Verification of a poor East Coast autumn

Craig Brokensha
Swellnet Analysis

For the last month the cries have been loud and clear: "worst autumn ever", "we haven't had a clean swell for months", "there's no sand on the points".

While some regions of the East Coast have offered cleaner and fun waves all autumn, a lack of southerly winds (and the northward longshore drift that comes with it) have been compounded by smaller swells and persistent northerly winds across Northern NSW.

Climate data from the past month has just come in and it's confirmation that the synoptic setup during April was far from normal.

The diagram below shows the difference in Mean Sea Level Pressure (MSLP) in April from the 30 year climatological mean running from 1981 to 2010. What we can see is that there was a significant positive pressure anomaly in the Tasman Sea, up to 4hPa above the climatological average.

You can also see that south of the country there was a significant negative anomaly (-6hPa), which is linked to Victoria and South Australia's persistent run of W/SW swell through April.

But back to the East Coast, and with a high pressure anomaly, onshore easterly to north-east winds were directed into the northern NSW coast for most of the month while also blocking the formation of an any Tasman Lows.

When we grab the surface wind anomaly charts for the same month you can see the correlation: the onshore flow across south-east Queensland and northern NSW was stronger than the climatological average, while also identifying the swell-generating westerly winds south of Western Australia.

Looking back on the same data for March, and while the MSLP anomaly charts don't immediately reveal anything out of the ordinary, one look at the surface wind anomalies show the story through the Tasman and Coral Seas. Stronger than normal northerly to north-easterly winds spanning the whole ocean basin, meaning the pattern has continued since at least March.

If we look at the coming winter, and with an El Nino watch still in place (though if we reach the threshold it will only be weak and short-lived), it looks like we'll see another fairly benign swell outlook on the East Coast as discussed in this past article - El Nino and Australian swell patterns. La Nina years are more likely to bring increased swell activity, the last significant event which was 2011.

Whether this is a peek into the future regarding the new norm on the East Coast is to be seen, but let's hope the coming months buck the trend.

Comments

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:26pm

If you relied on point break surf between Noosa and Coffs you'd have been spewing. 2 x large swell events in 8 months. Big East at the end of Spring (Oct I think and was garbage with east winds) and Oma (Feb).

scoopmaster's picture
scoopmaster's picture
scoopmaster commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:49pm

Looking at willyweather swell forecast for mid next week it shows "smooth" 0.5 metres at 9 seconds from the south in southern NSW. I can't recall seeing less than 0.8 metres "slight" in the last year or so I've been using that site.

Currently we're in the middle of back to back high pressure systems with fine weather and light winds for at least a week.

On the plus side this autumn has been good for beach fishing (too flat for my liking this weekend though). Around waist high is ideal for fishing, any smaller and it's too easy for the stingrays to grab your bait.

derra83's picture
derra83's picture
derra83 commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:51pm

Alternative title : Verification of a great South Australian autumn

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:58pm

This is true.

yahabo's picture
yahabo's picture
yahabo commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:13pm

Yesterday and today were INSANE on SA's south coast. Great banks if you know where to look...

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:21pm

Any hints Yahabo? I'm heading down tomorrow morning...

Don't let the bastards grind you down

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:16pm

Thanks Craig, it does confirm the obs.

I think Prof Andrew Short in his 2007 book Beaches of the New South Wales coast : a guide to their nature, characteristics, surf and safety identified most beaches in NSW as being predominantly affected by a wave regimen from the SE.

That SE wave regime has been almost completely absent for almost a year- last significant swell from the SE being in August last year.

The spring bank buster in Oct scoured the points and with no SE wave/wind regime the lack of sand transport has been profound.

That half day wonder on Mothers Day barely moved a grain of sand......and since then we've defaulted back to the pissant little E swell regime which nibbles out whatever sand did manage to settle on the points.

Thing is, there is still no sand to move. No sand slugs built up on the southern flanks of Points waiting to be fed into the Points, so we are still weeks/months away from any sand replenishment if the pattern changed right now.
Looking ahead I can't see any change to the pattern. It looks boring as fcuk.

