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Surf Forecast Charts and Graphs



CDIP Sub-Regional 90-hour forecasts

This chart shows us the forecasted swell heights for our near-shore regions along the coast. The CDIP (Coastal Data Imaging Program) forecasts give us a 90-hour window into the future with the data broken out into 6-hour increments, showing us how big the swell will be as it moves into your region. It is important to note that this is a “swell forecast” and NOT a “breaking wave height forecast” (“swell” is how the energy behaves in deeper water while “breaking waves” are the kind of waves we actually ride). This forecast, which is created using a combination of NOAA’s WavewatchIII swell model and CDIP’s specialized algorithms, take into account the interaction of the incoming swell’s energy and the sea floor (a process called shoaling, which is related to terms like swell refraction and swell shadowing) and allows this forecast to anticipate how a swell is affected as it moves into different water depths.

Why does that matter to us? Well with all the nearshore islands, sea mounts, and undersea canyons peppering the coast, it is extremely helpful to see how much energy is being directed toward your region. Most times there may only be a partial change but in some specialized cases your spot may be a focal point for an incoming swell making it bigger and more consistent than other parts of the beach or worse it might not get any energy at all.

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CDIP REGIONAL 90-hour forecasts

This chart shows us the forecasted swell heights for our near-shore regions along the coast. The CDIP (Coastal Data Imaging Program) forecasts give us a 90-hour window into the future with the data broken out into 6-hour increments, showing us how big the swell will be as it moves into your region. It is important to note that this is a “swell forecast” and NOT a “breaking wave height forecast” (“swell” is how the energy behaves in deeper water while “breaking waves” are the kind of waves we actually ride). This forecast, which is created using a combination of NOAA’s WavewatchIII swell model and CDIP’s specialized algorithms, take into account the interaction of the incoming swell’s energy and the sea floor (a process called shoaling, which is related to terms like swell refraction and swell shadowing) and allows this forecast to anticipate how a swell is affected as it moves into different water depths.

These are the Big Brothers of the Sub-Regional Forecast CDIP Charts…while sub-regional smaller scale swell forecasts concentrated on small pockets of the coastline, the regional charts cover much more ground and show more of what is happening in deep water offshore. In many ways these are great counterparts to the sub-regional charts…In Socal or along the Central/Northern Coasts for…these charts let you see how the swell starts to bend in from deep water and where the majority of the energy is going to concentrate as it moves closer to the coast…you can use these larger scale charts to find the general areas that are seeing larger or smaller portions of the imcoming swell. Once you have a region where the bigger swell will hit then you switch to the sub-regional charts to see how it will affect that particular area…and how long of a lunch you have to take to there and back before your boss knows you are gone.

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COAMPS REGIONAL Forecast

The COAMPS is one of the many weather/wind/pressure computer models that have been created to try and get a grip on “smaller scale” areas and micro-climates. The COAMPS model, behaves very much like most other weather-wind models, but has considerably more forecast output points compared to something like the GFS, NOGAPS, or even NOAA’s WavewatchIII (which is powered by the wind models). Those other models generally break down a large area like the Pacific Ocean into a grid of output points measured by degrees, and on most global models you see resolutions like 1×1-degree (60 nautical miles between grid-points) or .25x.25-degrees (15 nautical miles between grid-points). What happens is that as you add resolution the power and time it takes to create the model increases, which is why the COAMPS is generally aimed at smaller areas with less “range” in its long-range charts going out only 72-hours vs. the GFS 180-hours.

One of the main COAMPS chart/forecast that we use is called the “10-meter wind-stream” forecast. Using a high-resolution of 10×10 meter grid-points, (yep it creates an output every 30-feet or so), these maps basically show a combination of wind speed (in the color scale) and the wind directions, denoted by the directional arrows on the wind-streams. These maps are excellent tools to use in forecasting our nearshore conditions since they give us a 72-forecast that is broken out hour-by-hour…essentially allowing us to see with great detail how the winds will be blowing over smaller-scale regions, like Southern California. These charts even show what is occurring over land, which isn’t always the case with marine oriented weather charts, so a bigger wind event like the Southern California eddy or Santa Ana winds, that have inland components can be identified.

