The storm was dubbed a "zombie" as it continued to maintain a hurricane status over the ocean for weeks, long after it should have died out

By Madison Roberts
October 15, 2018 03:18 PM
Credit: Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)

Hurricane Leslie lurked in the Atlantic Ocean for nearly three weeks after developing on Sept. 23 — long after it should have died out — only to make a rare resurgence and turn towards Europe.

The storm, dubbed a “zombie” by many news outlets because of its strange ability to survive on patches of warm water for an extended period of time, made landfall in Portugal on Saturday.

Although the wind gusts were reported as high as 109mph according to the BBC, Leslie was downgraded to tropical storm status before it hit northern Portugal and Spain.

According to the BBC, as of Saturday, 27 people had suffered minor injuries while over 300,000 people had lost power.

“I have never seen anything like it,” a resident of Figueira da Foz in Portugal told a local TV station. “The town seemed to be in a state of war, with cars smashed by fallen trees. People were very worried.”

So what exactly is a “zombie” storm? Mark Elliot, a meteorologist and storm specialist for The Weather Channel tells PEOPLE that this term is used to describe storms that “meander” over open water for a while without completely running out of steam.

“This term comes up every once and a while when a system fizzles out and then is able to regain organization and keep going,” Elliot says. “Specifically, the National Hurricane Center was issuing advisories on Leslie from September 23rd to the 25th. Then it lost all organization and the advisories stopped . . . only to pick up again September 28th. It was a solid two weeks before Leslie would approach land, almost making it all the way to Portugal as a tropical system.”

Hurricane Leslie was never meant to reach the Iberian Peninsula, but continued to maintain a hurricane status over the ocean for weeks, picking up steam because of the regional climate, making it one of only five storms in history to have reached the area from the Atlantic. Portugal also hasn’t had a hurricane make landfall there since 1851.

“Long-lived storms happen every once in a while across the Atlantic but it takes the right weather set up for it to happen,” Elliot says. “Often, these are storms that are removed from the traditional steering flows in the tropics and as such don’t have anything pushing them toward land. When they remain over the open waters, they can sustain themselves for longer periods of time.”Elliot points out that this storm bears a resemblance to a few others that have been able to reach Europe, such as Ginger in 1971, which lasted 27.25 days, Inga in 1969 which lasted 24.75 days, and Nadine in 2012, which “meandered for a very long time both as a tropical and as a non-tropical entity before finally completely finishing up.”

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Portugal’s national airline TAP offered flight rebooking accommodations to travelers impacted by the hurricane. Passengers with flights from October 13-15 departing or arriving in Funchal (FNC) or Porto Santo (PXO) could rebook travel at no additional charge up until October 22 in the same cabin as long as the origin and destination cities remained the same.

Meanwhile, the United States is recovering from the deadly Hurricane Michael that made landfall at a category 4 in Florida on Wednesday. As of Monday morning, 46 people were reported missing after the storm “wiped out” the small town of Mexico Beach. At least 18 people have died as a result of the storm, including three in North Carolina, eight in Florida, six in Virginia and one in Georgia, according to the Weather Channel. Among the 18, one confirmed death has been reported in Mexico Beach, according to ABC.