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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553. cchsweatherman
2:46 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Guys, there is a very tell-tale sign for impending severe weather strengthening that Ivansrvivr brought to my attention. If anyone lives in South or Central Florida where the sun is still shining, go outside after you read this. You should notice moisture laden cumulus clouds racing off towards the north and humidity continuing to rise. This is no ordinary cold front and squall line people. South Florida will get, quite possibly, a strengthening squall line during the early morning hours. This is very concerning.
Member Since: April 14, 2007 Posts: 8 Comments: 5030
552. weatherboyfsu
7:42 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Hello Mr . Buhdog,

I didnt know that we had some stormchasers on here.....How many tornados have you seen or chased? I have more than i can count....And how many have you actually lived thru because you dont sound like you have....If you have then you would know about your radio......

And what I was referring to is "when we have threatening weather, that is just one more way to help recognize the possibility". On any normal summer day that would be the case that you referred too. Today is not a normal summer day....
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551. TampaSpin
2:44 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Just an observation but the main low in Louisiana seems to be tracking nearly due East and very well defined also..
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
550. nash28
2:45 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Winds are still at 50-60kt at 850MB.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
549. weatherboykris
7:43 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Yes nash, it is usually 00 and 12z, but during severe weather, they almost always do an 18z, or (if applicable) 06z. They seem to have opted not to this time. Budget cuts, what can you do? JK
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
548. weatherboykris
7:41 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Yes, the atmosphere is getting very energized with clear skies here in WPB. Winds haven't veered yet either, my anemometer/wind vane is still reading southwest.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
547. Skyepony (Mod)
7:38 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Sedlock had to of wrote the short term...juicy dewpoints...
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546. nash28
2:41 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Kris- Do they usually do 18z Skew-T? I thought it was just 00z and 12z....
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
544. Buhdog
7:31 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Are you kidding me FSUboy?
"One trick for people who want to know if a tornado is approaching, among others, turn your radio on to an AM station that you can get. Most tornados are associated with extensive lightning which makes static on AM stations.....If the static from lightning is extensive then look out....There may be one in the vicinity.......Just another hint that a storm is approaching.....When I am chasing especially during the day its helpful. At night you can obvisiously see the lightning."

That is incredible you would make this statement. This is Florida.....I can hear lightning in Tampa from Cape Coral on 620am about 150 days a year non-stop. That comment made me laugh out loud.
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543. weatherboykris
7:39 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Look at those GOM storms popping all the way down as far south as Lake O. You know,this really is good for the lake.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
542. weatherboykris
7:38 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
No nash, it isn't. I find it very interesting that the NWS didn't conduct any 18z soundings.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
541. nash28
2:36 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Well, there you have it. Tampa all the way EWD to Melbourne needs to keep their eyes open. It aint going away.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
540. NEwxguy
7:36 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Tampa,that second line is what I think will get you,have to see if it holds together.
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539. weatherboyfsu
7:32 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
AFDMLB

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
231 PM EST FRI MAR 7 2008

.DISCUSSION...

...THREAT FOR SIGNIFICANT SEVERE WEATHER THIS AFTERNOON/EVENING...
...MINOR FLOODING POSSIBLE TONIGHT ASSOCIATED WITH STORMS...
...WINDY CONDITIONS SAT BEHIND FRONT FROM WESTERLY WINDS...
...INCREASED FIRE WEATHER CONCERNS BEHIND COLD FRONT SAT/SUN...

