Many of us are wondering how the prediction of an El Niño year may affect surf conditions. Surf forecasts and reports mention it, strangers in the lineup attribute the unusually warmer temperatures to it, but what’s really up with El Niño this year? With a little research, we can make some sense of these extreme weather patterns.
First and foremost, El Niño creates unusually warm water in the Equatorial Pacific and provokes an irregular occurring series of climate changes, which affect the equatorial pacific region, as well as the South and North American continents. A burst of heat emanates from the tropical pacific and opens the doors for strange weather irregularities.
Weakening trade winds, which may even reverse direction, allow warmer water from the western Pacific to move eastward, building up warm surface water off the coast of South America and increasing the temperature of the water in the eastern Pacific (i.e., the west coast of South America and the Southern California region).
Although El Niño conditions are typically associated with strong weather conditions in the eastern Pacific, including heavy rains and thunderstorms, it seems the region which arguably needs it most (west coast of the United States) isn’t getting any! At least, not yet.
However, as far as waves are concerned in the Pacific northwest (Mexico to Western Canada), El Niño means there is a higher risk of a breakdown in the eastern pacific high-pressure system which will totally expose Southern and Central California. Additionally, El Niño also causes warm waters to strengthen the storms that generate powerful swells. Finally, the jet stream usually faces southward, sending all the storm and swell energy to the California coast. Though an El Niño year doesn’t necessarily promise amazing surf, it increases the possibility for larger swells.
As far as climate is concerned, according to a recent NOAA estimate, El Niño is already predicted to make this year the planets warmest year yet. NOAA also claims there are early signs of back-to-back El Niño years. If this happens, there will be a new global heat record in 2015.
In California especially, as the years progress, more people are interested in the sport of surfing. It’s possible that powerful swells are on the horizon for the 2014/2015 El Niño year and the California coast will continue to attract inexperienced and professional surfers alike.
So, when is time for the common everyday surfer to accept the reality that he or she isn’t Jamie O’Brien or Keala Kennelly? Most surfers know they shouldn’t paddle out unless they are comfortable catching waves of consequence or making their way in, with or without a board. If southern California does reap positive benefits from an El Niño year, be sure to know your limits.
Want to take an in depth look at El Niño? NOAA has created a blog to keep us updated on the latest happenings in the ocean.
Stay tuned for more swells and updates on the latest in surfing.