Purple Blob Report: Winter 2016 *In Memoriam

Winter 2016. One of the greatest seasons of Purple Blobs in the history of waveriding. El Niño 2016: we’ll never forget you. We’ll mythologize you. All future seasons will be compared and likely fall short of your glory. We miss you already. We were spoiled by your consistency. Watching the North Pacific slow down is heartbreaking. 

Jan. 24, 2016

It became mindless. A constant cycle of surf, eat, work, surf, eat, sleep, surf. Over and over, everyday for 2.5 months. I stopped checking forecasts…there were waves and there’d be waves.

There wasn’t a super-mega-decadal swell but it was consistent and solid. The small days still had occasional head-high sets. The actual swell events, and there were a dozen or so, were frequently double-overhead. Big wave surfers raced back and forth between Maui, Oahu, Europe and California. Jaws saw an all-time year of massive, paddlable days. The Eddie could have run more than once and finally ran in maxed out 25+ surf at Waimea. Mavericks had arguably the best day ever.

Forget the endless summer, we all crave the Endless Winter.

November was a dismal month. All the hype surrounding El Niño had waveriders scratching their heads waiting for an early winter start. Then it happened, December 11th 2015, a very solid pulse of NW energy slammed the California coast.

NPAC early December 2015: StormSurf, SwellWatch, Surfline, MagicSeaweed.
NPAC- early December 2015: StormSurf, SwellWatch, Surfline, MagicSeaweed.

The torrential rain didn’t materialize as we’d all hoped to quench California’s drought thirst. February saw many 80° days without a cloud in sight and light winds persisted. The constant pounding of substantial groundswell did have serious impacts of our coastlines. Sandbars washed away and cliffs crumbled. 

2016 began with immense optimism for waveriders. All indicators continued to point towards a strong El Niño in the equatorial Pacific. January did not disappoint. A conveyor belt of strong storms crossed the North Pacific. 

Powerful jet stream- early Jan. 2016. Image: NOAA
Powerful jet stream- early Jan. 2016. Image: NOAA

January ended with a powerful wind storm bombarding Southern California. Sideways rain and wind gusts over 50mph brought tree damage and large storm surf.

February 2016 continued the consistency of surf but also included the aforementioned stellar conditions.

Spring 2016 is off to a good start with a series of south swells with combo NW swell mixing in, although the wind isn’t always cooperating. May looks to start with an active South Pacific storm track. Hopefully, spring/summer 2016 can pick up where the stellar winter 2016 left off. The water remained warm throughout the winter so possibly, we’ll have an active East Pacific tropical season.  Here’s to continued pumping swell!

Nothing gold can stay.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
–Robert Frost–1923

Nothing gold can stay.
Nature’s first swell is gold.
Her hardest energy to hold.
Her early barrel is round;
Until it runs aground.
So the sea sank to grief,
It now seems so brief.
So El Niño turns to summer.
Such a bummer.
Nothing gold can stay.

I’m not sure if 1923 was an El Niño year but Robert Frost touched on the feeling surfers have as an epic El Niño winter comes to an end. The surf wasn’t going to pump forever. Nothing gold can stay.


Purple Blob Report: Summer & Fall 2015

A strengthening El Nino, record breaking water temperatures and the most intense storm in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Summer 2015 was a dynamic and interesting meteorological season. From May-October, at least 2 swells came monthly, making for a solid surf season.

The 2015 South Swell Season started early with a healthy dose of southern hemi swell in late March.

South Swell with NW windswell- March 28, 2015
South Swell with NW windswell- March 28, 2015

Back to back, steep, south swells impacted California in early May. The second swell packed a serious punch with 25 second periods! Unfortunately, the angle was steep and persistent north wind made the conditions less than ideal. Although, there were fun windows of well overhead, heavy surf.

The 2015 Eastern Pacific Hurricane season witnessed a record breaking 30 depressions, 26 named storms, a record 16 hurricanes and a record 11 major hurricanes. Including the all-time strongest storm, Hurricane Patricia on October 23rd.   With sustained 200 mph winds, if the scale extended, she would’ve been a Category 7! This monster veered away from destroying Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at the last moment, instead impacting a far less populated area of the Mexican coast.

For the first time in recorded history, 3 major hurricanes, Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena spun simultaneously in late August. They sent a plethora of swell throughout the Pacific, especially to Hawaii.

Late summer/fall through October, saw a very active southern hemisphere storm track and a series of strong pulses of swell.

Overall, Summer/Fall of 2015 was a solid season, with consistent pulses from the Southern Hemisphere and a record breaking tropical season. Record breaking water temperatures kept wetsuits in the closet until November. Most mornings and evenings had good offshore/glassy conditions.

