Deadly cyclone 'Freddy' may be the longest-lived and most energetic storm ever recorded

Cyclone Freddy between Mozambique and Madagascar on March 8. The image was captured by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA-20 satellite. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

A super-powered cyclone named "Freddy" has likely broken a number of mindblowing records since it formed in early February. The monstrous storm has crossed the Indian Ocean and made landfall three separate times, and may be the most energetic and long-lasting storm ever recorded.

Freddy was first named on Feb. 6 after forming off the north Australian coast. Since then, it has traveled more than 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) across the southern Indian Ocean to southeast Africa, where it finally appears to be dying down, according to the World Meteorological Association (WMA).

After damaging infrastructure on the islands of Mauritius and Réunion, which both avoided a direct hit, Freddy first made landfall on Feb. 21 as it plowed across the island nation of Madagascar. From there, the storm made landfall at Mozambique on Feb. 23 before briefly heading back out to sea, where it narrowly missed Madagascar again before turning around once more to hit Mozambique again on March 11, along with Malawi and Zimbabwe.

At least 148 people have been killed by Freddy and another 19 are missing, with death tolls likely to rise, according to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). 

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Satellite footage of Cyclone Freddy approaching Madagascar. (Image credit: NOAA)

The cyclone dumped a mind-boggling amount of rain on land, leading to mudslides and flooding that have displaced tens of thousands and worsened a cholera outbreak in Malawi. Southern Mozambique received more than double its annual rainfall duringFreddy's landfalls, and Malawi received around 1.6 feet (0.5 meter) of rain in just 72 hours, according to WMA. 

The cyclone has now moved back out to sea, where it is expected to finally dissipate.


Though this still needs to be confirmed with storm data, Freddy is likely the longest-lived tropical cyclone on record, having lasted for at least 35 days. The previous record was set by Typhoon John, which whirled across the Pacific for 31 days in 1994. (Cyclones, which form in the southern hemisphere; hurricanes, which form in the Atlantic Ocean; and typhoons, which form in the Pacific Ocean, are collectively known as "tropical cyclones.")

Freddy has also released an astonishing amount of energy during its long life. Scientists measure this using the accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index, which tracks wind speed data over time. By Feb. 23, Freddy already had an ACE index of 66, making it the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

The trajectory of Cyclone Freddy between Feb. 6 and March 15.  (Image credit: Wikimedia/NASA/NOAA)

By March 12, Freddy had reached an ACE index of 86, The Washington Post reported. If confirmed, that would make it the most energetic tropical cyclone ever recorded on Earth. The current record holder was Hurricane Ioke in 2006, which had an ACE index of 85.2. 

Why has Freddy lasted so long? 

Freddy has lasted so long because it has undergone several periods of restrengthening, where surrounding weather fronts strengthen wind speeds after they initially die down. Freddy has undergone at least four restrengthening events, which is the most ever seen in a tropical cyclone, according to NOAA. Further research will be needed to determine why this happened. 

NOAA experts also think that La Niña, an atmospheric phenomenon that cools large regions of Earth's oceans, could have played a role. The last two storms to take a similar path to Freddy across the Indian Ocean occurred in 2000, when there was a rare triple-dip La Niña that lasted three years. The current La Niña is also in its third year.

Experts suspect that human-caused climate change has played a role in strengthening the storm, although it is too early to say exactly how, according to WMA. 

Harry Baker
Senior Staff Writer

Harry is a U.K.-based senior staff writer at Live Science. He studied marine biology at the University of Exeter before training to become a journalist. He covers a wide range of topics including space exploration, planetary science, space weather, climate change, animal behavior, evolution and paleontology. His feature on the upcoming solar maximum was shortlisted in the "top scoop" category at the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Awards for Excellence in 2023.