New Swell Classification Guidelines (Winter)
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: 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 (2/2) North and Central California was getting a bit of utility class sideband energy from Storm #20 with surf pushing up to 9 ft later in the afternoon with some light south winds in effect, but not too bad. Southern California was getting bare minimal west leftovers at thigh high and clean up north but with northwest texture down south. Hawaii's North Shore was getting leftover near-windswell with waves 1-2 ft overhead on the sets and pretty hacked with southwest winds. The East Shore report was not available. The South Shore was asleep for the winter.
The forecast for North and Central CA is for leftover utility class energy from Swell #20 to continue on Wednesday at 2-3 ft overhead with decent conditions, then south winds and rain starts in earnest on Thursday continuing into Saturday. Swell to start building on Saturday continuing into Sunday from no less than 3-4 different sources (some local and some further out) making for a rather confused.cgiaying field though. A slow drop expected into early next week. Southern California is to see and increase in surf size by Wednesday AM with waves shoulder high or so at better breaks from the west fading to waist to chest high Thursday then getting blown out as a front moves in with rain for Friday. Things possibly improving Saturday with new swell starting to build to the shoulder to head high range and a little more on Sunday if all goes as forecast out to sea. The North Shore of Hawaii is to see another pulse of energy from a dateline gale on Wednesday at double overhead or a little more and holding on Thursday then down some on Friday to 3 ft overhead with new dateline swell building underneath late with luck. Sideband energy from that swell to continue on Saturday at 11 ft or a little more then fading Sunday. The East Shore is to have no easterly windswell. The South Shore is in hibernation for the winter.
Longterm the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is strongly in the Active Phase and in-phase with El Nino, generating a solid Westerly Wind Burst and is starting to fuel the North Pacific storm track, with much more evidence expected well into next week and beyond. The MJO is to be easing it's way east into mid-February providing what is likely to be the last big push from El Nino, and bring another dose of bad weather into the California coast late this week and continuing in spurts well into mid-to late Feb.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
On Tuesday (2/2) the North Pacific jetstream was running east on the 30N latitude with a solid pocket of 170 kts winds over Southern Japan almost starting to form a trough there, and a second pocket of equal strength winds north of Hawaii with a touch northwest of there. A third trough was pushing over Northern Baja. Decent support for gale development was likely in the two western most troughs. Over the next 72 hrs the trough north of Hawaii is to migrate east and start pushing into Baja on Thurs/Fri, likely brining poor weather there. Further to the west the Japan trough is to flatten out but the coverage of winds there is to start expanding extending the whole way to the dateline by Friday (2/5) and reaching nearly 190 kts. Pretty nice. Decent support for gale development there. This is likely due to the building Active Phase of the MJO just south of there. Beyond 72 hours a steep trough is to start digging out off the California coast Sunday (2/7) but with some energy almost .cgiitting off to the north into Canada (limited gale development for a bit there) while a most solid trough builds over the dateline with 200 kts winds forecast there. Storm formation possible on the dateline then pushing east with the trough settling down some while moving north of Hawaii on Tuesday but winds still at 190 kts. And energy from that trough is to be dropping into the steep trough off Baja likely setting up some degree of a local storm pattern there.
At the surface on Tuesday (2/2) weak low pressure was just off Oregon producing only 20 kts winds and pushing scattered moisture into the US West Coast north of San Francisco. Another weak low was 1200 nmiles north of Hawaii while Storm #21 was building off Japan (see details below). Weak sideband swell from Storm #20 was starting to creep into the Central CA coast. Over the next 72 hours storm #21 is to be the prime focus. But a spurious little gale is to form ahead of it on Wed PM (2/3) generating 26 ft seas at 38N 152W possibly pushing little swell towards Central CA for Saturday AM (2/6) at 6 ft @ 15 secs (9 ft faces) from 280 degrees. The remnants of that gale are to steal some energy from the remnants of Storm #21 late Thursday (2/4) generating another short burst of 27 ft seas at 35N 144W. This could result in more swell for Central CA starting Saturday at 8 PM at 7.7 ft @ 15 secs (10-11 ft faces) from 268 degrees (274 degrees SCal).
Dateline Gale (Hawaii)
A low pressure system on the dateline developed some on Monday (2/1) with a small area of 40 kts winds modeled generating 27 ft seas at 42N 180W in the evening aimed mid-way between Hawaii (325 deg) and the California coast (40 deg south of the 296 deg path for NCal). This system was dissolving Tuesday AM with 23 ft seas at 40N 175W dropping directly southeast towards Hawaii.
Expect larger utility class swell to arrive in the Islands on Wednesday AM (2/3) at 6.5 ft @ 14 secs at sunrise (9 ft faces) from 325 degrees with much more local shorter period energy on top coming from the remnants of this gale still circulating just north of the Islands and producing 16 ft seas there (27N 160W).
Possible Storm #21
A storm was forming of Southern Japan on Monday PM (2/1) producing 45 kt southwest winds at 35N 158E aimed right up the 294 degree path to NCal.
