As we are winding down hurricane season, we are winding up our winter surf season here in south Florida. How will this winter compare? Will it be a season full of surf or a dud? It's time for me to take another stab at the Winter Seasonal Surf Outlook for south Florida.
Well, La Nina's back. It went away for the summer. Enough to give us an above normal hurricane season with 16 named storms/ 6 being hurricanes. Of those 16 storms, about 7 brought us surf. Irene being the standout storm to deliver excellent overhead clean surf as it moved through the northern Bahamas August 25th/26th.
Last winter was a La Nina winter. If you recall, we started out strong with lots of swell then it was terrible for the second half of the winter with very inconsistent and weak surf . I don't see any reason this year will be all that different.
We'll start out strong in November-December…then it'll taper off to less consistent in January and probably a dismal February and March.
Here's why. La Nina years usually keeps the Jet stream father north, which means all the low pressure systems tracking out of Canada, will go through the Great Lakes, then following the US/Canadian border up into the Canadian Maritimes. In other words, they don't go out to sea much, so not a whole lot of true groundswell for us. See picture below:
We need those lows and trailing cold fronts to go offshore to generate a good swell. That will probably happen a few times in November and December, then shut down as the La Nina pattern takes over.
South Florida does have a little gem in it's back pocket though, the refraction swell! We don't really need a low to go completely offshore, we just need it to be strong enough (along with the high pressure behind it) to generate a brisk NW wind for about 18 hrs. This could get us though the times where no low makes it offshore. La Nina years have been known to have some super cold episodes at times, which would mean strong, cold high pressure dropping out of Canada, and even though the parent storm may not go offshore, there will still be a lot of wind around it which would give us the possibility for some good refraction swells.
The NWS and NOAA are calling for below normal temperatures for the first part of the winter (NOV-JAN) then near normal for the end. Because of that, you may need to invest in a good wetsuit if you don't have one already. La nina's are also usually much drier than normal winters, so we'll see a lot of sun, load up on the sunblock.
One wildcard that can blow this whole thing out of the water is the NAO, PNA, and the AO. These are all things that can over-ride what a typical La Nina year will be. I was watching the NAO all last year to see if there was any correlation between it going negative and the swells picking up, I found none yet but I will keep an eye on it, along with the AO. The idea is that a negative NAO will steer the jet stream farther south, in turn bringing all the low pressure systems farther out to sea. See picture below:
Here are a couple links if you want to read up on it and check it out for yourself:
These patterns are only predictable out two weeks at a time, so you'll have to keep checking.
So in summary: A strong start to the winter surf season with very consistent, good size swells November-December, then tapering off in January, and possibly another horrible February and March with not much swell action at all. Either way, we're going to get some great swells. Here's a shot from a refraction swell last winter in December: