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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453. TampaSpin
11:55 AM EST on March 07, 2008
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450. nash28
11:56 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Good call on the training.
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449. weatherboyfsu
4:51 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Its all good guys.........The t-storms are training at the moment....lots of flooding in NE florida.......Lots of damage scattered about......

I think that we need to concentrate on super cells that develop this afternoon over land....I think that the line itself is only going to produce straightline winds from here on........Again, the storms that develop ahead of the front will be the ones to look out for........
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447. TampaSpin
11:52 AM EST on March 07, 2008
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445. nash28
11:46 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Just got back from lunch guys.

Looks like W. Central FL and points EWD are gonna be in for more than originally thought.
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444. TampaSpin
11:42 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Check this bouy out.....alot of wind.
Conditions at 42003 as of
(9:49 am CST)
1549 GMT on 03/07/2008: Unit of Measure:
Wind Direction (WDIR): S ( 190 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 31.1 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 36.9 kts

Wave Height (WVHT): 10.5 ft
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443. weatherbro
4:41 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
This could very well be a major wind event for us all!
Member Since: May 26, 2007 Posts: 47 Comments: 1292
442. weatherboyfsu
4:45 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Live feed from Jacksonville tv station........


Link
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440. TampaSpin
11:39 AM EST on March 07, 2008
There is very strong rotataion just off shore the Ocala area
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438. weatherboyfsu
4:36 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Reports of widespread damage in the Lake City area...........

Cant access the NWS radars..........sucks....
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437. TampaSpin
11:33 AM EST on March 07, 2008
It does appear it went Xouth of the campus area.....thanks.
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436. TheCaneWhisperer
4:34 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Interesting SW! Glad to see your doing better.

mesoscale convective vortex (MCV) --A low-pressure center within an MCS that pulls winds into a circling pattern, or vortex. With a core only 30 to 60 miles wide and 1 to 3 miles deep, an MCV is often overlooked in standard weather analyses. But an MCV can take on a life of its own, persisting for up to 12 hours after its parent MCS has dissipated. This orphaned MCV will sometimes then become the seed of the next thunderstorm outbreak. An MCV that moves into tropical waters, such as the Gulf of Mexico, can serve as the nucleus for a tropical storm or hurricane.
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434. TampaSpin
11:27 AM EST on March 07, 2008
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432. StormJunkie
4:22 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Hey all, good to see everyone.

Hope you Fla/Ga folks are staying safe!

See everyone soon :~)
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430. NEwxguy
4:19 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Pat,next weeks storm does look impressive,so many Gulf storms so far this year.
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429. Patrap
10:14 AM CST on March 07, 2008
NEXRAD Radar
Jacksonville Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
428. TampaSpin
11:08 AM EST on March 07, 2008
This is well defined on radar looking head on to University Florida area...Link
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427. TampaSpin
11:05 AM EST on March 07, 2008
A Major looking tornado appears to be bearing down on Gainsville......man....this could be really bad.
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426. Patrap
10:06 AM CST on March 07, 2008
Just a lil look ahead to a Possible larger event ,next week. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
425. weathermanwannabe
10:57 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Things are calm in Tallahassee right now but it was a bumpy ride this moring; the rest of Florida and other States where this system is going through need to pay close attention to their local weather and NOAA; lots of tornados with this one which will be sweeping accross Central/North/NE Florida today....(as we speak)...
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424. Buhdog
3:20 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Good call NE guy....you can see the energy split between the north and south already. I bet south florida is off the hook for nothing more than a few lightning strikes and light rain for a brief moment. In and out. Tampa north into the other side of the state....look out/
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423. weatherboyfsu
3:58 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Geezzzzzzz....

Look at the radar..........North Ocala and southern Gainesville about to get pounded........
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421. Patrap
9:51 AM CST on March 07, 2008
Yes,,prelim reports sometime get muddled.
Good news indeed weatherboyfsu
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
419. weatherboyfsu
3:49 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Great news ...........Patrap.....
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418. Patrap
9:48 AM CST on March 07, 2008
My post # 360 was the Emg Mgrs initial report.

before the clarification::::::::::::::::::::::

PRELIMINARY LOCAL STORM REPORT...CORRECTED
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TALLAHASSEE FL
906 AM EST FRI MAR 07 2008

..TIME... ...EVENT... ...CITY LOCATION... ...LAT.LON...
..DATE... ....MAG.... ..COUNTY LOCATION..ST.. ...SOURCE....
..REMARKS..

0725 AM TORNADO CAPITOLA 30.45N 84.09W
03/07/2008 LEON FL EMERGENCY MNGR

*** 2 FATAL, 1 INJ *** FOUR HOUSES WERE DESTROYED ON
WHITE HOUSE ROAD AND CAPITOLA ROAD. ONE PERSON IS MISSING
AND THERE ARE 2 SUSPECTED FATALITIES.