Unfortunately, November 2015 is the worst month of surf in a couple years. However, El Nino is real, so go ahead and get excited about this coming winter!


Purple Blob Report: Winter 14/15 and Spring 2015

The winter swell season 14/15 began with a series of solid NW swells in early December.


December dropped an exciting 6+ inches of rain on San Diego county. The North Pacific swell and precip engine was alive and well.

A very cold storm brought the snow level down to 1000' on the night of Dec. 30, 2014.
A very cold storm brought the snow level down to 1000′ on the night of Dec. 30, 2014.

To begin the new year, high pressure settled over the eastern Pacific, effectively shutting off the precipitation. Sunny skies, hot days, light wind and warm water pervaded much of January and February.  

From our perspective, Sunday, January 25th was the best day of the winter.  Classic long period, NW swell started filling in on Saturday. The next morning dawned 6-10ft, glassy and pumping. 

Complex low pressure system in the North Pacific. Jan. 20, 2015. Photo: StormSurf
Complex low pressure system in the North Pacific- Jan. 20, 2015.                        Image: StormSurf

The rest of winter passed with consistently fun but not epic surf. Spring is acting rather strange. May 2015 is one of the wettest Mays in recorded history with well over an inch of rain. That brings our season total in San Diego to 9+ inches; only an inch below average but not enough to quench our thirst.

In March, Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. The storm, moving east, then went extra-tropical and strengthened. A solid SSW swell reached California beginning on Sat. March 28th and peaking on Sunday the 29th. NW windswell provided just enough cross up to create stellar left-hand bowl sections.

Total Lunar Eclipse on the morning of April 4th.
Total Lunar Eclipse on the morning of April 4th.  

Purple Blob Report: Summer 2014

Newport Point- Hurricane Simon
Newport Point- Hurricane Simon

Record breaking Pacific Tropical season, solid Southern Hemisphere energy, early start for the Northern Hemisphere, warm water, moderate winds, clear skies: the 2014 summer surf season was/is phenomenal. An all-timer, a comparison for epic summers of the future, literally one for the record books. Wave-riders are battered and rashed… but smiling in remembrance of summer and excitement for winter.

Velella velella
Velella velella

 Summer has the potential for weak storm tracks and minimal swell. Last summer was terrible. This summer was special. Purple blobs sent swell from various directions. Minimal marine layer allowed for plentiful sunny days.  Four thunderstorms graced San Diego in July and August. The water temperature moved into the 70’s in June and remained mostly trunkable well into October. The appearance of millions of velella velella- aka- ‘by-the-wind sailors’ on our beaches was seen as a positive omen by many water-people. Peter Hamann of San Diego Fishing Adventures says, “This summer was exceptional! The warm water allowed fish that normally stay deeper south to move north and provide us with amazing fishing.”

The 2014 Pacific Hurricane Season is one of the strongest since accurate measuring began in 1971. The Accumulated Cyclone Energy or ACE index, which measures overall storm energy, sees 2014 at 45% above the average as of press time. The season doesn’t officially end until Nov. 30th. SwellWatch forecaster, Nathan Cool remarks, “I’ve never seen so many hurricanes form in the NE Pacific in one year that took a northward trajectory, bringing not just swell to SoCal, but also torrential rain to inland areas.”  With 21 tropical storms, 15 hurricanes and 9 major hurricanes, 2014 compares favorably with the benchmark 1992 season.

Notice the "Record Warmest" off the coast of Central America where storms form and off Baja where storms enter the SoCal swell window.  Photo: NOAA
Notice the “Record Warmest” off the coast of Central America where storms form and off Baja where storms enter the SoCal swell window. Image: NOAA

Very warm water in the entire Eastern Pacific and low wind shear in the upper atmosphere fed a healthy storm track moving westward off the coast of Central America. The season started fast as Hurricane Amanda formed on May 24th. June and July combined for 5 tropical storms but nothing substantial. Then August exploded.

Hurricane Genevieve started in the East Pacific, then passed through all three North Pacific basins. She strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane south of Hawaii and was reclassified as Super Typhoon Genevieve after passing over the International Dateline. She then moved north and met her demise over cool water.  Hurricane Iselle followed, moving west and reaching Category 4 status. On Aug. 7th, she (now a tropical storm) was the strongest tropical cyclone to ever make landfall on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Next, Hurricane Julio strengthened into a Category 3 as he moved to the NE of Hawaii, delivering fun surf to places unaccustomed to such tropical swell. Hurricanes Karina and Lowell reached category 1 status as they moved into the California swell window. Lowell delivered a fun sized pulse of tropical swell that was a hint of things to come.

