Hurricane Earl's Great Atlantic Journey

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 9d ago

Our Hurricane Earl has been on quite the journey. After beginning life near Africa, Earl took a tour across the Atlantic, headed up past the Caribbean and toured the US east coast, all the while fanning swell to just about everywhere along that stretch. And once it had done all that, something even more remarkable happened.

Earl went psycho -- and generated a pulse of swell on Friday that ended up travelling, uninterrupted, for more than 2,500 miles until it hit western Europe on Tuesday, while still generating swell for the US east coast. Talk about blowing a little kiss in the rearview.

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New England, from up top.

New England, from up top.

© 2022 - Brian Nevins.

What landed in Europe was capped out at the 3ft@18 seconds mark in some parts. For those in the water, it meant waiting a long time for anything even remotely surfable to crest the horizon. And even when the sets came, you'd have needed a decent sand bank, or point, to chop it all up and stop any close outs. Some places would have felt a bit jumbled too, given there was some shorter period swell still in the water from what was Hurricane Danielle.

Earl started to show some signs of life in SW UK on Monday evening.

Earl started to show some signs of life in SW UK on Monday evening.

© 2022 - Jon Snook.

And we know what you're thinking; doesn't hurricane swell mean big, unruly surf? And the answer is, sometimes! Take Conor Maguire's mako Ireland wave in October 2020, for example. That storm pretty much devoured Europe, passing super close and even nodded some 80ft waves towards Nazare. As opposed to what Earl did, which was generate swell from thousands of miles away. Much smaller surf, but true hurricane surf, created from when Earl was a category 3 system near Newfoundland.

For the east coast of the US though, Earl was borderline glorious.


Earl On Tour Across the US East Coast

Squint and you'll miss him! Balaram Stack, New England.

Squint and you'll miss him! Balaram Stack, New England.

© 2022 - Brian Nevins.

It was last Tuesday that Earl really started to deliver for Florida and it hasn't stopped since, even after earl went extratropical (which is a fancy way of saying it is no longer a hurricane). True hurricane surf means something else entirely for the US, — overhead sets, light offshore winds and a ferocious shorebreak, which is exactly what greeted competitors at the 20th anniversary of the Cecil Lear Belmar Pro. “When I arrived at the Belmar Pro early Saturday morning I was hoping the forecast would hold up, and it did!” says Jersey shooter Timmy Torchia. “Solid offshore conditions and some tubes. The beach angle was tough with harsh glare from the morning sunrise, so I decided to swim, which led to a super fun session before the contest and during. It’s great to be back on the hunt!”

Maine copped a filling from Hurricane Earl too.

Maine copped a filling from Hurricane Earl too.

© 2022 - Cate Brown.

Sophie Whalen in New Jersey.

Sophie Whalen in New Jersey.

© 2022 - Timmy Torchia.

Said slab as shot by Simon's dad, Stephen Hetrick.

“Wild day on the East Coast,” said Maryland pro Simon Hetrick, who ventured way up to the Northeast solo, sans photographer or ski, to charge a mysto slab. (He did, however, get his pops Stephen to fly up there and film for a bit.) “I got the call to hop on a boat and check out a wave I’ve been wanting to scope for awhile now. We were out there by 6am, greeted by a couple healthy seals and a lot of water moving in all directions. There were some diamonds in the rough, though, and everyone got some fun ones and made it back safe. This one wave in particular felt wild as I fluttered over the foamball. I’m lucky to have had only a little brush with the reef, so I guess you could say the Megalodawn Patrol was successful [laughs].”

Maine from up high shows a delightful set up.

Maine from up high shows a delightful set up.

© 2022 - Gabe Reuben.

Mike Melaga, life in the NJ slow lane.

Mike Melaga, life in the NJ slow lane.

© 2022 - Timmy Torchia.

Meanwhile, photographer Alex Dantin was shooting a bit further down over the weekend.

Meanwhile, photographer Alex Dantin was shooting a bit further down over the weekend.

Bonus! Earl's still throwing shapes in the Caribbean. Jacob Burke at Soupbowl shot by Alan Burke.


