It’s summertime and the living’s easy–or is it?
With the right combination of good weather and consistent swells, surf shops can expect bonanza-sized summer sales that make Hoss seem puny. But drought-induced Florida fires, months of So Cal June gloom, or a string of swell-free July days can leave the cash tin echoing ominously. So what do the experts say is on tap for this summer surf season?
La Niña In Effect
Characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific, La Niña will continue to influence our weather and waves this summer.
La Niña tends to bring nearly the opposite effects of El Niño to the United States: wetter-than-normal conditions across the Pacific Northwest and drier- and warmer-than-normal conditions across much of the southern tier.
According to Surfline Founder and Chief Meteorologist Sean Collins, La Niña will cause cooler water temperatures, more June gloom, and fewer hurricane swells than normal along the California coast.
“As far as the surf is concerned, we’re going to have a poor early season for Pacific hurricanes because the water’s too cold,” says Collins. “In late June and July, hurricanes will develop off the Mexican and Central American coasts. Unfortunately, a strong flow of cold water traveling south down the Baja peninsula will cause most of these storms to peter out before reaching Southern California’s swell window.”
Cold water and hot, dry inland temperatures will also intensify June-gloom fog along the California coast, says Collins, which may keep the typical beachgoer at home.
“Water temperatures should be in the low 60s through July,” he says. “Retailers should keep short-sleeved fullsuits and spring suits in stock. Rashguards and trunks probably won’t really move until August or September, when water temps move up to the mid to high 60s.
“The flip side is that cooler water will produce more wind swells,” he continues. “This should break up the south swells, make the beachbreaks more peaky, and spread out the crowds.”
Southern Pacific Season A “Seven”
Collins says the rare February Southern Hemisphere swell that hit So Cal makes him optimistic that more Southern Hemis will rock the coast from Central America to the Pacific Northwest.
“On a scale of one to ten, I’d say this summer is going to be a seven–maybe even an eight,” he says. “Usually, a huge ridge of high pressure forms in the South Pacific that shuts down these storms. However, early season storms are keeping the shoot open, and may prevent this high pressure from forming or may diminish its strength.”
Collins says spring Southern Hemis should be strong, followed by a flat July. But Southern Hemis should kick back in during August and September. During that same time, Pacific waters should finally warm enough for hurricanes to develop as well.
Trades Dominate Hawai’i
Collins says the spring and summer conditions across Hawai’i will be windier than normal. “The trades will be stiffer, but the same southern hemisphere swells that hit California may also hit the South Shore. The best bet calls for good swells through June. Then, statistically, things back off in July and pick back up in August.”
East Coast On Fire!
Early spring and summer is the typically dry season in Florida, but according to Vern Kousky, research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and director of that agency’s real-time monitoring program, the drier-than-normal conditions produced by La Niña are making this spring’s fire season especially severe in the Southeast.
“However, there are no general weather predictions associated with La Niña,” he says. “Those conditions are more associated with wintertime activity.”
The Atlantic Hurricane season will be affected by La Niña, however, and Kousky says this season should produce an above-average number of hurricanes: “In general, the cooler Pacific waters increase the monsoonal circulation of air around the globe.”
Dr. William Gray, long-range tropical cyclone forecaster at Colorado State University, concurs with Kousky’s assessment. His 1999 Tropical Cyclone Activity Forecast for the North Atlantic Basin calls for fourteen named storms, nine of which will become hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, four will be categorized as “intense storms.”
This is similar to the 1998 forecast and represents an above-average frequency trend that should continue into the next decade. The 1998 season saw the development of three major hurricanes: Bonnie, Georges, and Mitch.
Dr. Gray’s forecast also revealed coastal U.S. landfall probabilities: 200 percent of normal chance that the East Coast from Florida to Maine will be struck by a tropical cyclone, and 146 percent of normal chance that the Gulf of Mexico coast from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas will be struck by a tropical cyclone.
“Conditions are looking very good for Atlantic hurricane development,” says Collins. “We’re already seeing some strong pulses coming off the African coast. The East Coast may be the place to be this summer for surf.”