A summer like no other

Craig Brokensha
Swellnet Analysis

Heralding in the new decade, things didn't seem quite right this summer: smoke-heavy days, headaches, sore throats, heat, and relentless fire. The constant sepia colour in the air became so normal that when sending photos back to friends overseas, I was oblivious to the brown tones until they pointed it out.

A myriad of factors influenced the southern states through early summer, that being the strong but weakening positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event, negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM) owing to a Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) event which lifted the westerly storm track higher than normal.

The flow on effects of this were drier, hotter, and devastating westerly winds across our dried out country, compounded by the delayed monsoon (the latest arrival on record) again linked to the strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole event. This allowed heat to build up across central Australia, with long-standing temperature records smashed through South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. It was the second hottest summer on record, coming in at 1.88° above average, the hottest being the summer previous.

This was on top of 2019 being the hottest year on record.

The once Blue Mountains

So what about the surf?

Across southern NSW there was a distinct lack of the normally strong north-east winds and lumpy, morning sick surf associated with it. The negative SAM events provided small but persistent pulse of S'ly groundswell through December with clean conditions each morning and fairly workable afternoon seabreezes. It seemed the smokey skies softened the diurnal heating of the land, thus suppressing the sea breeze.

January saw more swells from the east-northeast to north-east but without the associated winds and then the rain/humidity switch was flicked with a more normal return to wet summer conditions. Moisture finally arrived from the north and east, but the the intensity of rainfall was much greater than normal, with a significant deepening coastal trough delivering the biggest storm swell since the 2016 Black Nor'Easter on Sunday, February 9.

The heavy rains extinguished most of the fires throughout NSW, topped the dams back up but an unexpected side affect was the flushing of felled trees and debris into our major waterways, then being washed up onto the beaches with some resembling Canada or Oregon shorelines, crosshatched from the tide line to the foredune. Full length trees and branches provided added obstacles while surfing amongst the heavily polluted water and it just topped off what was quite the peculiar summer.

Tropical Cyclone Uesi provided another significant north-east swell less than a week later, jumping in size to 10-12ft on Friday the 14th. Uesi made an extra-tropical transition through the weekend, with large, pumping waves out of the east-southeast Saturday, followed by reinforcing south-east energy the following week. This topped off a great fortnight of waves in autumn like conditions ahead of a late return to summer drible.

Moving north and the south-east Queensland and northern NSW continued to be plagued by poor and strong winds form the north-eastern quadrant during December and January, linked to the negative SAM events shifting the sub-tropical high further north. This broke into February along with the rains, with consecutive days of heavy rainfall between 50-100mm+ and flash flooding across most areas.

The rains and change in weather patterns also brought a change in the swell patterns with lots of fun trade-swell throughout the month, mixed with standout days from Tropical Cyclone Uesi. We've ended the month with autumn like morning conditions and diffracted southerly swells.

Summer wind anomaly (difference from average)

One look at the wind anomaly through the summer period above shows the heavy influence the northerly winds played across south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales, strongly weighted by December and January.

Looking at February by itself and one can see a shift in the pattern to more normal easterly trade-flow.

Mean wind through February (notice easterly winds across northern NSW and south-east Queensland, southerly in South Australia and Victoria, and strong south-east across Western Australia)

Across the southern states the negative SAM events saw lighter and more favourable winds across the South Australian coast instead of the normal strong south-southeasters, bringing in scorching and record breaking temperatures. Much to the dismay of surfers across Victoria's Mornington Peninsula the Surf Coast offered the best conditions with fun swells.

This changed into February with a strong stationary high dominating South Australia bringing poor conditions to the South Coast, while better windows opened up across the exposed beaches in Victoria. As a result South Australia and Tasmania saw cooler than average temperatures through February, with Victoria about average. An early hint of autumn was seen over the last week in Victoria with pumping Surf Coast waves.

While the summer wind anomaly doesn't show up anything significant for the southern states besides a slight westerly bias across Tasmania, the February mean data (last diagram above) shows S/SE winds right across South Australia and edging into Victoria.

