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February's Freddy the longest-lived cyclone on record

30 March 2023

Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which formed off the coast of WA on February 6 and killed 435 and caused widespread destruction in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi, has set a number of new records, Risk Frontiers says.

Its 38-day lifespan from February 6 to March 15 makes Freddy the longest-lived cyclone ever recorded, Risk Scientist Maxime Marin says, for the first time beating 1994’s Hurricane/Typhoon John’s 30 days.

Freddy also holds the record for the largest number of rapid intensifications – an increase of at least 55 km/h in sustained wind speed in 24 hours – by an individual cyclone, undergoing this seven times during its journey across the Indian Ocean. The previous record was four times.

On March 12, Freddy became the most “energetic” storm ever recorded, with an Accumulated Cyclone Energy of 86 – higher than the combined score of all 14 cyclones during an average Atlantic hurricane season.

That record had been held by 2006’s hurricane/typhoon Loke’s score of 85.26.

Freddy made landfall as a Category 2, although it reached Category 5 for a cumulative time of two days, peaking in intensity on February 19th with sustained winds of 255km/h. The intensity record is held by Hurricane Patricia’s maximum sustained winds of 345km/h in 2015.

Freddy displaced hundreds of thousands of people due to flooding and landslides. While the nearly 9000km distance covered by Freddy is the largest in the Indian Ocean, Hurricane John travelled more than 13,000km across the Pacific.

“It was never a threat to mainland Australia and was moving in a near-perfectly westerly direction, staying about 500km south of Christmas and Cocos Islands,” Mr Marin said. “Freddy’s unusual lifecycle gave it record-breaking status.”

Risk Frontiers says with the notable exception of Freddy, this year’s southern hemisphere tropical cyclone season activity, which ends April 30, will be “remarkably” below average.

The most intense landfall on mainland Australia this season was Cyclone Ellie, which hit NT and WA as a Category 1 in late December. The system spent two weeks over the NT and Kimberley region of WA where it caused significant flooding on the Fitzroy River.

The first cyclone of the season, named Darian, formed in December west of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and remained distant from mainland Australia.