Feb

7

Wind Direction (WDIR): WNW ( 290 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 27.2 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 33.0 kts
Wave Height (WVHT): 9.8 ft
Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 8 sec
Average Period (APD): 6.1 sec
Mean Wave Direction (MWD): W ( 271 deg true )
Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 29.79 in
Pressure Tendency (PTDY): +0.04 in ( Rising )
Air Temperature (ATMP): 61.2 °F
Water Temperature (WTMP): 65.8 °F

The NOAA has a series of buoys off the coasts that measures the aforementioned parameters. The data is updated every three hours on the web, and gives the amateur surf forecaster another arrow in his quiver. With experience and observation, one can look at the measurements and other data and have an accurate idea of current surf conditions at the local surf spot. The most important measures from the table are wave height, wave period, and wave direction. The measurements on the buoy indicates, for my location, a short period wind swell, and the direction indicates that the south side of jetties and piers will give the cleanest surf, although the north side will produce bigger surf. Due to the short period, the waves won't be as powerful as a longer period swell. The chart shows the pressure to be rising, so one can expect a day that won't be marred by rains, but the wind at the buoy suggests that conditions might be windy at the surf spot. The data from one buoy is a great tool, allowing for one to make decent guesses, but the predictability is just a ball park estimate. There are several buoys in my area of interest, and the study of the data from each allows for an extrapolation that will offer a decent forecast, good for the next 24-48 hours. With the swell direction and period, it is possible to construct vector models, mine is proprietary. If one has a good weather model with a wind rose (Accuweather and NWS is the best), and the ability to measure the length of the fetch, the forecasts can be accurate for a longer period of time. It is very important to know the effects of the local bathymetry, and how it will affect the swell. Every surf spot is different, and every spot reacts differently to the input (swell size, direction, and period).

Since waves are caused by wind blowing over water, the longer distance a steady wind blows over water, the better for waves. In practicality, better waves will be formed with a 15 MPH wind speed over 1000 miles that 45 MPH winds over a 20 mile length. Weather conditions are important, as they offer a level of prediction, eg: whenever cold fronts come through, we will get waves (Axiom#1 for Florida surfers). Knowing and studying the tide charts will allow you to pinpoint the time of the day the surf will be better. The surf is always better at low tide in Florida (Axiom#2). Winter waves are bigger than summer waves with the exception of hurricane waves (Axiom#3).

There are a few professional forecasters that do a good job on a world wide basis. Sean Collins over at Surfline.com has the best forecasting tool, the LOLA. LOLA is a proprietary tool that Mr. Collins uses to generate a swell rose prediction that has uncanny accuracy on a world wide basis. He gets rough estimates at first, and I assume that he compares the forecast results with the real results to tweak the system with a fudge factor for local conditions.

Many other people use different indicators to predict surf. I know a few inlanders that use a giant American flag as their indicator. If the flag is flapping in a certain direction and how it flies gives them personal, accurate indicators of wave height. Others use clouds as their indicators, and can get uncanny results. The flag and cloud indicators tend to miss a lot of swells, many which can only be predicted and discovered by the buoys.

There are many similarities with surf forecasting and market forecasting. Different market participants use different indicators, just like the surf forecasters. Grain traders use seasonal effects in their study of the grain markets, and surf forecasters have many seasonal effects to help or hinder their efforts. There are less inputs for surf forecasting than the markets, with the market inputs changing all the time. While market forecasters have to deal with the law of ever changing cycles, that's not much of a worry to surf forecasters, as our cycles are very seasonal and predictable.

With all of the technology, communications, surf cams, etc., surfers are able to get a five day forecast for swell in Hawaii(or anywhere on the globe for that matter), and plan a trip from the East Coast without much fear of getting skunked. Whether this is good or bad is up to the individual. I remember when I was in college, driving 20 hours to the coast, only to find the waves flat, no surf at all.

Jim Sogi adds:

Let me add some factors. Local wind is a big factor. Chop on a 20 foot wave cant be fatal on dropping in. It has to be glassy. In Hawaii the tide is very important, as it is in Bali and G-Land as well as the reef sticks out. The quality of the swell is harder to define, but swells of higher period from further away tend to be cleaner, and have more power. Another odd factor is the crowd factor. Perfect waves with too many guys out are not as fun as not perfect waves with few guys out. Recently there have been so many absolutely perfect swells, clean, big, no wind, perfect conditions and 4 guys in the water, clear air, mountains in view, blue sky. Just perfect. Its been the best year in the last 15 years because of El Nino . El Nino has big market impacts on weather, on economies, and psyche's. How is another question.

In markets the crowd factor is important. I note that at panic bottoms, or during big big moves like recently, the crowd really thins out. It's good to watch crowd action and reaction in waves and in markets. I notice this in the waves as well. In 20 foot surf, only a handful of guys are out with the equipment, knowledge. It's a good time to be there.
 


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