Quantcast Northern Hemisphere Swell

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Solana Beach Coastal Preservation Association
August 20, 1998
Project No. 1831
Page 13
Short-period waves, with periods of 8 seconds or shorter, generated from the nearshore
waters within the various channel islands and offshore banks, have a fetch of 50 to 100
nautical miles and approach the study area from the northwest through the southwest.
Ocean waves off the coast of southern California fall into three main categories:
ANorthern hemisphere swell,@ consisting of waves generated in the North
Pacific and Gulf of Alaska;
ASouthern hemisphere swell,@ consisting of similar waves generated south
of the equator; and
ASea,@ consisting of waves generated within the local area (Munk and
Traylor, 1947).
3.1.1 Northern Hemisphere Swell
Winds that produce northern hemisphere swell are usually associated with one of
the following meteorological situations (Marine Advisors, 1961):
Japanese-Aleutian storms, which move from west to east in relatively high
latitudes, often stagnating in the Gulf of Alaska. Occasionally, especially
during winter and spring, this storm track shifts southward and the
maximum wave heights occur at central or southern California latitudes.
These extratropical cyclones are the most important source of severe
waves reaching the California coast. The 1982-1983 winter storm season
resulted from a series of high-latitude storms, which produced severe
conditions responsible for wide-spread destruction along the coast of
southern California;
Hawaiian storms, which move from west to east in mid-latitudes; or
Tropical hurricanes, which commonly develop off the west coast of
Mexico. The resulting swell rarely exceeds 2 m (6.5 feet), but a strong


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