Not the Storm of the Century

We’ve got big swell on the way for the Rip Curl Pro Portugal. How does it compare to the 2009 Monster that washed away the contest area?

With records extending back only so far ‘Storm of the Century’ would be a hard one to back up at the best of times. But while we’ve definitely got a robust swell approaching and frustrating onshore winds we’ve got a monster in very recent memory: The 2009 Rip Curl Search Peniche. So how does this one compare?

2012

The swell that’ll start to hit us today is really a tale of two halves. An absolute bomb low pressure formed in the Labrador Sea between Canada and Greenland over the weekend. It’s already pushed a large chunk of powerful swell across the Atlantic. As this swell approches us a smaller low pressure formed as an offshoot of the original storm pushes over Europe bringing a further bump to the swell and, frustratingly, the likelihood of fresh to strong Westerly or South Westerly winds on Wednesday.

This secondary storm itself isn’t exceptional this time of year and while it’ll hit Northern Europe it’d be more accurate to describe it as brushing past Portugal with frustrating onshore winds, fresh to strong at times, but less strong than the winds that pushed waves over the sand berm in 2009 and certainly not exceptional for this time of year.

The other positive for this storm is the peak of the winds and the swell arrive on a slightly different schedule. While Wednesday sees a building swell and fresh to strong winds the peak of the swell will hit on Thursday with lighter winds now looking increasingly likely.

However this swell is still significant. Forecast to top out now at a thumping 11ft@15 seconds it also coincides with spring tides almost half a meter larger than 2009 which will have contest organisers preparing to ensure the site is safe as the swell peaks.

2009

Rip Curl couldn’t have had a more emphatic welcome to European shores for the 2009 Rip Curl Search, with the arrival of a genuine mid week monster swell. The difference with with this one was the storm really drove across the Atlantic with a force that kept exceptional size in the swell right up to Portuguese shores. Arriving with winds in excess of anything we expect to see over the next couple of days and swell topping out at almost double the numbers. This wind and swell, coupled with the high tide, surged waves over the berm at Supertubos trashing the contest site.

1999

So if this year’s swell is a mini-monster by comparison, does 2009 deserve the ‘storm of the century’ title? Not quite. Our records for swell go back about 15 years and even in this timeframe there’s a mutant to make 2009 look like an also ran. 1999’s storm hit a peak almost three times the size of this week’s forecast with waves as large as found in the centre of a roaring 40’s low impacting the coast.

So in reality the swell over the next couple of days is a baby in historical terms. However this isn’t a swell contest – for a surf contest the latest numbers for Thursday have dropped right into the sort of range we saw at the peak of the swell in last years Rip Curl Pro Peniche: The 10ft@15 seconds range that produced thumping barrels on one of Europe’s finest beach breaks. So while we might have to weather a bit of onshore over the next day or so the outlook is actually improving all the time.