Moving over to the west and persistent and sometimes strong inland easterly winds brought with it record breaking heat and the second warmest summer on record for Western Australia, shown in the image below. This was only surpassed by last summer.

Summer temperature anomaly for Western Australia over time (2019 second hottest on record)

December offered clean conditions but no major swell until the Christmas break, with large pumping waves seen, and good surf continuing into the start of the New Year. Things started to settled down into late January and early February didn't really offer much in the way of swell, though during the middle of the month a flurry of cold fronts brought a good run of swell for a week or two. Things settled down into the end of the month along with fresh to strong morning offshore winds.

In ending, looking at this final chart, the Mean Sea Level Pressure Anomaly for the entire summer period shows the effect the negative SAM events had with lower than normal pressure spanning from the south of Tasmania across to New Zealand, shifted high pressure in the Coral Sea and then the low sitting along the East Coast, influenced mostly by February.

Summer Mean Sea Level Pressure anomaly (difference from average)

Comments

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 3:18pm

We’ve had a dreadful summer for waves and also nice sunny weather in general.
Here’s to the next!

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 3:27pm

Was talking too a mate the other day , A-grade surfer, super keen.
He called summer a "slog" and wouldn't give more than a D.

I reckon the Uesi swell (one day wonder here, the follow-up swells fucked by nor-east winds) and the long period S swell on Jan 14 lifted it to a C-.

Still, those fucking northerlies were relentless through most of Dec/Jan.

blindo's picture
blindo's picture
blindo commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 3:29pm

that low pressure anomaly over NSW is interesting as a Dec/Jan/Feb average, no doubt influenced by the recent Feb pattern shift, but also influenced also by the thermal lows established there through Dec and into Jan? supported by the outrageous 850mb temps we saw with diurnal fluctuations and no cloud cover.

surely this is one the most incredible synoptics progged as we went into the christmas heat waves. incredible gradient pressure differences over coastal fringe, i remember you could see the 6hr time steps picking up the diurnal fluctuation. indicative of a system severely deprived of moisture!

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 3:43pm

Yeah wow that's mental!

Such a strong gradient from the coast over the ranges and into inland.

Here's the pressure anomaly just for Dec/Jan and can see that heat low..

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 3:37pm

Slowed up towards the end, but taken in its entirety it was a really good summer around here. Consistent swell from an array of directions, less NE wind than usual (as Craig mentions), plus a two week burst through mid-Feb that fired up some of the NE-aligned rock ledges.

I'd say it was the best summer in the last five years.

A Cripple's picture
A Cripple's picture
A Cripple commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 8:58am

I agree!

One of the most consistent summers in Newcastle for years.
It was absolutely on the pump around here ALL DAY on Monday, did you check the first day of Surfest??

If 6 was 9,
I would be fine.

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 3:55pm

Fucking awful summer in SA, surfwise. A reasonable amount of swell at times, but constant winds out of the southern quarters.

There have only been three or four days worth packing the boards into the car for, and all but one of those were on my work days, so I couldn't get to the water anyway.

I've been wet a sum total of once since the start of December. Fucking awful.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

steve byrne's picture
steve byrne's picture
steve byrne commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:45am

too true! One of the poorest summers for waves in a long time!!!

Steveb

matt.stringer's picture
matt.stringer's picture
matt.stringer commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 9:41pm

As a surfer and a Kitesurfer, those winds have had me and all of my kind grinning ear to ear. I’d say I’ve got the water 5 out of 7 days this summer. Maybe you should look at branching out..... strapless surfboard and a kite

Walk around G's picture
Walk around G's picture
Walk around G commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 5:40pm

Yeh totally agree, it's been a very very bazaar summer. I'm not complaining though, as the SSW event provided out of season swell pulses, albeit mid period swell pulses hitting the reefs throughout our summer, even the winds came to the party too with the SAM becoming negative. I did however miss my usual summers swag trips to our powerful beaches but I think this has been the least painful summers I've had to endure, with the exception of those bloody blue bottles, since when do we get those little bastards?

