Menacing cyclone Freddy, with the strength and intensity of a class-topping Category-5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, is approaching Madagascar in South-West Indian Ocean on the heels of another strong cyclone Cheneso that hit the island country situated off the South-East Africa coast only two weeks ago.

Incidentally, Cheneso was the first storm of the 2022-2023 cyclone season in the South-West Indian Ocean. It had caused flooding and landslides leaving 30 people dead and many others missing. The cyclone season in the South-West Indian Ocean basin runs annually from October to April.

View from Space Station

The UN said two million people are bracing for what could be the strongest cyclone in more than a decade as Freddy approached. It was visible even from space as the International Space Station orbited Earth on Friday.

The monstrous storm featured a well-developed ‘eye’ at the centre, indicating its strength and ferocity. Tatiana Dasy, Director of Save the Children’s Programme in Madagascar, was quoted as saying said the risk of a dangerous storm surge, flooding and strong and damaging wind is increasing by the minute. “We’re terribly worried for families and children living on the storm path.”

Screen grabs of cyclone
Projected track of intense cyclone Freddy

Projected track of intense cyclone Freddy | Photo Credit: V Karthik

French weather agency Meteo France has classified Freddy,roaring its away at more than 240 km/hrcurrently, as an ‘intense tropical cyclone’ in the Southern Hemisphere. It matches the scale and proportion of a super cyclone in the Northern Hemisphere.

Chennai-based wildlife and weather photographer V Karthik was able to catch Freddy as it struck threatening pauses over the deep and unheralded waters of the South-West Indian Ocean made famous when an ill-fated Malaysia Air flight disappeared over the adjoining waters in 2014 with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.

Powerful, compact

Meteo France said Freddy is a particularly powerful and compact tropical system, generating extreme winds near its centre. It was aiming to hit Madagascar next after hitting the islands of Mauritius and Reunion earlier. US private forecaster Accuweather said it was one of three cyclones recently on the move in the oceans around Australia.

But after forming on February 6, it is now the only one remaining. A La Nina, now on the wane, had provided fertile conditions around Australia for cyclone formation and had sawn the seeds of Freddy. It broke away from the confines of Australia, warmed up to the larger South-West Indian Ocean basin and propelled unhindered with no major land features on sight.

Feeds on moisture

The cyclone had enough time and space at its disposal to devour the moisture provided by the ocean, powering in strength and intensity as it struck to a West-South-West track. It will have travelled almost 9,000 km across when it rams into Madagascar in the next couple of days.

Furious Freddy has been raising a high wave alert even along the Kerala coast in South-West India, some 4,000 km to the North. AccuWeather Lead International Forecaster Jason Nicholls recalls that only two other cyclones in 2000 — Hudah and Leone, also known as Eline — have taken a track all the way from the East Indian Ocean to near Madagascar.

Meanwhile, Madagascar’s General Directorate of Meteorology has warned residents in notified areas to take preventive measures ahead of Freddy’s landfall. Agency reports said the African coastal nations of Mozambique and South Africa, as well as Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe are on high alert for heavy rains and thunderstorms from the cyclone.