The Atlantic Tip Jet Bomb

Ben Freeston

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Updated 1021d ago

With Nazaré now firmly understood as likely the world's largest freak beach break wedge the question of its upper limits remains wide open. While its reputation has continued to grow it almost feels to have done so inversely to the quality of swells the North Atlantic has been delivering.

Atlantic surfers wouldn't struggle to agree that, for raw power, the last couple of winters haven't matched those preceding. Watching the unfolding drama through the lens of this small Portuguese fishing village you'd be forgiven for thinking the opposite. Limits have been pushed and barriers broken, but on a series of mostly side swipes and coastal passes that have kept forecasters on their toes but not really delivered what's possible here in a historical context. It's early days but this storm could change that.

Like a Japanese woodblock print. This is Nazare on one of those imperfect, close to the coast, wide bandwidth, wind affected swells - still looking like nothing else on earth.

Like a Japanese woodblock print. This is Nazare on one of those imperfect, close to the coast, wide bandwidth, wind affected swells - still looking like nothing else on earth.

© 2019 - Helio Antonio

As a potential big wave swell bubbles on the charts our inbox starts to ping. For the last couple of seasons our replies have almost always been proceeded with 'We don't really like it'. There's a simple relationship between proximity and problem with the long range storm forecast. Swells that run close to the coast might have size but more rarely the same developed power or the benign winds we need. Direction, size, period and wind change on a daily all with the smallest tweak to the storms overall track. We know what we want to see here and we've not been seeing it: A deep low building between Iceland and Greenland. A stretched out fetch of isobars drawing from deep within the Labrador sea. The Greenland tip jet, that crucial mix of geography and meteorology that makes this the windiest ocean location on the planet, building long range long period energy point directly at Portugal. Now, finally, we have a candidate.

The perfect storm? If the chart held like this, but the reality is that fetch looks likely to extend closer to the coast as we enter next week. Exactly how far will dictate the outcome on the beach.

The perfect storm? If the chart held like this, but the reality is that fetch looks likely to extend closer to the coast as we enter next week. Exactly how far will dictate the outcome on the beach.

© 2019 - MSW

Both US and European models and their variants are telling a similar story. A bomb system doing exactly this, with a tip jet enhanced fetch bringing swell from about 300 degrees to Nazaré. A robust Azores high playing its role in a strong north westerly jet stream. 2500 miles of fetch to build size and, crucially, long period power and an angle that we know accentuates the canyon refracted swells interference and produces the Hokusai style teepees that we see here at a size we've not found anywhere else on the planet.

That's probably as much hyperbole as we ever want to throw at a storm, particularly at this range. It's warranted excitement on the latest numbers but has to be tempered with the usual caveats. Aside the general 'things change' rule there are some specifics here. The swell has cooled a little on the latest updates and we're still 48hrs from the winds really starting to blow. On balance of probabilities we'd be running hot at this stage so for no other reason than that expect the numbers to drop a little further. The bigger problem has been models being confident that the storm fetch would extend to the coast and onshore winds be likely. The reason we're writing this now is because there's been an increasing trend on recent runs to drop this risk. A continuation of this trend would signal game on for next Tuesday, although we're not quite there yet. The advantages here are that, unlike with the recent close coastal swipes where size and wind are intimately tied and better winds mean much smaller waves, here we have enough fetch and power that we could see the storm stall 500 miles from the coast and still have an upper limit tow day.

To be reminded of Nazaré's recent run check out our photo feature. To keep up to date with my latest thoughts on this and other storms give me a follow on my instagram and, as always, hit me with any questions about this swell in the comments below.