Forecast: Pan Atlantic swell
Take a look around the surfing world, what are the stories that inspire us in late 2018?
Me, I'd say two of them are the unrealised tow potential at Nazare, and the search for mysto desert waves.
This weekend, both of those stories will have a new chapter written.
The stories have a common source and it's forming right now off Newfoundland where a large, slow-moving low pressure system is dragging cold Arctic air south onto the North American continent. Meanwhile, a sub-tropical low is moving north up the eastern seaboard of the US bringing with it warm, humid air.
Tomorrow, the two air masses will meet over Nova Scotia and that's when the forecast gets explosive.
Current predictions have the central pressure of the system dropping from 1002hPa to 957hPa in 24 hours, easily qualifying as a 'bombing low' - a low that drops 24hPa or more in central pressure within a 24 hour period.
The storm will reach peak intensity on Thursday when the centre will be located directly south of Greenland with an uninterrupted fetch of storm force winds stretching from Newfoundland to the mid-Atlantic aimed at every west facing coastline in Europe and North Africa - and even further afield.
Never mind the money, follow the isobars
Aside from size and magnitude the storm has some other notable features.
For one, it forms relatively south, meaning the swell will sweep into Europe and Africa with more west than north in it. This will increase the likelihood of it getting into tucked away points and bays. Conversely, Mundaka, and in fact much of the Basque and northern Spanish coast, will miss the brunt of the storm as it moves parallel to that coast.
The other notable feature is how quickly the storm dissipates after reaching peak intensity. By late Saturday the system weakens and drifts north leaving the swell it's generated to the mercy of local winds. It's a different scenario than European surfers are used to: the big swells usually arrive with the wind that generated it.
At peak intensity, the storm is aimed squarely at the Portuguese coast
From six days out it's hard to predict local winds. Current predictions have a small low forming over southern Portugal when the swell hits, with offshore SE winds blowing rooster tails into the stratosphere at Nazare, while places further south, such as Morocco, Cape Verde, and even Madeira out in the Atlantic will have NW winds. It's likely that each coastline will be different.
By now you should know that it's impossible to measure Nazare in numbers so we'll go with the alpha code. Arriving late Saturday, the swell should peak on Sunday in the XXXL range. Many big wave surfers have already assembled in Nazare and more are in transit. They'll be watching local conditions carefully. What exactly is the best wind for an XXXL wave..?
To the north, the swell will hit the Irish coast almost due west meaning Bundoran will miss much of it, while the southern counties will see 10-12 foot of long period swell through Sunday morning. It'll be a similar size around England's southwest, though slightly smaller in Wales.
Across the channel, France's Bay of Biscay coast will be a little bigger - think 12 foot+ - and it'll be even larger on the exposed Brittany coastline.
From Galicia south, the swell hits with more force, and from there to Lisbon will see 15-18 foot sets on Sunday with Nazare playing its usual magnification tricks.
Across the strait is where many Euro surfers will be thinking of heading, yet they'll have a few factors to consider. Because the storm petered out in the mid-Atlantic the distant southern coasts won't see the same size. Yet, as has been mentioned, it's coming in with more west than usual which may compensate for size. The locals winds will also have to be considered before pointing the Renault out into the Saharan desert.
Size and range: the swell will strike the Orkney Islands at the top of Europe and, seven days later, Cape Town at the bottom of Africa
However, it doesn't end there. Owing to the extreme westerly source, swell will reach some countries of sub-Saharan Africa such as Senegal, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone. It's rare for sub-tropical storms to reach those coastlines.
What's even more rare, is that over a week after forming the swell will move into the South Atlantic and strike the west coast of South Africa. There's no need for Capetonians to get their guns out. This last point is largely academic, as after travelling 11,000 kms the swell will be greatly diminished.