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NPAC SWELL HEIGHTS FORECAST

THE SIGNIFICANT SWELL HEIGHT FORECAST CHART shows us a full 7-day forecast of SWELL and SEA HEIGHTS occurring worldwide. The Swell Height Forecast Model is the equivalent of “Old Glory” in terms of swell modeling. It has had many names over the years (and I am sure a whole lot of top-secret ones too)…but at the end of the day the Swell Height Forecast model is an extension of a wind/weather package like the GFS or NOGAPS. Once winds along the surface of the ocean have been determined then the swell-height modeling kicks into gear, processing the duration, intensity, and track of those winds, and then crunching out a numerical picture of how big the seas will be anywhere in the world…fortunately some guy (probably a geographer that didn’t want to take calculus III in college) said “these numbers are confusing, let’s put it in a map, and give the wave heights different colors so we can read this thing.”…and presto the charts that we know and love were born. We know that not everyone needs to have the “weather-nerd” level of info on these tools…but if you are even a little bit like we are, your heart beats a little faster when you get a glimpse of a giant red/purple/black blob eating up half of the ocean telling us that a big storm is forming and most likely a big swell is on the way.

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NPAC SWELL PERIODS FORECAST

The SWELL PERIOD FORECAST CHART show us a full 7-day forecast of the PEAK WAVE PERIODS occurring in oceans around the world. This is an offshoot of the SIGNIFICANT SWELL HEIGHT FORECAST…and it takes into account a couple of special features that you don’t see in the pure “wave/sea-height” charts. The main question the swell-period charts try to answer that can be very difficult to see on the standard swell height model is “what happened to the swell energy once it left the core of a storm”. Unfortunately if the storm is a decent distance from your location, then the swell heights will drop dramatically once the “pure” swell energy leaves the churned up sea-state you find underneath a storm and once that swell has dropped to the size of say local windswell, or windswell from the trade winds, then it gets lost. The problem is that just because these swells have lost some HEIGHT energy, they can still be great surf makers…so we need to keep an eye on where the energy is going. These SWELL PERIOD FORECAST CHARTS are the bread and butter for tracking the swell that has left the messy storm core and is now travelling out across the ocean to send waves to distant beaches. We use the “Peak Wave Period” version of this model in our charts…so it shows us the swell-period (measured in seconds), general swell direction, and movement of the strongest swell in the water at the time of the model. While you can still “lose” a swell if it passes through a stronger swell source, you usually can find it again further down the forecast run, which is why it advisable to watch the full 180-hour forecast as an animation and try and match up storms on both the SWELL PERIOD FORECAST CHART and the SIGNIFICANT SWELL HEIGHT FORECAST CHART.

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NPAC WIND SPEED AND PRESSURE FORECAST

The WIND Forecast chart is a mishmash of two important charts…but doesn’t diminish itself, or the other models by displaying the information this way. Basically what you have here is a combination of; Sea Level Pressure represented by the Isobars, Dominant Wind Directions represented by the small black arrows, and Wind Speeds that are represented by the color underneath the other two data sets. The model, like the others, goes out a full 7-days, so you have a good idea on how the wind inside frontal storms and high-pressures are going to behave. On a chart with such a large scale, like the full North Pacific, you don’t get the resolution that you can find in other models, but it does give you a great starting point…on where you should be focusing in for more details.

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NPAC SEA-LEVEL-PRESSURE/RAIN Forecast

This is very similar to the WIND Forecast Charts but it strips out the wind speeds, giving us the pure isobars, showing the position and intensity of the high and low pressures occurring at sea-level elevations. These charts make it easier to find and track the fetch occurring inside storm systems. The general rule of thumb, when using a chart like this, is that the more that the isobars inside a storm are aimed toward a location the better chance you have at getting swell. You can tell a storm is intense by how many isobars are packed into an area of the map and how big of a pressure difference between the high- and low-pressures that are creating those isobar rings. Also keep in mind that you are looking at these on a flat chart (and the earth is round) so try and factor in the “great circle” path when matching the pressure lines within the storm with your location…many times you will find that a lot more of the storm is aimed your way than you would have estimated without factoring the curvature of the Earth. The one other thing this chart shows is the amount of precipitation that is going to occur over each 6 hour period. The rainfall rates are drawn in green blobs but will turn red or purple if the storm is particularly “wet “. Seeing a lot of moisture in a storm usually indicates that there is a lot of intensity and therefore more wind…of course you just want the really messy storms to break a different direction before actually rolling over your spot…that way you get the swell without the weather.

