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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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: 178 Comments: 20443
501. melwerle
6:33 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Thank you Storm! Everyone have a great day - stay safe. Gonna go grab some lunch and reassess.

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500. melwerle
6:25 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Got it Storm - I was at the Club already though trying to get my mast up. Then the sirens go off. Wooo hooooo...

Are we in for more rain today or just heavy wind? I can deal with the wind (won't sail in heavy) but I don't want to do any more tornados.
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499. NEwxguy
6:26 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Storm didn't see your report earlier.
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498. NEwxguy
6:23 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
vandenburg airport reports 86 deg with a dewpoint of 72, thats certainly fuel for the storms.
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497. nash28
1:23 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Sun still out aplenty in Tampa where I am. Temp around 82 and it is soupy with the humidity.

Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
496. TampaSpin
1:17 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Nash the cloud tops are getting higher now up to 42,000ft wow
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
494. Patrap
12:23 PM CST on March 07, 2008
Wind Advisory here for now,Gale warning expected at 6pm cst.

Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
642 am CST Friday Mar 7 2008


Update...
the strong cold air advection and lowering thickness values will
yield strong surface winds across the area. With lake water
temperatures around 60f...100 percent of bl winds will mix down to
lake surface and areas south. As a result...a Wind Advisory is in
effect south of the lake this afternoon through Saturday morning.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
492. melwerle
6:18 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Hey Nash - do you think we're in for any more or safe to go back to the boat? I just dno't want to do the tornado crap again. Call me a wimp...
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491. nash28
1:16 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Well, so far dynamics are continuing to hang on.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
490. NEwxguy
6:14 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
This system has so much water in it,there's going to be flooding in florida and se georgia,and all the way up the east coast.
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489. 0741
6:11 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
i hope weather is not bad here miami on saturday morning i have to do my tax
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488. melwerle
6:09 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
ok - so not a fun morning. Took the boat down to the yacht club to get ready for our regatta and then the sirens start going off for a tornado warning. Came home, called it a day. Looking at the weather - hoping that I can head back later on and set up the boat but not sure. we're in Savannah...think I'll pass on that again...
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487. TampaSpin
1:06 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Looks like a major flooding problem in North Central Florida could be major.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
486. FLBlake
6:06 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
check out the rotation NW of Tampa

http://radar.weather.gov/radar.php?product=N0S&rid=TBW&loop=yes

sorry can't figure out the hyperlink
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485. TampaSpin
1:05 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
484. NEwxguy
5:59 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
It looks like most of the energy is going to stay from Tampa and north,the energy is moving from SW to the NE,don't see much movement south.
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483. Littleninjagrl
5:56 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I'm sorry everyone. I just logged on really quick while at work. I live in Tampa, fl....Should I be worried? I don't have time to read all the posts. help!
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482. Buhdog
5:42 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Nash.....good call. I think it is premature to say that anything below Tampa will have severe wx. I know....I have been as excited (not sure if that is the right word) as CCHwxman for some of these storms the last couple of months to roll thru....Everyone has boken up as they hit land. These referances to the superstorm of whatever are almost as bad as wishcasting. I don't want to be negative...it's just we learn in south florida not to get hyped over Fronts....they just don't live up to the hype. Afternoon t-storms seem to have more juice than alot of these players.
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481. atmoaggie
5:56 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
451. StormW 5:00 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
My weather radio just sounded...


Mine went off at 2 AM for a Lake Advisory in Pontchartrain. Happiness (Yawn).
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480. atmoaggie
5:49 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Wow, a winter weather advisory for most of Louisiana in March. That does not happen often.
Link

It looks like another, covering more of the southern parts of the state, will likely be issued for tonight.
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479. cchsweatherman
12:50 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Just noticed a MCV getting its act together out in the Central GOM. This system just continues to look worse and worse as the hours pass. This is going to be a very scary night. I'll be watching the radar throughout the day and night tracking this storm. Good luck to everyone living in the path of this system, which includes myself.
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478. TampaSpin
12:43 PM EST on March 07, 2008
477. weatherbro 12:39 PM EST on March 07, 2008
it may reach the upper 80's in parts of central Florida. Bad news man!


The inland florida will have the greater heating occurring.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
477. weatherbro
5:34 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
it may reach the upper 80's in parts of central Florida. Bad news man!
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476. weatherboyfsu
5:36 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Yeah.......look at this mornings outbreak, way ahead of schedule.....When I went to bed last night, I had no idea that i would wake up to tornado watches to my county of Lake.....I guess i need to watch my own stuff because things are changing to fast
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475. nash28
12:32 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Yeah. It's a bit warm.

Let's all keep one thing in mind here. The dynamics can change by the hour. We have seen this several times in recent weeks where a predicted severe wx event never surfaced because the dynamics drastically shifted, thus stabilizing the atmosphere.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
474. cchsweatherman
12:32 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Watch for the Tornado Watch to extend down the entire peninsula as we progress throughout the day.
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473. weatherboyfsu
5:30 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Im getting so excited that I cant type correctly.........Man......the radar shows some serious storms in the gulf......Here just west of Orlando, the temps and the humidity are jumping.....I am pumped.......sorry if i offend anyone.....I can remember the storm of the century in 93 and the storms of 98........
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472. TampaSpin
12:31 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Some very strong storms are about to move on shore that is showing rotation on doppler radar.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
471. cchsweatherman
12:31 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Looks like things may be turning very bad for Central and Southern Florida tonight. God speed to all who live in these areas. Maybe we could be looking at a storm here similar to the 93 SuperStorm. Scary to even think about.
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470. Patrap
11:31 AM CST on March 07, 2008
The Backside is freaking cold too..