Long term shift in sub-tropical high pressure ?

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:18pm

Heading into 3 years of rubbish now.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:20pm

Well, 2017 was insane here. An autumn almost as good as it gets, a very consistent winter.
3 late winter/spring swells from the S in excess of 6-8ft and it finished with a week long clean E swell in December.

But yeah, 2018 was dire and 2019 is ten times worse so far.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 4:15pm

Checked my logs, agree it all went pear shaped from mid 2017, so 2 years not 3. Though September 2016 was the end of years of 'normality'.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:27pm

Autumn have been fairly good in my area of Victoria, with the focus on the beachies, lots of offshores and a high number of light to no wind days.

Same could be said for Spring and Summer conditions have just been less extreme than we normally see which is good.

For further reference and common sense.

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Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:42pm

Are you telling me it’s not normal to have a surfboard which is basically 5 pool noodles stuck together as an East coast autumn go-to board ?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:53pm

hahahahahahahah.

it's been not at all depressing to have to keep going back to the grovel boards in May.

anyway, these nighttime tides look good for a jewfish.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 4:16pm

That was my plan for tonight but I did sprints on the beach earlier and now it’s raining.

Wet + rooted = fuck fishing tonight.

Does look very promising though. Good luck.

Tubbabird's picture
Tubbabird's picture
Tubbabird commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 4:24pm

Haha bad luck heimsy!

UTFS

mitchvg's picture
mitchvg's picture
mitchvg commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 7:16pm

Why 1981? Is that just the limit of the publically accessible data in a user friendly form or something?

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 5:58pm

That's when the thruster was invented and the modern world began.

ojackojacko's picture
ojackojacko's picture
ojackojacko commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 11:01pm

gold vj. always appreciate real science

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 9:03am

LOL.....

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Saturday, 18 May 2019 at 4:42am

Ha.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Saturday, 18 May 2019 at 4:41am

Ah climatological data sets use at least 30 years of data, hence from 1981 to 2010.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 5:04am

If the banks on the points in Northern NSW are stuffed what does this mean for the banks on the beaches?

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 6:34am

That's the irony. There's an enormous amount of sand across the beaches, just very little on the outer points. 

From my viewpoint on the Tweed (and I've discussed this with a lot of local surfers over the last few months), we've actually had a really good summer/autumn for waves: but that's because our diet here is preferably beachies, we're not necessarily reliant on - nor do we anticipate frequent use of - classic point break swells.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 1:56pm

Nice one. I'm coming over for my annual winter holiday in July. Staying in Pottsville this year; had some nice waves there last year. Miles of empty beachbreaks. Good times.
Last year we stayed at Cabarita, but the point was always packed so I only surfed there once. Offshore every morning, mostly about 2-3ft which was perfect for the beachies. We live on a diet of fairly mutated reef breaks where I'm from so surfing perfect beachbreaks makes a nice change. Oh and also going from 12deg water to 20 deg water is good as well.

scottishsponger's picture
scottishsponger's picture
scottishsponger commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 6:20am

This has been the best late summer / autumn I can remember on the East Coast for offshores and consistent (albeit small) swell. The East Coast of Aus is a big place......

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 6:53am

You miss this part?

"While some regions of the East Coast have offered cleaner and fun waves all autumn,...."

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 6:43am

Had an elevated view over the Rainbow/Snapper section a few days ago, which shows Greenmount is hugging the point much closer now.

There's all kinds of weird gutters and channels through Rainbow and Snapper too, creating a bunch of individual breaks rather than a 'Superbank'.


freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 7:24am

jeezus, what an abortion.

There's been winners and losers, as has been much discussed.

If you're region likes a staple diet of 2-3ft E swell and sand formations have been stable then there's been a ton of fun beach breaks in between bouts of onshore wind.
Big winners: beach breaks north of Cape Byron to the QLD border.

