A super-powerful cyclone named “Freddy” has likely broken a number of mind-boggling records since it formed in early February. The monstrous storm crossed the Indian Ocean and made landfall three times, and could be the strongest and longest-lasting storm on record.
Freddy was first named on February 6 after forming off the northern coast of Australia. 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 out, according to the World Meteorological Association (opens in a new tab) (WMA).
After damaging infrastructure on Mauritius and Réunion, which both avoided a direct hit, Freddy made his first landfall on February 21 while crossing the island nation of Madagascar. From there, the storm made landfall in Mozambique on February 23 before briefly returning to sea, where it again narrowly missed Madagascar before turning around once more to hit Mozambique again on March 11, with Malawi and Zimbabwe.
At least 148 people have been killed by Freddy and another 19 are missing, with the death toll likely to rise, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (opens in a new tab) (OCHA).
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The cyclone dumped a staggering amount of rain on the land, leading to mudslides and floods that displaced tens of thousands of people and worsened a cholera outbreak in Malawi. Southern Mozambique received more than double its annual rainfall when Freddy landed, and Malawi received about 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) of rain in just 72 hours, according to WMA.
The cyclone has now returned to sea, where it should finally dissipate.
Although this has yet to be confirmed by storm data, Freddy is likely the longest-lived tropical cyclone on record, having lasted at least 35 days. The previous record was set by Typhoon John, which spanned 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 (opens in a new tab).”)
Freddy has also released an amazing amount of energy over his long life. Scientists measure this using the Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index (ACE), which tracks wind speed data over time. On February 23, Freddy already had an ACE index of 66, making it the most powerful cyclone on record in the southern hemisphere. according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
On March 12, Freddy had reached an ACE index of 86, The Washington Post (opens in a new tab) reported. If confirmed, it 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 did Freddy last so long?
Freddy has lasted so long because it has undergone several strengthening periods, where surrounding weather fronts boost wind speeds after their initial disappearance. Freddy has experienced at least four strengthening events, the most ever seen in a tropical cyclone, according to NOAA. Further research will be needed to determine why this happened.
NOAA experts also believe that the girl (opens in a new tab), an atmospheric phenomenon that cools large areas of Earth’s oceans, may 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 La Niña triple trough that lasted three years. The flow La Niña is also in its third year (opens in a new tab).
Experts suspect that human-caused climate change played a role in strengthening the storm, although it’s too early to say exactly how, according to WMA.
This story originally appeared on Life sciences (opens in a new tab).