Forecaster Blog: Tropical Cyclone Marcus
Issued Tuesday, March 20, 2018
It’s always a long time between drinks when it comes to cyclone swells along the West Coast, but there’s now growing confidence a fleeting window of opportunity to score one of these rare swell-events will present itself across the Southwest this weekend. This all hinges on the forecast behaviour of Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Marcus. The severe cyclone is currently tracking westward, into deeper water off the Pilbara coast and it’s projected to further intensify as it maintains a westward track over the next 24 hours or so.
From Thursday onwards TC Marcus is projected to curve south – and it’s at this point the cyclone will enter the critical phase for determining the specific surrounding arrival times and the peak-size of the north-swell arriving across the Southwest this weekend. The absence of any length of breadth to the northerly winds wrapping around TC Marcus’s upper eastern flank means we’re entirely reliant on the storm’s SSE track dragging the strongest area of core, clockwise winds within close range of the coast later this week.
As discussed in Dan Wyer’s latest forecast, the models appear to be falling into step regarding TC Marcus’ poleward track – and this is now definitively pointing to a powerful, albeit short-lived pulse of directional NNW groundswell filling in across the Southwest over the weekend. The acute directional band associated with this event is likely to translate into widely varying surf-heights and it also looks like strong SE winds could make for tricky conditions as the leading edge of the swell fills in. Click here for a detailed rundown on how this event looks like unfolding.
If you’re wondering just how rare these events can be, then read on. It’s been just over six years since the last pulse of NW swell, generated by Tropical Cyclone Iggy, briefly lit up the region back in February 2012.
As Dan Wyer wrote in the wake of the TC Bianca swell: “By dawn on Thursday the swell had ramped up to a peaky two-to-three feet, and exposed breaks around Cape Naturaliste were also seeing sets from the south making for some solid wedging peaks in the three-to-four foot range.
Further up the coast, north facing breaks around Yallingup were copping the full brunt of the swell. By midday there were some surprisingly solid six-foot sets pushing through at Yallingup main break. The north swell produced some epic line-ups as usually placid waves turned into grinding Indo-style barrels and straight-hander beach-breaks became winding, East Coast-style point breaks. Winds stayed offshore from the southeast all day, keeping conditions clean".
However, it was almost exactly one year to the day prior to TC Iggy that a far more impressive NW cyclone swell turned usually straight-hand beach-breaks into grinding, 6 to 8ft right-hand perfection. This all went down in late January 2011 when Tropical Cyclone Bianca tracked south, parallel to the West Coast before turning east and tracking directly towards the Southwest on February 2nd.
According to those who were lucky enough be on the spot, TC Bianca produced a powerful NW groundswell that came and went in the blink of an eye; jumping from knee high to 6 to 8ft plus and then back to near flat again all in the space of one day.
However, prior to TC Bianca and Iggy, you have to travel a lot further back in time to find a NW swell of TC origins. In fact, you have to go all the way back to April 1978, when Tropical Cyclone Alby accelerated SSE off the West Coast before hammering the Southwest Coast. Whether or not TC Alby supplied the Southwest with an epic day of NW swell is lost in the mists of time, but the five deaths, extensive flooding and wind-damage caused by ex TC Alby as it moved within close range of Cape Leeuwin are well documented.
It's not hard to surmise that the onset of global warming over the last few decades is increasing the poleward reach of tropical cyclones. If that proves correct, perhaps these rare TC Induced north-swell events may not be quite so rare in the decades to come.
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