Hawaii Surf Forecast: Will The Waves Turn Up For 2016 The World Title Race?

17 Nov 2015 0

Matt McKay

Swell Forecaster

As the world’s best surfers embark on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii for the 33rd Annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (VTCS), to see what the islands premier breaks will produce.

27 out of the World Surfing Leagues (WSL) Top 34 men have signed up for all three VTCS events, with names like John John Florence and Gabriel Medina ready and raring to go. Unfortunately, the current Jeep ratings leader Mick Fanning and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater will only be attending the Billabong Pipe Masters. Nevertheless, there’s still three world class events scheduled for the following month, so strap yourself in for some high-performance surfing.

SEE ALSO: Sean Doherty On The Golden Calculator

The waiting period for the first event, The Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa started on November 12, and is due to finish by November 23. A pretty ordinary synoptic setup has delayed the start of this event, with a number of lay days already utilised.

The second event will move up to Sunset Beach, where the Vans World Cup of Surfing will kick off on November 24. Sunset is known as one of the most challenging waves on the planet and is sure to throw some curve balls at the competitors. December 6 marks the last day of competition at Sunset before the focus shifts back down the coast to the world’s best barreling wave, Pipeline. The waiting period for theBillabong Pipe Masters opens on December 8 and will extend through to December 20. This year, the WSL world championship, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and the Pipe Masters will all be decided in the final event of the year, thus emphasizing the need for quality waves.

all eyes turn to the weather charts

A sign of things to come? Damian Hobgood, Photo by Coastalwatch Plus member: mickytill

A sign of things to come? Damian Hobgood, Photo by Coastalwatch Plus member: mickytill

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The globe is currently in the midst of one of strongest El-Niño’s on record. (SEE ALSO: 2015/16 Tropical Cyclone Outlook) Sea surface temperature anomalies within the central tropical Pacific have recently edged above +2.40C using the NINO3.4 Index (as of 9.11.2015), comparable to those strong El-Niño’s of 1982-83 and 1997-98 which peaked at +2.80C and +2.70C respectively. Strong, positive sub-surface temperature anomalies within the tropical eastern Pacific basin have been persistent since July; evidence that this phase is still strengthening.

All eight of the most reliable climate models are indicative of a peak in intensity occurring sometime in December. From then, we can expect a gradual weakening in El-Niño intensity, before neutral conditions are once again achieved by late autumn/ early winter 2016.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s POAMA climate model. A peak in El-Niño intensity is due sometime between now and mid-December, with a return to neutral conditions forecast to occur around May/June. Source: BOM

The Bureau of Meteorology’s POAMA climate model. A peak in El-Niño intensity is due sometime between now and mid-December, with a return to neutral conditions forecast to occur around May/June. Source: BOM

It is well documented that El-Niño can alter the synoptic pattern of the higher latitudes. An enhanced meandering of the Jetstream effectively directs polar storms further southward (much like the long wave trough in the Southern Hemisphere). Warmer waters within the central Pacific tend to migrate northward, into the cooler sub-tropical belt. It is here that, that the warm and cold air can readily mix, fueling the development of intense low-pressure systems (often referred to as “Aleutian Lows).

The southward migration and general north-westerly track tend to steer these storms toward the Hawaiian Islands. Often during El Niño, these Aleutian Lows will directly impact the Hawaiian coast, bringing strong wind and heavy rain; often overlooked amongst the hype of El-Niño and its associated wave prospects.

Strong El-Niño events typically (but not always) result in larger and more frequent swell episodes throughout the North-West Pacific. This becomes obvious when we delve into the history of the North Shore. 1982-83 proved to be the greatest season since 1969 (yet another El-Niño year), with consistent, epic waves reported throughout the entire winter. January 1983 was the stand-out month with reports of the famed Waimea Bay breaking for about 3 weeks straight, something that today’s new generation of big wave surfers could only dream about.

January 1998 was a month that changed big wave surfing forever. A huge swell pounded the region on January 28, so big that they called The Eddie surfing contest off, so big that roads were washed away! It was on this day that tow-surfing emerged as an obvious choice when it came to big waves, where Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and others towed 50ft+ Jaws (aka Pe’ahi) on the island of Maui for the first time.

The Eddie hasn’t been held since December 9, 2009 due to a lack of significant swell activity. Let’s hope that the Northern Hemisphere cooperates like it has during past El-Niño events, so that contestants and organisers can make the most of the 3 month waiting period (Dec 1-Feb 29). Now that we understand what a strong El-Niño is capable of, we turn our focus to the much anticipated short-term forecast for North Shore.

Warm sea surface anomalies across the central equatorial Pacific. Warm waters extending into the central Pacific can fuel storms further north. Source: BOM

Warm sea surface anomalies across the central equatorial Pacific. Warm waters extending into the central Pacific can fuel storms further north. Source: BOM

November 17-23 (Hawaiian Pro, Haleiwa)

Tiny to flat conditions are forecast for Tuesday November 17 as a large high pressure system to the north blocks and major swell activity. A new long period NW groundswell will be in the water by Wednesday morning.

Initial wave heights of 4-6ft are forecast before building to 6-8ft by the afternoon. This energy is expected to hang around into Thursday before fading gradually throughout the day. Wave heights will fall back to low scales by Friday, before easing further into Saturday November 21.

Tiny to flat conditions are expected for the rest of the forecast period. A strong high pressure ridge will ensure that the persistent trade wind flow keeps conditions relatively clean throughout the entire forecast period.

November 24- December 6 (Vans World Cup of Surfing, Sunset Beach)

The long range projections are fairing slightly better for the Vans World Cup of Surfing. Whilst the first day of the waiting period isn’t holding much potential, a moderate NW swell is forecast to fill in during the afternoon of Wednesday, November 25.

Initial forerunners should deliver inconsistent 3-4ft sets before dark, ahead of a strong push overnight. Wave heights on Thursday morning are expected to hover around the 5-6ft+ mark before building by a foot throughout the day. A small dip in wave energy is currently on the cards for Friday before yet another increase due on Saturday.

Beyond this, it appears as though moderate wave heights will see out the waiting period. Due to the long term nature of this forecast, further revision is required to get a handle on the local wind regime and impending swell possibilities.

December 8-20 (Billabong Pipe Masters)

Whilst this is beyond the capabilities of any wave model, the latest long-range climate models are suggesting that the current El-Niño conditions are likely to intensify further.

As mentioned above, it appears likely (but by no means, certain) that stronger, more consistent swells will occur throughout the Boreal winter. The general trend of historical strong El-Niño episodes has favoured greater storm potential for December and January, rather than November. So let’s just cross our fingers and toes, that the infamous Banzai Pipeline lives up to all the hype.

Fanning vying for a World Title will come down to the Pipe Pro in December, Photo by WSL/ Cestari

Fanning vying for a World Title will come down to the Pipe Pro in December, Photo by WSL/ Cestari

Tags: ElNiño , Niño , hawaii , vans , triple , crown , 2016 , forecast (create Alert from these tags)

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