Ocean Rhythms, March 17

The endless bummer. The summer to end all summers. It’s been a hot, windy, dry, mostly flat and hellacious summer. The hottest day of the year saw the heath north of Lennox go up in flames again, the second time in 3 years, with subsequent devastation of the still recovering ecosystem. Thanks to the efforts of committed firefighters no property or life was lost.

The pattern that is causing our current weather is a double whammy of two distinct phenomena. The first is a negative phase of the Antarctic Oscillation (AAO) this has pushed the westerly wind belt northwards and displaced the usual sub-tropical belt of high pressure which gives us our usual tradewind swells over summer. Weak, mobile and more northwards tracking high pressure equals more common and more persistent episodes of hot northerly winds, which have blown all summer. These winds blow warm water from the East Australian Current out to sea by a process known as Ekman Transport, with colder, green water upwelling in underneath it. The colder green water leads to stronger northerly winds and fewer offshores because of the temperature differential between the cold water and the hot land. Hot air rises and cold air from the ocean rushes into to take it’s place. It’s nasty feedback loop that usually breaks down in December but this time it’s lasted well into February.

The second phenomena is the Pacific now looks primed to return to an El Nino state this year with a majority of atmospheric models now predicting it. We usually experience the worst effects of El Nino as we move into it, rather than when the El Nino is at it’s height. The only upside at this stage of the game is that El Nino winters can produce a lot of great small/medium super clean S swells. Other than that the news looks pretty grim with the pattern looking to extend into March. Maybe a sacrifice is in order to appease Huey?

The fishing too has been negatively affected by the northerlies and subsequent cooler inshore water temps. Tailor have been around off the rock platforms but they are very hit and miss. Sometimes they’ve been feeding on tiny whitebait and are full to the gills with it. In those circumstances downsizing a lure – I found a little white Rapala hardbody deadly – can produce a red hot session and they aren’t small fish either. Bonito have also been in abundance but unfortunately not the mackerel that love to feed on them. Still, the bonito make the best snapper bait salted down and frozen and they also make a very tasty sashimi if you bleed them quickly and chill them down.

Look, there’s no sugar coating it: this summer is a writeoff so we’ll look forward to a better autumn and winter but one last thing. Last time there was a super dry summer all sorts of pelagics were swimming into the Richmond to feed on garfish and those little threadfin leatherjackets that have been washing up. Could be something to look out for this year too. Seeya next month.

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