Lufthansa jet narrowly avoids crashing in German windstorm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:39 PM GMT on March 05, 2008

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 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:

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 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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103. cchsweatherman
12:06 PM EST on March 06, 2008
Here is a graphic explaining the current situation and why we are seeing some explosive convection developing in the GOM.
img src="Photobucket" alt="" />

Right now, a stationary front has transitioned into a warm front and has begun slowly moving northward. With this boundary, very tropical air has begun to filter into South Florida and the GOM. In the upper levels of the atmosphere, the subtropical jet stream is creating rapid upper level winds coming from the SW, leading to the titled appearance of the storms. With the lift created by the boundary, significant heating occurring over the GOM, and a fast upper level jet, they create perfect conditions for explosive thunderstorm development. Now, the much talked about cold front has begun moving into Eastern Texas which has begun to pull moisture out from the GOM and over the Gulf Coast. All these ingredients have come together for the explosive convective activity in the GOM.
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102. Patrap
11:16 AM CST on March 06, 2008

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 438 Comments: 136309
101. hydrus
5:03 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
PATRAP-I think it is interesting how the conditions in the carribean sea effect all of our hurricane seasons.Especially when you factor in the Q.B.O.and atmosphere.You know as well as I do how fast tropical cyclones intensify there.the sea temps are also are so high in some areas,but at the same time I never see alot of developement in the eastern carribean as opposed to the western and S.W carribean.
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100. IKE
11:14 AM CST on March 06, 2008
86 days after today until blobs count.
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98. IKE
11:12 AM CST on March 06, 2008

97. Patrap 11:11 AM CST on March 06, 2008 Hide this comment.
Miami NWS Discussion

It still appears that cyclogenesis will be underway along coastal
front across southeast Texas this response to
sharpening upper trough moving across Texas

You can see cyclogenesis happening just as the above discussion talks about.
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97. Patrap
11:10 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Miami NWS Discussion


It still appears that cyclogenesis will be underway along coastal
front across southeast Texas this response to
sharpening upper trough moving across Texas. As this occurs...
remnants of lingering frontal boundary will surge rapidly
northwestward...and for this reason will maintain highest evening
probability of precipitation across the north. Very warm and muggy but dry conditions are
still expected from Thursday night through Friday
southeast flow increases downstream from intensifying Gulf Coast
cyclone. Rain chances will increase once again on Saturday a much stronger cold front associated with upper
trough digging across the southeastern U.S. Surges into the
region. Guidance is in fairly good agreement on the cold front
reaching the northwest counties by early/mid-morning Saturday...
and sweeping across the remainder of the area through the
afternoon. Expect scattered showers/storms to accompany the
frontal passage...with activity shifting offshore by late
afternoon. Forecasted values of deep-layer shear and instability
still appear to support a higher threat for organized/severe
convection with this system...if low-level flow can remain
sufficiently backed prior to frontal passage...and this threat
will have to be refined as the event approaches.
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96. IKE
11:09 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Looks like a low spinning in SE Texas heading toward the western GOM....Link
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95. nash28
12:08 PM EST on March 06, 2008
Looks like the heavy stuff will get here a little quicker than anticipated.
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94. Patrap
11:09 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Wet...wet and a lil windy.
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92. IKE
11:08 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Nash...will you not be around WU this summer for our always exciting Atlantic hurricane season?
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91. Patrap
11:08 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Tampa Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI

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90. Patrap
11:07 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Yo nash...
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89. nash28
12:06 PM EST on March 06, 2008
Good afternoon Pat!
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88. Patrap
11:04 AM CST on March 06, 2008
GOES-12 Channel 3 (WV) GOM Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 438 Comments: 136309
87. nash28
12:00 PM EST on March 06, 2008
Just checked out that long range radar out of Tampa. Man!! Pretty solid amount of heavy precip making its way toward the west coast of FL.
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86. Patrap
11:01 AM CST on March 06, 2008
GOES-12 Low Cloud product..Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 438 Comments: 136309
84. Spetrm
5:00 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
To be honest I think the above was just due to pilot error. Yes there was high winds but I'v seen and I'm sure Dr. Masters himself have seen planes make this type of approach many times only to turn there plane at the last second for a safe landing.