CURRENT-TONIGHT...STRONG SQUALL LINE WITH EMBEDDED SEVERE ELEMENTS
EXTENDS FROM NEAR ST. AUGUSTINE THROUGH THE EAST-CENTRAL GULF. THIS
LINE HAS PUSHED VERY LITTLE SOUTHWARD RECENTLY...THOUGH WILL GET A
STRONG KICK LATER THIS AFTERNOON/EVENING FROM A STRONG UPPER LEVEL
TROUGH ACROSS THE NORTHERN GOMEX. DUE TO STRONG SURFACE HEATING IN
THE WARM SECTOR...JUICY DEWPOINTS IN THE UPPER 60S/LOWER 70S...
EXPECT WIDELY SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS TO DEVELOP ACROSS EAST
CENTRAL FLORIDA THROUGH THE REMAINDER OF THIS AFTERNOON AND RACE
NORTHEASTWARD AT AROUND 35 MPH. ANY CELL THAT DOES DEVELOP THIS
AFTERNOON WILL HAVE THE ABILITY TO ROTATE AS THE ATMOSPHERIC
PROFILES WILL REMAIN FAVORABLE INTO AT LEAST EARLY/MID EVENING.
OTHER THREATS FROM STORMS THIS AFTERNOON WILL BE DAMAGING STRAIGHT
LINE WINDS...DANGEROUS CLOUD TO GROUND LIGHTNING...LARGE HAIL...
TORRENTIAL DOWNPOURS. A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 7PM
THIS EVENING NORTH OF A LINE FROM OSCEOLA COUNTY TO BREVARD
COUNTY. LATE THIS AFTERNOON/EARLY EVENING WHEN THE AFOREMENTIONED
SQUALL LINE GETS KICKED SOUTHEASTWARD THE THREAT FOR SIGNIFICANT
SEVERE WEATHER WILL CONTINUE THROUGH A GOOD PORTION OF THE
OVERNIGHT HOURS AS THIS LARGE COMPLEX TRAVERSES EAST CENTRAL
FLORIDA. THE ABOVE MENTIONED THREATS WILL STILL APPLY AND MINOR
FLOODING WILL BE A POSSIBILITY IN PLACES WHERE INDIVIDUAL CELLS
TRAIN OVER THE SAME AREAS...AS WELL AS ACROSS LOCATIONS 24 HOURS
AGO THAT RECEIVED ABUNDANT RAINFALL. LOWS IN THE MIDDLE 50S NORTH
TO MIDDLE 60S SOUTH.

PEOPLE ACROSS EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA SHOULD STAY TUNED FOR THE LATEST
UPDATES ON THIS DEVELOPING SEVERE WEATHER THREAT.
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538. nash28
2:33 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Well, not sure if they will weaken like they have in the past few weeks. These seem to be hanging on. I don't think the cooler shallow water is going to have a huge affect this time.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
537. TampaSpin
2:29 PM EST on March 07, 2008
What is going on a second line is developing ...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
535. weatherboyfsu
7:31 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I cant get any work done............ lol
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534. weatherboyfsu
7:27 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Not to alarm anyone.....but I am here in lake county just west of orlando and the storm that just developed here has some twist with height.....I can see others building......Looking at radar, discrete cells are popping........
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533. weatherboyfsu
7:24 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Back from the gym............The line hasnt made much progress eastward.....Holy cal.......Levy county, your going to need a boat to get around......

One trick for people who want to know if a tornado is approaching, among others, turn your radio on to an AM station that you can get. Most tornados are associated with extensive lightning which makes static on AM stations.....If the static from lightning is extensive then look out....There may be one in the vicinity.......Just another hint that a storm is approaching.....When I am chasing especially during the day its helpful. At night you can obvisiously see the lightning.
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532. NEwxguy
7:17 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Heavy Snow Warning
URGENT - WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE JACKSON MS
1208 PM CST FRI MAR 7 2008

...SNOW EXPECTED FOR NORTHEAST LOUISIANA...SOUTHEAST ARKANSAS AND
CENTRAL MISSISSIPPI...

.A STRONG UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE WILL COMBINE WITH A COLD AND
MOIST AIRMASS TO BRING SNOW TO THE ARKLAMISS REGION THROUGH TONIGHT.

