Lots of surf ahead for all regions; dynamic long term possibilities

Ben Matson picture
Ben Matson (thermalben)

South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales Surf Forecast by Ben Matson (issued Wednesday 23rd December)

Best Days: Plenty of waves most days but you'll have to work around the winds. Late Thurs/Fri for small SE Qld outer points and bigger surf across Northern NSW. Fun peaky mix of weekend waves, with still some dynamic potential in store for the long term period too.

Recap: Plenty of peaky easterly swell on Tuesday though somewhat lacking in strength, with size just reaching the bottom end of the forecast size range (mainly 2-3ft across most open beaches). Today the east swell has eased but we’re seeing a fresh SE swell from a stalled trough in the Northern Tasman Sea. Southerly winds are spreading up the coast, deteriorating surface conditions at exposed spots but there are waves all the way up to Byron region. Surf size is only small in SE Qld. 

This week (December 24th - 25th)

We’ve got some fun waves in store for the rest of the week.

There’s currently a nice squeeze happening between a Tasman high (to the south) and a broad trough of low pressure (to the north). Even better, we’re in somewhat of a blocking pattern so this feature is expected to remain very slow moving for the next day or so. So even though surface winds aren’t especially strong, their extended duration within our swell window will help to increase the size potential across the coast. 

Surf size is expected to build all day Thursday - being a mix of short and mid-range swells from the south and south-east - before peaking early Christmas and easing throughout the day. A southerly change associated with the trough will now extend further north than anticipated in Monday’s notes (on Thursday), favouring the points and other sheltered locations, before conditions ease into Friday.

SE Qld: Thursday afternoon looks like it may very well deliver some nice waves across the outer points. In the morning, we’re looking to see a small mix of leftover E’ly swell and some small SE swell from the fetch in the central Tasman Sea (it’s aimed mainly towards Northern NSW, so there’ll be only smaller levels of energy reaching north of the border). However a fresh SW tending S’ly then eventually S/SE change is cross the border from mid-morning onwards, generating some useful short range S/SE swell and providing clean condition across the outer points. 

No great size is expected from this source however outer southern Gold Coast points should see 2ft sets through the afternoon, maybe even 2-3ft in the last few hours of the day if we’re lucky. They’ll be cleanest under the southerly breeze.

The Sunshine Coast will probably see a little less size, and the S’ly change is not expected until later Thursday (lunchtime or early afternoon), and with less strength too. So given these parameters I’m less confident of anything worthwhile north of Brisbane on Thursday.

On Friday, this swell event will reach a peak and slowly ease in size throughout the day. The pressure gradient should have relaxed by this time, allowing for early light SW winds and moderate E’ly sea breezes, though open beaches may still feel the effects of Thursday’s southerly. Don’t expect much more than 2-3ft at exposed beaches and outer points, with bigger waves on offer south of the border.

Northern NSW: Building swells and gusty S’ly tending SE winds will dominate Thursday’s proceedings. Early SW winds are likely in a few areas, but mainly in the Far North of the state (north of Ballina). Exposed beaches should reach a bumpy 3-5ft by the end of the day so given these winds the best options will be along the semi-exposed points, with much smaller surf elsewhere. 

If there were a region more likely to receive the upper end of this size range, it’ll be the Mid North Coast (as that’s where the primary fetch is aimed towards). But most locations up to Cape Byron should see a similar range with perhaps slightly smaller surf across the Tweed Coast.

Friday should provide a good spread of easing surf from 3-5ft at exposed beaches, with smaller waves across semi-exposed points and mainly light SW thru’ S’ly winds and weak afternoon sea breezes. I doubt conditions will be fantastic, but there should be a lot less wind than Thursday and consequently a lot less lump and bump on the surface.

This weekend (December 26th - 27th)

There’s been a few changes (surprise surprise!) since Monday’s model runs. 

The eastward-propagating monsoon pattern across the top end - that will probably spin off a tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Carpentaria at some point - has stalled in the latest runs and it now looks like this source of atmospheric fuel (re: swell generating potential in our swell window) may be delayed by a week or more before it properly enters the Northern Coral Sea. Bummer.

This changes the equation for our long term surf prospects as it was expected that the monsoon pattern would inject a healthy dose of moisture and instability across the Coral Sea, of which the concurrent arrival of a gusty southerly change would then be a suitable trigger for a significant swell generating system somewhere within our short to medium swell window. 

Nevertheless, we still have some fun waves on the way. The Thurs/Fri SE swell will continue to slowly ease into Saturday but should still manage 3ft+ surf across Northern NSW (smaller on Sunday) with smaller surf across SE Qld, best suited to the wide open beaches. 

Additionally, a freshening E/NE fetch acros the broader Northern Tasman/Southern Coral Sea through late Friday and Saturday should kick up a small peaky E/NE swell for both SE Qld and Northern NSW on Sunday. No major size is expected but fun peaky 2-3ft sets are a possibility across the open beach breaks.

Local winds look reasonable Saturday with mainly light winds and afternoon sea breezes. A gusty southerly change is expected to push across the coast on Sunday and this will confine the best waves to protected points (which should be fun in SE Qld with a small E/NE swell in the water). A decent fetch training the southerly change will generate some south swell but probably not with any great size until Monday. More on this in Friday’s update.

Next week (December 28th onwards)

The models are point towards a solid S/SE swell early next week as an embedded low in the lee of Sunday’s change (off the Southern NSW coast) pushes up into the swell window. This would likely result in a significant range in wave heights between Northern NSW (large surf) and SE Qld (much smaller surf) but under a gusty S/SE airstream the points will be the only workable options anyway.

Either way we've got plenty of surf on the way from this direction - we'll just have to wait and see how much south is in its direction as to determine the size potential in SE Qld, and at Northern NSW beaches not open to the south.

Otherwise, the long term charts are suggesting a broad region of instability across our eastern swell window. Aside from the stalled monsoon pattern in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the models are also suggesting we’ll see a second north-west pulse track the Solomons towards Samoa around Monday or Tuesday, and somewhere in the lee of this pattern (i.e. around Fiji, Vanuatu) could see the development of a significant tropical feature sometime around the New Year. And there’ll generally be a lingering easterly flow through the SW Pacific and Northern Tasman region during this period too that should keep our east swell window active too (just).

As such, all signs still point towards a very significant swell system developing at some point in the long term period - but I fear we are still at least a week away from seeing any true clarity in the model runs (and therefore, any confidence in the long term outlook). Check back on Friday to see how it’s all shaping up.

Have a fantastic Xmas!


donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather Wednesday, 23 Dec 2015 at 9:49pm

Curious to know why you think this Gulf of Carpentaria low/TC will move out into the northern Coral Sea Ben?

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 23 Dec 2015 at 9:51pm

Don, not so much the TC as the broader monsoon flow itself. 

tonybarber's picture
tonybarber's picture
tonybarber Thursday, 24 Dec 2015 at 2:24pm

A TC it may not be but looking at BOMs week forecast, it looks like rain will penetrate down to Longreach, essentially middle of Qld.
Badly needed - lets hope its their Chrissy present ...

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather Thursday, 24 Dec 2015 at 8:16am

Ahhh ok. Thanks Ben.

For me it looks like the MJO bounces over the Coral Sea and straight into the SPCZ.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Thursday, 24 Dec 2015 at 11:18am

Few little peelers starting to show at Snapper.