Update: Friday March 24: The chart shows that finger of high pressure pushing up from the Azores into Biscay from tomorrow Saturday, with a weak low over the Canary Islands and an easterly flow over Iberia, between the two systems.
The swell is now imminent, with wave heights west of Ireland already over 20 feet, accompanied by stormy conditions. The swell is expected to arrive in Galicia early tomorrow (Saturday) then spread south and east, reaching Portugal and France later in the day. Winds in Biscay are currently northwest, generating some short-period swell that might affect France early on, but conditions should clean up by Sunday.
Around Hossegor, wave heights increase to ten feet or so by late tomorrow, peaking overnight and gradually ramping down through Sunday and Monday. Local wind conditions are very good from Sunday onwards, with light variable winds or light easterlies.
In Portugal, the swell arrives tomorrow during the afternoon, with wave heights at Nazaré exceeding 15 feet but hampered by moderate to fresh northerly winds. Local conditions clean up on Sunday, with the swell peaking in the morning and ramping down fairly quickly during the day.
That second low pressure system is forecast to deepen south of Iceland tomorrow, generating a pulse of long-period swell for late Monday and Tuesday. Currently it looks as if this swell will be smaller than the first one, but with very good local conditions most places south of the English Channel.
Update: Wednesday March 22: While the forecast has slightly downgraded for the likes of Nazare, it now looks like south west France could be the star of the show with excellent conditions forecast for the weekend. The only caveat though, the wind is kind of funky.
"The main low centre is presently just off Cape Farewell and is due to move towards the south of Iceland in the next 24 hours, with that westerly airstream on its southern flank intensifying, as forecast," says MSW forecaster Tony Butt.
"The narrow band of high pressure moving into Biscay on Friday and Saturday is expected to expand on Sunday, at the same time as the low over the Canary Islands begins to lose its influence. As a result, the east and northeast flow over the Iberian Peninsula weakens from Sunday onwards.
"In southwest France expect some large surf with excellent conditions, through Sunday and continuing into Monday. Wave heights will reach ten feet or so, peaking early Sunday, with light variable winds or light easterlies. In Portugal, the swell arrives on Saturday afternoon and continues through Sunday, with wave heights slightly smaller than originally predicted. Northerly winds could hamper conditions on Saturday afternoon, with light easterlies Sunday morning.
"Looking further ahead, the long-term charts are showing another low deepening in the northern North Atlantic, which could bring a pulse of long-period northwest swell for late Monday or Tuesday. This is a long way ahead yet, so keep checking for updates."
EARLIER: Tuesday March 23: Just when we thought it was all over, the North Atlantic has whipped to life once again, with the potential for a XXL swell this weekend and what could be Nazare's biggest session since that day in October, though not quite up to the magnitude of that session.
Days for the North Atlantic to churn out swells this season are numbered as the season officially winds down. But rather than hunker down, the Atlantic's decided to throw not one, but two swells at the same time, right at us. Individually, they're kind of impressive, but together they are (what could be) something special.
Live cam: Nazare
One huge swell is arriving from the north, heading towards Ireland on Friday and the other swell is coming from much further south, up past the Azores and into Portugal, and it's when these two combine late Friday and into Saturday that we could see sparks fly.
And while we're calling this one rather early – we'd rather you be ahead of the curve and plan accordingly before heading into the weekend. The vibe on the ground at Nazare is mixed apprehension. Some think the swell is too north, the period too large and that it is arriving much too late, peaking overnight Saturday. Others are convinced that the direction could be exactly what we need to set off the canyon effect at Nazare. The swell is hitting those golden numbers of having a bit of north in it (which means it's likely to create those a-frame peaks we love to see). But whether it's too much for it, we should know over the coming days. Stay tuned as we'll update this article tomorrow and on Friday too.
“The North Atlantic chart is currently showing a classic north-south split with relatively low pressure to the north, high pressure to the south and a westerly flow in between,” ,” said MSW forecaster Tony about the separate swells in the ocean right now.
“Over the next 48 hours a defined area of low pressure is expected to develop south of Iceland with strengthening westerly winds on its southern flank. The windfield moves towards Britain and Ireland, generating a pulse of swell, that is expected to affect west and northwest exposures from late Friday onwards.
“Now, at the same time, an anticyclone persists near the Azores, with a finger of high pressure extending into Biscay. On Friday, a low is expected to develop over the Canary Islands. This, together with relatively low pressure over North Africa, will generate an easterly flow over the Iberian Peninsula.
“The bulk of the swell is forecast to hit Ireland, accompanied by strong to gale-force westerly winds. Wave heights will be smaller in southwest Britain and northwest France, with winds from a westerly quarter.
“But in southwest France, conditions are much better, with light northerly winds on Saturday and moderate easterlies on Sunday.
“Wave heights pick up to ten feet or so late Saturday and continue through Sunday, dropping Monday with continuing easterly winds. Along the north coast of Spain, wave heights hit ten feet or so on Saturday, with moderate to fresh winds from an easterly quarter.
Forecast: UK + Ireland
“Around into Portugal, the swell picks up to ten feet or more during Saturday and ramps down through Sunday. Local winds are forecast to be light or moderate easterlies, but strong northerlies could develop offshore, producing some local short-period swell. At Nazaré, the swell direction is good, so expect some 20-foot waves late Saturday and Sunday.”
Cover shot by Damian Davila.