Coldest Start to Summer in 50 Years Delivers in Sydney

16 Dec 2011 0 Share

Wednesday morning December 14 south of Sydney: four-to-six-foot, cool, clean almost Winter-like colours and conditions.

Wednesday morning December 14 south of Sydney: four-to-six-foot, cool, clean almost Winter-like colours and conditions.

La Nina backs it up
Words by Ben Horvath

I began my last Coastalwatch swell wrap with the words, “It has been a solid three to four weeks between swells of note in Sydney and surrounds". Those words described the brief bout of south swell we enjoyed in Sydney way back on Saturday November 5.
It is depressing but true that it has been almost a month between swells since. For the record that makes it just two swells above four foot in the six weeks since mid October for wave starved Sydney surfers.


It is not unusual to experience lengthy wave droughts on the east coast at this time of the year. In fact if you cast your eye over our Meltdown Lowdown Swell Journal archive you will note that this time last year was equally poor; perhaps even worse.
Historically late Spring and early Summer are the worst times of the year for swell activity on the East Coast.

However, strangely the first fortnight of December 2011 has been pretty consistent. The waves aren’t the only thing that has been consistent: It has also been consistently cold and wet. In fact it has been the coldest start to summer in 50 years. Why? Because we are now experiencing back–to-back La Nina events.
We have not experienced consecutive La Nina events since the summers of 1974–75. La Nina events are cyclical and driven by water temperature and surface air pressure.

During a La Nina, warmer water and low pressure off our east coast, through convection, draw moist air down from the tropics and lead to above average rainfall and potentially increased tropical cyclone activity.

Since December 1 in Sydney we have experienced only one day when the top temperature has exceeded 25 degrees – Sunday Dec 11. The rest of the time the predominant winds have been from the southern quarter. though thankfully the swell has been hovering in the three-to-four foot range.

This week has been the best in over two months. On Sunday December 11 Sydney surfers woke to a clean four-to-five foot, solid east-northeasterly swell, warm northwest to northeast winds and sunshine. Shock, horror!

Tim Hanrahan at Aloha Manly Style said, “The beach break out front at North Steyne was a solid four-to-five foot plus and firing first thing on Sunday morning.” North Narrabeen, Whaley, Tamarama, Nth Maroubra and Cronulla Point were other choice spots in Sydney on Sunday morning.

Coastalwatch chief swell forecaster Ben Macartney said, “On Monday December 12 an intense low pressure system deepened over the southern Tasman Sea. An initial push in short-period southerly swell saw wave heights increasing from two-to-three feet early on Tuesday to a stronger three-to-four feet during the day; consistent windswell marred by strong southerly winds.”
Wednesday December 14 through Friday the 16 we enjoyed three consecutive days of four foot plus waves for the first time in ages. The swell peaked at four-to-six feet on Wednesday morning, maintaining at three-to-five feet plus throughout Thursday morning and is still hanging in at four foot on Friday morning as I punch out my final paragraph or two.

Cronulla and Dee Why Point were the pick in Sydney on all three days. Both spots were semi-sheltered from the prevailing southwest to southeast winds, yet were still picking up the majority of the south-southeast swell on offer. Sydney’s metro beachies were OK early, but generally a tad bumpy by mid morning.

The scene was similar on the Central and Hunter coasts, whilst Coastalwatch Coal Coast contributor Clarrie Bouma concurred that Sunday Dec 11 and Wednesday through Friday this week were the better days down Wollongong way too.

So while retailers may be struggling to shift their summer ranges due to the cooler temperatures and rain, surfers are reveling in the conditions.

- Ben Horvath

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Tags: Australia , nsw , swell , summer , cool , cold , december , weather (create Alert from these tags)

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