The winter of 2013/2014 is already historic. Bitter, record-breaking cold and snow seized much of the Eastern USA as the “Polar Vortex” dipped south. Sunny skies have California bracing for drought repercussions. XXL after XXL storm churned across the North Atlantic and pounded Europe. They’re calling it one of the best seasons in hypothermic New Jersey surf history. Gerry Lopez called it a “once-in-every-30-years Pipeline season.” Let’s review the North Pacific winter and what it provided for California wave-riders.
Looking back, there were a couple of solid South Swells in June 2013. Then the Ocean went painfully dormant for much of the summer into fall. Only one beloved Santa-Ana wind/combo swell event in early October and a moderate swell for Thanksgiving. By December, California surfers dried out and moved onto secondary hobbies. NPAC season started slow. Persistent high pressure off the western US spun the storm track north. The Ocean stayed quiet and mountain slopes remained dry. There was a small pulse before the Holiday but it was generally pretty weak.
2014 dawned with hope as the NPAC showed signs of life. The jet stream coming off the Asian continent strengthened, unsettling the atmosphere in the Pacific near Japan. Low pressure systems started to churn across the Ocean. The high remained along California, but the swell energy from the NW began to funnel down the coast. Sunny and mostly glassy conditions met the first swells of the year. After months of sluggish surf, wave riders deeply appreciated the Ocean’s power.
The first major swell event of 2014 began in mid January. The North Pacific storm track exploded with activity. Successive storms moved over each other’s aggravated path and strengthened. Culminating in a multi-week run of surf for California. The final storm of the train was the biggest and most powerful. The Mavericks Invitational ran on Friday the 23rd in 25ft, wind-affected surf.
Long-period, WNW swell began filling into Southern California on Friday afternoon. By sunset, winter magnet waves were well-overhead and pulsing. Saturday the 24th dawned with off-shore wind and pumping 8-12ft. groundswell. The wind slacked around 10am, creating glassy, near perfect conditions that lasted all day. First light Sunday: offshore and holding swell. It remained overhead and glassy through Monday the 26th. Wave riders licked their wounds, recalling the beatdowns and glory that come with 4 days of pumping North Pacific winter energy.
February remained active with fun size surf throughout. Then in late Feb, a low pressure system intensified as it passed to the NE of Hawaii. The aforementioned high pressure was no longer blocking the coast. SoCal meteorologists became very busy. Weather forecasts called for a major winter storm to impact the coast. The intense low pressure tracked south and surf forecasts quickly jumped. Wind and rain began in earnest on the morning of Friday the 28th.
On Saturday morning, March 1st, the surf was waist high and windy. The Ocean changed around noon. Rising fast, each set larger than the last. The close-proximity storm spun strong south winds, periods of heavy rain and raw WNW swell into every willing nook of coast. The Harvest Buoy peaked on Saturday at 21ft. with a relatively short 15 second period. By 3pm, most of SoCal was overpowered and decimated by wind. However, the dynamic California coast contains a few kinks that handle the south wind and pump with heavy winter energy. And pump they did!
One San Diego giant awoke with solid 20ft. sets. While South LA was as good as its ever been: clean, double-overhead+ freight trains. The swell peaked overnight, while Sunday continued with overhead+ surf and cleaner conditions. Palomar Mountain recorded over 8 inches of rain for the storm while most areas received a healthy 3+ inches. Burning sinus membranes and the putrid smell just add to the excitement of a rainy, raw winter swell in Southern California.
Overall, the winter of 2013/2014 was good bordering on great. Characterized by a slow start then consistent energy from the W, WNW and NW, high pressure sunshine and two classic swells.
Here’s hoping the South Pacific activates and stays active for the spring/summer 2014! Looking ahead, meteorologists are beginning to see the signs of El Nino setting up for winter 2014/2015. Being a perpetual optimist, my forecast data shows pumping groundswell for the rest of forever.