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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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: 178 Comments: 20439
702. Patrap
4:40 PM CST on March 07, 2008
Thanx nash.Was just curious,The NWS Tampa site went down,but is back up again.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
701. TampaSpin
5:38 PM EST on March 07, 2008
I thought it is SE of McDill AFB
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
700. nash28
10:38 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I believe it is Ruskin. It is only six miles south of me.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
699. Patrap
4:37 PM CST on March 07, 2008
NWS Radar with Marine Warning Overlay Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
698. TampaSpin
5:34 PM EST on March 07, 2008
New line developing in front.....not good. im getting thunder now.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
697. BahaHurican
5:30 PM EST on March 07, 2008
I know this line is forecast to dip south as far as the central and southeastern Bahamas, but it's kicking up so hard right now I wonder if there will be much of a punch left by the time it gets to the S FL area . . .
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21643
696. nash28
10:31 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Great Pat. Fantastic. Ugh.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
695. Patrap
4:30 PM CST on March 07, 2008
A Lot of Half inch Hail indicators ...may be some embedded in this line.

NEXRAD Radar
Tampa Base Reflectivity 1.45 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
694. TampaSpin
5:29 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Pat theee is alot of rotation off shore.....not shore if it makes it down or not, but this is looking very scary.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
693. TampaSpin
5:28 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Wow there is some very strong rotation just off St. Pete beach area.....
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
692. Patrap
4:27 PM CST on March 07, 2008
NWS Tampa Radar Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
690. TampaSpin
5:23 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Pat the G5 storm is diffinetly a spinner....
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
689. Patrap
4:22 PM CST on March 07, 2008
Some Tops to 52K indicated..
NEXRAD Radar
Tampa Echo Tops Range 124 NMI
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
688. BahaHurican
5:20 PM EST on March 07, 2008
682. HadesGodWyvern 5:18 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Moderate Tropical Storm "Kamb"



May just be a language difference, though I found KambA on a "generic" weather site.

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21643
687. TampaSpin
5:21 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Nash i have a vortex on radar off shore north of Hillsborgough County...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
686. Patrap
4:21 PM CST on March 07, 2008
NEXRAD Radar
Tampa Storm Relative Mean Radial Velocity 1.45 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
685. TampaSpin
5:18 PM EST on March 07, 2008
681. crazybowler 5:18 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Thanks Tampa. Now what should I look out for on that radar? Purple mixed with red and green?


Uncheck the Topo box and check the autoupdate is on and speed it up and look for spins of red in green and green in red....if that makes sense.

Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
684. BahaHurican
5:08 PM EST on March 07, 2008
665. Ivansrvivr 4:58 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Baha, most storms dont make it into GOM w/o hitting some land (Fl or elsewhere first.)


Agreed. It's just that FL seems so . . . in the WAY . . . ;o)

I'm learning more about Indian Ocean storms myself each season, so I'm no expert. In fact, it's just hitting me that Jokwe, which looks like a "cute wee storm" is a good 200 miles across. I'm going to look at some ocean current info to see if a storm getting into the Mozambique channel is likely to be influenced the way Gulf storms are by loop currents and so on.

Getting a sense of just how much ocean there is "out there" is helping me get a better grip on storm dynamics in that basin.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21643
683. TampaSpin
5:17 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Michfan for those to be firing where those are at must mean multiple lows do exist IMO.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
682. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
10:13 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Moderate Tropical Storm "Kamb"

looks like another one of those storms with a name spelling mix up.

Mauritius (The official naming RSMC for cyclone east of 55E) has the name Kamb

Reunion (the official warning RSMC for cyclone) has the name Kamba
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680. Michfan
10:14 PM GMT on March 07, 2008


Look at these puppies firing up. Its nasty outside.
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1666
679. TampaSpin
5:14 PM EST on March 07, 2008
I hear ya.....Ocala has a strong spinner in its area again.....its just not stopping over the same areas....that alone is alarming.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
678. nash28
10:13 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I'm ready Tampa! I am here with y'all unless I need to nose dive into the closet with my wife and the dog!
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
677. TampaSpin
5:12 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Nash my weather radio just went off get ready....here we go......
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
676. TampaSpin
5:08 PM EST on March 07, 2008
671. crazybowler 5:08 PM EST on March 07, 2008
I have a question. I want to know how you can tell just by looking at radar if a storm has rotation? I have heard you guys say oh this storm has rotation and look at it and say to myself "how do these guys point out rotation?" lol


Crazy open this link up and you can see what i am looking at. i also use a doppler site that shows rotation.Link
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
675. nash28
10:10 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Gang- Secondary low level jet is developing which is increasing the helicity values. Greater tornadic threat for Tampa EWD for longer period tonight.

