Print

Dennis’ Tidbits

By DENNIS McTIGHE 

July 10, 2020

It’s time for some big Baja swells 

Dennis 5There’s a significant difference between ocean temps here on the West Coast compared to the East Coast. In Southern California, we’re situated roughly 32-35 degrees north latitude with surface ocean temps around 64-67 degrees in most areas here on Wednesday. On the East Coast, the water is 20 degrees warmer from the southern tip of Florida, latitude 25 degrees north, to the outer banks of North Carolina, latitude 36 degrees north. 

The water temps here in Southern California very rarely reach 80 degrees, but back there it’s in the 80s from early June to well into September thanks to the Gulf Stream. Out here we’re under the influence of the much cooler Humboldt Current. During the summer, ocean temps south of Point Conception usually make it up to the low 70s at some point in a normal summer. Once you go north of Point Conception, the waters are much colder, with temps well down into the 50s for the most part all summer, whereas at latitude 40 degrees north back East waters are well into the 70s.

My question is, how can 84-87 degree water be refreshing when the air temp is in the 90s with a heat index at 100 or more from high humidity? The good news is we’re not vulnerable to tropical systems out West because water temps are far below the 80-degree threshold that is needed to sustain a system’s strength. 

Because of that huge expanse of hot water back there, storms have made it all the way up the Eastern Seaboard to Nova Scotia on occasion, with a guaranteed landfall at some point nearly every year. Out here, there have only been two times when there was a landfall here in Southern California, and that was a Category 2 in 1858 near San Diego and a high-end tropical storm in September of 1939 near Long Beach. Other than that, we’re good.

Speaking of the tropics, here on Thursday morning we have tropical storm Cristina centered about 500 miles south of Baja’s tip. Her winds are presently at 65 mph with a central pressure of 994 millibars and further intensification into at least a Category 1 by Friday when she will enter our swell window – moving at 14 mph to the WNW. If she veers more to the west as predicted, then forget about any swell from her. Stay tuned on that one. We haven’t had a decent Baja swell summer since 2014, and before that 2002. That’s an awfully long drought for Baja swells. 

Before the turn of the century, there was a lot more Baja swell action from the 1950s through the 1990s, with quite a few epic summers like 1958, 1965, and 1966. In September of that year, the biggest Baja swell I’ve ever seen put Newport Point (15th St) on the map with sets over 15 feet with Pipeline conditions. The best ever by far was 1972 with waves from every named storm all the way from Ava to Pauline. The summers of 1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1990, 1992, and the epic summer of 1997 all had multiple big south swells from the Southern Hemisphere and Baja. 

Since then it’s been trash with few exceptions. I guess it’s due to climate changes, as the patterns are different. I will say that this season has been off to a good start for long-period swells. Let’s hope that Cristina comes through and sets the tone for a good season for a change, as we’re long overdue!

Have a great weekend, ALOHA!