ASHLEY-CHICOT-MOREHOUSE-WEST CARROLL-EAST CARROLL-RICHLAND-
BOLIVAR-SUNFLOWER-LEFLORE-WASHINGTON-HUMPHREYS-ISSAQUENA-SHARKEY-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...CROSSETT...NORTH CROSSETT...HAMBURG...
WEST CROSSETT...DERMOTT...LAKE VILLAGE...EUDORA...BASTROP...
OAK GROVE...EPPS...LAKE PROVIDENCE...RAYVILLE...DELHI...
CLEVELAND...INDIANOLA...RULEVILLE...GREENWOOD...GREENVILLE...
BELZONI...ISOLA...MAYERSVILLE...ROLLING FORK...ANGUILLA
1208 PM CST FRI MAR 7 2008

...HEAVY SNOW WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL MIDNIGHT CST
TONIGHT...

A HEAVY SNOW WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL MIDNIGHT CST
TONIGHT.

COLDER AIR WAS SPREADING EAST ACROSS THE REGION...WITH SNOW ALREADY
DEVELOPING OVER PORTIONS OF THE WARNED AREA. SNOW WILL CONTINUE TO
MOVE EAST THROUGH THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING...BECOMING HEAVY AT
TIMES. SNOW WILL TAPER OFF TO FLURRIES AROUND MIDNIGHT. TOTAL
SNOWFALL ACCUMULATION OF THREE TO FIVE INCHES REMAIN POSSIBLE.

A STRONG UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE WILL COMBINING WITH A COLD AND
MOIST AIRMASS TO BRING THE POTENTIAL FOR A SNOWSTORM TO THE
ARKLAMISS. PLEASE REFER TO THE HEAVY SNOW WARNING AND SNOW ADVISORY
PRODUCTS FOR MORE DETAIL CONCERNING THIS HAZARDOUS WINTER WEATHER
SITUATION.

IN ADDITION...THE WIND WILL BE QUITE GUSTY FROM THE NORTH TO
NORTHWEST...ESPECIALLY OVER THE ARKLAMISS DELTA REGION WHERE WIND
SPEEDS OF 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 30 MPH ARE EXPECTED TODAY.
THESE STRONGER WINDS WILL SPREAD ACROSS THE REMAINDER OF THE OUTLOOK
AREA THIS EVENING.

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530. TampaSpin
2:21 PM EST on March 07, 2008
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TAMPA BAY AREA - RUSKIN FL 214 PM EST FRI MAR 7 2008 THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN RUSKIN HAS ISSUED A * SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR... SOUTHERN LEVY COUNTY IN FLORIDA. CITRUS COUNTY IN FLORIDA.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
529. TampaSpin
2:09 PM EST on March 07, 2008
check out 517post ....newest pic show stronger storms in the GOM
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
527. nash28
2:15 PM EST on March 07, 2008
It will Gryff. The front has slowed some this afternoon.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
524. NEwxguy
7:08 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Talk about changing conditions look at this for Sunday morning


.BREEZY CONDITIONS EXPECTED TODAY AHEAD OF A STRONG COLD FRONT.
THIS FRONT WILL ALLOW COLDER AIR TO MOVE INTO THE REGION AND
FREEZING CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE SUNDAY MORNING IN LEVY COUNTY.

LEVY-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...CEDAR KEY...CHIEFLAND
1229 PM EST FRI MAR 7 2008

...FREEZE WATCH IN EFFECT FROM LATE SATURDAY NIGHT THROUGH SUNDAY
MORNING...

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN TAMPA BAY AREA - RUSKIN FL HAS
ISSUED A FREEZE WATCH...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM LATE SATURDAY
NIGHT THROUGH SUNDAY MORNING. A LAKE WIND ADVISORY REMAINS IN
EFFECT UNTIL 6 PM EST THIS AFTERNOON.

WINDS WILL INCREASE TODAY AHEAD OF A STRONG LOW PRESSURE CENTER...
CURRENTLY OVER NORTHWEST GEORGIA. EXPECT SUSTAINED WINDS TO 20 MPH
WITH FREQUENT HIGHER GUSTS FOR MOST OF THE DAY.

