TC Freddy may break record for the longest-lasting cyclone

TC Freddy may break record for the longest-lasting cyclone
15 March 2023

By the Climate Centre

The Malawi government said yesterday that record-breaking Cyclone Freddy had claimed nearly 200 lives as it passed through the country after making a second landfall in Mozambique.

Naemi Heita, the head of the IFRC Maputo delegation, said preliminary figures from the government there were that ten people had died and more than 20,000 were displaced; it was difficult to determine the full extent of damage as power and communications were cut off in affected areas.

Local phone video tweeted by the IFRC Africa region shows powerful torrents of mud tearing through residential areas of Malawi; the IFRC said today that in Mozambique, a large part of Zambezia is flooded, resulting in widespread damage across the province.

The Malawi Red Cross said Saturday it was activating anticipatory actions, with the support of its Danish Red Cross partners, after a warning from its Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services that southern districts, especially, would be badly affected by Freddy that was making landfall in Mozambique that morning.

Malawi Red Cross National Response Team member Martha Chiwaya said volunteers in Mulanje and Thyolo districts had been out and about asking people to be on the alert as rainfall continued, move to higher ground from flood-prone areas, and never to cross flooded rivers.

‘Freddy will remain exceptional in many aspects: longevity, distance covered, intensity, accumulated energy, impact on inhabited lands’

At least two days ahead of the storm crossing into Malawi, local Red Cross work to raise awareness of the danger included direct community engagement, loudspeaker vehicles, radio programmes and jingles, again with support from the Danish Red Cross.

After TC Freddy’s first passage through the region, the IFRC issued humanitarian cash grants of 136,000 and 272,000 Swiss francs respectively to the National Societies of Madagascar and Mozambique.

The World Meteorological Organization, meanwhile, is setting up an expert committee to evaluate whether Freddy has broken the record as the longest-lasting tropical cyclone in recorded history – currently held by Hurricane John, which lasted 31 days in 1994.

Freddy’s reading on an index used to measure the energy released by cyclones “is the equivalent of an average full North Atlantic hurricane season”, the WMO added.

The storm first made landfall in Madagascar on 21 February and then in southern Mozambique a few days later, before doubling back on itself once almost as far as Madagascar, picking up energy from warm seawater, then again back towards Mozambique and Malawi a second time.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology named Freddy on 6 February when it was a few hundred kilometres off the north-west coast of Australia; it then tracked across the entire Indian Ocean, affecting Mauritius and La Réunion on the way.

Increased rainfall

Describing the storm as “remarkable”, WMO adds: “This kind of super zonal track is very rare. The most recent recorded cases were Tropical Cyclones Leon-Eline and Hudah, both in 2000, which like 2023 was a la Niña year.”

It quotes Sebastien Langlade, Head of Operations at [the Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre for cyclones in] La Réunion, as saying: “World record or not, Freddy will remain in any case an exceptional phenomenon for the history of the south-west Indian Ocean in many aspects: longevity, distance covered, remarkable maximum intensity, accumulated cyclone energy amount, impact on inhabited lands … but it will be necessary to wait until the system ends its life cycle to make an exhaustive assessment.”

The IPCC has said there are observed and projected increases in heavy precipitation and associated flooding for south-east Africa and Madagascar, the WMO noted, as well as an increase in cyclone wind speeds, heavy precipitation and Category 4-5 storms.

Last year, World Weather Attribution scientists concluded that climate change had increased the rainfall associated with tropical cyclones hitting highly vulnerable communities in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi, including Ana and Batsirai last January and February.

National Societies in Malawi (pictured) and Mozambique and the IFRC in Southern Africa have been at full stretch for weeks, dealing with what may go down as the longest-lived storm in history. (Photo: Malawi Red Cross)