Yes it was challenging but If you look at the video it seems he just waited to long to make that turn.
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82. Patrap
10:59 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Earlier, warmer Atlantic SST's could play a role in 08 Link
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81. cchsweatherman
11:56 AM EST on March 06, 2008
76. hydrus 11:51 AM EST on March 06, 2008
please explain more on what is going on in the gulf of mexico.

Right now, there exists a stationary front over South Florida. It has begun transitioning into a warm front. With any frontal system, it creates some lift in the atmosphere. As a result with increasing moisture and heating, convection has been building in the GOM. If my eyes are not deceiving me (which they have on a few occasions), there could be a SURFACE low developing on the western edge of this convective burst.

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80. hydrus
4:53 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
PATRAP-I understand,but do you see anything out there that possibly could enhance tropical cyclone developement regardless of the number of landfalls in the Atlantic basin?
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79. IKE
10:55 AM CST on March 06, 2008
Here's the 12Z GFS...morning discussions on the GFS say it's suffering from convective feedback. If not, there's a bullseye over the Florida panhandle with tomorrows system..

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78. cchsweatherman
11:50 AM EST on March 06, 2008
74. JFV 11:50 AM EST on March 06, 2008
I see weatherman, thanks for the misunderstood correction. By the way, what are you anticipating weather wise for Southeast Florida this afternoon and Saturday?

This afternoon, I'm watching the increasing convection building off in the GOM. Depending upon its track, it could create very heavy rains and storng storms here late this afternoon. Assuming these storms do not move into SE Florida, then I'll be watching the sea breeze developing. With the stationary front, easterly sea breeze and light SW flow, there could be some strong storms with brief heavy downpours as well as isolated hail and strong winds.

Saturday is the most interesting day. The main question is how much instability will be created by the stationary front moving northward as a warm front. In my opinion, SE Florida needs to be alert to possible severe weather Saturday as the computer models continue to indicate a more unstable atmosphere preceding the front. If this convection in the GOM lingers and it meets the front, that will provide the energy necessary for some very active weather here.
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77. Patrap
10:52 AM CST on March 06, 2008

Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
429 am CST Thursday Mar 6 2008

GFS...NAM...ECMWF and NGM glaring differences were the position
of the surface low and the decrease in thickness values Friday off
the GFS. Moreover...GFS develops a jet maximum of 140 knots over
Mississippi and Alabama/ahead of the main trough axis and create
good divergence. In addition...GFS showed a 6 hourly quantitative precipitation forecast swath of
3 inches over southeast Louisiana coastal waters.

Will stay somewhat clear of GFS and go with European model (ecmwf) and NAM blend
with surface wind direction forecast but increase wind speeds
through Friday. The main trough over the central rockies is expected to
sharpen over the plains but remain positively tilted. Surface low
is expected develop over southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana
this afternoon...then sweeps east. Surface flow will become east
to southeast over the area. Dewpoints were around 50f over northeast
Gulf...thus increase surface moisture will occur tonight. Deep
moisture should remain over coastal waters as land deep readings
should remain below 60f. The approach of the main trough will
strengthen SW flow in the middle layers and south flow in the lower
levels. This will increase moisture and middle layer instability.
Will keep thunder in forecast after 06z Friday and hold highest
chance of rain after 06z Friday. With sharp trough passage...cold
air advection is expected Friday with strong winds over the
coastal waters through Saturday. Lowering thickness values will keep
temperatures below norms through the weekend and keep the azaleas from
blooming fully. Another southern track storm will bring a chance of
rain across the area late Wednesday into Thursday.
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76. hydrus
4:48 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
please explain more on what is going on in the gulf of mexico.
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75. cchsweatherman
11:40 AM EST on March 06, 2008
The feature currently out in the Central Atlantic continues to look more impressive as the core continues to deepen. Convection has begun to build somewhat in the NE quadrant and wind shear has been decreasing over the circulation. It could become a subtropical system if it loses the frontal boundary trailing it.
img src="Photobucket" alt="" />
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73. Patrap
10:46 AM CST on March 06, 2008
No,I dont do the prediction of tropical activity thing.
I concentrate on impacts and after effects mostly.

