El Niño and Surf Swells
Last fall we were told we were in for the biggest El Niño in history and even bigger waves. A warm water temperature changes the route and flow of jet streams as they make their way up from the equator pulling it closer to the coast. When the hotter water comes in contact with the colder air, it not only causes more storms, but bigger ones as well thus causing more storm swells which will be bigger.
The water temperatures were more than 4.5 degrees warmer Fahrenheit than the average which is ranked as the warmest season on record tied with 1997. This generated the most intense El Niño recorded ushering excitement of every weatherman on the West Coast. Surfers had been waiting to break the trend of mild water and waves.
All the hype built up by experts and weathermen had surfers in Southern California thirsty for huge swells through the winter and into 2017. However, the pressure of the jet stream swept past Lower California by the end of 2016 pushing the rain up into the Pacific Northwest. Instead of a surfer’s paradise, many were left with disappointment. Despite being one of the three largest El Nino’s recorded in history, it did not feature the same amount of big swells in California as the two other largest El Niño’s 1982–’83, 1997–’98. There are more questions with less answers and waves as to what stunted the expected swells, but no two El Niño’s are ever the same meaning predicting is not an exact science.
Not all was a loss as El Niño did produce a few random big storms and big swells closer to the California shore powering some gigantic waves including 50 foot plus swells in Mavericks which is the largest in years and some spots up and down the coast have had a few more large swells than normal including Trestles and Rincon.
What was mostly missed on California coast was prominent in Hawaii produced phenomenal swells characterized by their size and clean barrels. On shores like Wameia, even 11 time world Kelly Slater wasn’t able to make it past the break. Areas such as North Shore and Jaws experienced a huge season. Places such as the Gold Coast have produced wave after wave of perfect barrels, which has been reported to have accrued $20 million to the Gold Coast economy from surfers coming from around the world for the ride of a lifetime.
Wherever you are at, try to take in the benefits of this El Niño season. Historically, in the wake of El Niño, the following year produces El Niña, which produces fewer storms, swells, and colder water than average, but we’ve seen experts predictions are anything but predictable.