The winter that was - 2020

Craig Brokensha
Swellnet Analysis

Spring has sprung across most of the country and just like that, the endless run of pumping winter swells across the East Coast have come to a halt, right as the nor'easters kick in with precision-like timing.

The yin and yang of the surfing community was clear to see with calls of the "best winter in decades" ringing out east of the Great Dividing Range, while to the south it was "the worst August and winter in memory".

While Western Australia continues to cop stormy winter weather I've pulled up the charts to analyse the month just past.

As per the last analysis articles for June and July the main theme for the lack of winteresque swells is a pesky and persistent blocking high pressure anomaly bang across the normally active Southern Ocean storm track.

The term 'anomaly' means the difference from the 30 year climate average, and when observing a high pressure anomaly it indicates that the pressure was higher across that region compared to the long-term average.

Mean Sea Level Pressue Anomaly for August

Looking at the month of August (above) and what's clearly visible is a significant high pressure anomaly sitting right across Victoria's prime swell window, similar for Tasmania. South Australia was also affected, though westerly swells still arrived from under Western Australia.

The area where the anomaly sits is the main engine room for Southern Ocean storms and with the pressure reaching as high as 15hPa above normal through August, the cause of the poor run of swell is clear.

With such an anomaly of high pressure, the conveyer belt of polar fronts up and into Victoria usually seen in winter could never develop, instead blocked and steered away to the south once moving across Western Australia.

Countering this is the low pressure anomaly sitting south-east of South Africa, with Indonesia continuing to pump while Western Australia copped mid-latitude storms brought up from the south-western Indian Ocean.

Moving across to the East Coast and the dip in low pressure through the Tasman Sea is more pronounced than July, linked to the clustering of East Coast Lows from late July through mid-August. Things settled down from the middle of the month, bringing an end to the best run of conditions and swell for the Sydney region in over a decade, if not longer.

There's also the low pressure anomaly south-east of New Zealand, but the alignment of this in regards to the high north of it isn't actually favourable for Tahiti (for those interested).

If we look at the upper level winds at 500hpa (which influence the surface weather) you can see it splitting and weakening from a position south-west of Western Australia, right through to the Tasman Sea. Without this upper level forcing of westerly winds, there was no chance for the development of significant surface frontal systems and swell producing storms through the Southern Ocean.

Mean upper level (500hPa) winds for August, not weakening above Victoria's prime swell window

Going beyond August I've pulled up the Mean Sea Level Surface Pressure Anomaly charts for the entire winter (below) and what it reinforces is the general state of play across the country.

Swell producing storms originating from the south-west Indian Ocean and winds from the northern quadrant for Western Australia with westerly swells, a blocking pattern for South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania (though South Australia still saw fun swells out of the west). Lower pressure through the Tasman Sea and another high pressure anomaly sitting east of New Zealand nurtured and prolonged any low forming off the East Coast, providing the endless run of swell for NSW and the east coast of Tasmania. Queensland was also decent though generally smaller than the better locations to the south.

Mean Sea Level Pressue Anomaly for June, July, August (all of winter)

Looking at the coming spring and summer, we're still on La Nina alert and this bodes well for an active summer of surf across the East Coast, but keep an eye on the tri-weekly Forecaster Notes for more details.

Comments

rogerdodger's picture
rogerdodger's picture
rogerdodger commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 3:29pm

Well, if there was ever a good time to be locked down in Melbourne, this winter was definitely it.....although I wish I was locked down in Indo with Ulu at my back door.

Sebamo's picture
Sebamo's picture
Sebamo commented Monday, 7 Sep 2020 at 7:09am

So true

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 3:57pm

Right on Craig.

I think best since the ECL winter of 2007.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 3:58pm

Well, we still had the best & most controversial forecast notes comments in the country...

