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Dennis’ Tidbits 

By DENNIS McTIGHE 

September 27, 2019

Wave drought: that’s what summer 2019 was all about

Dennis 5Four tropical systems in the water at the same time last week and we didn’t even see a ripple as all four moved the wrong way

Summer 2019 report card: Weather… C+…Surf…D-.

This is the fifth consecutive wave starved summer and that is unprecedented with a near complete lack of substantial swell activity from both the Southern Hemisphere and Eastern Pacific tropical systems. It’s not because the storms aren’t there, rather their tracks have not been favorable for sending swells in our direction. You have to go way back to late August of 2014 when we had a massive south swell from Category 5 Hurricane Marie.

Strong Southern Hemisphere lows travel in a zone called the Roaring Forties. Once they pass just to the south of New Zealand they trek to the east or ENE across the Southern Pacific. If and when these storms move in an ENE fashion, they begin sending large swells our way. When they travel directly to the east, their swells are aimed towards more southerly locations like South and Central America and Mainland Mexico. 

However, most of the energy doesn’t reach Baja or Southern California, which has been pretty much the case for the past several years. A strong elongated ridge of high pressure has been anchored just south of the equator, forcing these cyclones to travel directly to the east, so their swell energy doesn’t make it up here.

In decades past, we could count on at least a handful of strong Southern Hemisphere swells every single year since I’ve been keeping track of this stuff in 1958. Sure, there have been a few slower years in that department, but even in the slower times there have been a couple or three red flag events. There have been some really busy years as well with up to a dozen or more well overhead swells. 

The years 1974, 1981, 1983, and 1996 really stand out, particularly 1996 when from late April through that October, it simply fired for weeks on end. It was topped off by the massive SSW monster of July 24-26, 1996 from a huge storm several hundred miles south of Tahiti. Giant swells hit South America, Central America, all of Mainland Mexico….the entire Pacific West Coast all the way up to Alaska! That’s an area covering over 6,000 miles. 

I distinctly remember that swell as the waves here in Orange County were the biggest I’ve seen from a swell of that nature. Brooks Street had sets up to 15 feet on July 24th, with excellent conditions all day – no wind, 90 degrees at water’s edge, super glassy conditions, and warm water at 72 degrees. Why doesn’t that happen anymore? Is it climate change working against us or just a long phase of wave drought?

The same scarcity of surf applies to our Eastern Pacific swell makers as there are plenty of storms out there, but they’re taking different tracks on a consistent basis nowadays. We used to get at least a couple of big Baja swells even in a slow summer but now we can’t buy one!

Now it’s almost October and no Brooks Street as the waiting period is now nearly four months deep with nothing on the horizon. We’ve only had the event twice as late as October and that was 1995 and last year. All we can do is keep our fingers and even our toes and our eyes crossed! 

Have a great weekend, ALOHA!