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Fall's Surf Outlook

By Schaler Perry.
Fall is a great time to be a surfer in the Southern California bight. Three viable swell sources are in play, high pressure over the southwestern U.S. often brings light winds, and moving deeper into the season the lauded offshore Santa Ana winds return.

When looking at the climatology for Southern California, we see a small spike in days with appreciable swell through September, those numbers coming down slightly through October and November. While this is interesting, in that the offshore swell info shows the impact the statistical peak of hurricane season has on September, there is a tale of two exposures happening across Southern California. Looking to our archive of human surf reports, we see that breaks with an open exposure to Southerly swells offer the most size in September, and then gradually come down through October and November. Looking to areas that are winter stalwarts, like Ventura, there is an opposing upward trend through October and November.

We expect this usual trend to be generally in line this fall. There aren’t any factors pushing us to rail against the climatology one way or another, though we anticipate it may be right for the wrong reasons. First, the tropics have been pretty slow for SoCal surf over the summer, and while there is certainly potential for a great swell on account of an improved storm track (we typically see systems moving at us instead of to the west), a couple factors are keeping us from counting on it. Notably, it has been relatively slow in the Northeast Pacific tropics while the Atlantic has been, and looks to remain, very active.

Instead, we look to the Southeast Pacific to keep climatology in line for open south exposures, while the Southwest Pacific continues to mostly struggle early. There are some indications there is potential we will see better swell-making storms return near New Zealand. A note of caution, the longer-range climate models have been teasing this for much of the season, though it could be a little different this time. The North Pacific looks primed to have a respectable early season. We’ll see a pair of decent lows in early September and the available guidance suggests periodic opening of the storm track over the Gulf of Alaska and off the U.S. West Coast. While storms in the early season are often too high in latitude for solid swell, it’s a hopeful sign for the season ahead.

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