Very tricky short term outlook; but stacks of waves for the long term
Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra Surf Forecast by Ben Matson (issued Monday 11th February)
Best Days: Most days should have good waves though confidence isn't high on the incoming E/NE swell for the next few days. Better options expected later this week and into the weekend and beyond.
Recap: Saturday saw a combo of E/NE and NE swell hold occasional 2-3ft sets throughout the day, though early morning delivered a brief period of (unexpectedly) undersized conditions for a few hours. Conditions were clean with early light N’ly winds swinging NW and then freshening from the W/SW ahead of a late S’ly change. On Sunday, winds eased and backed to the SW and a strong S’ly swell punched a little higher than expected, with south facing beaches pushing 3-5ft at times. The S’ly swell eased slowly today from 2-3ft at south facing beaches, and early light winds created clean conditions ahead of the afternoon nor’easter.
Small leftover S'ly swell in Cronulla this morning
Small leftover E'ly swell in Manly this morning
This week (Feb 12 - 15)
I’m really not very confident in the surf outlook for the next few days.
The source of our inbound E/NE swell didn’t perform quite as well as expected over the weekend, and seemed to shift a little faster into the swell shadow of New Zealand.
Unfortunately, with no wave buoys in the central Tasman Sea to monitor the incoming swells and provide verification on their size and strength, we can only wait to see what transpires. However the Northern NSW and SE Qld coasts pick up these kinds of swells a little earlier than Southern NSW, and today they have seen an increase in energy from the same source - though it hasn’t been as strong and consistent as expected.
As such, I’m going to downgrade the outlook for the next few days (from this swell window). The large travel distance coupled in with the poorly consolidated fetch (as detailed in last week’s notes) and then the greater-than-anticipated swell shadowing from New Zealand has really dented my confidence in this swell event.
Additionally, the models seem to have erased all reference to any swell out of the E/NE on Tuesday. Instead, they're expecting the E/NE swell to not kick in until very late in the day, and then peak through Wednesday. This is at odds with my manual calculations.
So, Tuesday! What will we see? Today’s freshening NE winds should kick up a small NE windswell in the 2ft range. Despite model guidance to the contrary, I do think we’ll see some distant E/NE swell but set waves will be extremely inconsistent, pushing 3ft throughout the day (more chance of this after lunch, than before). Again, it’s a very low confidence event so don't plan any highway mileage.
Fortunately, conditions will be clean as pre-frontal N’ly winds swing NW, cleaning up most open beaches.
Wednesday looks really complex. In addition to our E/NE swell (which should hold steady with very inconsistent 3ft sets), gusty S’ly winds will push along the coast as a deep low south of Tasmania drives a front across Southern NSW.
We’ll see a combination of short to mid range south swells build in size throughout the day, offering bumpy 3-4ft sets at south swell magnets. Southern corners will be your best option with the E/NE swell and S’ly wind combo.
Thursday is a better day for waves with the front pushing clear of our region and a combination of swells providing interesting waves to open beaches: we should see very inconsistent 2-3ft sets out of the east, but also easing S’ly mid range swells from Wednesday ahead of some long period S’ly swell from the parent low south of Tasmania. Size should manage 3ft+ sets at south facing beaches, maybe some bigger sets at reliable swell magnets (such as the Hunter).
Conditions won’t be amazing on Thursday but it’ll be much more manageable than the day before, with pockets of light variable winds tending moderate E/SE then E/NE throughout the day.
And to finish off the working week, Friday’s looking to see a mix of swells: small E/NE background energy, a small building spread of SE swell from a stationary (through developing) ridge in the Central Tasman Sea, as well as a couple of south swells from frontal systems south of Tasmania and also a W/SW fetch exiting eastern Bass Strait.
Let’s peg size around 3ft at south facing beaches, and 2ft elsewhere. Winds should be mainly light and variable with sea breezes.
This weekend (Feb 16 - 17)
Some of the forecast charts are very impressive for the weekend, with a broadening ridge through the Tasman Sea combining with a widespread trough of low pressure to the north to create a large, strong SE fetch aimed into the Coral Sea.
However, not all models have the same setup to the same degree of intensity, and in the same part of the swell window either. As such we should be cautious about how high we set our expectations for the weekend.
As it is, there’ll be decent southerly groundswell sources in the mix this weekend from a series of polar lows off the ice shelf from late Wednesday onwards. No major size is expected but as a bare minimum, inconsistent 2-3ft sets are likely.
The fetch in the central Tasman Sea should supply around 3-4ft of sideband SE swell for our region, and we’ll also see some persistent E/NE swell from the tropical lows further NE of the ridge, feeding into the broader system.
Current expectations are for light winds and sea breezes both days, so there’ll be options just about everywhere.
Let’s see how Wednesday’s model runs are shaping up with this Tasman system, as there’s certainly the potential for an upgrade.
Next week (Feb 18 onwards)
Long term activity is centred around the South Pacific, with a multitude of tropical lows (and possible tropical cyclones) moving through our swell window at various points in time. However there’s nothing concrete to pin down at this stage, so tune back in Wednesday to see how things have evolved.