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SPAC SWELL HEIGHTS Forecast

THE SIGNIFICANT SWELL HEIGHT FORECAST CHART shows us a full 7-day forecast of SWELL and SEA HEIGHTS occurring worldwide. The Swell Height Forecast Model is the equivalent of “Old Glory” in terms of swell modeling. It has had many names over the years (and I am sure a whole lot of top-secret ones too)…but at the end of the day the Swell Height Forecast model is an extension of a wind/weather package like the GFS or NOGAPS. Once winds along the surface of the ocean have been determined then the swell-height modeling kicks into gear, processing the duration, intensity, and track of those winds, and then crunching out a numerical picture of how big the seas will be anywhere in the world…fortunately some guy (probably a geographer that didn’t want to take calculus III in college) said “these numbers are confusing, let’s put it in a map, and give the wave heights different colors so we can read this thing.”…and presto the charts that we know and love were born. We know that not everyone needs to have the “weather-nerd” level of info on these tools…but if you are even a little bit like we are, your heart beats a little faster when you get a glimpse of a giant red/purple/black blob eating up half of the ocean telling us that a big storm is forming and most likely a big swell is on the way.

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SPAC SWELL PERIODS Forecast

The SWELL PERIOD FORECAST CHART show us a full 7-day forecast of the PEAK WAVE PERIODS occurring in oceans around the world. This is an offshoot of the SIGNIFICANT SWELL HEIGHT FORECAST…and it takes into account a couple of special features that you don’t see in the pure “wave/sea-height” charts. The main question the swell-period charts try to answer that can be very difficult to see on the standard swell height model is “what happened to the swell energy once it left the core of a storm”. Unfortunately if the storm is a decent distance from your location, then the swell heights will drop dramatically once the “pure” swell energy leaves the churned up sea-state you find underneath a storm and once that swell has dropped to the size of say local windswell, or windswell from the trade winds, then it gets lost. The problem is that just because these swells have lost some HEIGHT energy, they can still be great surf makers…so we need to keep an eye on where the energy is going. These SWELL PERIOD FORECAST CHARTS are the bread and butter for tracking the swell that has left the messy storm core and is now travelling out across the ocean to send waves to distant beaches. We use the “Peak Wave Period” version of this model in our charts…so it shows us the swell-period (measured in seconds), general swell direction, and movement of the strongest swell in the water at the time of the model. While you can still “lose” a swell if it passes through a stronger swell source, you usually can find it again further down the forecast run, which is why it advisable to watch the full 180-hour forecast as an animation and try and match up storms on both the SWELL PERIOD FORECAST CHART and the SIGNIFICANT SWELL HEIGHT FORECAST CHART.

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SPAC WIND Forecast

The WIND Forecast chart is a mishmash of two important charts…but doesn’t diminish itself, or the other models by displaying the information this way. Basically what you have here is a combination of; Sea Level Pressure represented by the Isobars, Dominant Wind Directions represented by the small black arrows, and Wind Speeds that are represented by the color underneath the other two data sets. The model, like the others, goes out a full 7-days, so you have a good idea on how the wind inside frontal storms and high-pressures are going to behave. On a chart with such a large scale, like the full North Pacific, you don’t get the resolution that you can find in other models, but it does give you a great starting point…on where you should be focusing in for more details.

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SPAC SEA-LEVEL-PRESSURE/RAIN Forecast

This is very similar to the WIND Forecast Charts but it strips out the wind speeds, giving us the pure isobars, showing the position and intensity of the high and low pressures occurring at sea-level elevations. These charts make it easier to find and track the fetch occurring inside storm systems. The general rule of thumb, when using a chart like this, is that the more that the isobars inside a storm are aimed toward a location the better chance you have at getting swell. You can tell a storm is intense by how many isobars are packed into an area of the map and how big of a pressure difference between the high- and low-pressures that are creating those isobar rings. Also keep in mind that you are looking at these on a flat chart (and the earth is round) so try and factor in the “great circle” path when matching the pressure lines within the storm with your location…many times you will find that a lot more of the storm is aimed your way than you would have estimated without factoring the curvature of the Earth. The one other thing this chart shows is the amount of precipitation that is going to occur over each 6 hour period. The rainfall rates are drawn in green blobs but will turn red or purple if the storm is particularly “wet “. Seeing a lot of moisture in a storm usually indicates that there is a lot of intensity and therefore more wind…of course you just want the really messy storms to break a different direction before actually rolling over your spot…that way you get the swell without the weather.