Every seasons bring the chance of a possible strike. A high number of storms dosnt always mean more impacts.As well, a slow starting season Like 92 can bring calamity the first storm out. Like Andrew was,a late Aug storm.

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72. weatherbro
4:43 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
All this thing(in the west GOM) needs to do is be at the right place at the right time to explode into another '93 super storm. Let's hope not.
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71. hydrus
4:26 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
PATRAP-I know it is only march,but I was interested if you had any predictions on this upcoming hurricane season,if so,please elaborate.
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70. cchsweatherman
11:38 AM EST on March 06, 2008
69. JFV 11:32 AM EST on March 06, 2008
Hey Weatherman, what did you potentially mean by possible tropical developement in the gulf of mexico this morning?

I made a typ there. I did not mean to say tropical. I meant to write surface, but then I wrote the word tropical instead. Ever do something like that before?

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67. weatherboyfsu
4:06 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
Here is the lastest long range radar out of tampa.......It appears that Sarasota-northward will get the heaviest rains.......

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66. cchsweatherman
11:00 AM EST on March 06, 2008
Good morning to you JFV and PeachTree.

So, Patrap, what are you seeing with this enhanced convection that has developed in the GOM? It now appears to be heading in the general direction of Central and Southern Florida. I do believe there to be a tropical low forming out in the Central GOM at this time. Could make for an interesting scenario for Florida come Saturday.
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65. weatherboyfsu
4:02 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
Good morning,

Looks like T-storms firing in the gulf will move towards the Tampa Bay area....Northward....

Interesting set-up.......temps are still relatively cool here in the orlando area....
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63. Patrap
9:46 AM CST on March 06, 2008
GOM 60 Hour Wave Forecast

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61. Patrap
9:27 AM CST on March 06, 2008
GOM IR Loop Link

GOM 60 hour Wind Model Link
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60. cchsweatherman
10:24 AM EST on March 06, 2008
Anyone here right now? Has gone dead quiet on the boards.
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59. NEwxguy
2:45 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
This storm is going to effect the entire eastern half of the country with everything except the kitchen sink.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 896 Comments: 16202
58. Patrap
8:31 AM CST on March 06, 2008
NDBC Buoy Station 42003 - E GULF 262 nm South of Panama City, FL Link

Latest Satellite Wind Map for this Area Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 438 Comments: 136309
56. Patrap
8:29 AM CST on March 06, 2008
GOM IR Loop Link

GOM Low Cloud Product,click to enlarge Link

Mid Atlantic Low Link

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 438 Comments: 136309
55. NEwxguy
2:25 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
Gm all,Here in New England will be watching this weekends storm with interest,it this comes together,we may be looking at a lot of flooding this weekend.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 896 Comments: 16202
54. cchsweatherman
9:20 AM EST on March 06, 2008
Watching the latest satellite loops, it seems like a low may be forming with the enhanced convection over the GOM. Now I can see why WU forecasted such a low rain chance for you surfmom. It appears this convection has begun moving northward and could be the beginnings of the major storm that will hit the Eastern US hard tomorrow through the weekend. Scary looking setup occuring right now with a fast-moving cold front meeting a tropical low on the Gulf Coast. Could create a severe weather outbreak for the SE. Thoughts?
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53. surfmom
2:21 PM GMT on March 06, 2008
Well, I am off for my few hours of quiet before work, horses and kids today. Frankly if it rains all day I won't be too disappointed...just hope I get my waves this Sunday. have a nice day all - see ya Tonight.
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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