Cyclone Raja

Severe Tropical Cyclone Raja
Category 3 severe tropical cyclone (Aus scale)
Category 2 tropical cyclone (SSHWS)
Raja Dec 28 1986 1922Z.png
Cyclone Raja on 28 December
Formed21 December 1986 (1986-12-21)
Dissipated5 January 1987 (1987-01-05)
(Extratropical after 1 January 1987)
Highest winds10-minute sustained: 150 km/h (90 mph)
1-minute sustained: 165 km/h (105 mph)
Lowest pressure955 hPa (mbar); 28.2 inHg
Damage$14 million (1987 USD)
Areas affectedFiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna
Part of the 1986–87 South Pacific cyclone season

Severe Tropical Cyclone Raja was a tropical cyclone that holds the 24-hour rainfall record of 674.9 mm (26.57 in) for the French Overseas Territory of Wallis and Futuna. The system was first noted by the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) as a weak tropical disturbance northeast of Tokelau in mid-December 1986. The system developed further as it moved southwest over the next few days, and it was classified as Tropical Cyclone Raja on 23 December. The newly named system slowed and unexpectedly recurved southeast towards the French territory of Wallis and Futuna on 24 December. Over the next two days, Raja interacted with what would become Severe Tropical Cyclone Sally and executed a tight loop, passing within 55 km (35 mi) of Futuna. The system peaked as a Category 3 severe tropical cyclone on 28 December, with estimated 10-minute sustained winds of 150 km/h (90 mph). The storm turned southwest the next day and threatened Fiji, where it passed within 20 km (10 mi) of Vanua Levu and near (or over) several smaller islands in the Lau group during the following day. Raja gradually weakened over the next few days as it moved south of Fiji; it was last noted on 5 January 1987 after it filled up over the north Tasman Sea.

Raja caused one death as it impacted the island nations of Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna, Tonga and Fiji. Gusty winds and rough seas associated with the system caused extensive damage to crops, coastal installations and buildings in Tuvalu, and flooded low-lying areas. The island of Futuna was the worst hit, with crops, coastal installations and buildings damaged or destroyed by the system. Raja affected the main islands of Fiji twice between 24 and 30 December, and was responsible for the worst flood of the Labasa River since 1929. As a result of the damage to Fiji and portions of Polynesia, the name Raja was retired from the South Pacific naming lists.

Meteorological history

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The South Pacific convergence zone was active in the middle of December 1986, with a mid-latitude upper-level trough of low pressure which extended into the tropics.[1] A westerly wind burst between Tokelau and Kanton Island resulted in a tropical disturbance developing northeast of Tokelau.[1] The Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) began to monitor the disturbance as a shallow tropical depression on 21 December, when the system was about 280 km (175 mi) east of the island of Funafuti, Tuvalu.[nb 1][3][4] At that time, the system was beyond the range of any reporting stations; its circulation was weak and ill-defined, which meant that there was considerable uncertainty about the location of its center.[3] The depression moved southwest and passed near the Tuvaluan atoll of Nukufetau, as it slowly deepened and organised over the next 36 hours.[3]

The system was named Tropical Cyclone Raja by the FMS on 23 December; the United States Naval Western Oceanography Center (NWOC) began issuing advisories, designating it as Tropical Cyclone 04P.[nb 2][5][6] During that day, the system slowed as it approached Rotuma; the subtropical ridge of high pressure weakened, and widespread falling pressure was recorded across the Pacific.[1][3] Raja then unexpectedly re-curved southeast and began moving towards the French territory of Wallis and Futuna on 24 December.[1][3] Satellite imagery the next day indicated that the system had developed an eye, and it passed within 55 km (35 mi) of Futuna.[3][7] Raja reached hurricane strength on 26 December, as it slowed and began to interact with what would become Severe Tropical Cyclone Sally.[1][8] Over the next two days, Raja approached to within 1,110 km (690 mi) of Sally in an anticlockwise cyclonic loop as it continued to intensify.[9] The system also passed about 110 km (70 mi) southeast of Futuna, as it re-curved east and began to threaten Fiji.[3][7]

The FMS estimated on 28 December that Raja had peaked with 10-minute sustained wind speeds of 150 km/h (90 mph), which made it a Category 3 severe tropical cyclone on the Australian tropical cyclone intensity scale.[4] The system turned southwest that day, in response to a trough of low pressure developing over (and south of) Raja and Sally.[1][3] It passed within 20 km (10 mi) of Cikobia and Udu Point on Vanua Levu on 29 December, before it passed over or near several smaller Fijian islands in the Lau Group while beginning to turn south.[3] The NWOC estimated that Raja had peaked in intensity at this time with one-minute sustained wind speeds of 165 km/h (105 mph), equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.[4] Over the next few days, Raja gradually weakened as it moved over cooler waters south of Fiji and its outflow became restricted before it degenerated into a depression during 1 January.[3] The depression passed under a subtropical jet and moved west, where it became part of a blocking pattern over New Zealand.[1] The system was last noted on 5 January, after filling over the north Tasman Sea.[1]

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