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 4:39pm

true.
it was kind of bizarre how Vicco surfers had the biggest tantrums, despite the SEQLD/NENSW surfers being separated by an actual state border.

geek's picture
geek's picture
geek commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 5:06pm

If you were down here you’d understand, shits fucked on many many different levels

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 5:27pm

Been told you can’t surf? Not tantrum warranted?

I am the bone

Dx3's picture
Dx3's picture
Dx3 commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 5:27pm

bizarre we had the biggest tantrums? Surfing has been inaccessible for fair few of us down here for quite a while now. Forgive us that we complained a bit more than you cos you could surf a collection of awesome breaks but not all awesome breaks in your region...

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 5:29pm

And the coast that could had a shitehouse run. I really don’t get that comment FR.

I am the bone

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 5:39pm

fair enough, tantrum was the wrong word.

I meant it in a lighthearted way.

apologies.

Stok's picture
Stok's picture
Stok commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 7:14pm

Pre-covid the conversation in the Vic forecast notes usually involved whinging and tantrums (mostly about crowds and overcalling of surf forecasts)....post covid it's gone haywire.

It's the cooler weather and grayer skies for sure down here.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 7:31pm

Put your foot in it there fr!
But yeah seriously, ya got no idea how cunty it’s been

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 11:36am

I got the joke they are a bit tender down that way at the moment although they must have had a good weekend as it was big down here. Because all the local chargers couldn't travel there were waves I had never seen surfed before with people out. One was miles out and only a take off, but big and heavy.

Sebamo's picture
Sebamo's picture
Sebamo commented Monday, 7 Sep 2020 at 7:15am

I hope you get food poisoning in your wetsuit. Hope of even getting a wave soon is cruelty

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 6:09pm

Hahaha

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 6:18pm

Tell ya what I had a tantrum about. Reading about your Sat. I want that *slamming fists on table

I am the bone

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 6:28pm

Definitely best autumn and winter here for many, many years.

Looking back on August,
I didn’t get as many quality sessions than prior. But the comparison is a bit unfair.

Feeling for all our Vicco cousins. Hope you get some semblance of normal soon.

trevbucky's picture
trevbucky's picture
trevbucky commented Wednesday, 9 Sep 2020 at 11:06pm

Where are you Solitude? WA?

Vic Local's picture
Vic Local's picture
Vic Local commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 7:21pm

tantrums are fun but.

"angry online, smiley in the brine"

Agitator's picture
Agitator's picture
Agitator commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 8:29pm

After covid hit and lock downs were implemented I read reports that air quality improved world wide and that the environment basically started healing or regenerating..........this last winter of back to back east swells in Sydney reminded me a lot of how the winters use to be during the seventies (consistent runs of east swells and bigger waves with swells lasting for longer periods.....less people and less pollution back then)..........got me wondering if the lock downs may have helped mother nature kick into a better gear???

Dx3's picture
Dx3's picture
Dx3 commented Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 8:24pm

I really do hope that with the economic and mental carnage that’s been caused there has at least been some environmental benefit to all this, so that would be pleasing to hear.

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 6:06am

Australia’s net overseas permanent migration rate is about 250,000 per year. Add in the “ temporary “ migrants who are here for many years at a time before joining the ranks of permanent , or are replaced with more temporary migrants and you have well over 400,000 people moving to Australia each year.

This is more than the entire population of Canberra ( Australia’s 7th biggest city ).

Palmerston in Canberra is home to 5200 people , which is about 1.3 percent of the population of Canberra. This picture shows roughly half of the population of Palmerston and the visible and immediate effects on the environment of their habitation.

The direct impact of housing only one year’s worth of mass immigration is the equivalent of 160 times that shown below . The secondary effects of Covid has managed to save a priceless piece of remaining Australian natural habitat. Let alone set back the momentous destruction of air. water and animal species by a bit longer.

2020 winter has been fun for waves.

vicco11's picture
vicco11's picture
vicco11 commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 7:24am

Love these recaps Craig. Thanks

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 8:38am

Well that could have been the most depressing reading since the first articles about the announcement of the Fed Govts covid recovery taskforce full of gas industry execs.