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 8:53pm

Blueys in Vic??

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 8:31am

Pretty much every summer for the last 5 years, often around/after SE wind events

scroty's picture
scroty's picture
scroty commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 10:05am

Yeah - where did all those guys in fez selling spices and rugs come from? Really bazaar.

Clarky81's picture
Clarky81's picture
Clarky81 commented Tuesday, 3 Mar 2020 at 8:19pm

Summer in SEQ has been shithouse for surf! Hope Autumn brings some swell and offshores.

Fuckyou's picture
Fuckyou's picture
Fuckyou commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 6:34am

Port Macquarie has been, and is absoloute dogshit.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 6:40am

There’s a place I hear mentioned very little of on here. Hope the surf improves for you lot soon.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 8:40am

Full speed dolphin pod underneath me at the Town beach is a treasured memory.

Fuckyou's picture
Fuckyou's picture
Fuckyou commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 7:54am

...thats because its absoulute fucking dogshit 24/7/365, coast wide, which means that there is nothing to report on or film or photograph, except for Matt Banting. Sand is fucked everywhere at all times. Local old timers reckon there where civil works to extend the training walls slightly at the two major esturies, and three of the best breaks have not been the same since. Also, coastal retreat seems to have swallowed one of the beach breaks. Maybe it was always shit.
In my humble experience, large easterly swells destroy the banks at a lot of the better waves in the northern part of NSW and SEQ.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 10:15am

Someone needs a hug !

halleys-comet's picture
halleys-comet's picture
halleys-comet commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 7:24am

And for the West Coast of North Island of NZ, December and January brought prevailing westerlies, onshore and short period windswell, with a few windows of offshores, enough to keep a simple man happy..

daComet

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 7:42am

Nice, can clearly see that on the above charts in the article!

halleys-comet's picture
halleys-comet's picture
halleys-comet commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 7:51am

And the last couple of weeks a return to normal longer period sou west groundswells.... finally

daComet

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 8:36am

SSW and the Westerlies in late 2019 were pretty good around here tbh. Also it greened up earlier than usual, very lush by mid Feb when usually it's parched. Only about 4 days in the extreme 38-43 range; it felt a very mild summer. More humidity than usual, and about a week or so of easterly bushfire smoke as well. There's been two times of 2 week SE winds endurance events (go walk the dog), but you kind of expect that over summer (2nd one is forecast nowish). The last groundswell was epic.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:05am

Interesting also with the lack of deep seated easterly trade-flow extending from the South Pacific and Coral Seas until February, the localised north-east winds didn't bring in any blue bottles.

They did pop up late January/early February when we saw a trade-flow established but overall for summer the amount of days with blue bottles were minimal.

As an addendum, I got done twice in one surf and the potency was much stronger than I've felt before. Usually they don't cause me too much trouble, but the poison went into my lymphatic system up from my hand and fingers into my left arm pit and the dull aching pain for half an hour was very uncomfortable. So much I couldn't really use my left arm.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:41am

That's my normal reaction to blueys. Sometimes it's worse (e.g. sting on left foot leading to numb right arm). Taking a couple of claratyne straight away helps. A doc once told me the reaction can get worse each subsequent sting.

He who hesitates is lost

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:44am

Yeah I went straight to the chemist and got some antihistamine.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:47am

Funny you mention your bluebottle experience.

I don't ever recall having much of an issue with them, but this summer has seen a couple of bizarre incidents.

The most notable was my first bluey sting in ages, on my right wrist (I was wearing a long sleeved wettie top at time time). In addition to bluebottles, the water was full of blue button jellyfish and I suppose a whole bunch of other tiny stingers. 

Anyway, the initial pain was strong but manageable, and it subsided within 12 hours.

But strangely, after a few days I then developed a series of rashes appear along the inner length of my other arm. They persisted for 2-3 weeks.

After a lot of research, it looks like I may have had a stinger or two wash down my top (quite plausible - it has a zip up the front, so the neck is more open than normal) that's then gone down my arm, where it's been compressed under the 2mm rubber for the length of the surf.

