Is October the New March?
It's mid-October and we're now...hang on, let me count, day nine of an east swell that just won't die. Last week there were six offshore mornings in a row. One of the days just passed had, according to a concrete-cutter pal, “Indo boat trip-style surf".
Take a random straw poll of anyone on the East Coast - especially in the populated sub-tropical zones - and ask what the best months for surf are and it will likely start with 'M'.
March or May.
The worst month for surf is an even easier question to answer.
The usual expectation once 'spring has sprung' is for the nor-easters to peel your eyelids back and blow tumbleweeds down the main street of surf towns. If you can stomach the wind, it's a great time for kiteboarding, and for everyone else it means turning away from the ocean to whatever floats your non-surf boat: mountain biking, flathead fishing, anything apart from grovelling in that cold, shapeless, onshore slop.
My traditional method of dealing with October is to enjoy September sessions in Fiji or Indonesia, then come back with a belly full of surf and hibernate until summer tradewind surf kicks in during December.
Not this year, not last year - both La Niña years - and not even 2019 during a prolonged dry spell when the East Coast was on fire. The best surf of that year was a three-day swell in October, while March was relentlessly onshore, as it was this year too.
More and more we seem to be seeing, not seasons arriving early or late, but complete seasonal reversals.
Last week's charts were revealing. An extended, deep easterly tradewind fetch anchored a pair of tropical depressions that drifted down from Fiji. Those are the fruits we expect to harvest in March. Over the weekend, sea surface temperatures on the local Byron Buoy were close to 22°. That's not quite late summer stuff, but it's a far cry from the usual 17-19 we get in a 'normal' October as Ekman Transport kicks in, caused by north-east winds which push warm surface waters away from the coast and allow colder upwellings to occur.
Not this October.
What's going on?
It's mostly a black box phemonena, for now. Possibly an artifact of basin-scale patterns like ENSO or the PDO [Pacific Decadal Oscillation]. Possibly a longer term shift related to a climate change-induced strengthening of the East Australian Current, or an expansion of the Hadley Cell which is influencing the seasonal pattern of tradewinds.
Then again, it may just be a complete coincidence. Something we look back on in five years time and wonder what the hell that was all about.
For now, we've got some north-east winds coming but the South Pacific Convergence Zone is bubbling away; a tropical depression looks to be forming around Fiji towards the end of the week. The dim and dreary outlook of a normal October continues to look more like the one we expect in March.
// STEVE SHEARER
(Photos taken by Craig Brokensha during last week's east swell)