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National Weather Service Glossary

This glossary contains information on more than 2000 terms, phrases and abbreviations used by the NWS. Many of these terms and abbreviations are used by NWS forecasters to communicate between each other and have been in use for many years and before many NWS products were directly available to the public. It is the purpose of this glossary to aid the general public in better understanding NWS products.

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Significant Wave Height
The mean or average height of the highest one third of all waves in a swell train or in a wave generating region. It approximates the value an experienced observer would report if visually estimating sea height. When expressed as a range (e.g. Seas 2-4 ft) , indicates a degree of uncertainty in the forecast and/or expected changing conditions (not that all waves are between 2-4 ft). Generally, it is assumed that individual wave heights can be described using a Rayleigh distribution.

Example: Significant Wave Height = 10 ft 1 in 10 waves will be larger than 11 ft 1 in 100 waves will be larger than 16 ft 1 in 1000 waves will larger than 19 ft

Therefore, assuming a wave period of 8 seconds, for a significant wave height of 10 feet, a wave 19 feet or higher will occur every 8,000 seconds (2.2 hours).