Orbital View As Tropical Cyclone Freddy Hits Madagascar

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
February 28, 2023
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Orbital View As Tropical Cyclone Freddy Hits Madagascar
Cyclone Freddy is pictured northeast of the island nation of Mauritius from the International Space Station as it orbited 267 miles above the Indian Ocean. iss068e056415 (Feb. 20, 2023) – larger image

Around 7:20 p.m. local time on February 21, 2023, Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall on the eastern coast of Madagascar 18 miles north of the town of Mananjary.

It was the first land the storm encountered after traveling more than 4,000 miles across the Indian Ocean since forming on February 5 near Indonesia. So far, the destructive storm has not only battered the island with a dangerous storm surge, torrential rains, and destructive winds, but it has also killed five people. Prior to reaching Madagascar, the storm also caused some flooding and minor damage on the islands of Mauritius and La Reunion as it passed to the north.

Freddy is this year’s first cyclone where at its strongest, was equivalent to a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane on the Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with sustained winds at more than 160 mph. Freddy weakened to the equivalent of a Category 3 cyclone ahead of landfall. The storm hit the island nearly a month after Tropical Cyclone Cheneso, which killed at least 33 people and forced thousands from their homes. As Freddy tore across the island, it caused flooding and property damage. Today, Freddy is churning over the Mozambique Channel, and is expected to make landfall in Mozambique tomorrow between the Govuro and Vilankulos districts of the Inhambane province as a tropical storm.

No other tropical cyclones observed in this part of the world have taken such a path across the Indian Ocean in the past two decades. In fact, it is one of only four systems that have crossed the southern Indian Ocean from east to west—the others were cyclones Litanne in 1994 as well as Leon–Eline and Hudah in 2000. The Met Office has also stated that Freddy “will be close to the record for longest-lived tropical cyclone in the Southern Hemisphere.”

However, Freddy does hold the record for all-time accumulated cyclone energy (ACE), a measure of the storm’s strength over time, for the Southern Hemisphere, as well as globally, since Cyclone Ioke in 2006. Freddy has already generated about 66 units of ACE, beating the previous record of 53, formerly held by Cyclone Fantala in 2016. Only two Atlantic hurricanes have had a higher lifetime ACE index than Freddy—Hurricane Three in 1899 (ACE: 73.6) and Hurricane Ivan in 2004 (ACE: 70.4).

Additionally, Freddy was the first tropical cyclone in the Southern Hemisphere to undergo four separate rounds of rapid intensification, which occurred due to repeated bursts of wind shear that weakened the storm and then subsided.

NOAA’s polar orbiting satellites are providing critical data on the storm. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on both the Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA-20 and Suomi NPP satellites plays an important role in detecting and tracking storms. They measure the state of the atmosphere by taking precise measurements of sea surface temperatures and atmospheric temperature and moisture, which are critical to securing storm forecasts several days in advance. JPSS instruments provide data that is particularly useful in helping forecasters predict a hurricane’s path 3-7 days out.

NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP also carry a microwave sounder that penetrates clouds, allowing forecasters to see the internal structure of tropical cyclones. This helps forecasters understand the direction, movement and intensity of these storms.

Geostationary satellites from our partners around the world, such as the Meteosat satellites operated by our European partners at EUMETSAT, provide timely and potentially life-saving information about weather and storms in this region. These satellites track a tropical cyclone’s position and movement and monitor its center of circulation and wind fields in near real time.

In addition to being seen by satellites, the storm was also filmed from the International Space Station, where the eye was captured in stunning detail.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.