Good article, all the same, Craig.

Sebamo's picture
Sebamo's picture
Sebamo commented Monday, 7 Sep 2020 at 7:18am

Hahaha

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 10:06am

Top tier winter.
Not only did we have the best run of swell in living memory, but we actually had decent-to-bloody good banks for most of it... normally such a run of swell would be wasted on headland-to-headland closeouts.

(Of course, top tier at my local probably comes in at "don't even bother" for all you crew at A-grade spots).

He who hesitates is lost

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 10:10am

Yep, the sand banks and transport into all the nooks and crannies was the cherry on top.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 11:39am

Better than 2007? I was in the ments in 2008 and all the Sydney guys were saying is was a waste of swell as the beachies couldn't handle it. I remember flying out of Sydney in 2007 and could see Shark Island booming.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 12:00pm

I don't have the best memory, but I vaguely remember spending a lot of time hunting for waves back then, whereas this year most of the time the local was good (and by all reports, most spots had good banks, so didn't have much trouble with crowds).
Not to say 2007 wasn't also a bloody good year; I just remember it being harder work.

He who hesitates is lost

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 12:00pm

I didn't have a drivers license back then either, so that made it harder too.

He who hesitates is lost

vicbloke's picture
vicbloke's picture
vicbloke commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 12:06pm

i was so bored due to lockdown that i started to add the scores given by SN for Torquay on a daily basis...average for July 3.23...average for August 3.06.
looking at these averages is a fair reflection on what we have endured

Vic Local's picture
Vic Local's picture
Vic Local commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 12:08pm

vicbloke, I love you brother, but you seriously need to find a new hobby.

"angry online, smiley in the brine"

vicbloke's picture
vicbloke's picture
vicbloke commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 12:12pm

agree 100%

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Saturday, 5 Sep 2020 at 3:58am

I reckon that’s a totally legit hobby. It’s the sort of thing I do all the time.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 2:31pm

Great work! Wish I could give out a JJJ prize pack or something :p.

Puzzled's picture
Puzzled's picture
Puzzled commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 12:55pm

East of Melbourne actually had a good run in autumn to mid winter. Reasonable sized swells and consistent yet very unseasonable northerlies and even sheet glass days.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 2:33pm

Yes it did, the poor surf was in relation to the Surf Coast which usually fires through this period.

Puzzled's picture
Puzzled's picture
Puzzled commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 3:02pm

One man's trash is another man's treasure!
NE / glass instead of howling W/NW was a surprise for June/July

Did this correlate to the East Coast lows that gave the Tasman a battering over Winter?

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 3:04pm

Yep, lows sitting in the Tasman, high to the south-west and winds from the east to north-east across Victoria.

P'tai's picture
P'tai's picture
P'tai commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 3:24pm

Ahh yes 2007, I was at the time living in the Northern Illawarrra region, it pumped. I didn't have to drive all winter (for surf) just stayed at the local. Good conditions too as there were not many days with the hang gliders up.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 4:56pm

General question for Craig/those who were there: how did this winter compare to 1974 on the East Coast? Was that La Nina? I just remember looking at Peter Crawford's pic of Dee Why from that time in total amazement.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 11 Sep 2020 at 6:35am

Yeah 1973-76 where strong La Niña years VJ, though this period around Sydney looked more stormy and destructive, while this year we've seen the lows sitting further south.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 5:06pm

And investigative question for Craig: with all the planes that got grounded by Corona, did we see any repeat of the phenomenon noticed after CONUS shut down it's air spaces after September 11, 2001?

Link:

https://web.archive.org/web/20160411094048/http://www.atmos.washington.e...

That link isn't exactly what I remember from the time, which was scientists being concerned at increasing stratospheric temperatures.