Even those surfers must surely be pining for something a bit more by now?

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 8:06am

Yes mate. You can only be on a diet for so long. Sometimes you just want to go to Maccas.
That being said my local (out the front) banks have just recovered following Oma, so anything solid is always bitter sweet.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 8:31am

I can't see anything on the horizon except endless small E swell so if that has been floating your boat, happy days.

r-clay's picture
r-clay's picture
r-clay commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 11:32am

I started diving (spearfishing) a few years ago and this autumn has been shocking on all fronts. Hoping for a better winter!

shoredump's picture
shoredump's picture
shoredump commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 3:44pm

May has been pumping on my piece of coast. March and April mostly sucked though

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 4:00pm

It's been a bit quiet down here but still getting a couple of quality days most weeks. Today brushed up very nicely!

mowgli's picture
mowgli's picture
mowgli commented Saturday, 18 May 2019 at 6:03pm

"Whether this is a peek into the future regarding the new norm on the East Coast"

The answer is yes. I know a guy doing a PhD on sediment regimes. Suffice to say, long term projections anticipate straight easterlies becoming the dominant trade wind for areas north of around Port/Coffs. So poo winds and massively reduced northward movement of sediment. Happy days.

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

groovie's picture
groovie's picture
groovie commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 7:07am

A shift in the climate has been happening(noticeably) for the last two decades or so. Last year over the mnths of July& Aug I was in Indo which had back to back large to moderate swells, which was the opposite of the winter where I live. Constant blocking high pressure systems with very little swell from the south along the east coast, seems to be the new norm. On the flip side of this we don't get the large east/nor east swells over late summer, early autumn either, a rare event now compared to the 80's/90's. A lose lose situation for northern N.S.W. surfers!

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 9:09am

Think maybe el Nino/ la Nina effects it also.

mowgli's picture
mowgli's picture
mowgli commented Monday, 20 May 2019 at 10:45am

Could be. Though what many fail to realise (not necessarily saying you fall into this category) is that those too will have been influenced by climate change.

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 9:22am

Haven’t seen a single whale yet, anyone further south seen any?

mowgli's picture
mowgli's picture
mowgli commented Monday, 20 May 2019 at 10:46am

Not sure where you're based, but I haven't heard any up here (Sunny Coast).

Normally hear them before you see them. If you swim out the back and wait under water for a moment you can hear them singing.

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Monday, 20 May 2019 at 11:57am

Still waiting for our first sighting at South Coogee, Solitude. Would have expected to see some by this time of year. Did notice yesterday a tour boat trolling around looking for something, and as it has been very good whale watching conditions you'd think I'd see them if they were around, but there was nothing that I could see.

As a reference, we live on the coast and I'll spend a good couple of hours each day of the weekends looking out, (and sick days like today) if they're around I'll see them.

A mate I was with in Bali the other week said they had been seeing plenty for a while up the mid-north coast where he lives, but that didn't seem right. I wouldn't normally call him a bullshitter, but I found it hard to believe. Too early I would think to see them up there in early April.

Possibly they're avoiding the Wollongong, Sydney, Newcastle run. I've heard they are either doing,or planning on doing, seismic testing off the coast here, which is anecdotally a bad thing for whales. You see, apparently we need more oil, gas and coal because there is some that hasn't been dug up yet, and the important thing is to make sure we sell it all before there is no market for it, and to make sure the economy is strong before we wipe out all known life forms.

Oops, sorry, wrong page.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Monday, 20 May 2019 at 11:59am

definitely been a few come through BF, and the first ones came in April.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Monday, 20 May 2019 at 11:59am

Yeah I can correlate seeing a few off the MNC, but nothing here off Sydney yet..

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 9:23am

saw a couple really wide a few weeks ago, but none since.

davidinindo's picture
davidinindo's picture
davidinindo commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 4:05pm

1 meter @ 15-16sec of S-SSW swells with light NW-NE winds my locals been pumping ...........

Davidinindo