Tropical Cyclone Freddy was a record-breaking storm that astonished meteorologists for its longevity. As part of its final act, the cyclone unleashed destructive floods and landslides on Malawi and Mozambique.
Freddy’s long journey began off the coast of Australia in early February 2023. After becoming an exceptionally powerful storm and crossing the Indian Ocean, Freddy first struck eastern Madagascar on February 21 and southern Mozambique a few days later. After drenching Mozambique’s Inhambane province, the storm looped back into the Mozambique Channel in early March, where it benefited from warm ocean temperatures and favorable wind conditions. It underwent rapid intensification for a record seventh time on March 11 as winds strengthened by at least 55 kilometers (35 miles) per hour in a 24-hour period. Freddy continued moving northwest until making landfall in Mozambique’s Zambezi Province later that day.
The storm’s slow pace led to torrential rains in which 20 to 67 centimeters (8 to 26 inches) fell over a span of two days in many areas in Mozambique and Malawi. On March 19, 2023, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured an image (right) that shows the scale of the flooding on the Shire, Zambezi, and Licungo rivers. The other image (left) shows the same area on February 21, 2023, before Freddy arrived. Many of the swollen, flooded rivers appear brown due to water carrying large amounts of suspended sediment.
Storm and flooding damage was particularly severe in Malawi, according to news reports and relief agencies. The storm displaced at least 88,000 people in Malawi as houses slid from their foundations or were inundated, with the largest impacts in the Chikwawa, Nsanje, and Mulanje districts. Dozens of people lost their lives in Blantyre alone due to rain-triggered landslides, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Nearly 50,000 more people were displaced in Mozambique. Both countries were already facing cholera outbreaks prior to the flooding, and public health authorities have voiced concerns that the flooding will exacerbate the problem.
NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Adam Voiland.