Forecaster Blog: Is The El Nino Summer About To Go From Good To Epic Across The East Coast?

18 Feb 2016 4 Share

Ben Macartney

Chief Surf Forecaster

FORECAST | Forecaster Blog

Issued Thursday, 18 February 2016

When you chat to other surfers about what the surf’s been like this summer, there’s a general consensus that it’s been pretty good – if not really good. Going on latest computer modelled projections; we might be revising these calls to “epic” by the end of February.

If you’ve been following the charts and forecasts over the last few days you’d be well aware that the extended run of mid-sized E swell running across the southern Queensland and NSW coasts this week comes compliments of Tropical Cyclone Winston. This distant storm formed over the South Pacific over the course of last week before being named Tropical Cyclone Winston (TC Winston) by RSCM Nadi (Fiji’s meteorological service) on Friday, 11 February.

Basically, if you surf anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard, you should start thinking of Tropical Cyclone Winston as your best mate.

SEE ALSO: Weekend Surf Forecast 19 - 21 February 2016

The still active TC Winston re-strengthened to Category 3 by Thursday morning and may reach Cat 4 or 5 as it begins to move westward over the next few days. Source: RSMC Nadi.

The still active TC Winston re-strengthened to Category 3 by Thursday morning and may reach Cat 4 or 5 as it begins to move westward over the next few days. Source: RSMC Nadi.

In the days following TC Winston cut a horse-shoe shaped track across the South Pacific; initially tracking southeast before curving east and then northeast over the last few days. As depicted above, TC Winston remains very active over the region, having become quasi stationary roughly 600 nautical miles east of Fiji.

The storm has moved back into an environment well suited to further strengthening –characterised by warm SST’s of 30 degrees Celsius and low vertical wind-shear. This is facilitating the re-intensification of TC Winston and by Friday or Saturday we’re likely to witness this long-enduring cyclone generating sustained wind-speeds of 115 knots around it’s eye – thereby classifying TC Winston as a category 4 tropical cyclone. TC Winston is projected to sustain this intensity over the next couple of days – and although he’s forecast remain virtually stationary for the remainder of Thursday, TC Winston is then projected to turn about face on Friday, taking it on a west south-westward trajectory between Fiji and Tonga this weekend:

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There's now high confidence the rejuvenated TC Winston will move slowly west, back towards Fiji through Friday, Saturday and Sunday; setting up a strong E groundswell for the entire East Coast early to mid next week. Source: RSMS Nadi.

There's now high confidence the rejuvenated TC Winston will move slowly west, back towards Fiji through Friday, Saturday and Sunday; setting up a strong E groundswell for the entire East Coast early to mid next week. Source: RSMS Nadi.

As this occurs, TC Winston is projected to generate a steady rise in significant wave height to peaks of 30 to 35ft or more. Although these readings would be confined to a relatively small area surrounding TC Winston’s core, the system gives rise to a much larger easterly wave field in conjunction with a broad subtropical ridge cradling the storm from the south; characterised by deepwater easterly swell ranging from 3 to 6 metres.

FOLLOW THE SWELL'S EVOLUTION ON THE WAVE TRACKER

If TC Winston behaves as current GFS runs suggest, the storm will spawn a vast easterly wave field situated roughly 700 to 800 nautical miles offshore.

If TC Winston behaves as current GFS runs suggest, the storm will spawn a vast easterly wave field situated roughly 700 to 800 nautical miles offshore.

Further, going on recent GFS model runs TC Winston will continue to support these wave heights as it continues on a westward track, below Fiji this weekend before turning poleward and tracking slowly SSE early to mid next week.

These developments have all the hallmarks of an epic swell-event: specifically the sustained intensity of TC Winston, the extended duration of a captured fetch (whereby the strongest fetch area moves in the same direction and at the same speed as the swell being produced).

These forecast developments now definitively point to a powerful round of long period easterly groundswell in the 4 to 8ft range impacting the entire Eastern Seaboard virtually simultaneously on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The big question is precisely how big and powerful? For now, this can’t be called with certainty. The inherent difficulty in forecasting tropical cyclone movement and intensity beyond two or three days means that, by Friday, we could be looking at a very different scenario to the one described above. Having said that, the major GFS and ECMWF computer models are showing loose agreement on the west to south-westward track over the next few days – so confidence on Tuesday/ Wednesday’s pulse is high.

Latest virtual buoy readings for the Gold Coast show the projected groundswell arriving at long-peak intervals of 13 seconds on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Latest virtual buoy readings for the Gold Coast show the projected groundswell arriving at long-peak intervals of 13 seconds on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Beyond Tuesday and Wednesday’s peak in E groundswell we should see several more days of slowly declining easterly swell mid to late next week. Further, if recent long-range models are anything to go by, TC Winston’s turn to the south around Sunday or Monday and subsequent extratropical transition north of New Zealand may provide a spectacular encore; giving rise yet another powerful E groundswell that would bolster wave-heights into the 4 to 8ft range – possibly as early as Friday 26 - or otherwise over the weekend of Saturday 27 February – making for a full month of tropical cyclone madness.

Long range ECMWF model runs capture the extratropical transition of TC Winston early next week: hinting at yet another round of E groundswell arriving off the storm late next week. Source: Tropicaltidbits.

Long range ECMWF model runs capture the extratropical transition of TC Winston early next week: hinting at yet another round of E groundswell arriving off the storm late next week. Source: Tropicaltidbits.

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