And Then It Began to Travel

Look at Earl go! The red here shows that 18 second period fanning out across the Atlantic from Friday, Sept 9-Tuesday September 13, ain't it something?

Earl continued to whip the US east coast into a swell frenzy, dredging barrels and craning the necks of photographers who needed to have eyes everywhere, just to keep track of all the action. But what the lens couldn't show you was what was happening way out to sea, on Earl's north eastern flank.

The above chart shows that long period forming in the ocean, before spreading out across most of the North Atlantic. This would eventually land on shore with an 18 second interval. But there were times, across the midway point between the US and Europe, that the swell period was upwards of the 30 seconds mark.

It's at this time that MSW decided to issue a swell alert. There had been a lot of chatter about that 18 second period arriving in Europe, a lot of people wondering 'what the heck is going on?' It's rare that a swell with this long a period will blip to shore. And, in the days leading up to Tuesday, most people really didn't know what to make of the forecast. Sadly, Indo-sized wonder kegs it was not. Here's what the heck it was...


Cruising into Europe

And oooeee! Monday evening in the South West UK, things looked...small, but perfectly surfable.

And oooeee! Monday evening in the South West UK, things looked...small, but perfectly surfable.

© 2022 - Jon Snook.

"Bit lumpy and bumpy but a few guys out there were shredding. It kind of turned on for half an hour and then off again,” said Wolfie Holme, a St Agnes-based surfer who got in close to home. That's the story for around the south west of the UK as Earl peaked around 2pm in the afternoon.

Rhys Owens, from north Cornwall added: "The long period swell made it a bit weird. The banks are kinda funky but I got a few alright ones. Kind of a tricky swell this one." Meanwhile, up in Ireland, things were a little different. "Fun waves around," said surfer Ollie O'Flaherty. "Good to get a start on things. We get plenty of obscure days and random stuff happening. It was difficult but there were certainly a few to be had up here."

Ollie, just letting loose on Tuesday.

Ollie, just letting loose on Tuesday.

© 2022 - Megan Gayda.

"It was tricky out there, big tides, big rips but the girls did everything they could for a few special moments," said photographer Bella Bunce of Amelia Hewitson here (top) and Allannah Brown, with the face of a person who knows what's coming next and the inevitable photographer shower.

Young French pro Justin Becret goes all in on this Hossegor runner.

Young French pro Justin Becret goes all in on this Hossegor runner.

© 2022 - Vince Suky.

Oisin de Barra right at home in Ireland.

Oisin de Barra right at home in Ireland.

© 2022 - Megan Gayda.

One big smiley face in Henry Benn here:

One big smiley face in Henry Benn here: "Tricky one this, the long period means reefs are good in theory. Thought we'd send it here for low tide and get in regardless. It was kinda average but just ok." The story of Earl.

© 2022 - Tom Vaughan.

Isn't this kind of what it's all about? Top pic, couple pals in Simon Wilson, Lewis smith and Liam Posener, scoping it all out. Bottom right, Cillian Ryan and Cathal Hanley check the conditions one last time. Ireland, Tuesday.

Isn't this kind of what it's all about? Top pic, couple pals in Simon Wilson, Lewis smith and Liam Posener, scoping it all out. Bottom right, Cillian Ryan and Cathal Hanley check the conditions one last time. Ireland, Tuesday.

© 2022 - Megan Gayda.

Looking up the coastline in south west UK.

Looking up the coastline in south west UK.

© 2022 - Chris Farris.

Barnaby Cox along the Devon coastline.

Barnaby Cox along the Devon coastline.

© 2022 - Mimmo Campagna

There was the odd one (or two!) out there though, you just needed to be in the exact right place at the exact right time.

There was the odd one (or two!) out there though, you just needed to be in the exact right place at the exact right time.

© 2022 - Tom Vaughan.


