September 4, 2015

El Nino Update: Multiple Hurricanes Light Up the Pacific

The ultimate weather related headline-maker, El Nino, is back with a vengeance for the 2015/2016 winter and this time it could be a record breaker. Last year’s moderate El Nino event has indeed set up a perfect scenario for a larger one as sea surface temps have reached record highs across the entire North Pacific. The water temps are unusually high even for El Nino standards and the tropics have been extra active! This weeks hurricane activity in the Pacific is further proof of a significant and strengthening El Nino as no less than 4 tropical systems simultaneously spin to the west.

During typical El Nino years, we experience above average tropical storm activity in the Pacific and less than normal activity in the Atlantic. This year is no different as warm water fueled hurricanes and typhoons have been wreaking havoc throughout Hawaii and the island nations of Asia. Meanwhile, surfers on the East Coast are praying for any tropical activity to send some surf their way. In fact the latest Accumulated Cyclone Energy values from the Climate Prediction Center show the Atlantic as having only 34% of normal tropical activity to date. The Pacific, on the other hand, is exploding with activity. The CPC shows the East and Central North Pacific (US West Coast and Mexico) has experienced 178% of normal tropical activity. The Western North Pacific (Phillipines, Taiwan, Japan) has been a boiling cauldron of tropical activity with a 252% above normal rate!

This week four tropical systems dominated the North Pacific in what has been a week full of odd weather anomalies. Hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena surrounded the Hawaiian Islands while Tropical Storm Kevin off of Mexico still tracks towards northern Baja. Ironically, a similar setup occurred exactly one year ago as the moderate El Nino spawned Hurricanes Genevieve, Iselle, and Julio that flanked Hawaii on both sides. However, this year’s systems are much larger due to the warmer water. Additionally, Hurricane Fred formed off of West Africa in the Atlantic and for the first time since the 1800’s had an affect on the Cape Verde Islands. Bizarre!

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    Four topical systems pump out swell for the Pacific. Photo from

Of course all of this tropical activity is much appreciated by the surfing community. Hawaii experienced surf on all sides of the islands this week with a reported 18ft of solid swell from Jimena on the East Shores. Even the North Shore got an off-season boost of surf from last week’s Typhoon Atsani that tracked north west off of Japan. In California, south facing beaches soaked up Hurricane Jimena’s short period swell all week with another pulse scheduled to flare up for Labor Day. Also, TS Kevin is sending surf to SoCal beaches for the weekend. Phillipines, Taiwan, and Japan have taken the brunt of the swell as the tropical systems eventually end up tracking towards the Western Pacific.

Hawaii has seen the best summer of surf in a decade as multiple hurricanes sent swell to the islands since early July. This week sees surf on all sides as Kilo (left) sends swell to the south and west shores, Ignacio sends swell to the north shores, and Jimena sends a macking swell to the east shores. Whoa! Photo by

As mentioned above, all of this tropical activity is consistent with past El Nino events. Therefore, you can expect the tropical Pacific to remain very active through October as we approach peak hurricane season. That means there will be many more hurricanes than usual that will send surf to Mainland and Baja Mexico, as well as California, and the especially the East Shores of the Hawaiian Islands. Typhoons tracking off of Japan will also have a greater chance of curving back east and becoming extra-tropical systems that send early season west and north west swells to the north shores of Hawaii and California. Let’s cross our fingers for another Hurricane Marie size swell like last year!

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    Last year's moderate El Nino produced warm enough water to create a massive swell from Hurricane Marie. What's in store for us this year? Photo by Derek Bahn.

After the tropics quiet down in the late fall, the El Nino winter will be right around the corner. And everyone knows that El Nino’s are associated with above average rainfall, flooding, and large surf on the West Coast during winter. Unfortunately, this year’s super strong high pressure ridge off the West Coast has caused meteorologists and climate researchers to remain unsure if drought stricken California will see as much rain as past El Nino events. If the ridge doesn’t break down then you can expect a plethora of west swells for California with warm air temps, sunny skies, and NO RAIN. If the high pressure ridge is weakened then the flood gates will open as storms approach the West Coast at a lower latitude than normal. In theory, those lower latitude winter storms will bring much needed rain for the parched Southwest. They also bring solid swells to California at a preferable westerly angle. Let’s hope for the latter so everyone wins!


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