SE Shreveport, Shreveport, Louisiana (PWS)
Updated: 10 min 46 sec ago
Light Snow
35.7 F / 2.1 C
Light Snow
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
469. TampaSpin
12:29 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Nash it is now 82Deg with humidty of 74%....heck that is tropical summer like.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
468. nash28
12:22 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Although it is not the only ingredient needed, this extra heating is further destabilizing the atmosphere. I think the original thought from last night and even early this morning was that the low level cloud deck would hang around and limit the daytime heating.

So much for that.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
467. Patrap
11:22 AM CST on March 07, 2008
Infrared look at the System Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
466. Tampawxgirl
5:19 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
My weather radio just sounded...Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in west central FL are under a Tornado WATCH.
Pasco is under the watch, too.

It's nice and sunny out today. Bad news! I've canceled my appointments for this afternoon so I don't get caught in the storm.
Member Since: June 1, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 163
465. TampaSpin
12:15 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Wheatherboy bad verbal on words on my behalf i ment a big time training effect is occuring.."What Training"...lol
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
464. TampaSpin
12:12 PM EST on March 07, 2008
This is bad. A thunder storm has developed just East of Sarasota no where close to the main front. So plenty of energy is in the air..
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
463. weatherboyfsu
5:14 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Look at Levy county....look at the radar loop for the last 4 hours......it has been raining there all the way across to Jacksonville.....thats training....which causes flooding........
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462. nash28
12:14 PM EST on March 07, 2008
The dynamics needed for the supercell development and tornadoes weren't all that spectacular earlier this morning.

Now things have changed.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
461. Weather456
12:20 PM AST on March 07, 2008
Infrared Eye Pattern by Tropical Cyclone JOKWE

Eye Temperature: -64C (Black)
Surrounding Temperature: -70C (White)

Eye Number: E6.0
Eye Adjustements: -1.0

6.0-1.0 - 5.0

CI 5.0/90/954



Curved Band Pattern by Tropical Cyclone 23S

Curve band arc: 0.55

CI 2.5/35/997 MET 2.5/35/997



Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
460. weatherboyfsu
5:14 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TALLAHASSEE FL
1208 PM EST FRI MAR 7 2008

.DISCUSSION...ITS BEEN A VERY BUSY MORNING HERE AT THE FORECAST
OFFICE. WE HAVE TWO STORM SURVEY CREWS INVESTIGATING POSSIBLE
TORNADOES, ONE IN EASTERN LEON COUNTY IN THE CAPITOLA/CHAIRES AREA
AND ANOTHER DOWN AT KEATON BEACH IN TAYLOR COUNTY. THERE WERE MANY
OTHER WIND DAMAGE REPORTS AND WE HAD SOME URBAN FLOODING HERE IN
TALLAHASSEE. A COLLECTIVE LOCAL STORM REPORT HAS BEEN ISSUED WITH
INFORMATION WE HAVE THUS FAR. THIS PRODUCT WILL BE UPDATED WHEN THE
FIELD CREWS RETURN. THE PRODUCT PIL IS LSRTAE AND THE WMO HEADER IS
NWUS52 KTAE.

AFTER COORDINATING WITH THE SPC, WE BELIEVE THE THREAT FOR SEVERE IS
OVER FOR THE DAY, WITH THE CONVECTION IN THE GULF PREVENTING A
SIGNIFICANT BOUNDARY LAYER RECOVERY. HOWEVER, WE STILL HAVE A POTENT
SHORT WAVE UPSTREAM AS WELL AS THE COLD FRONT, SO SOME ADDITIONAL
DEVELOPMENT IS POSSIBLE, ESPECIALLY IN AREAS THAT GET SOME SUN.
THERE ARE BREAKS IN THE CLOUDS W OF HERE, ALTHOUGH THAT IS FILLING
IN. WE ARE MORE CONCERNED FROM THIS POINT OUT OF FLOODING. A LARGE
AREA OF MODERATE RAIN IS DEVELOPING NWD ACROSS THE FL BIG BEND AND
IS HEADED TOWARD S CENTRAL GA. THIS AREA ALREADY RECEIVED WIDESPREAD
2-3 INCH RAINFALL TOTALS. WE HAVE DECIDED TO LEAVE THE FLOOD WATCH
UP, BUT DID TRIM OUT SOME OF THE ERN PANHANDLE ZONES. WE GOT REPORTS
OF 6 FT SURF IN BAY COUNTY, AND THIS FITS RIGHT IN TO WHAT WE WOULD
EXPECT WITH THE 8 FT SEAS WITH 8 SEC PERIODS OBSERVED AT THE
OFFSHORE BUOY. THE HIGH SURF ADVISORY WILL REMAIN IN PLACE. WE ARE
ALSO STILL CONCERNED ABOUT COASTAL FLOODING OVER IN EASTERN PORTIONS
OF THE FL BIG BEND. THE TIDE GAGE AT CEDAR KEY IS SHOOTING UP PRETTY
QUICK. ALSO, WE EXPECT VERY STRONG W WINDS TONIGHT AND THIS WILL
HELP TO PILE UP SOME WATER DURING THE OVERNIGHT HIGH TIDE CYCLE.

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459. TampaSpin
12:10 PM EST on March 07, 2008
What training is occuring....I am very concerned with the heating of the day we are getting in Tampa..
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
456. TampaSpin
12:03 PM EST on March 07, 2008
It appears the dynamics are changing.

Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
455. weatherboyfsu
4:58 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Good video coming in lake city on the link that i provided earlier........check it out
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454. nash28
12:02 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Tornado Watch until 7pm.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
453. TampaSpin
11:55 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443

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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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