West Coast & Hawaii Weekly Surf Forecast

The North Pacific continues to kick ass and take names again this week…the seemly endless parade of storms, all of which are fairly intense, will continue over the next 5-7 days and set up more swell for both Hawaii and the West Coast in the process.

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I have had a lot of people ask me about the El Nino conditions and the surf this winter…namely why, when El Nino mostly occurs along the tropics is the winter surf soooo good this year.

The answer is actually pretty simple (even though the process is a little complicated)…basically El Nino, while the primary effects are centralized in the tropics, is a disruption in Global Circulation. Lets put on our weather nerd hats for just a minute (all surfers should have a little weather-nerd hiding inside)…and think about how “weather” works. The core principle of Earth’s weather is that Mother Nature is trying to equalize and distribute the heat energy from the sun…since the primary focus/energy of the sun hits the tropics the heat wants to spread out from the equator and push towards the poles. We have to add in all sorts of other physics principles, like water’s ability to store heat, latent heat energy, coriolis effects, etc.…but in the end the weather engine is driven by heat…and when you get right down to it the ocean is basically Earth’s giant heat storage system.

Now most average years we can count on warm water being in certain places…things like the trade winds and big ocean currents (called gyres) help to pile up the warm water in the usual areas and those in turn affect and influence the air-masses above them. During an El Nino year the ocean’s circulation is interrupted and the warm water ends up piling up in whole different areas than it would normally. Check out this chart…this is the “el nino” sea-surface temps from the last month. pic11

Basically the red areas are showing where temps are “above average”…the redder things get the more “off” they are from seasonal norms. Look at the Central Pacific there is a huge blob of temps that are 1.5 to almost 2 degrees above normal…that 2 degrees might not seem like a lot at first but when you start doing the math on what it takes to warm water 2 degrees and then multiply it by the sheer size of the region we are talking about it amounts to a ridiculous amount of energy.

I know, I know…Adam you are making our heads hurt…what does this have to do with the surf?

Ha ok slackers…why this matters to the winter surf… is that by having this giant supercharged pool of excess energy sitting in the Central Pacific it allows a LOT more energy to leak up into the NPAC storm track. In particular it allows a lot more energy to leak up into the NE Pacific, which means that storms close to California and Hawaii will be more intense, “pop” in the lower-mid-latitudes, and take a flatter trajectory across open ocean…all of which means more swell for us.

The latest El Nino update is still pretty positive…the warm water cooled off about a ¼ of a degree compared to December 2009 but it is still about 1.2 to 1.5 degrees above normal and there have been some reinforcement Kelvin waves that have rolled through to help keep things stable. It looks like the El Nino is going to continue well into spring and will likely continue to affect surf/weather as we head into early summer.

Ok enough of that…lets get on to the forecast.

The North Pacific continues to be pretty active and it looks like we will get another handful of storms rolling through the various regions’ swell windows over the next few days. The most intense storms are a couple that are going to brew up just of the North of Hawaii…sending some swell to the islands…and then tracking towards the Pacific NW as we head toward the end of the week. Neither of these systems are freaky large…but they have enough juice, and a lot of pre-existing sea-state to work with, and so we can expect some healthy sized swells for both the Islands and the West Coast.


Further out…one of these storms is going to get fairly strong as it moves in close to the West Coast…so there is a shot at some more weather, and more stormy swell, on tap for Sunday and Monday…hitting hardest along the North/Central California coasts but still pretty healthy south of Point Conception as well.


It looks like weather may be an issue for the West Coast on and off over the next week or so…probably some rain/onshore wind for Friday/Saturday and again early next week.


The South Pacific is also starting to get nice and active…nothing like it will be during our summer…but definitely seeing some better storm action than we have seen the last few months. I am expecting some small SW energy for most of this week and more on tap for the upcoming weekend…but what I am really interested in is some of the forecast charts showing a decent looking, and well positioned, storm that forms in about 5-days. If this lives up to forecasts we can expect more SSW-SW swell (190-220) heading our way for March 4-6th…nothing huge but good for chest-shoulder high+ surf at the standouts. Hopefully we will have some fun WNW in the water about the same time for some springtime combo fun.


Here are the regional details…

A pretty solid WNW-NW swell was hitting Hawaii on Monday and will continue to build overnight into Tuesday, peaking throughout the day…and eventually trailing off on Wednesday. This one looks good for easy double-triple overhead surf for the North Shores and possibly a bit bigger at the top spots. Seriously though this is sort of a mild-moderate sized swell compared to a lot of what they have seen this winter…so I am not sure anyone is going to notice it. Another WNW-NW swell hits on Thursday with surf going several feet overhead at most of the good spots and sets going double-overhead+ at the standouts. This one will fade off slow over the weekend but will remain pretty healthy for both Saturday and Sunday. Further out it looks like another double-overhead+ WNW-NNW swell heading in on March 2…this is a couple of days from forming but it looks like plenty of waves on tap for next week too.

Northern California
WNW-NW swell (280-320) fades out over the next couple of days but we see some sloppy conditions on tap for many areas as the swell fades out. Still plenty of overhead to well overhead surf on tap through Tuesday and Wednesday but S winds and rain on tap for most areas. There will be a few pockets of surfable shape…just focus on spots that usually do well during storm season. A new WNW-NW swell (280-300+) moves in late on Wednesday peaking on Thursday and then fading out slowly on Friday. This one looks good for sets going several feet overhead to double-overhead+ at the well exposed breaks…winds will be a little bit better as this swell peaks…so expect more surfable shape later in the week. Another round of WNW-NW storm swell and likely some more wind/rain on tap for the upcoming weekend.

Southern California
WNW-NW swell (280-300) fades out on Tuesday and Wednesday leaving most spots in the knee-chest high range while the standout NW breaks and a few of the excellent combo spots (there is a small background SW pulse in the water) see some chest-shoulder high sets during the lower tides. Winds and Weather look good through Thursday…but may get a little funkier by the weekend. Look for a new round of WNW-NW swell and some new SW swell to start arriving on Thursday peaking by the afternoon and holding into Friday. At this point it looks like our surf will push into the chest-head high range at the average WNW facing breaks and sets going a couple of feet overhead at the standouts. These waves will back down a bit on Saturday but more WNW energy is due on Sunday/Monday (along with some weather) so look for overhead waves to hold into the early parts of next week.

That is all I have for now…make sure to check back in on Friday for the weekend forecast!

Adam Wright
Surf Forecaster