Analysing Winter 2022

Craig Brokensha picture
Craig Brokensha (Craig)
Swellnet Analysis

Stop, breath, reflect.

Without trying to sound repetitive or disrespectful to our southern brethren, the last three years on the East Coast have been an absolute surf binge. The seasons hardly mattered, be it spring, summer, autumn, or winter, it feels like it's rarely been flat in nearly three years of surf.

Autumn and winter are always generally reliable on the East Coast but the main difference through the last few winters has been the lack of large southerly swells. Breaking from seasonal norms, most of the swells have arrived from a more easterly angle.

And this is all thanks to the persistent La Niña signal throughout the Pacific Ocean which developed through 2020 and will enter its third year into the coming 22/23 summer.

So why does La Niña bathe the East Coast in endless swell?

Here's a refresher for those who need it but for those who don't and want to dive straight into the article you can scroll straight to the first surf photo:

  • When stronger than normal easterly trade-winds blow across the equatorial Pacific Ocean (read: along the equator), we see warm surface water pushed to Australia's northern coastlines.
  • Conversely, cold water is upwelled by the easterly trade-winds throughout the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, setting up a difference in pressure.
  • The warm water north of Australia heats the atmosphere directly above it, causing it to rise, which in turn creates lower surface pressure. The opposite occurs over the cooler water, with descending air creating higher surface pressure.
  • Winds flow from high pressure to low pressure - so from the cooler water in the east to the warmer water in the west - strengthening the easterly trade-winds further which in turn creates more upwelling to the east while piling up more warm water to the west. A classic positive feedback loop.

Current La Niña setup with cold water throughout the central Pacific Ocean, warmer to the west. Source (NOAA)

And that's not all.

  • The flow on effects of the lower than normal pressure developing to the north of the country is a shift in the sub-tropical high pressure cell to further south than normal.
  • This shift southwards opens the East Coast to swell-generating easterly trade-winds which are usually restricted to more northern locations. We also see the lower than normal pressure squeezing the high, generating stronger than normal trades. A win/win for the East Coast but the big losers of this setup at the southern states.

The La Niña phase of ENSO. Source (BOM)

  • The reason for that is that, just as the sub-tropical highs are pushed south, so to is the westerly storm track. It's shoved further south towards Antarctica, effectively suppressing it through autumn and winter.
  • Instead of the normal Southern Ocean storms through the Roaring Forties we see less favourable swell producers in the form of mid-latitude lows and fronts. These mid-latitude systems sit too far north and have no sting in their tails to generate much beyond weak, short-period westerly swells.
  • Being that winter is prime time for Victoria's Surf Coast and South Australia's Victor Harbor, swells arriving from the west are blocked by Cape Otway and Kangaroo Island respectively, resulting in clean but very small surf.
  • The spawning ground for these mid-latitude systems is to the west-southwest of Western Australia, with the Margaret River region bearing the brunt of the storms resulting in weeks of onshore winds and large, stormy surf.
  • The big winners are the WA metro regions as they're just north enough to be clear of all but the strongest fronts which results in lighter winds, cleaner conditions and plenty of swell.

Pumping Gold Coast, late July

OK, with that short refresher done, let's come up to date for winter 2022.

The following graph charts the Mean Sea Level Pressure anomaly (the difference from the long-term average 1991-2020) for the past three months.

What's most obvious is the higher than normal pressure sitting across the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties, the engine room for Southern Ocean cold fronts and the swell farm for South Australia and Victoria.

Mean Sea Level Pressure anomaly (difference from normal) for Jun/Jul/Aug 2022

We can also see the higher than normal pressure to the east of New Zealand which is linked to the La Niña signal which slowly decayed through autumn before re-strengthening into winter.

Lower than normal pressure hugs most of the Australian continent, with the negative Indian Ocean Dipole event (warm water build up around eastern Indonesia) being the cause of the lower than normal pressure to our north-west and west.

Looking at the wind speed and direction anomaly (again, the difference from the long-term average) we can see the source of the persistent easterly swell across south-east Queensland and northern NSW. That being the interaction between the high sitting east of New Zealand and lower pressure north of it, bringing stronger than normal easterly trades.

Wind speed and direction anomaly (difference from normal) for Jun/Jul/Aug 2022

Also, note the stronger than normal easterly trade-winds across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, leading to a strengthening of the La Niña signal through the winter months.

For southern NSW, a steady diet of easterly swell energy was seen, with a few bigger days thrown into the mix thanks to the development of coastal and Tasman Lows. As touched on above this is at odds with normal winter seasons where we see southerly energy being dominant.

Personally, the convenience of surfing locally at Manly instead of heading further north over the hill, as is often the case in winter, was more than welcome.

The downside to all this easterly swell energy following two previous La Niña years was the erosion witnessed across nearly all beaches, some of it the worst in recent memory.

Heavy erosion at North Entrance

For the southern states, seeing south-southeast wind anomalies right across Victoria's main swell window is telling. This doesn't mean that winds were persistently south-east, just that the normal zonal, westerly breezes were absent and much weaker than normal.

The source of larger, long-period groundswells for Indonesia and Western Australia, that being the Heard Island region was very subdued (represented by the strong east wind anomalies in that area). This indicates winds in that region which are generally westerly were considerably weaker than normal.