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
417. HIEXPRESS
3:41 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Working & Lurking, Watching & Waiting. Thats some windfield.
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2156
416. TampaSpin
10:46 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Nash it is already nearly 80 degrees here....wow
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415. weatherboyfsu
3:45 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE JACKSONVILLE FL
1045 AM EST FRI MAR 7 2008

FLC001-071630-
/O.CON.KJAX.TO.W.0010.000000T0000Z-080307T1630Z/
ALACHUA FL-
1045 AM EST FRI MAR 7 2008

...A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 1130 AM EST FOR
SOUTHEASTERN ALACHUA COUNTY...

AT 1041 AM EST...WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR CONTINUED TO INDICATE
A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WITH STRONG ROTATION. THIS TORNADO WAS LOCATED
9 MILES SOUTHWEST OF GAINESVILLE...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 50 MPH.

OTHER LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO
MICANOPY...GAINESVILLE...ROCHELLE...GAINESVILLE AIRPORT...NEWNANS
LAKE...LOCHLOOSA...GROVE PARK...ORANGE HEIGHTS...WALDO AND MELROSE.

WHEN A TORNADO WARNING IS ISSUED BASED ON DOPPLER RADAR...IT MEANS
THAT STRONG ROTATION HAS BEEN DETECTED IN THE STORM. A TORNADO MAY
ALREADY BE ON THE GROUND...OR IS EXPECTED TO DEVELOP SHORTLY. IF YOU
ARE IN THE PATH OF THIS DANGEROUS STORM...MOVE INDOORS AND TO THE
LOWEST LEVEL OF THE BUILDING. STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS. IF DRIVING...DO
NOT SEEK SHELTER UNDER A HIGHWAY OVERPASS.

DO NOT USE YOUR CAR TO TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO. CARS ARE EASILY
TOSSED AROUND BY TORNADO WINDS. IF YOU ARE CAUGHT IN THE PATH OF A
TORNADO...LEAVE THE CAR AND GO TO A STRONG BUILDING. IF NO SAFE
STRUCTURE IS NEARBY...SEEK SHELTER IN A DITCH OR LOW SPOT AND COVER
YOUR HEAD.

IF IN MOBILE HOMES OR VEHICLES...EVACUATE THEM AND GET INSIDE A
STURDY SHELTER. IF NO SHELTER IS AVAILABLE...LIE FLAT IN THE NEAREST
DITCH OR OTHER LOW SPOT AND COVER YOUR HEAD WITH YOUR HANDS.

A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL NOON EST FRIDAY FOR
NORTHEASTERN FLORIDA AND SOUTHEAST GEORGIA.

LAT...LON 2950 8205 2949 8247 2964 8254 2986 8224
2983 8213 2981 8210 2979 8210 2974 8204
TIME...MOT...LOC 1545Z 238DEG 47KT 2960 8240
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414. Patrap
9:46 AM CST on March 07, 2008
Good news from earlier post,..


PRELIMINARY LOCAL STORM REPORT...CORRECTED
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TALLAHASSEE FL
929 AM EST FRI MAR 07 2008

..TIME... ...EVENT... ...CITY LOCATION... ...LAT.LON...
..DATE... ....MAG.... ..COUNTY LOCATION..ST.. ...SOURCE....
..REMARKS..

0725 AM TORNADO CAPITOLA 30.45N 84.09W
03/07/2008 LEON FL EMERGENCY MNGR

*** 1 INJ *** FOUR HOUSES WERE DESTROYED ON WHITE HOUSE
ROAD AND CAPITOLA ROAD. BASED ON THE LATEST REPORTS FROM
LAW ENFORCEMENT...IT APPEARS THERE WERE NO FATALITIES IN
CAPITOLA. ONE INJURED PERSON WAS TRANSPORTED TO THE
HOSPITAL.


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
413. nash28
10:43 AM EST on March 07, 2008
The daytime sun isn't going to help matters.
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411. TampaSpin
10:39 AM EST on March 07, 2008
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410. weatherboyfsu
3:36 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
I dont see that area of convection that is only about 90 miles to our north staying there all day....Isnt going to happen....It will push through.........
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409. weatherboykris
3:38 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Already pushing 80 here...
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408. nash28
10:34 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Yeah... When I got up this morning, I wasn't too concerned of any severe threat to Tampa, Orlando and points SWD.

Now???? Um... Yeah, concerned!
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407. nash28
10:33 AM EST on March 07, 2008
Pretty hairy situation unfolding today Pat.
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406. Patrap
9:32 AM CST on March 07, 2008
Believe me..that was a potent system here..we got lucky as it was taking a breath as it blew thru here,But I saw offshore Cameron rig reports of sustained winds at 85 with gusts to 97mph.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
405. weatherboykris
3:30 PM GMT on March 07, 2008
Well, here in South Florida, we have beautiful clear skies, which is NOT good nash...I can't believe peninsular Florida may be looking at a SPC Moderate risk.
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404. Patrap
9:28 AM CST on March 07, 2008
That surface Low that is crashing into Fla went from Houston to Jax in 14 hours..thats a fast Mover .Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
403. nash28
10:28 AM EST on March 07, 2008
The soundings have the SPC a bit concerned...
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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.