2023 cyclone Freddy longest on record at 36 days: UN

General |Author: AFP | July 10, 2024, Wednesday @ 07:15| 1765 views

Malawi Police Service Dog Handlers lead sniffer dogs into the area of mudslide disaster during a joint search and rescue operation to recover bodies of victims of the mudslide at Manje informal settlement up on the slopes of Soche Hill in Blantyre, Malawi, on March 17, 2023. The death toll in Malawi from Cyclone Freddy has risen to 326, bringing the total number of victims across southern Africa to more than 400 since February. (Photo by Amos Gumulira / AFP)

Cyclone Freddy, which crossed the entire southern Indian Ocean before wreaking devastation on southeastern Africa last year, was the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever recorded at 36 days, the UN confirmed Tuesday.

A panel of experts has been poring over the data surrounding the storm since its remarkable journey in February and March last year.

The United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed Freddy's 36 days "at tropical storm status or higher" overtook tropical cyclone John's 29.75 days in 1994.

However John still travelled the furthest distance. It barrelled across the north Pacific Ocean, travelling nearly a third of the Earth's circumference -- covering 13,159 kilometres (8,175 miles) to Freddy's 12,785 kilometres.

"Freddy was a remarkable tropical cyclone, not only for its longevity but also for its ability to survive multiple land interactions, which unfortunately had significant consequences for southeast African populations," said panel member Chris Velden, a tropical cyclone and satellite expert from the University of Wisconsin in the United States.

The Freddy announcement comes as Hurricane Beryl -- the earliest top-level Category 5 storm in the Atlantic on record -- hurtled towards Jamaica after sweeping across several islands in the southeastern Caribbean.

Though the WMO has not linked Freddy's exceptional longevity to climate change caused by human activity, it says climate change is linked to the increased likelihood of major hurricanes, while rising ocean temperatures increase their destructive power and energy.

WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis told reporters that keeping records is therefore important "to inform policy-making, to understand our changing climate and the impact of extreme weather".

- Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique hit -

Freddy caused major human and economic losses in the worst-affected countries due to its prolonged passage near and over land, the WMO said.

It developed off northwestern Australia, becoming a named storm on February 6. It then made landfall in Madagascar on February 21 and reached Mozambique on February 24, claiming lives and bringing heavy rains and floods to Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

It then looped back towards the coast, regained strength and hit Madagascar again before heading back over Mozambique and Malawi, where floods and mudslides swept away homes, roads and bridges.

Tropical storms derive their power from warm water and therefore weaken over land, so Freddy ultimately dissipated.

More than 1,200 people were reported as dead or missing and more than 2,100 were injured in Malawi. In Mozambique, more than 1.3 million people were affected, with more than 180 deaths, the WMO said.

In Madagascar, nearly 200,000 people were affected by the first and second landfall, it added

The damage caused by Freddy is estimated at $481 million, according to the African Union's African Risk Capacity.

- Value of early warnings -

The WMO said that without advance warnings of the incoming danger, "the casualty toll would have been even higher".

The agency wants to have everyone on the planet covered by first-class early warning systems for incoming weather hazards, within the next five years.

Freddy will now go into the WMO's World Weather and Climate Extremes Archive, which contains a variety of records including temperature, air pressure, rainfall, wind speed, hail and lightning.

A panel of world-leading experts is assembled for each new potential record -- in this case, 12 experts based in the United States, Canada, France, Australia, Spain and Hong Kong.

The extremes presented for adjudication for the archive are "snapshots" of the current climate, said Randall Cerveny, who heads the archive.

"It is possible, and indeed likely, that greater extremes will occur in the future," he said.

© Agence France-Presse