Agitator's picture
Agitator's picture
Agitator commented Sunday, 6 Sep 2020 at 7:09am

1974 CRANKED in Sydney.......Sygna Storm in May pumped out the biggest waves I have ever seen in my life in Australia, once the conditions settled banks were EPIC....period from May to June was EPIC.......the roy and longy were all time during that winter, that year was amazing.

evosurfer's picture
evosurfer's picture
evosurfer commented Saturday, 5 Sep 2020 at 8:53am

Ive been around a long time and 2020 to me has been right up there
with the best winters I can remember mainly because its been consistant
and prolonged with some epic conditions and where im from with notoriously
ordinary banks after each big swell actually got better and really good. The
points,reefs and bombies also turned on and could be surfed consistantly to
take advantage of maximun size and thats why I live here.
Not been able to travel OS couldnt come in a better year.
The last few autums and winters have been so bad but I did notice spring
had a lot more quality surf than normal. Maybe this year spring will be really
bad as it now looks and in hindsight this year might just be a normal winter.
Who knows nothing seems normal anymore.

IF im not surfing im racing

gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco commented Sunday, 6 Sep 2020 at 6:36am

This winter on the Sunny Coast was definitely one of the best I've seen, particularly due to the banks being able to handle fairly straight winter swells. It was a nice and sunny, mild winter with consistent, fun waves from swells that seemed to last for weeks and lots days that were offshore all day. My mid 40s body was struggling to keep up with it.

I remember 2007 as a totally different story: a rainy, cold and fairly harsh winter with some big, solid, amazing swells by Sunny Coast winter standards. I'll never forget the Pasha Bulker swell, ever. Some of those 2007 winter swells lit up the points like cyclone swells.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Sunday, 6 Sep 2020 at 7:25am

there were a lot of swells in 2007 that went from flat to 6-8ft within a day.

This winter was more moderate but swells lasted longer.

Derryn's picture
Derryn's picture
Derryn commented Sunday, 6 Sep 2020 at 11:54am

Anecdotally, it was the warmest winter in West Oz I can remember.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Sunday, 6 Sep 2020 at 6:42pm

I'd say the best, continuous run of waves since the Summer of 2015/16.

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

Barrel Daithwaite's picture
Barrel Daithwaite's picture
Barrel Daithwaite commented Monday, 7 Sep 2020 at 6:25pm

Are the daily report numbers stored in a spreadsheet somewhere?

Would be interesting to see the moving averages of different locations stacked on top of each other for comparison.

Of course they will be relative to the reporters standards and judgement but still would give a broad indication of swell and wind consistency.

willibutler's picture
willibutler's picture
willibutler commented Monday, 7 Sep 2020 at 7:45pm

Someone did it in the last Victorian notes last week for torquay

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Tuesday, 8 Sep 2020 at 7:32am

They're in the backend but quickly accessing that data is tricky.

And Willi, actually above not in the Vicco notes.

Barrel Daithwaite's picture
Barrel Daithwaite's picture
Barrel Daithwaite commented Tuesday, 8 Sep 2020 at 9:04am

Oh awesome! Would love to see an article with that data one day. If you could get it into a spread sheet it shouldn’t be to hard to come up with the graphs.

Would make an interesting addition to the “who’s got the most consistent coast” debates. Throwing in some data rather than just anecdotes.

And yeh Willi I saw that but more talking about year on year data across regions.

trevbucky's picture
trevbucky's picture
trevbucky commented Wednesday, 9 Sep 2020 at 11:21pm

We’ve had one of the best seasons this year, with Autumn and Winter probably as good as I can remember over here in WA, (we’ll Perth & Mandurah anyway). Lots of swell and lots of offshores, but It sounds like there’s been lots of onshores down south.

And for a change the beachy’s have had good banks!

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 11 Sep 2020 at 6:36am

Yep, just being north of the main frontal activity has seen the Perth/Mandurah region get all the swell but with better winds.