tues (2/3). Seas to start building to 24 ft Mon AM (2/1) at 37N 150E pushing east Tues AM (2/3) at 32N 158E. Some weak swell is possible pushing towards Hawaii.
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 (1/27) the daily SOI remained down decently for the 11th day in a row at -13.09 attributable to low pressure over both Darwin and strongly over Tahiti. The 30 day average was falling from -9.46 and the 90 day average was down some at -8.06. 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 (3.0 months). Weak low pressure is to continue holding over Tahiti well into the following week (2/3) keeping the SOI somewhat negative. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated moderate westerly wind anomalies over the East Maritime Continent just south of the equator fading some on the dateline then rebuilding south of Hawaii. Weak east anomalies continued from 130W into the Galapagos (very much a reflection of what is occurring off the CA coast). Down at the surface the TOA array indicated the same thing with strong west anomalies in the heart of the Kelvin Wave Generation Area. A Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) continued in-play but not making much eastward progress. A week from now (2/4) solid west anomalies are to continue over the Maritime Continent reaching east to the dateline, Neutral anomalies are forecast east of there to the Galapagos but with a small area of east anomalies from 100-130W. This suggests the Active Phase is to continue holding over the West Pacific to the dateline.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here .
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 1/26 are in sync initially. They both suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was fading over the dateline. The Statistic model depicts the Active Phase moving east over the next 10 days eventually positioned south of Hawaii and dissipating on day 10 while the Inactive Phase of the MJO moves from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific. The Dynamic model depicts the same thing initially, then departs significantly with the Active Phase retrograding and rebuilding over the West Pacific strongly 10 days out, then easing east. Interesting. And this pattern has held on this model. The Inactive Phase of the MJO is in the Indian Ocean but what happens to it is up for debate. The ultra long range upper level model run on 1/27 dis falling in line with the dynamic model depicting a moderate Active Phase rebuilding over the West Pacific now, and is forecast to tracking east into 2/21. A moderate Inactive Phase is supposed to push into the West Pacific 2/10 and easing east into 3/6 while a new weaker Active Phase takes over the West Pacific 3/6. 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 (1/26) a weak warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific and not getting any warmer. A weak El Nino signature is barely holding on. Cool water is developing east of the Galapagos to Peru while warm water has traction just west of the Galapagos reaching west to 160W (the result of the eruption of a Kelvin Wave that peaked 12/21). TAO data suggests neutral anomalies are covering a region south of Hawaii to the Galapagos with +0.5-1.0 deg anomalies are holding over the West Pacific west of 160W and pushing near 2.0 degs in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area. The CDAS NINO 3.4 Index suggest water temps at +0.6, previously peaking late Nov at about +1.0 then falling to 0.0 in early January. The thought is the Upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase briefly had an impact on water temps, but is now loosing ground with temps on the increase some.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator are now warming. As of 1/27 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was starting to rebuild it's control under the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up. And a new pocket of +2 deg anomalies with a core to near +3.0 degrees was building in coverage under the dateline, suggestive of a new Kelvin Wave and likely associated with the new WWB occurring at the surface there. Satellite data from 1/23 depicts 0-+5 cm anomalies over most of the West and Central equatorial Pacific, indicative of an open pipe, but neutral anomalies from 120W eastward. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (1/23) indicates +0.5-1 deg anomalies are continuing to develop between 130-140E reaching east to 160W, suggestive that another weak Kelvin wave might be in the early stages of development. Theoretically the peak of El Nino occurred (12/21) with no more Kelvin Wave development expected if this is to be a single year event. If it is a true multiyear Midoki El Nino event, then it would not be unexpected to see another Kelvin Wave develop in the Jan-Feb 2015 timeframe (as appears to be the case). See current Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 1/26 was not encouraging. The current is pushing moderately west to east over a small area of the far West Pacific, but mainly east to west over the rest of the equatorial Pacific. Anomaly wise - west anomalies were just on the equator over the West Pacific then north of the equator in pockets to 135W. Pockets of moderate east anomalies were just south of the equator from the Galapagos to almost the dateline. This data continues to suggest a mixed pattern and barely supportive of warm water transport to the east. But we suspect that might be attributable tot he current upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase in flight now.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 1/27 for the Nino 3.4 region have stabilized. It suggests water temps are down some at +0.6 deg C and are to hold through May 2015. A slight and gentle increase is foreseen beyond with +0.8 deg anomalies in Sept 2015. This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year Midoki event. See the chart based version here - link. A consensus of other models are not as optimistic though.
Analysis: Multiple downwelling Kelvin Waves generated by suppressed trades and occasional Westerly Wind Bursts occurring through 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, Midoki event (the better of all options).
We remain in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in-play. 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.
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