BEHIND THE FRONT WILL LIKELY SEE ANOTHER ROUND OF STRONG WINDS
DURING THE DAY SATURDAY. THESE WINDS WILL USHER IN COLDER AIR AND
LEVY COUNTY MAY SEE FREEZING CONDITIONS SUNDAY MORNING.

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523. nash28
2:08 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Dynamics still look good. Discrete cells will be the players.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
522. Michfan
1:06 PM CST on March 07, 2008
Glad to see The drought areas are getting some much needed rainfall. When that line came through our area it woke me up in bed, and that rarely happens.
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521. TampaSpin
2:03 PM EST on March 07, 2008
check out these rain falls wow.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
520. Ivansrvivr
6:55 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
It is not very often you see a low with dynmaics to drop snow in Shreveport LA. This is not (at this point) a generic cold front that will peter out around the big bend area. Note the supercells forming south of Ocala feeding the main line. The dangerous part about this line is it will like come crashing south after sunset into the more populated areas of the FL peninsula overnight. Maybe it fizzles or maybe it is the 1 in 100 that hangs on down into S.Fl. Either way it should be watched closely.
519. TampaSpin
1:58 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Very strong Bow echo...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
518. Patrap
12:58 PM CST on March 07, 2008
IR Loop of the GOM Link
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517. TampaSpin
1:54 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Storms keep building in the GOM
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
515. Patrap
12:50 PM CST on March 07, 2008
GOM 60 hour WIND model Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125503
514. Skyepony (Mod)
6:43 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
The hazards have become worse as the day has gone on for east central FL. Big Bend area has most likely some rough weather headed toward it, not only in wind (showing some rotation now) but 3-4" of rain an hour currently falling in the gulf headed that way too.
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513. NEwxguy
6:45 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Thats pretty impressive rain
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511. biff4ugo
6:40 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
PS. I have been a student pilot and accidentally touched down in a cross wind with the wheels off about 5 degrees. I won't do that again and can't imagine the jar landing 20 degrees off. I'm glad that pilot goosed it and got back up in the air with both wings on.

yeesh.
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510. TampaSpin
1:41 PM EST on March 07, 2008
6-8 inches of rain
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
509. NEwxguy
6:39 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Thanks Storm,going to be a wild day up here tomorrow.
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508. TampaSpin
1:39 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Wow the same areas are getting dumped on big time.....
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
507. biff4ugo
6:06 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I'm not seeing the rotation, just a continuous stream of RAIN!
Wow, Palatka down town has some flooded streets already...nothing new, but what is hitting Gainesvill looks alot heavier or at least wider. I wish I could see my backyard now.

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506. NEwxguy
6:33 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR...
BERKELEY COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST SOUTH CAROLINA...
CHARLESTON COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST SOUTH CAROLINA...
SOUTHEASTERN DORCHESTER COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST SOUTH CAROLINA...

* UNTIL 215 PM EST

* AT 124 PM EST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN
EXCESS OF 60 MPH. THESE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING
FROM 11 MILES NORTHEAST OF ISLE OF PALMS TO JOHNS ISLAND...OR ALONG
A LINE EXTENDING FROM 18 MILES SOUTHWEST OF MCCLELLANVILLE TO 7
MILES WEST OF CHARLESTON...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 60 MPH.

* SOME LOCATIONS IN OR NEAR THE PATH OF THE STORM INCLUDE...
CHARLESTON...MOUNT PLEASANT...
SHADOWMOSS...NORTH CHARLESTON...
WANDO...SUMMERVILLE...
MCCLELLANVILLE...CENTENARY...
HUGER...

THIS THUNDERSTORM IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING VERY HEAVY RAIN...WHICH MAY
FLOOD ROADS...DITCHES AND LOW-LYING AREAS. AVOID FLOOD PRONE AREAS
AND DO NOT DRIVE INTO PLACES WHERE WATER COVERS THE ROAD.
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505. nash28
1:38 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Yep Tampa. Energy is still here.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
503. TampaSpin
1:37 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Looks like lower level energy is still hanging out.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430

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About JeffMasters

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