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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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: 426 Comments: 128664
652. TampaSpin
4:43 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Nash
The main low in Louis. is moving due East it appears....i think that too is a change in the dynamics ahead.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
651. nash28
9:43 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
No worries JFV:-) Everyone PLEASE!!!!! Get your NOAA weather radios out, ready and armed if you have one. Rough night ahead for many of us.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
650. nash28
9:42 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Yeah they are. The squall line is actually building SWWD toward the Yucitan!!! Good grief!!! No signs of dissipation, or breaking up.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
646. Patrap
9:41 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Low Cloud Product GOM,click to ENlarge. Link

One Half the Gulf has cloud streets, the other is heavily T-storm loaded.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128664
645. nash28
9:40 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Actually JFV, I live on the south shore of Tampa Bay, but that's ok:-)

As for your area, it depends on how much energy these cell maintain as they push SEWD overnight.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
644. TampaSpin
9:40 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Nash the skies are starting to darken real quick now.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
642. Patrap
9:39 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Heres a GOM IR Loop of the whole scene.Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128664
641. nash28
9:38 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Well Gryff.... It looks like TPA, CLW and St. Pete will get hammered this time. This isn't breaking down like the others did.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
640. Ivansrvivr
9:37 PM GMT 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.
639. TampaSpin
9:37 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
That looks like a bomb about to drop in on Tampa.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
638. Patrap
9:37 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Thats a image from last night from Hurricane23's software.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128664
637. weatherboyfsu
9:37 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Thats some cool stuff Patrap..........


I remember 1993 and 1998 and in both cases I knew that it was coming. How could you not....There was all kinds of warning especially in 1993 and I got alot of pics.....Didnt have a camcorder back then......It came in on a Friday evening about 10PM and i was driving home from work....Lots of lightning and strong winds........

1998....was alot worse as far as tornados and deaths......Two tornados came thru my area.....one accross winter garden into northern orlando and the other came thru the kissimmee valley.....THat one killed alot of people.........I still remember that day and the radar.....It came thru my area about 11:30pm on a sunday evening and I can remember my house shaking and also could remember going outside after it had left and could see the bubbling thunderheads moving away me and the distinct rotations because of the vivid lightning....Almost like it was alive!!!!!
Member Since: July 17, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1025
635. nash28
9:33 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
And glancing at radar, it appears to me that this line has actually gotten stronger.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
634. weathers4me
9:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Pat: Can you post the actual link of that low you have posted above? Is that the low that is now approaching FL?
Member Since: May 24, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 118
633. BahaHurican
9:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Latest SW Indian infrared:



On the left, Jokwe is forecast to brush the Mozambique coast with cat 2 winds before veering off to the southeast up the channel. On the right, currently well away from land, is a no-name cyclone which is forecast to reach hurricane strength by Sunday. If so, its name will likely be Kamba.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22322
632. Ivansrvivr
9:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I noticed it on the radar yesterday, didnt't realize it would hold together. I didn't put the two together till you mentioned it. Good memory.
631. nash28
9:31 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Ok gang. Home from work. Am I extremely tired, or am I seeing a new low W of me?
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
630. Ivansrvivr
9:29 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Bro, your'e right about the warning. If we did, I would have never made the drive from Tenn to Fla through the teeth of the 93 storm. I got out ahead of the road closures in Al only to have my car hail damaged several hours later.
629. Patrap
9:28 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Heres the Low as it exited Houston into the GOM last night ,the whole system traversed the Gom in round 20 Hour.

Link


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128664
627. Ivansrvivr
9:26 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Patrap, is that a Low west of Tampa? Sure didn't see that one coming.
626. weatherbro
9:26 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
back in '93 we had little warning
Member Since: May 26, 2007 Posts: 47 Comments: 1313
625. Patrap
9:21 PM GMT on March 07, 2008


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128664
624. TampaSpin
9:18 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
look at the radar south of Naples what is starting.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
623. TampaSpin
9:17 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Im afraid the inland counties of central florida south will get the worst of the bad weather with the super cells.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
622. flsky
9:15 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Still in the bathroom waiting out the tornado warning here in Daytona Beach Shores. Should be passing quickly. Can hear thunder.
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2011
621. TampaSpin
9:12 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Check out the storms filling in on the line wow
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
620. weatherboyfsu
9:12 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I dont think that its going to last all that long.......This line is coming and it isnt going to slow down........I think that all the bad weather will be thru the Tampa Area by 9pm......
Member Since: July 17, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1025
619. weatherboyfsu
9:08 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MELBOURNE HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
EAST CENTRAL VOLUSIA COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF...NEW SMYRNA BEACH...SOUTH DAYTONA...
PORT ORANGE...PONCE INLET...

* UNTIL 415 PM EST

* AT 350 PM EST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO NEAR PONCE
INLET...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 40 MPH.

* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR...
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES BY 400 PM EST...

THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE DURING A TORNADO IS IN A STRONG BUILDING ON
THE LOWEST FLOOR...IN AN INTERIOR ROOM SUCH AS A BATHROOM OR CLOSET.
KEEP AWAY FROM WINDOWS. GET UNDER A WORKBENCH OR OTHER PIECE OF
STURDY FURNITURE. USE BLANKETS OR PILLOWS TO COVER YOUR BODY.
Member Since: July 17, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1025
618. TampaSpin
9:06 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I believe we are in for a rough afternoon in Tampa
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
617. Ivansrvivr
9:01 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
It's going to be a long afternoon. BBL everybody.
616. weatherboyfsu
8:59 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Tornado warning just came across the radio for East Volusia county
Member Since: July 17, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1025
615. weatherboyfsu
8:57 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Tornado warning for Daytona Beach.....
Member Since: July 17, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1025
614. Ivansrvivr
8:56 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
The eastern part of the squall line slowing, while the other end is moving quickly toward tampa is good indicator of new low and reinforcing energy west of tampa. The supercells in that area are also hinting same thing. If I lived in Tampa, Id watch that one real close.
612. Ivansrvivr
8:50 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I was looking Adrian's WVloop for the Gulf of Mexico.
611. Ivansrvivr
8:49 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
During the 93 storm the squall line did the exact same thing. It looks like new low may be trying to form west of Tampa.
610. NEwxguy
8:47 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
lol,looking at the same radar I guess
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15840
609. Ivansrvivr
8:46 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
NEWX, you must have been reading my mind.
608. NEwxguy
8:46 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
that line is moving east toward tampa fast now,should be there by evening
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15840
607. Ivansrvivr
8:46 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
The storms are firing along the trough axis on the N. Coast of the Yucatan. If the line solidifies beween the line to the north and that far south, the squall line won't weaken much as it moves down the peninsula.
606. NEwxguy
8:44 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
That line is building all the way back to the yucatan pennisula
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15840
604. Ivansrvivr
8:39 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
23, remember that a reinforcing shot of energy could come the secondary low currently over LA. On the visible it it appears to have started moving eastward now.
603. hurricane23
8:39 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Again folks feel free to use My Florida Radar page on my site.

I have some great radar links for anyone to use on that page.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804

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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.