MSW SWELL BREAKDOWN

Swell from Hurricane Earl for the US east coast and Europe.
To say there's a lot of meat on the bones of this thing is an understatement. Compare this swell chart to the period chart above. You can see from this, the swell arriving for the US east coast was going to be significant, but for Europe, it was small at best (that's Earl forming to the left of the chart, FYI). But the long period made it a worthy swell event. Here, MSW forecaster Tony Butt picks out all the devil in the details:

Hurricane Earl started life as a disturbance off the coast of Africa on August 25. It moved WNW across the Atlantic as a fairly weak system before developing into a tropical storm on September 3, just east of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. It continued to move WNW for about two days, then turned north, maintaining its strength to just below hurricane force.

Earl finally became a Category-1 hurricane on September 7, while moving north, and intensified to Category 2 a day later, reaching peak intensity with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. It then curved around to the ENE, running parallel to the east coast of North America, but staying well away from the coast. It began to accelerate and expand, becoming much larger in area, with storm-force winds extending up to 275 miles from the centre. The pulse of longer-period swell that hit Cape Hatteras arrived at practically the same time as the pulse that hit westerly exposures in Europe

By September 10, Earl reached a point just south of Newfoundland, and transitioned to an extra-tropical low pressure later that day (which means, no longer a hurricane). It then moved northeast briefly before moving off east into the open North Atlantic. It continued to expand and weaken, practically losing its identity north of the Azores by September 15.

"I took the day off work for this... I was checking the cams and decided Godrevy must be the one," said UK surfer Nate Phillips. "But it was a shame, got a little air on one... but fell off."

© 2022 - Tom Vaughan.

Former Scottish champion Malcolm Findlay out in Devon.

Former Scottish champion Malcolm Findlay out in Devon.

© 2022 - Mimmo Campagna

Around Friday September 9, Earl was centred about 800 miles east of Cape Hatteras, and a band of strong northeast winds had developed on its northwest flank, which pushed swell into the US East Coast. A second, longer-period pulse of swell was generated by the more intense winds closer to the storm centre during the weekend.

In mid areas such as around Hatteras, wave heights increased up to five feet or so over the weekend, accompanied by east then south winds. By Monday, conditions improved as winds turned southwest and that longer-period pulse of swell arrived, which tapered down through Tuesday. While in southern areas, as far as Florida, the swell arrived late in the weekend and continued through till Tuesday and Wednesday. Wave heights peaked at around five feet, with light variable winds for much of the time. The swell became more solid on Tuesday as a longer-period pulse arrived.

Thom Hittema at Mimizan Plage, some 100kms away from surf capital of Hossegor.

Thom Hittema at Mimizan Plage, some 100kms away from surf capital of Hossegor.

© 2022 - Wouter Hoogeveen

In northern areas, up around Nova Scotia, surf conditions were bigger but more ragged, as the storm passed much closer to the coast. Wave heights increased later Friday and through Saturday, peaking early Sunday at eight feet or more at exposed spots, before ramping down quickly through Monday. Winds were strong northerlies at first, becoming moderate westerlies on Monday.

As the system was hitting peak intensity south of Newfoundland, the strong winds, combined with the movement of the system itself towards the northeast, started sending a pulse of long-period swell towards the east and northeast, spreading out over the open North Atlantic. It hit westerly exposures in Europe, such as Galicia, Portugal and southwest Ireland, by Monday. The swell then filled in during Tuesday and ramped down through Wednesday.

Interestingly, the pulse of longer-period swell that hit Cape Hatteras arrived at practically the same time as the pulse that hit westerly exposures in Europe, much further away, even though both pulses of swell were generated at about the same time. This illustrates one of the most basic principles of swell propagation – that longer periods travel faster. Since the swell that travelled out towards Europe contained much longer periods than the one that hit the US East Coast, the swell travelled faster and covered a longer distance in the same time.

Doonagore Castle is a 16th Century tower house that overlooks Doolin. Rumoured to have seen at least 170 murders within its walls, if you're to believe the legend (and probably not one of them a surfer). Imagine the amount of waves it's also witnessed unridden.

Doonagore Castle is a 16th Century tower house that overlooks Doolin. Rumoured to have seen at least 170 murders within its walls, if you're to believe the legend (and probably not one of them a surfer). Imagine the amount of waves it's also witnessed unridden.

© 2022 - Megan Gayda.