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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853. sullivanweather
1:36 AM EST on March 08, 2008
I think everyone that visits this blog should listen to this lecture by Jeremy Rifkin heard on Northeast Public Radio, a division of NPR, on 3/4/2008

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852. weatherbro
5:19 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Night all...Anti am!!! Just kidding. good night...
Member Since: May 26, 2007 Posts: 47 Comments: 1525
851. weatherbro
5:11 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Dewpoints will be crashing to the lower 20's for central FL. come Saturday afternoon/night from todays 60's(even 70's few spots). Which is good since we all hate high humidity lol.

What a difference a day makes!

Member Since: May 26, 2007 Posts: 47 Comments: 1525
4:43 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
I remember fighting a commercial structure fire at the height of the 93 superstorm, limited resources due to multiple calls. How do you think that turned out? (parking lot)

Maybe go out to the airport tomorrow with a video camera...
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2156
849. Ivansrvivr
4:30 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Renegade supercell is forming over western dade/broward line. That indicates possible restrengthening of the line.
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848. Ivansrvivr
4:25 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
S.Fl usually gets spared the worst of the severe wx. Lake City took it on the chin this morning, Stuart got it thursday afternoon though.
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847. hurricane23
11:16 PM EST on March 07, 2008
The lack of instability is one problem i see but all in all winds in gusts to 30-40 mph seems pretty reasonable to me.My weather station is always up i'll check it tommorow to see what to place outside the house.Takecare.
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845. Ivansrvivr
4:10 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
23, this line still has strong jet, and 1 more wave of upper level energy behind it. It has had "ups and downs" all day. there is still alot of convection there, and now with broken T-storms, tornados become a bit more likely. Still straightline winds and hail are biggest threats. It is not often a line looks this strong as far south as it is.
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844. hurricane23
11:12 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Iam out to!

Continue's to weaken as it approaches southeast florida.That was expected on my part.
Lastest view

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843. BahaHurican
11:02 PM EST on March 07, 2008
Good night.
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3:57 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2156
841. hurricane23
10:25 PM EST on March 07, 2008
839. GeoffreyWPB 10:20 PM EST on March 07, 2008
West Palm Beach - Channel 29 Weather - Line of thunderstorms approaching from Gulf diminishing in strength. Nothing to lose sleep over.

Makes sence.This type of set-up normally results in straight line wind damage.This mess is loaded with lighting iam picking up a crap load of lighting strikes on my updates.

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840. pianomahnn
3:05 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Sitting in Chicago and I'm not used to everyone else being the focus of weather discussions. It's been oddly quiet here for a while. Thanks for all the awesome discussion on this hella system.
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839. GeoffreyWPB
10:15 PM EST on March 07, 2008
West Palm Beach - Channel 29 Weather - Line of thunderstorms approaching from Gulf diminishing in strength. Nothing to lose sleep over.
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838. 0741
3:03 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
my wife is at work so i hope it come after she home i hope it donot bring tornadoes i have noaa radio near the bed ((i live moble home))
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837. Chicklit
3:00 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
We had hail here in east Central Florida at about 4 p.m. today.
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835. Ivansrvivr
2:40 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
The broken nature of the storms of the Fl west coast make tornadoes more of a possibility. The fact that the are showing up so well that far out to sea, and away from the radar means they are quite strong
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834. surfmom
2:35 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Horses have to work tomorrow, polo matches, they probably will not be at their very best in view of the weather tonight. Winds like this make them very restless and they won't be dozing. sometimes they just get rowdy and play all night --which isn't great for games the next day. My kid has his first Pro Polo match, so I am hoping the grass will be dry by then. Don't want any slip and slide.

Thoughts to those in Madagascar - enough is enough.
Tomorrow Y'all
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833. Ivansrvivr
2:36 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
I've never been through a tornado, but have seen the aftermath of one that passed nearby. The storm was not anything more to watch than a typical pm storm here in Fl, but the area hit had what looked like cat 5 damage. Building codes were lax there and it was "only" F2 that did the damage. I didn't care for it at all.
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832. surfmom
2:31 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Very Blustery in SRQ, lots and lots of winds, but noting really scarey. Getting a good soaking. The ocean was rocking today w/gail force winds...20-25 knts sea are rough and the rip is strong. Not for me today or tomorrow, waiting for the clean-up Sunday morning. Have to be honest, this is big boy waves - I'm stuck on the porch watching.
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831. Weather456
10:05 PM AST on March 07, 2008
Tropical Cyclone 23W

Excellent outflow channels established ventilating strong cold cloud cover near the center of the storm.

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830. hahaguy
9:22 PM EST on March 07, 2008
i've been through many canes as well but never a tornado. thank god
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829. Ivansrvivr
2:17 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
I've seen several hurricanes, and been through a tornadic storm or two up north, and watching the approach of a hurricane, the different phases that occur, then the eye and eyewall are stunning, much like a rollercoaster ride. You dont get the same visual ride from tornadic storms
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827. Ivansrvivr
2:13 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
I personally don't get much enjoyment out of tornadic storms. There is little prep time, and you don't get the long viewing experience that you do from a hurricane.(from a stormwatchers point of view) I really don't wish for either, but at least Hurricanes give one hours of storm to watch.
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826. hahaguy
9:13 PM EST on March 07, 2008
yes i am jfv
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825. Ivansrvivr
2:06 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
JFV, yes, but tornadic thunderstorm approaching while folks are in bed are just as dangerous. I will say this about that cat 5 cane, A cat3/4 that is 3 times it's size and moving slower is a much worse situation than a very small diameter 5. The duration of strong winds has just as much to to with how much wind damage one recieves as how strong the peak winds are. I have experienced both kinds. A long lasting large 3 or 4 is just as bad or worse than a small fast moving 5.
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823. Patrap
8:09 PM CST on March 07, 2008

Jackson Hawkins Field, Mississippi (Airport)
Updated: 16 min 0 sec ago
Light Snow
33 °F / 1 °C
Light Snow Mist
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 140157
822. hahaguy
9:06 PM EST on March 07, 2008
tonite is going to be fun. large thunderstorms and a tornado watch how exciting
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820. Weather456
9:59 PM AST on March 07, 2008
816. JFV 9:54 PM AST on March 07, 2008
Hey Weather456, what are your personal expectations and anticipations for South Florida later on tonight?

