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Dennis’ Tidbits

By DENNIS McTIGHE

August 4, 2020

Waves have been just ankle snappers this summer

Dennis 5Now I’m 73 and amazingly still above ground. Happy birthday to Tom Brady and Barack Obama, who also share my birth date. We Leos gotta stick together!

We’re at the halfway point of summer 2020 on Wednesday, and the first half definitely was not an epic one by any stretch of the imagination. Ocean temps were the coldest in 10 years, and outside of the big Southern Hemi back on July Fourth weekend, the waves have been all about ankle snappers. 

The marine layer just wouldn’t lighten up and the west winds were relentless, all thanks to the enemy, La Nina. I kinda had a feeling this was going to happen as we were overdue for a crummy summer. Actually, nine out of the last ten have been meager, wave wise. Only 2014 had an above average summer for south swells. By my standards you have to go all the way back to the summer of 1997 to find a season that was truly epic, arguably thanks to the strongest El Nino of the 20th century, right up there with the monster El Nino of 1982-83.

Seeing as I’m up there in years, I guess I’m spoiled, having seen and ridden lots of standout swells from the late 50s to around the turn of the century, so I set the bar pretty high as far as consistency and quality are concerned. Back when I was a grom, it seemed that almost every summer had loads of yellow and red flag days. Nowadays almost every summer has too many green flag days. Back in the day, six Baja swells were considered a slow summer. We haven’t even had a total of six Baja swells since 2014, and even those were only 3-5 foot stuff. 

Speaking of really epic summers, 1997 popped out a total of five major hurricanes with three of those reaching Category 5 status, namely Guillermo, Linda, and Nora here in the Eastern Pacific tropics. Guillermo was the real record-setter for longevity, lasting a whole month from July 27 until August 25 and maintaining Category 5 status for a whopping 15 days.

Guillermo was fueled in the super-hot El Nino 90-degree waters off the coast of Panama. He gave rapid intensification a whole new meaning as he went from a Category 1 to a Category 5 in just 48 hours, with sustained winds of 162 mph and gusts as strong as 175, along with a central pressure of 909 millibars. 

Not only was he strong, he was huge in size, nearly 700 miles across, with hurricane-force winds extending 250 miles out from the center and tropical storm force winds extending another 200 miles out, nearly the size of Texas! The last time we’ve had a hurricane that big in the Eastern Pacific was in late August of 2014, with Category 5 Marie. 

Guillermo began moving to the WNW at only 6-8 mph, very slow for a hurricane. He entered our swell window on August 5, still crawling along at 6-8 mph to the WNW. His waves began to appear on August 8, and because of his snail’s pace his waves lasted over a week, which is a long time for a Mexican swell.

 After that he continued to the WNW setting his sights on Hawaii, still a dangerous Category 4. Several days later he was centered only 250 miles ESE of Hilo, Hawaii as hurricane warnings were posted. But the next day Guillermo made a sharp right turn and began moving to the north, bypassing Hawaii by only about 200 miles, still a strong Category 3. They really dodged a bullet on that one! 

He continued moving northward for several days, and on August 23 he was still a Category 2 about 200 miles west of San Diego. He gained momentum to the north and finally on August 25 he became an extra tropical storm about 1,800 miles west of Oregon. There he hooked up with a strong early season low-pressure system and began plowing eastward, sending a huge way out of season NW groundswell at California that lit up Rincon, a winter break at a solid 8-10 feet for three days with 75-degree water to boot.

The low finally made landfall in central Oregon, dropping up to five inches of rain there. So we got two major swells from the same storm, a south and a northwest. What a storm! That’s the magic of a strong El Nino! 

See y’all on Friday, ALOHA!