The rash is called "seabather's eruption" apparently, and it finally went away after a couple of weeks. Certainly was a little alarming at the time. No other part of my body saw a reaction either - just the inside of my left arm. 

Very strange.

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 9:17pm

Seabather's Eruption? Pretty sure I've had a couple of those in my time, usually during extended lulls when the mind starts to wander.

Hang on, you said "eruption" didn't you...

Don't let the bastards grind you down

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 9:16pm

Got done up once at the Dunny Bowl in Maroubra, back in the days when that was my go-to break. Bugger wrapped around my left thigh and left inch-wide welts. I paddled in and jumped in the car to go home, but had to pull over about a km down the road because the toxins got into my lymphatic systems and made a bee-line for my testicular region. To this day I'm amazed that I was able to father two kids after that afternoon, because the pain was like nothing I've felt before.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

chook's picture
chook's picture
chook commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:53am

"come back steve, it was only a rash".....old graffiti from a surry hills' wall.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 10:53am

"Sea bather's eruption" He he.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 10:57am

Could've been worse (better), if "bather" was not the term used.

He who hesitates is lost

MidCoaster's picture
MidCoaster's picture
MidCoaster commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 11:29am

One of the worst SA summers in years. Even more unbelievable is that FR76 has a mate.

GRIP AND RIP

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 12:05pm

Late spring / summer provided an incredible run of waves for myself.

Literally haven’t gone left once since the start of December though. That’s what winter is for I guess.

burleigh's picture
burleigh's picture
burleigh commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 11:57am

Honestly can not remember a worse summer for waves on the Goldy. Not to mention the horrible banks on the points its a summer to forget and forget it FAST.

oldman's picture
oldman's picture
oldman commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 2:20pm

I agree with Cripple.
I browse through most of the cams each morning with my coffee.
Newcastle was the place to be. Seemed like pretty good surf 95% of the time.
Unfortunately as stated by surfstarved above SA has one of the worst summers I can remember.
We used to get the hot northerlies, but not much this year.

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 9:19pm

Except that one day in December when a hot NW blew most of the day, but I was too busy outrunning spotfires to worry about surfing.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 6:16pm

That's true,and climatologists have established that they'd better get used to it. First world problems Ay?

Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 6:58pm

Ps I don't mean to trivialize this situation as for surfers in Qld, S.A. and some other coasts its basically a climate catastrophe. Sorry to all those who have been skunked and also all those whose lives have been fucked over this past summer

NoUseforaName's picture
NoUseforaName's picture
NoUseforaName commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:26pm

B for the lower Sunny Coast. December was a non event but plenty of small fun beaches through January with less of the northerlies further south then February was fun as.
...and now for the main event AUTUMN

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 9:39pm

Enjoy the next 3 mths up there. After that it's all she wrote for another year then!!!

aaronwithadoublea's picture
aaronwithadoublea's picture
aaronwithadoublea commented Thursday, 5 Mar 2020 at 9:51pm

I dunno, waves have been incredibly consistent here. ( you can even time your sessions) 3ft waves peeling off a concrete wall..... left and right identical, and it can get quite...... beastly! Totally unaffected by sea breeze. URBAN surf can fix me up for the free plug any time.

mitchvg's picture
mitchvg's picture
mitchvg commented Friday, 6 Mar 2020 at 8:31pm

The weak high pressure in the coral sea that FR76 speaks of sometimes has been a killer up here in FNQ. No trades to keep things cool. The number of days above 35 degrees! Normally you get a monsoon burst or trades to cool things down. Not much of a dry synoptic westerly either. Lately just hot mid 30 temps WITH the usual humidity.

julioadler's picture
julioadler's picture
julioadler commented Saturday, 7 Mar 2020 at 4:55am

Southwest Brasil had the most unsual summer...
Still feels like autumn, but with heavy rains, sunshine has been scarce, loads of swell all the time.
Can't remember anything like it since i start to care about weather.