To be honest, I dont know. I was not following as much as others. If there is someone else that can answer the question, it would be greatly appreciated.
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818. Weather456
9:58 PM AST on March 07, 2008
Tropical Cyclone nearing Mozambique Coast

Eye Temperature: -55C
Surrounding Temperature -75C

E Number - E6.5
Eye Adjustment - 0.0

DT 6.5
MET 5.5

CI based on MET: CI 5.5/102 kts/941 hpa (1 Min sustain)

Google maps of settlements along the coast of Mozambique

Accuweather Forecast

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817. Ivansrvivr
1:52 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
JFV, that is hard question. At this point I'm leaning toward strong winds and hail but anything is possible. The line may weaken before it gets here, or the Upper Low moving east thru LA/MS may reinvigorate it. So may answer is "Severe Weather" is biggest threat with the line. Am I a politician or what?:0) bottom line is pay attention to it so we are alive to talk about it tomorrow.
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815. Weather456
9:22 PM AST on March 07, 2008
Continue to stay safe Central Florida

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813. Ivansrvivr
1:30 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
With the associated squall ling digging southward like that and showing up that good that far out on Cuban Radar, It would have to weaken rapidly not to have strong impact on S.Florida. I have also noticed that squall lines oriented more N/S have mugh greater chance of maintaining strength over S. Fl than squall lines oriented NE/SW. I believe it is sign of trough digging instead of energy lifting out of GOM like most systems do here.
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812. Ivansrvivr
1:25 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
23, I had already read your page on 93S.S many times. It was excellent. I got an amazing perspective of the 93 storm and would rate it at least a cat 2 if it were a hurricane. Having a 4 wheel drive car was (and some help from God) got me through that one.
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811. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
1:25 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropcial Depression 13R [995 hPa] located near 12.2S 87.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 30 knots with gusts up to 45 knots. The depression is reported as moving west-southwest at 5 knots.

Dvorak Intensity: T2.5/2.5/D0.5/24 HRS

Forecast Position and Intensity
12 HRS: 12.9S 86.4E - 40 knots [Tempête Tropicale Moderée]
24 HRS: 13.8S 85.2E - 50 knots [Forte Tempête Tropicale]
48 HRS: 16.7S 80.6E - 70 knots [CYCLONE Tropical]
72 HRS: 22.5S 78.5E - 50 knots [Devenant Extratropical]

Additional Information
Stronger winds are located in the northern semi-circle an the southwestern quadrant linked to strong convergence in these areas. Latest Microwave Aqua Imagery shows that vertical wind shear has now clearly weakened, allowing a quicker intensification. This system should globally track on the northern then northwestern edge of a strong and stationary upper level subtropical ridge. Available dynamic aids are in good agreement with the forecast scenario.

Sub-RSMC Mauritius must be having problems today for them to not see a tropical storm.
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810. BahaHurican
8:22 PM EST on March 07, 2008

Cuban weather radar showing approaching line from their perspective.
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809. Ivansrvivr
1:22 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
Sorry? that was one of the most amazing wx experiences of my life besides Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Irene. It sparked my interest in winter weather systems. Just like spending 5-6 hours in the eyewall of Ivan, I wouldn't trade those memories for anything.
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808. hurricane23
8:23 PM EST on March 07, 2008
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807. Ivansrvivr
1:20 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
You folks are already noting how far south the squall line dug with that one. This one while not quite as intense has many similarities.
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806. hurricane23
8:21 PM EST on March 07, 2008
804. Ivansrvivr 8:20 PM EST on March 07, 2008
23, I drove from Nashville thru birmingham to West palm beach thru the teeth of 93 superstorm. I only rank 2 hurricanes above it on my list of most intense personal wx experiences. I actually got to witness both the cold and warm sectors of that massive storm. I saw thundersnow, and got my car hail damaged from same storm.

Sorry about the ride buddy....Glad you made it out ok.I was still picking up pieces of my house from andrew.
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805. BahaHurican
8:20 PM EST on March 07, 2008
This is what I was looking at.

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804. Ivansrvivr
1:17 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
23, I drove from Nashville thru birmingham to West palm beach thru the teeth of 93 superstorm. I only rank 2 hurricanes above it on my list of most intense personal wx experiences. I actually got to witness both the cold and warm sectors of that massive storm. I saw thundersnow, and got my car hail damaged from same storm.
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803. BahaHurican
8:10 PM EST on March 07, 2008
796. Ivansrvivr 8:09 PM EST on March 07, 2008
H-23, notice how the line is extending far to the south. That is a good indicator of a frontal boundary that will effect south Florida. Most dont dig into Gulf like that.

At the rate that line is moving, and also expanding southward, even the Caymans may get some stormy weather from this tomorrow. I now genuinely expect us to get at least SOME bad weather tomorrow. Looking at the NASA interactive satellite viewers, it appears extreme western Cuba is already getting some bad weather, and even the Keys are likely to feel some blows and drops overnight.

Big difference from the first front, isn't it?
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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