Aug. 7th- Four Hurricanes in the North Pacific  Photo: Global Wind Map
Aug. 7th- Four Hurricanes in the North Pacific. Image: Global Wind Map

Beginning on Aug. 10th, the National Hurricane Center monitored a tropical wave as it moved off the coast of Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean. Nine days later, a low pressure system crossed over Panama into the Pacific. Above average water temperatures and low wind shear allowed for rapid intensification and on Aug. 22nd, the NHC classified her Tropical Storm Thirteen-E.  Just six hours later, she became Marie. Moving into the SoCal swell window on a N-WNW track, she strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane with 160mph winds on Aug. 24th.  


On the evening of Tuesday the 26th, abnormally long, 18” tropical forerunners began to show at south facing beaches that could handle the SSE direction. First light, Big Wednesday, the 27th: 25ft. Wedge freight trains off the Jetty, perfect 12ft. Malibu reeling past the Pier, 15ft. Newport Point as good as California gets. The wind stayed down for the rest of the day and everyone near the coast was treated to a decadal spectacle of Ocean power and beauty.


Hurricane Odile approaching Baja. Photo NASA
Hurricane Odile approaching Baja. Photo NASA

Two weeks later, Hurricane Odile made landfall on the Baja Peninsula as the strongest storm ever to do so, with 125mph winds on Sep.15th. The widespread damage to Cabo San Lucas is a terrible reminder that these storms aren’t just fun swell producers but also extremely powerful and dangerous.  Hurricane Simon strengthened and took a favorable swell producing path during early October.  Tuesday the 7th saw another round of solid, clean hurricane swell lighting up Newport Point and Wedge. 

The Southern Hemisphere filled in the gaps nicely between hurricanes with consistent SW swell. There were no real standout southern hemi swells but it wasn’t dormant either. With a bit of patience, fun sets were always on their way… eventually.  Locally fun swell for southern exposures meant the surf rarely dropped below waist-high for weeks at a time. A glorious, fire-free Santa Ana wind event with pulsing SW swell lit up the California coast in early October. Even the North Pacific pitched in with a series of early season swells derived from typhoon remnants off the coast of Japan. 

Santa Ana dreams.
Santa Ana dreams.

Here are reviews from two Newport locals that have been in tune with summer surf for more than 50 years combined:

-Wedge Historian Mel Thoman says, “I’ve been recording “Wedge Calendars” since 1978 and that year remains #1 for size/shape/number of swells/conditions etc. 2014 made my Top 10 by the end of August and then vaulted into the Top 3 by October. It’s 2 or 3 for sure. The whole Crew charged hard with great vibes in and out of the water.”

Newport Summer 2014 Photo: Ron Romanosky
Newport Summer 2014 Photo: Ron Romanosky

-Long-time Wedge observer and pundit, Ron Romanosky, gave this review of 2014: ”This last summer’s swells rank among the top 5 in the last 3 or 4 decades.  Fantastic weather kept the waves rideable from first to last light far more than usual.  And let’s not forget the warm water!  By their performance in big waves, several of the young guns of Wedge bodysurfing now reside at the top of the list of Wedge’s top dogs. They/we know who they are.”

Purple Blob Review: Summer 2014
-No major Southern Hemis but plenty of swell around even between the epic tropical pulses.
-Sunny skies, warm water, minimal on-shore flow…yes please.
-One of the largest, most intense summer swells in California surf history and a series of other very solid swells. Not much else to ask for out of a summer season.
Overall- 5/5
-An all-time classic.

Winter 2014/2015 Forecast

To El Niño or not El Niño?  Eastern Pacific sea surface temperatures have fluctuated over the past few months and with them the predictions for El Niño. From very strong to moderate back to strong. My prediction: This is the beginning of a 3 year El Niño cycle. Starting moderate this year with low pressure dominating the Gulf of Alaska; bringing abundant NW winter swells to California and Hawaii. Along with reservoir-filling precipitation and feet of powder to all slopes. Then another strong tropical summer in 2015 and an epically strong El Niño winter next year. Pumping swell for years to come!

National Hurricane Center
Surfline- Hurricane Marie
Wikipedia- 2014 Pacific Hurricane Season 

Purple Blob Report: Winter 2013/2014

Polar Vortex- NASA
XXXL North Atlantic- StormSurf
XXXL North Atlantic- StormSurf

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.

Early January
Early January

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.

NPAC-  Jan. 21st
NPAC- Jan. 21st- StormSurf

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.

January 25th
January 25th

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.

SoCal Winter Weather
SoCal Winter Weather

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.

NPAC Energy
NPAC Energy

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!

IMG_6619  Cleanup

Sunday March 2nd
March 2nd

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.

Purple Blob Review
Purple Blob Review