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FNMOC SWELL HEIGHTS Forecast

The FNMOC SWELL HEIGHTS is another version of the SIGNIFICANT SWELL HEIGHT FORECAST charts, which shows us a full 7-day forecast of SWELL/SEA HEIGHTS occurring in smaller scale maps, giving us a tighter resolution. With some slightly different tweaking to get a better view of a smaller area the FNMOC model works the same way the bigger models work… using a wind model to determine surface wind speeds and then doing the math; processing the duration, intensity, as well as the path/track of those winds, and then crunching out a numerical picture of how big the seas will be anywhere in the assigned (nested) area. Again these models use colorized maps to show sea-heights and the movement of the storm tracks.

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FNMOC SWELL PERIODS Forecast

Again the FNMOC is a smaller, more focused version of the swell-period forecast charts that you can see globally, by ocean, regionally, and sub-regionally. They track swell in swell period form as the energy moves away from the storm source. This tracking, particularly at this tighter resolution allows you to see how the incoming swell moves through the region…and in cases like Southern California or Central America, you can see how it may take a swell an extra day to move completely from Central America to Southern Mexico. Again this is a good tool to use in tandem with other models…using the wave heights, sea-level-pressure, and swell period forecast models you can paint a very vivid picture on how a swell will be affecting your favorite breaks.

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FNMOC WIND Forecast

This chart looks very much like the COAMPS model but don’t mistake them for each other. The FNMOC wind-stream forecast model shows the surface winds, and even pulls out areas where the winds get intense by using color blobs and wind flow with those same directional areas. The main difference is that the COAMPS uses a grid that creates a point every 10-meters while the FNMOC model, to save processing power, has grid points as far as 10-15 miles apart…it makes for less “dialed in” focus that you see on the COAMPS but it saves a lot of time crunching the numbers and will update faster and more often throughout the day.

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FNMOC SEA-LEVEL-PRESSURE/RAIN Forecast

Yet another tighter resolution version of the sea-level-pressure chart…still gives you the 7-day forecast but since the FNMOC charts we are normally using, are targeted at the tropical regions, it gives us more of a heads up on potential tropical storms. If we see a tightly wound ball of low-pressure, and lots of green-to-red/purple colors swirling around the low, there is a good chance at some intense rainfall, thunderstorms, which generally indicate we could see some deeper convection and potentially a tropical storm forming in the region.

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FNMOC 10-METER WINDS

This is almost the same chart as the FNMOC wind forecast…but this one takes the resolution of the wind grid and narrows it down to the 10-meter resolution that we see on the COAMPS models along the west coast. Another big addition is that besides the wind-flow arrows that we see on the FNMOC wind forecast we get blobs of color that designate “wind fields” or as we surf forecasters like to call them “fetch”. This chart goes out a full 7-days and is another great one to see both how winds in the region are behaving over the coastal areas and if a tropical storm is starting to form, how much of an influence it is having on a region.

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FNMOC SHEAR CONDITIONS FORECAST

Ahhh the Shear forecast…this chart is for extreme hurricane junkies and pilots that don’t like their planes torn in half. There is so much happening on this chart that it almost gives you a seizure the first time you look at it…but once you start to understand the color scheme, and what it is trying to tell you, it starts to make some sense. To get a good grip on this chart the first thing you need to do is start thinking of the atmosphere in layers like a big cake with lots of flavors. You have winds moving in a dynamic fashion both horizontally and vertically…now the majority of the time the vertical motion is less dynamic than winds moving on the same layer…but there is a little crossover which can help change the direction of the layers above or below. The second important part of this chart is the conditions needed for tropical storm formation, one of which is the amount of shear that is occurring in the area the storm is trying to develop in. In this chart, blue stands for heavy shear, which means the winds in the layers are blowing in opposite directions. Yellow is for medium shear, so winds aren’t totally blowing against each other but they aren’t helping either. Green means are all layers are blowing the same direction and there is little no shear…these are the ideal conditions for tropical storm/hurricane formation.

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