Lufthansa jet narrowly avoids crashing in German windstorm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:39 PM GMT on March 05, 2008

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A Lufthansa Airbus A320 with 137 people on board nearly crashed at the Hamburg, Germany airport on Saturday, March 1, as the pilot struggled to land the airplane during high winds kicked up by winter storm "Emma". If you don't have a fear of flying, take at look at the remarkable video an amateur photographer captured of the landing. It's been uploaded to LiveLeak.com and YouTube. As seen in the still images captured from the video (Figure 1), the pilot attempted to land the aircraft with a strong crosswind blowing from right to left. The crosswind is so strong that the drift angle of the aircraft (the difference between where the nose is pointed and the actual track of the airplane along the runway) is about 20 degrees. As the pilot touches the wheels down, he kicks the rudder to straighten the airplane out, and at that moment, a strong gust of wind lifts up the right wing, pushing the left wingtip of the aircraft into the runway. The pilot is skillful and lucky enough to avoid having the airplane cartwheel down the runway and explode, and aborts the landing attempt. You can see the blast of the engines kick up a cloud of dust on the left side of the runway as he goes to full throttle for a "go around" (thanks to Jeff Weber of UNIDATA for making the correct analysis of this dust cloud). The plane landed safely on its second attempt. Do you think the passengers were praying during that second landing? I do! Only minor damage was done to the left wingtip, and the plane was back in service by the next day.


Figure 1. Still photo of the Lufthansa jet (left) as it approached the runway. Note sharp angle between the direction the airplane's nose is pointed, and the track it is taking along the length of the runway. Strong winds of 40 mph gusting to 63 mph were observed at the airport that afternoon. Right photo: the left wingtip of the jet scrapes the runway as a big gust of wind hits. Image credit: LiveLeak.com.

The weather that led to the near disaster
The initial press reports indicated that a wind gust of 155 mph hit the aircraft as it tried to land. That sounded rather dubious to me, so I took a closer look at the weather conditions that day. The only way a wind gust of that magnitude could have been generated would be from a powerful microburst flowing out from the base of a severe thunderstorm. The world record strongest thunderstorm microburst occurred on August 1, 1983, when winds of 149.5 mph were clocked at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C., just five minutes after President Reagan landed there aboard Air Force 1. So, a 155 mph wind gust is possible, but it would be a new world record.


Figure 2. Visible satellite image from 10:20 GMT Saturday March 1 2008. Winter storm "Emma", a 960 mb low pressure centered north of Hamburg over Norway, has pushed a cold front through Germany. A strong northwest to west-northwest flow of air coming off the North Sea (red arrows) brought sustained winds of 36 mph, gusting to 56 mph, to Hamburg, Germany. Image credit: University of Bern, Switzerland.

Were there severe thunderstorms near Hamburg on March 1 that could have generated such a wind gust? A powerful low pressure system (Emma) with a central pressure of 960 mb passed to the north of Hamburg, Germany that morning, dragging a strong cold front through in the late morning (Figure 2). After cold frontal passage, the wunderground history page for Hamburg at 12:50 GMT, five minutes before the time of the incident, shows sustained winds of 35 mph, gusting to 56 mph. A temporary wind reading of 40 mph, gusting to 63 mph, also occurred. The temperature was about 45°F, with occasional rain. This is classic post-cold front weather, and is not the sort of environment where severe thunderstorms with strong microbursts occur. Later press reports corrected the 155 mph wind gust, reducing it to 56 mph. Apparently, the aircraft's landing speed was 155 mph. In any case, the plane was operating very near to the maximum crosswinds an Airbus A320 is permitted to land in--38 mph, gusting to 44 mph. There are questions whether air traffic control should have used that runway for landings, and whether or not the pilot should have attempted a landing in those conditions. There is an interesting discussion at the LiveATC.net discussion forum where some pilots weight in on the near-disaster.

Winter storm Emma did considerable damage across Germany. Six people died in weather-related automobile accidents, power was cut to 150,000 homes, and high winds ripped the roof off of a school in Hesse. In neighboring countries, 260 buildings lost their roofs in Poland, flooding collapsed a bridge in Romania, and in the Czech Republic, 92,000 people (about 10 percent of the population) lost power.

Jeff Masters

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753. mermaidlaw
11:39 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Hello everyone. Will there be more later tonight, or is this line it? I am going threw bad stuff here in Hernando county. THANKS!!
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752. weatherboykris
11:41 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
That's true nash.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
751. nash28
11:39 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Another point of interest...

These storms aren't moving anywhere NEAR as fast as the storms this morning over N FL were.

These are crawling at 15mph, compared to the 45-50mph.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
750. TampaSpin
6:39 PM EST on March 07, 2008
The only possible rotation now is nearing the Largo area.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
749. nash28
11:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Watch extended till 2am.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
748. weatherboykris
11:35 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
It appears that Miami Dade and Broward counties are excluded.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
747. TampaSpin
6:33 PM EST on March 07, 2008
House i am showing on Doppler rotation just off Clearwater beach but nothing looks like a tornado yet.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
746. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
11:34 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
nuttin new w b k been there all day and most of the night to come tell me something i dont know
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745. weatherboykris
11:33 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I'm laughing at what you said...
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
744. weatherboykris
11:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Tornado watch up for South Florida.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
743. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
11:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
whys that w b k
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742. spayandneuter
6:28 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Tornado watch just extended until 2 AM


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739. weatherboykris
11:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
LMAO KOTG.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
737. weatherboykris
11:30 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Yes nash, true words...I'm not liking the looks of this.
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736. nash28
11:30 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
House- Where are you?

