What are Swells?
A swell, in the context of an ocean, sea or lake, is a series of mechanical waves that propagate along the interface between water and air and so they are often referred to as surface gravity waves. These series of surface gravity waves are not generated by the immediate local wind, instead by distant weather systems, where wind blows for a duration of time over a fetch of water. This is the primary definition of a swell as opposed to a locally generated wind wave, which is still under the influence of the mechanisms that created it e.g. Wind blowing over a puddle.
More generally, a swell consists of wind-generated waves that are not—or are hardly—affected by the local wind at that time. Swell waves often have a long wavelength but this varies due to the size, strength and duration of the weather system responsible for the swell and the size of the water body e.g. wavelengths are rarely more than 150 m in the Mediterranean. Swell wavelength, also, varies from event to event. Occasionally, swells which are longer than 700 m occur as a result of the most severe storms. Swells have a narrower range of frequencies and directions than locally generated wind waves, because swell waves have dispersed from their generation area, have dissipated and therefore lost an amount of randomness, taking on a more defined shape and direction.