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Adam Wright
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(Tuesday) 2.26.13

I’m tired of freezing my butt off…when do the South Pacific swells and warm water start to return?

Aron Asked: When does the South Pacific start to light up and the water start to warm up? I froze my ass off today and welcome warmer waters and warmer swell.

Adam Wright – Solspot Forecaster:

Hi Aron!

You ask a good question…but it actually needs two answers.

It definitely seems like Southern Hemi swells and warmer water are linked (and to be totally honest they do have some slight influence on each other) but our local water temps are much more influenced by our local winds and weather than swell moving in from several thousand miles away.

The Southern California Coastal Eddy, (aka: The Catalina Eddy, Eddy conditions,…) is actually the main source for warm water in Southern California, which is sort of ironic since it is also one of our biggest pains in the butt from a “conditions” standpoint. In a nutshell “the eddy” causes winds to swirl up from the S-SW forcing the ocean surface toward our beaches and starts to induce a process called down-welling, which is one of the main ways that warmer water that is usually sitting just a few hundred miles off our coast is pushed up into our beaches.

If you are interested in the science and the process of down-welling and its cold bitchy sister upwelling you can check out this post.

http://solspot.com/content/surf-articles/adam-wright/ocean-science-101-upwelling-downwelling-and-other-random-acts-of-shrinkage

At any rate, from a water temp perspective…as the eddy starts to grind to life, sometimes as early as March, warmer water starts to move up with it. The eddy usually sticks around through at least early July finally settling into a better (for surf conditions) Fall wind pattern by late July and on into August.

The South Pacific actually has a much wider “active” window than our more fragile “warm water” window. In fact since it is one of the largest, uninterrupted bodies of water on Earth, and it borders Antarctica which happens to have the most unforgiving climate on the planet…it is possible, and not even all that uncommon, to have a significant storm move off the ice and into a swell making position at any point during the year (I remember surfing a couple of fairly healthy S-SSW swells in the middle of December).

Naturally the Southern Hemisphere winter is when the odds of getting bigger storms forming in the mid-lower latitudes are greatly increased…with the Southern Hemi Fall and Spring also seeing a good if slightly less consistent chance of increased storm activity. Generally I consider the South Pacific in an “active phase” starting in March and continuing through to early October…but because it is such a dynamic region I keep an eye on that storm track pretty much year round.

Check out this chart…you can see the annual average water temps for Orange County broken out month by month.

I also overlaid the seasons where we are most likely to see the Socal Eddy form…as well as the “active” period for the South Pacific. You can see pretty quickly that the water temps are more reflective of the eddy winds, while we continue to see plenty of Southern Hemi swell even when we have relatively cool ocean temps.

  • Wave Tribe

    Great article bros, I can’t wait for the souths to start so I can hop on a plane.


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