I am in Apollo Beach. Know where that is?
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
735. nash28
11:29 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Ok guys... Let's save the sniping for invests that are 17 days away from anything resembling life:-)

Serious situation unfolding here, but y'all already knew that...
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
733. TampaSpin
6:26 PM EST on March 07, 2008
My radar show 2 rotations just off shore of the Hillsborough and Pasco line.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
731. weatherboykris
11:26 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
726. cchsweatherman 11:25 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
723. GulfScotsman 6:23 PM EST on March 07, 2008
711. cchsweatherman 10:55 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Based upon satellite imagery, it seems like this squall line has only begun developing as the line has begun to expand southward into the Yucatan Peninsula and has grown thicker. I've been warning people about this for the last three days and now it has come to fruition. I do not play around with storms like this. Good luck Tampa. You're about to get slammed with possible tornadoes.


thank god for sages like you. lest we all perish

Was that sarcasm that I sensed? You don't have to be a wisecrack like that.



cchs...he means lighten up! You're a smart guy, but you don't need to act like we're hanging on your every word. It gets kind of annoying. Be smart, tell people what you think, if you're right, compliments will come. Basically holding your hand out for them diminishes your accurate forecasts and makes people resent you.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
730. nash28
11:27 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Yes, the line is bowing out slightly. Hang on gang!
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
729. nash28
11:26 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Guys- Tornado Watch 105 has been extended:

/O.CON.KTBW.TO.A.0105.000000T0000Z- 080308T0000Z/
TORNADO WATCH 105 REMAINS VALID UNTIL 7 PM EST THIS EVENING FOR THE FOLLOWING AREAS

IN FLORIDA THIS WATCH INCLUDES 7 COUNTIES

IN WEST CENTRAL FLORIDA

CITRUS HERNANDO HILLSBOROUGH PASCO PINELLAS POLK SUMTER

THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF... BRANDON...BROOKSVILLE...BUSHNELL... CLEARWATER...CRYSTAL RIVER... INVERNESS...LAKELAND... NEW PORT RICHEY...SPRING HILL...ST. PETERSBURG...TAMPA... THE VILLAGES... WINTER HAVEN AND ZEPHYRHILLS.

Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
728. Ivansrvivr
11:24 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Remember, it wasnt a tornado at all that demolished an airport, car dealership and several homes and vehicles in Stuart yesterday, It was simple 97 mph downburst.
726. cchsweatherman
6:24 PM EST on March 07, 2008
723. GulfScotsman 6:23 PM EST on March 07, 2008
711. cchsweatherman 10:55 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Based upon satellite imagery, it seems like this squall line has only begun developing as the line has begun to expand southward into the Yucatan Peninsula and has grown thicker. I've been warning people about this for the last three days and now it has come to fruition. I do not play around with storms like this. Good luck Tampa. You're about to get slammed with possible tornadoes.


thank god for sages like you. lest we all perish


Was that sarcasm that I sensed? You don't have to be a wisecrack like that.


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725. TampaSpin
6:23 PM EST on March 07, 2008
House just because there is rotation does not mean it makes it to the ground..your fine now.....i still say the biggest threat will come latter as a line behind this one i think will form. this line is a bigger threat for S. Florida i think.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
724. nash28
11:22 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Dennis is usually spot on. But keep this in mind gang!!!! It doesn't have to be a tornado on the ground to severely relocate part of your house! There is alot of straight line wind in this! So, it really doesn't make much difference.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
720. TampaSpin
6:15 PM EST on March 07, 2008
There is strong rotation off shore about to come on shore from Pasco County into Hillsborough and Pinnelas County.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
717. nash28
10:56 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Ok. Back from beer run. It's coming. Skies are very dark off to my west and SW.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
715. weatherbro
11:11 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Any time now we could see multiple bow echoes from this intense squall line!
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714. BahaHurican
5:44 PM EST on March 07, 2008
SW Indian Ocean tracks, 1980 - 2005.

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712. TampaSpin
5:58 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Check out this line........wow.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
711. cchsweatherman
5:50 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Based upon satellite imagery, it seems like this squall line has only begun developing as the line has begun to expand southward into the Yucatan Peninsula and has grown thicker. I've been warning people about this for the last three days and now it has come to fruition. I do not play around with storms like this. Good luck Tampa. You're about to get slammed with possible tornadoes.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
710. TampaSpin
5:50 PM EST on March 07, 2008
707. Raysfan70 5:46 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Not a problem spin.

Where are you located?

I live in Charleston Corner near Alonso High School.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
709. nash28
10:50 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Ok, seems the storms are jerking us around on ETA.

Going to 7-11 for a beer run. BRB.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
708. TampaSpin
5:49 PM EST on March 07, 2008
There is some major rotation heading toward Pasco County north of Tampa....i look to see a warning very soon.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
707. Raysfan70
5:46 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Not a problem spin.

Where are you located?
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706. TampaSpin
5:45 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Rayfan i realized that and already fixed my posting.....lol
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450
705. Raysfan70
5:43 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Ruskin is on the main land and is SE of
Mac Dill.
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704. BahaHurican
5:33 PM EST on March 07, 2008
One more interesting thing about the Mozambique channel is that a warm ocean current (similar to the Gulf Stream) flows from north to south through it. Therefore cyclone formation in the channel itself is entirely possible (like this January's TC Elnus) during summer months.


So the east coast of Madagascar would be a little like Florida's west coast.
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703. TampaSpin
5:41 PM EST on March 07, 2008
SE of McDill would make it Ruskin i do believe.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20450

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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