Deadly Cyclone Freddy could be the longest tropical cyclone on record

The cyclone crossed more than 4,970 miles and made two separate landfalls.
A child stands by a collapsed road caused by flooding waters due to heavy rains following Cyclone Freddy in Blantyre, Malawi, on March 13, 2023.
A collapsed road caused by flooding waters due to heavy rains following Cyclone Freddy in Blantyre, Malawi, on March 13, 2023. Amos Gumulira/AFP via Getty Images

Cyclone Freddy, a tropical cyclone that first formed over a month ago in the Indian Ocean, has finally dissipated. It leaves behind a trail of destruction, killing at least 326 people across southeast Africa and damaging thousands of homes. The month-long storm may have broken the record for longest-lasting tropical cyclone. 

The cyclone began off the coast of northwestern Australia and followed an unusual path, crossing into the Southern Indian Ocean. It is one of only four recorded storms to cross the southern Indian Ocean from east to west, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

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“No other tropical cyclones observed in this part of the world have taken such a path across the Indian Ocean in the past two decades,” NOAA wrote in an article in February

Freddy traveled more than 4,970 miles and made landfall in Madagascar and Mozambique in Africa in late February. The storm then looped backward, and hit Mozambique for the second time  two weeks later after initial landfall before striking Malawi. 

In Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi, the death toll exceeded 300 people as of March 17. Over 700 people are injured, 40 are missing, and 80,000 are displaced by the storm. Landslides and severe flooding from at least 24 inches of rain swept away homes and buried roads in thick mud. 

Power outages have hindered rescue efforts and Malawi was in the midst of a deadly cholera outbreak. Health officials feared that floodwaters may exacerbate the situation and limit access to sanitation and safe drinking water. 

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology named the storm on February 6 and it finally came to an end on March 14. The cyclone was strong enough to be called a tropical system for at least 34 days. Confirmation from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is still needed before Freddy can be declared the longest-lasting recorded storm. Typhoon/Hurricane John, which meandered in the central and western Pacific Ocean for 31 days from mid-August to mid-September 1994

The WMO is forming a committee to see if Freddy broke this record based on accumulated cyclone energy (ACE). Freddy is already estimated to have had the equivalent energy of an entire hurricane season in North America.

The storm already broke 2016’s Cyclone Fantala’s record for all-time accumulated cyclone energy in the Southern Hemisphere. ACE is a measure of a storm’s strength over time and Freddy was the first storm in the Southern Hemisphere to undergo four separate rounds of rapid intensification. Rapid intensification means a cyclone’s maximum sustained winds increase at least 30 knots in one day. 

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At its strongest, Freddy was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane (winds over 160 miles per hour). Like many storms, Freddy was strongest over open waters and not on land, landing at a Category 3 in Madagascar and Mozambique.

While unusual, Freddy was the type of cyclone seen during a La Niña weather pattern in the Indian Ocean. A rare triple-dip La Niña began in September 2020 and was finally declared over by meteorologists this week. Increasingly warm ocean temperatures due to climate change could have played a role in Freddy’s rapid intensification and its slow movement, particularly during its second landfall in Mozambique.