They may have to prolong the tornado watch past 7pm.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
674. Patrap
4:08 PM CST on March 07, 2008
Hang on to yer hats. This one is for real.
Marine Warnings, Fla NWS Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
673. nash28
10:08 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
And yes, I noticed that over the last hour, a smaller squall line has been getting its act togther. One two punch.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
672. BahaHurican
4:59 PM EST on March 07, 2008
656. MichaelSTL 4:48 PM EST

Good call, STL. Thanks. I changed it in the post.

For Ivansur, it turns out that Madagascar is nearly 1000 miles long, and that the passage between it and the mainland is between 275 and 300 miles wide at its NARROWEST point . . . By comparison, the Florida peninsula is only about 400 miles long, and neither of the entrances to the Gulf exceeds 200 miles in width. At its widest point, Madagascar is almost as wide as Florida is long . . .
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21643
670. TampaSpin
5:04 PM EST on March 07, 2008
up to 12" of rain is estimated just off shore of Ocala.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
669. nash28
10:06 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Pat- This sucker is really taking advantage of the dynamics!!!! That energy was supposed to be too far N of us today. Oops:-) Cells around 45,000ft approaching me.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
668. Patrap
4:04 PM CST on March 07, 2008
Squall Line now reaching N Tampa Area...cells developing ahead of the main line as well.
NEXRAD Radar
Tampa Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
667. Ivansrvivr
9:58 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
JFV, having lived in NW Florida and SE Florida, it never ceased to amaze me how much different winter wx is between there and here. Summers are quite similar, but they get a ton of rain up there in the winter when we don't get squat here.
666. TampaSpin
4:57 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Check out the Thunder storms south of Naples...i think this will turn into one rough evening in the interior parts of S. florida.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
665. Ivansrvivr
9:55 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Baha, most storms dont make it into GOM w/o hitting some land (Fl or elsewhere first.) unless they form in the GOM. I'm not an expert on the Indian Ocean by any means.
664. TampaSpin
4:53 PM EST on March 07, 2008
A 45,000ft top in the GOM wow.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
663. Ivansrvivr
9:52 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Agree Nash. That usually happens with afternoon heating not over water. Still, the biggest threat is straightline winds and hail. If renegade supercells start popping up ahead of the line then tornadoes may be a more of an issue. Still this putting alot of beneficial rain in the kissimmee valley where it will feed Lake O.(on the bright side)
661. nash28
9:54 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I am already seeing signs of bowing in this line both due west and SW of Tampa. Strengthening also. Not good.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
660. BahaHurican
4:41 PM EST on March 07, 2008
640. Ivansrvivr 4:37 PM EST on March 07, 2008
You'd think Madagascar would be effective at blocking tropical systems from east africa and youd think East Africa would do the same for W.coast of Madagascar. That's fitting the square peg in the round hole perfectly.


It's like Florida and the Gulf coast. How DO those Cape Verde storms get in there without hitting Florida first . . . . LOL

ON a more serious note, though, I think we don't have a realistic sense of the scale of things on the W African coast. When u look at it, there seems to be plenty of space between Madagascar and the coast, certainly enough to allow a cyclone to "thread the needle" unimpeded.

It also seems this one has a chance of coming back and hitting SW Madagascar, something I never would have believed possible.

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21643
659. nash28
9:50 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
What I don't want to see is multiple bow segments BEFORE making it onshore!
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
658. Ivansrvivr
9:41 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
JFV, a good indicator for S.Fl is how far south this trough is digging into the GOM. The convection over the Yucatan linking up with the squall line makes it much more likely that the line will hold together. Forecasting for NW Fl and S.E Fl may as well be 2 different countries. The presence of low pressure west of Tampa will be source of energy for the squall line. If that low move Northward, the line may weaken, if it continues east, a severe wx outbreak over S. Florida is possible.
The new storms are forming over S.E Al. The Upper low over La/Ms is moving east now which may invigorate the whole thing further.
657. TampaSpin
4:47 PM EST on March 07, 2008
My radar is filled with circulations heading toward the greater Tampa Bay area....we had nothing like this during the Hurricane season..
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
655. nash28
9:47 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Holy hell Pat!!!!! Well, it was only a matter of time before I finally got some of this. Last four were busts. Not tonight.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
654. Sophmom
4:41 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Hi, y'all.

I was in St. Augustine Beach for the '93 storm. It was something. Blew the doors off the elevator wells at my Mom's condo. Every time someone would open the street side door, everybody's ears would pop. The next morning the beach was covered with jellyfish. We drove up towards home (Atlanta) the next day, into the snow, as the closed roads opened before us. I'm still POed for having missed the thundersnow we had here.

I've been watching it all afternoon, having just gotten my boss onto a plane for Orlando. They're about to take off, hoping to slip in before the worst of it gets there. Yikes. I'm going to stay in tomorrow, build a fire, maybe make some soup. You Floridians take good care.
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653. Patrap
3:45 PM CST on March 07, 2008
The Line is stair casing some..a good indicator of severe.
NEXRAD Radar
Tampa Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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