And for Indonesia, the unfavourable NW winds across Sumatra, linked to the negative Indian Ocean Dipole, is clearly evident.

Classic East Coast lineup

Moving into the spring and summer ahead, with our third La Niña summer locked and loaded, we'll be looking at favourable surf continuing across the East Coast along with a continuation of mid-latitude activity for the southern states.

Most agencies have the La Niña signal breaking down into the end of summer but we'll continue to monitor this closely.


Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 9:26am

Thanks for the review Craig. Looking forward to some summer sustained small to medium tradeswells.

Here's hoping the rain focuses somewhere other than NNSW

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 9:48am

How good is climate change. I can’t believe that we made the surf better on the East coast just by everyone driving cars for eighty years. Too easy!

Might put the back axle up on blocks and run mine 24/7 ….imagine how good it will be if it gets warmer. . I suggest everyone else do the same if they value East swells.

wax-on-danielson's picture
wax-on-danielson's picture
wax-on-danielson Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 2:07pm

Probably a few exposed rock shelves which would serve better as reefs as well. And who like wetsuits?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 11:14am

Game of Thirds here for Winter.

June was almost perfect with the reversion back to classic Winter conditions- westerly winds and quality long period S and rare SE groundswells, along with a classic E swell day at the end of the month.
And, more importantly, good banks.

July went back to a more classic La Niña pattern, with cool, wet days and more SE-E angled swells.

Big E swell that Craig has photo of above, knocked out the local banks, which meant the rest of July and August was consistent but impaired quality.

Still tons of surf.

Winter 2020- 10/10
Winter 2021- 8/10
Winter 2022- 7/10

simsurf's picture
simsurf's picture
simsurf Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 11:37am

Compared to the two years during the pandemic this winter has been a let down for the GC. Not many all day NWesters either.

ryder's picture
ryder's picture
ryder Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 11:40am

FOR SALE - my entire SA quiver

mpeachy's picture
mpeachy's picture
mpeachy Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 1:31pm

Looks like a fair bit of swell heading to the southern states in the next couple of weeks

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 1:58pm

Mornington Peninsula has had good banks, no major swells that kill them as is usually the case, and good conditions at least twice a week. In fact, many days even here have been really small and gutless which is normally unheard of for winter more like summer. I think we had a 15 sec swell last week but it was only 2-3 foot - great fun for all the family.

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 7:33pm

Where is everyone Memlos? Its been on the pump and next to no one to share it with. A weird thing on the peninsula at the moment, is 3 to 4ft too small for most of the hardcore chargers, I think everyone thinks their balls are bigger than they are or maybe they want everyone to think that they are. Then when it's 5 to 6ft your are chasing the 3 footers anyway.

geek's picture
geek's picture
geek Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 6:58am

It’s the dawn tide/swell pattern that’s killed it for me. Larger swells getting the big lows that last a week and small swells copping the highs for what seems like months now. Bit more light to play with now finally

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 7:35am

Seen similar sights all up and down the East Coast away from the marquee breaks Finnbob.

It appears everyone is either at the snow, Indo or Europe. The great escape.

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 9:23am

I think the construction industry might have a bit to blame. Everyone down here is busy. Maybe they are surfing after work hours while i’m running the witching hour at home.

Robwilliams's picture
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Robwilliams Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 3:04pm

Perfect for power logging or modern long boarding Get out there

Been a very slow couple of years in the south
kind of have to adapt or travel east to remind oneself of quality that inspires or maintains stoke

Pack that car Ryder before you sell
the hardest part of the chase is not being able to chase at all

the consistency and quality is a massive motivator for the east coast crew in comparisons to the wave starved regions

everyone's feeling it whilst as Craig and the east coast crew are having bumper seasons frustrating on one level and epic on another

finding quality has been rare for many in comparison to what crew usually chase it's been atrocious by higher standards

So much so crew have resorted to wavepool fly ins or reshuffling the the shuttlecock collection and badminton rackets but it is as it is

get out there

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 12:01pm

There's been some joy log sessions

Trentslatterphoto's picture
Trentslatterphoto's picture
Trentslatterphoto Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 4:20pm

WA has been shit

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 4:46pm


velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 11:59am

So I took a wrong left turn at Winchelsea? D'oh!

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 5:00pm

To be fair to the Southerners, endless swell does not equal endless pumping waves, at least for the SC it's been mostly mediocre wind, sand and surf. Winter was crap, no classic days, at least it was cold though which was nice. Look forward to this cycle ending one day.

nicko74's picture
nicko74's picture
nicko74 Monday, 12 Sep 2022 at 6:27pm

Yep this year was particularly peculiar in the West

evosurfer's picture
evosurfer's picture
evosurfer Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 10:54am

I believe the 1st two years of the China virus were better than this year.
In saying that this year has been pretty epic as well, we wont know what
has hit us when it goes back to standard surf winter and summer.

Frodge's picture
Frodge's picture
Frodge Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 2:48pm

"Moving into the spring and summer ahead, with our third La Niña summer locked and loaded,"

BOM have come to the La Nina party, with today's update:

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 3:20pm