55 kt northwest winds were modeled on Tuesday AM at 40N 161E pushing mostly up the 307 degree path to Hawaii, but nothing at NCal. 28 ft seas were modeled at 38N 161W pushing due east. In the evening all fetch is to turn to the east holding at 50-55 kts at 42N 168E aimed 15 degrees south of the 297 degree path to NCal and down the 314 degree path to Hawaii. 35 ft seas forecast at 42N 165E.
This system is to hold into Wednesday AM (2/3) with 50 kt west winds at 43N 174E pushing 10 degree south of the 297 degree path to NCal and 30 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii. 42 ft seas forecast at 42N 174E. This system is to be dissipating in the evening with 40-45 kt west winds at 43N 178W aimed right up the 295 degree path to NCal and bypassing Hawaii. Seas are to peak at 44 ft at 42.5N 180W
No fetch is to be left by Thurs AM (2/4) with seas rapidly decaying from 35 ft at 42N 171W.
If all goes as forecast some degree of longer period significant class swell could be pushing Hawaii with utility class energy from the US West Coast, though it's still too early to know for sure.
Rough data suggest swell arrival in Hawaii on Friday (2/5) near sunset with period 20 secs and size tiny but building, peaking Saturday at 4 AM HST with pure swell pushing to 10.4 ft @ 17 secs (17 ft Hawaiian). Swell Direction 319 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday (2/2) light southerly winds were reaching from Monterey Bay northward with light rain from Pt Reyes northward and holding as the gale that was fueling it inched east just off Oregon. A bit of a break is expected Wednesday (2/3) south of Pt Arena though light south winds are still possible down to Monterey Bay and point north of there as a much stronger system queues up in the Southern Gulf of Alaska. By Thursday (2/4) that gale is to be building with the front starting to impact the North Coast at sunrise reaching to Pt Conception late with south winds over the same area (25 kts in SF). A second pulse of south winds and rain are forecast for the entire state later Friday then fading early Saturday, with a brief break Sunday (south of Pt Reyes) then more rain Monday and maybe Tuesday but decent winds.
At the surface 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 hrs the models suggest another large gale is to be taking shape off Japan on Sat AM (2/6) with 45-50 kt west winds taking the southern track at 38N 150E aimed at Hawaii down the 300 degree path and 35 degrees south of the 296 degree path to NCal. Seas building to 36 ft at 36N 152E. In the evening a small area of 50 kt west winds are forecast at 37N 162E with seas to 39 ft at 36N 162E. The gale is to be gaining in coverage on Sunday AM filling the West Pacific at 37N 168E producing seas of 39 ft at 37N 168E. This fetch is to be aimed directly down the 305 degree path to Hawaii and 20 degrees south of the 292 degree path to NCal. Additional fetch is to be wrapping from the north into the storms west quadrant with 50 kt fetch forecast at 43N 168W aimed exclusively at Hawaii down the 315 degree path and seas holding at 37 ft at 33N 169E from the original fetch. A larger area of 45 kt west fetch is to set up on the dateline Monday AM (2/8) at 42N 178E aimed 30 degrees east of the 319 degree path to Hawaii and right up the 294 degree path to NCal. 35 ft seas forecast at 40N 179E. In the evening 40-45 kts fetch is to hold on the dateline at 35-40N 180W generating 35 ft seas at 40N 180W. Additional slow development is expected as the gale pushes just east of the dateline Tuesday with 45 kts winds and seas in the 37-39 ft range at 39N 172W. Good odds for larger longer period swell possible for Hawaii on Wed (2/10) initially and then the US West Coast beyond.
Another smaller system is forecast right behind that one too. In short, no lack of swell potential is suggested mostly positioned in the West Pacific and then slowly easing to the east as would be expected and in-sync with the eastward propagation of the Active Phase of the MJO. This could result in an long continuous swell event for Hawaii and California but also extending south into Mexico and Central America. Certainly something to monitor.
MJO/ENSO Update (reference): As of Tuesday (2/2) the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) was strongly in the Active Phase. The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) index was moving negative with the Daily SOI down hard to -53.41 (28 days in a row negative). The 30 day average was down to -13.07 with the 90 average was down some at -8.76.
Wind anomalies at the 850 mb level (approx 5000 ft up) as defined by models continued to indicate a solid area of westerly anomalies covering from the mid-Indian Ocean east over the dateline fading at a point southeast of Hawaii. A core of strong westerly winds expanded from Indonesia to the dateline. This continues looking like a certified Westerly Wind Burst. It was occurring right on-time as we reach into the core of a new Active Phase of the MJO. The storm pattern in the North Pacific is likely to be helped by this phase in the coming 2-3 weeks. The Active Phase and it's solid westerly wind anomalies are expected to seep east holding over the dateline and parts east of there through 2/11, then easing on the dateline 2/16-2/21 before fading out entirely 2/21. This is an upgrade from previous forecasts. A new stronger Inactive Phase is already developing in the far Western Indian Ocean and is expected to start reaching the West Pacific about 2/19. Suspect if there is going to be a big last push from El Nino, it will occur during this 2-3 weeks while the Active Phase is in control. And with the Phases of the MJO starting to look stronger rather than weak, this suggests that the MJO is coming back into dominance and El Nino will start to deteriorate in the months ahead. Still, the effects on the atmosphere are already well entrenched, and that momentum will be very slow to dissipate over the coming next 6 months. In fact, we will be monitoring the MJO for signs of Active Phase dominance in the critical March-May timeframe to see if this Midoki El Nino can hang on for another year, or whether we fall back into a La Nina Pattern.
