A lack of local storm activity was wonderful news, however, for Southern California surfers and for homeowners with property perched on coastal bluffs. Nonstop runs of swell were greeted along the Southern California coast by light offshore winds and bluebird skies. Santa Barbara and Ventura were a wonderland of pinwheeling right-hand points. Beachbreaks and reefs from Los Angeles to Baja were cracking and spitting and pumping out memorable tubes seemingly every day, with few bouts of nasty weather to muck up conditions.
Similarly, as the season progressed, slackening trade winds near Hawaii made for ideal surf. Once the parade of hurricane- and almost-hurricane-force storms had passed with the end of fall, Hawaii settled into a pristine winter of light winds, dry skies, and clean, clear water. Pat Caldwell, an ex-pro bodyboarder who is now a surf forecaster with NOAA’s Honolulu office, explained that the strongest El Niños tend to produce calm, beautiful weather in the islands with “surface high pressure nearly directly over Hawaii.” This is the kind of weather that made paddle-in days at supersized Jaws possible for multiple swell
events in the same winter.
So what happened to all the nasty weather we were supposed to get? Explanations abound. This El Niño, a lot of warm water was centered over the Central Pacific rather than closer to California in the Eastern Pacific, which is a bit anomalous, disrupting the already chaotic weather patterns of an El Niño. Climatologists also point to the fact that the entire planet is warmer now, so even if the ocean temperatures were the same in 2015–’16 as they were during the last significant El Niño in 1997–’98, having a warmer planet may have altered their effect this time around. Whatever the reason, there’s been swell, and incredible conditions, with less rain than predicted, so surfers aren’t complaining—at least not until we all die of thirst.