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New England Surf, Beach and Boating Forecasts
Create Your Own Forecast
Most forecasts are generated by computer software and are generally accurate. But you may do better by checking out multiple sources and applying the discernment of your own experience and commonsense. A good first step is to check the wave forecast from the US Navy known as FNMOC WW3. The Wave Watch 3 forecast looks 8 days out and shows low pressure systems as they build and move. The Wave Watch forecast also shows wave direction, something not available from National Weather Service marine forecasts. It's interesting to see hurricanes form off the coast of Africa, move across the Atlantic and then up the Eastern Seaboard. From a New England surfer's perspective, a beautiful Wave Watch forecast will show a massive low parked some 300 miles off Cape Cod for a couple of days combined with gentle offshore breezes. Boaters naturally see things differently. Wave heights are shown in colors and a scale (in feet) appears at the bottom of each image. There's an image for every 12 hour period. Note that "00Z" means midnight and "12Z" means noon... Greenwich Mean Time. That's 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. There are FNMOC forecasts for the entire globe. One reason California gets better surf than New England is that California receives swells that are generated as far away as Antarctica! You can see how this on the global wave forecasts. Here's a link to all of the FNMOC WW3 charts. After checking the chart the next step is to check out the wind forecast. Big waves are generated by onshore winds during a Nor'easter; but the surfing only gets good when the winds turn offshore and cleans things up.
Go to Weather.com, enter the zip code for the beach you're interested in, and click on the 10-day forecast. Then, on the bar labeled "Forecast Conditions," set the drop down menu to"wind speed." This will display wind direction and speed. The wind direction means where the wind is blowing from. A northeast wind blows onshore - toward the beach - on Cape Cod and offshore - away from the beach - on the southern coasts of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Offshore winds make for clean waves with good shape. Onshore winds make waves choppy and messy. When the wind starts blowing around 40 mph fom the northeast and the waves get churned like a washing machine surfers refer to conditions as "Victory at Sea".
If you see a hurricane offshore and 5-15 mph winds out of the west, then it's a good time to plan a few days for epic surf almost anywhere in New England. Surf-Forecast.com, based in the UK, offers great forecasts giving wave height and wind speed for almost every major surf break in the world. Note that wave height and wind speed are shown in metric units - meters and kilometers per hour. We also think very highly of Magic Seaweed and Swellinfo.com.
New England water temps vary from swimsuit warm to wetsuit cold. Not surprisingly, waters in southern New England on the coasts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and SE Massachusetts (around 72F in July and August) are warmer than northern New England on the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine (July and August usually see 62F up to Bar Harbor, 51F for Eastport). Massachusetts from Cape Cod north generally stays in the mid 60's. It's interesting and useful to note that, for Cape Cod's ocean beaches in particular, water temperatures can vary wildly from day to day during the summer. In a 24 hour period, the temperature can drop from 75F to 55F. This happens when there's been a heat wave with light and/or onshore winds followed by strong offshore winds. Warm weather with onshore winds creates a pool of warm surface water along the shoreline. When winds blow offshore, warm water is pushed out to sea and cold water is pulled up to the surface, commonly called upwelling. When planning a day at a New England beach it's a good idea to note which way the wind has been blowing.The graph below shows current water temperatures for New England. Average Coastal Water temps for New England Coast: http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/dsdt/cwtg/natl.html
The NESurf.com forecast is provided on an "as is" and "as available" basis. You expressly agree that your use of this site is at your sole risk. You agree N.E.Surf® will not be liable for any damages or loss of any kind arising from the use of this site. The information appearing at NESurf.com is for informational purposes only. Although N.E.Surf® editors and contributors seek to be accurate; errors are inevitable and may appear in numerous places. Maps, descriptions, forecasts, stories, photographs and the like should be considered as entertainment tools and not as tools for navigation, performance or safety. Users should consult multiple sources and rely upon their own judgments and observations in evaluating weather and marine conditions as well as facilities, locations and safety resources. The links on this website are provided for convenience only, and do not constitute an endorsement or warranty by N.E.Surf® of that site or any product, service or other material offered on that site.
Trace - Noticeable swells but in the toe tocalf range.
Tiny - Ankle to knee high. For most folks this is flat.
Small - Knee to chest.
Medium - Waist to head.
Large - Chest to overhead.
Extra Large - Overhead to double overhead.
Giant - Double overhead plus.
Light - Winds up to 15 mph.
Moderate - Winds from 15 to 25 mph.
Strong - Winds in excess of 25 mph.
Light Yellow - Surf, but winds might not be good and waves won't have much size.
Bright Yellow - Surf, but winds probably not good but waves have some size.
Light Green - Surf, winds are probably good but waves won't have much size.
Bright Green - Surf, winds are probably good and waves have some size.
Simplified -Swells and Winds are provided for each day with some locale mentioned within the notes.
Detailed - 5 geographical sections from Watch Hill, Rhode Island to Schoodic Point, Maine.
Approach - The forecast is based on actual data from buoys, ship reports, satellite data from geostationary and polar orbitting satellites. Guidance about future events incorporates the actual data into manual forecast of future conditions along with input from numerous atmospheric numerical models. This results in a set of expected conditions for the atmosphere which are in turn used to derive corresponding future conditions of the ocean and the results are transformed into sensible surf forecasts for the New England region. Typically surf in New England forms based on the local weather (mid-latitude) which presently inherent high variability and low confidence in all forecasts. However, a general approach of explaining the forecast and updating the forecast each day provides continuity such that the forecast can be used as a guide for expected surf conditions.
Additional Wind Terminology:
During times of strong weather patterns (cold offshore flow, warm onshore flow) the winds in New England are usually the same across the entire region, however as weather systems approach or stall in our vicinity, it usually is the case that local winds change on an hourly basis. This is also true during the non-winter time of the year when atmospheric heating causes light winds to shift to seabreezes.
Shifting winds is a term used to describe a complete rotation of winds within a short period of time, a common example would be ESE/SE winds in the morning with a storm system moving right over the region and winds shift to the S, then SW and then WNW and eventually NW. Rather than listing that out, the forecst will just say "shifting winds".
Three ranges are used for winds. Light winds are exactly that, anything from 5mph to 15mph. Moderate Winds start in the high-teens and approach 30mph. Usually surf can be good with light or moderate winds. Strong winds are in excess of 35mph and usually this is a little too much intensity and can compromise a swell.
Additional Forecast Considerations
It is very important to keep in mind that the NESURF forecast is for a zone as opposed to a spot. On a day that the surf is forecasted to be medium (Waist to Head) you may find some spots are actually waist to chest, other spots are chest to head and there is also the chance that some spots are knee to chest, and others are actually chest to a little overhead. This type of surgical precision would only be possible if the forecast were for 'spots' rather than 'zones' so the forecast tends to generalize and remain in the middle of the road in terms as opposed to being pessimistic (calling it based on the smallest spot) or optimistic (calling it based on the biggest spot). For inquiries or suggestions, pleaes open a thread within the forecast discussion section of the forums.