Sea Surface Temp anomaly data (2/1) indicates that warmer than normal waters were consolidated on the equator more towards the dateline and less in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. Interestingly a strong Kelvin Wave (see below) that had erupted along the Ecuador coast in Dec and early Jan was expected to build surface temperatures there, but it appears trades are blowing that warm water quickly west. This is looking more like a Midoki El Nino than one of the classic variety. Overall the warm water signature remains non-exceptional from a historical El Nino perspective, but clearly in the moderate category and holding, not building. Suspect we are at or near the peak of this ENSO event.
Below the surface on the equator things are starting to resurge a little thanks to the Active Phase of the MJO. A steady flow of warmer than normal subsurface water continues tracking from the West Pacific (150 m below the surface) under the dateline and breaking the surface near Central America as it has for months now. But the two Kelvin Waves which that had been impacting the the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador coast the past month have peaked out, with only 3 degree warm anomalies still present from 125W into the coast there and loosing their coverage. Still, it continues fueling the warm surface anomalies associated with El Nino in the East equatorial Pacific as it continues impacting the coast there. Signs of a new Kelvin Wave are in evidence as of 2/1 with a path of 3 degree warmer than normal water starting to develop under the equator on the dateline. This could possibly help fuel or at least extend El Nino symptoms into summer.
Over the Equatorial Pacific solid trades were blowing in the East and continuing north of the equator all the way to almost the Philippines, but only in the normal range. Still, this looks like the Springtime transition typical for this time of the year. But a solid area of fully blowing westerly winds which started to appear pushing from the far west to almost the dateline on 1/20 were covering a larger area on 1/23, and in full bloom on 1/25-1/29, looking very much like a real Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) event. And even on 1/30 & 2/1 solid Westerly Winds were occurring just south of the equator to near 155W with solid anomalies to 150W. This is what is needed to generate yet one more Kelvin Wave. Regardless, at some point in the next month or so we expect the pattern of anomalously west winds to break down completely and a normal trade pattern to take over even enhanced trades (which could result in La Nina). But that will likely not happen until sometime after this Active Phase of the MJO completes it's cycle, in maybe late-February/early March. Previously Westerly Wind Bursts produced Kelvin Waves that resulted in the subsurface warm pool currently present in the tropical East Pacific that have formed El Nino.
El Nino is affecting the global atmospheric weather pattern at this point in time and is expected to continue having an impact into the Summer of 2010. This suggest that not only will the winter and spring storm pattern be enhanced in the North Pacific, but also the early summer storm track in the South Pacific too. All data suggests this is not a strong El Nino, more likely a solid moderate one. A respectable accumulation of warm surface water in the equatorial East Pacific and a solid pool of warn subsurface water remains in.cgiace, but seems to be eroding some suggesting El Nino has maxed out. But as long as there continues to be WWB's, then warm water will be migrating east, and the warm water pattern will hold, and the atmosphere above it will respond in-kind to the change (towards El Nino). We expect this one last shot at another Kelvin Wave from the current Active Phase in.cgiay now (Jan/Feb 2010) and then the slow degradation will begin in the ocean. But the atmosphere is already being strongly influenced by the warm water buildup over the past 6 months, and it will not return to a normal state for quite some time. This El Nino it is already larger and strong than any other in the past 12 years.
Strong El Nino's bring lot's of bad weather to the US West Coast along with the benefit of increased potential for storm and swell enhancement. A moderate El Nino provides that storm and swell enhancement, but more of a gentle but steady push/momentum in-favor of storm development rather than the manic frenzy of a strong El Nino, without all the weather associated with a strong event. So in many ways a moderate El Nino is more favorable from a surf perspective. As of right now things are looking to be in the middle to high-end of a moderate event. Since anomalous water temps on the equator have not exceeded 3 degrees (nor are they forecast to) and the SOI remains unremarkable, this all suggests a modest El Nino is all we're going to see. This is clearly already enough to provide storm enhancement, and a better than average winter surf season for the North Pacific (that is already in evidence with 13 significant class storms on the record) , and still likely better than anything in the past 10 years. Better yet, if it's not too strong (as this event appears to be) perhaps it will not degrade into La Nina the year after (which typically happens after stronger El Nino's), but hold in some mild El Nino-like state for several years in a row. This would be an even better outcome.
See more details in the new El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours the models suggest no swell producing fetch is to develop.
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