eli5: How do wave/surf forecasts work?

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What variables go into it and how accurate can it be, even days in advance?

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2 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Imagine waves as big, watery hills moving across the ocean. To forecast these waves, experts use lots of data, like wind speed, direction, and how long the wind blows. They also look at the ocean’s depth and shape of the seabed.

By using computer models, they predict how these factors will interact to create waves. The more data they have, the better their forecast. While they can predict waves days in advance, accuracy can vary because the ocean is always changing. But with advanced technology and more data, forecasts are getting better all the time.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Some parts of what affects waves are very predictable, long in advance. For example the tides are very well understood and can play a huge role in water heights and wave activity.

Some of the other factors are less predictable, but still things we can observe and forecast with reasonable accuracy pretty far out. The weather and major storms being the obvious example here. We can’t predict with 100% accuracy when/where rain will fall, but we can observe current wind flows and have developed computer models that give a rough but usually pretty good forecast for the subsequent few days.

Combine that with comparing current conditions and predicted conditions to historical data and it’s usually possible to make decent predictions about potential wave conditions.