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Lashing Mozambique, Freddy has become Earth’s most energetic cyclone on record

Freddy, which made landfall in Mozambique for a second time Saturday, is also the longest-lived tropical cyclone ever observed

A satellite image of Cyclone Freddy as it weakens over Mozambique following its second landfall in the country. (NASA WorldView)
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Cyclone Freddy — a former hurricane-strength storm lashing Mozambique for a second time — is solidifying its status as the most relentless tropical cyclone ever observed. On March 7, it became the longest-lived tropical cyclone ever recorded. Now it’s shattered the record for the planet’s most energetic storm.

The inexhaustible storm, which first developed on Feb. 6 between Western Australia and Indonesia, has already traced a 5,500-mile path into southeastern parts of Africa. It struck Madagascar on Feb. 19 and Mozambique for the first time on Feb. 24. Having crossed the Mozambique Channel three separate times, Freddy is now in the midst of its second Mozambique landfall.

On Sunday, Freddy was centered near the mouth of the Zambezi River in Mozambique and had winds of about 55 mph. The storm crossed the coast on Saturday as the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane before gradually losing strength over land.

The storm was blamed for 27 deaths in Madagascar and Mozambique when it lashed the two countries last month. Amid its second landfall in Mozambique this weekend, at least one person has died, Reuters reports, but the full scope of the cyclone’s toll is still unknown because “communications and electricity supply in the storm area have been cut.”

Freddy’s record-setting longevity and bouts of intensification

Freddy attained Category 5 strength twice over the open southern Indian Ocean in mid-February, and has been named for 34 days. That eclipses the previous world record-holder, Hurricane John, which spent 31 days as a named Pacific storm between Aug. 11 and Sept. 13, 1994.

In addition, Freddy has rapidly intensified an unprecedented seven times, compared with the previous record, which was four times. Rapid intensification describes a jump of 35 mph or greater in a storm’s winds in 24 hours or less. While most major hurricanes and storms do rapidly intensify at least once, anything more than three times in a storm’s life cycle is exceptional.

The world’s most energetic tropical cyclone

After smashing records for lasting so long and intensifying so often, Freddy managed to become Earth’s most energetic storm ever observed after reaching a key threshold this weekend.

How much energy a storm churns through is calculated through a metric known as ACE, or Accumulated Cyclone Energy. It reflects both a storm’s intensity and duration. Storms harvest such energy from warm ocean waters and expend it through their winds and by generating precipitation.

As of Saturday evening, Freddy had tallied somewhere in the neighborhood of 86 ACE units, surpassing the record of 85.26 set by hurricane and typhoon Ioke in August to September 2006. That’s more ACE than 100 of the past 172 Atlantic hurricane seasons — not individual storms, but entire seasons’ worth of ACE.

While Freddy has nabbed records for rapid intensification, longevity and energy dispersed, it hasn’t spent its whole life at hurricane strength. It weakened to a tropical storm after landfall in Madagascar on Feb. 21 and a depression following its first landfall in Mozambique days later.

What’s next for Freddy

It’s likely that Freddy will finally dissipate by late Monday or early Tuesday as it unloads its heavy rain in northern and central Mozambique. Some places could see roughly 25 inches.

While the mid-level circulation left behind by Freddy’s remnants may drift back southeast over the Mozambique Channel into Wednesday, the shredded tropical entrails don’t look to have any chance of coming back to life.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.