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Atlantic Take Two Breakdown

by on Friday 31st January, 2014   20115 Visits   Comments

Once again the largest swell on the planet, by some margin, will be pounding European shores this weekend. © 2014 MSW

Once again the largest waves on our planet are pounding at European shores and the world’s best big wave riders are lining up for the challenge of huge swell, strong winds and massive tides. Here’s our breakdown of what to expect.

We’ve already reporting on the coming storm with a little detail of how it’s formed and where it’s heading but as we head into the weekend it’s worth putting some numbers to it, and looking more closely at what to expect and where. One thing that really stands out, across Europe, is the huge tidal range that’ll coincide with this storm. The issues here are twofold: a potential risk of flooding as those peak astronomical tides coincide with an expected storm surge, and strong currents caused by the fast moving tide, coupled with the currents created by the strong waves and wind. With this swell due to peak during the day in most locations the biggest risk of flooding will coincide with the peak spring high at around dawn and dusk. Likewise the strongest tidal currents will run on the mid morning dropping tide, and again as it pushes in again in the afternoon. While big wave surfers at most spots will be familiar with negotiating these issues they’re on a scale not often seen in this combination.

Mullaghmore, Ireland

The swell for Saturday is forecast to peak around the 21ft@18 second range. This is well into the upper end of the scale for Mullaghmore, although not extraordinary. As a classic pointbreak setup protected by the headland Mully is sensitive to swell direction, and we saw this issue, as expected, with the recent Hercules swell. Despite this storm sending swell to the south east it still has a meaningful westerly fetch in the 270-280 degree range. Coupled with the slightly lower period we would expect to see potentially larger surf and less inconsistency than on the previous swell.

The issue, as always, is the wind. ‘Hercules’ was relatively unusual in passing to the South of Ireland. The winds were strong, but sustained from the south or just west of south leaving surfable conditions for much of the day. With this storm, as is more normal, the eye passes almost directly over the break during the peak of the swell. The issue with this is a higher level of variability in the forecast even close to the event. At the moment the forecast is for similar strong southerly winds in the morning as the swell builds, moving quickly through west to a very disruptive north west later in the day as the swell peaks. Currently we have a short window of potentially surfable conditions in the morning on a dropping tide, but a change of just a few hours in the wind forecast could mean victory at sea from first light and conditions similar to those we saw make the break unsurfable on last weekend’s huge swell.

Belharra, France

The swell builds here on Sunday morning with a forecast peak around 18ft@19 seconds. If this forecast holds it lacks the exceptional long period power of the Hercules swell but where that swell peaked overnight and dropped as surfers waited for an improving tide, here the maximum size is likely delivered around the very low midday tide.

Winds are a little tricky with a general moderate to strong westerly flow at the start of the weekend leaving some bump in the water and possibly continuing into Sunday morning before the wind moves to a more favourable southerly direction and eases its intensity.

Northern Spain

Again the swell builds on Sunday morning peaking around midday in a similar 20ft@19 second range – in contrast to an overnight peak and dropping swell for Hercules. Winds are an issue here too with a problematic westerly flow for most of the day before high pressure and lighter southerly winds take over later in the day.

Nazare, Portugal

The swell builds into Sunday morning to a genuinely huge 23ft@19 seconds peak from the NW. This again pushes into potentially record breaking surf territory for size, in fact well in excess of the 16ft@16 seconds that saw some reporters calling the waves ridden 100ft+.

Winds are always an issue on such an incredibly exposed beach break. On paper the winds for Sunday, light and from the south west, are absolutely fine. But given the complexities of navigating this lineup the stronger NW wind overnight and the wind sea it’ll still be pushing into the lineup, will be an issue as might be that strong tidal current.

Don’t forget, anything surfed during this storm will be eligible for a Winter Session entry.

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