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

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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902. Ivansrvivr
7:55 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
JVF, which case are you referring to?
I'll tell you one part of the world I don't know squat about is the Indian ocean except for the monsoon season in india. As far as tropical activity, I've never looked into it at all.
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900. Weather456
3:42 PM AST on March 08, 2008

The district of Mozambique Island, on the coast of the northern province of Nampula, is without electricity thanks to the high winds and torrential rains brought to the region by cyclone Jokwe.

Jokwe has been affecting the weather along the Nampula coast since Friday night. The cyclonic winds have knocked down electricity pylons, and have caused houses built of flimsy materials to collapse. According to radio reports, the roofs have been blown off two Mozambique Island schools, and the local police command is without communication, since its antenna has been damaged.

The Minister of State Administration, Lucas Chomeras, has interrupted a working visit to Ribaue district, in the west of Nampula in order to concentrate his efforts on the cyclone-hit districts of the coast.
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899. KoritheMan
7:26 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
You predicted severe weather....then got high wind, heavy rain and dangerous lightening. I wud say u were correct then, even though it did not turn out to be a disaster. And the bright side wasnt a disaster.

Good point. I personally consider storms to be severe if they can make the power flicker repeatedly, or if there is a significant amount of cloud to groud lightning in said storm. Granted, what I consider severe is not what the NWS considers severe, but it's close enough IMO.

And more often than not, squall lines break apart before reaching the area that is forecast to get severe weather. It happens at least 7 out of 10 times here in Louisiana. When it does hold together though, look out.
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898. Ivansrvivr
7:25 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
I would say I can hold my own. There are so many variables with tropical systems that are constantly changing. It is all estimations, guesses track effects strength, strength effects track, multilayered steering currents, I could keep going for an hour or two... . I've seen enough hurricane landfalls to last a lifetime though.
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896. Ivansrvivr
6:58 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
CC, 456 has excellent point. also how often is it that a squall line holds solid all the way down the peninsula? Rarely, BUT-when they do hold together more often than not they bring violent weather. If the threat hadn't been mentioned, and deaths occurred because the public was unaware, then you would have failed.
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895. Weather456
2:48 PM AST on March 08, 2008
881. cchsweatherman 2:02 PM AST on March 08, 2008
Good afternoon all! Looks like I was incorrect regarding the squall line. There was some nasty winds, very heavy rainfall, and dangerous lightning this morning here, but no major severe weather to speak of. I based my statements on the soundings that were coming in during the early afternoon hours. Just goes to show that I have much learning to do. Need to stop jumping the gun too much like I have been lately.

You predicted severe weather....then got high wind, heavy rain and dangerous lightening. I wud say u were correct then, even though it did not turn out to be a disaster. And the bright side wasnt a disaster.
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891. HurricaneGeek
1:53 PM EST on March 08, 2008
I've been very fine, thanks, and yourself?
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889. Ivansrvivr
6:40 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
CC, you weren't incorrect about the squall line. it was a legitimate threat to produce severe wx all the way down the peninsula. We got off easy with just alot of lightning and wind, rain. The possibility was there so you weren't really wrong. We all mentioned the fact that the line may weaken, but at the time nobody was sure. JFV, my guess between 3 & 6 was on the money right?
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888. cchsweatherman
1:43 PM EST on March 08, 2008
I'll be in and out from now on, so take it easy everyone.
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887. cchsweatherman
1:41 PM EST on March 08, 2008
882. JFV 1:25 PM EST on March 08, 2008
That's quite alright Weatherman; anyways, Mr. soon to be Meteorologist, when are you scheduling the releasement of your personal forecast for the upcoming 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season? (which is rapidly arriving by the way)

Thanks JFV. Forgot to alert everyone that my hurricane season forecast for the 2008 Atlantic Season will be published on my website next Thursday.
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886. HurricaneGeek
1:35 PM EST on March 08, 2008
Hey guys, it's been quite a while since I've posted on this blog. I hope everyone has been good! :-)
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6:32 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
jfv still have
84 days 10 hours 26 minutes
till 2008 hurricane season
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6:27 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
cchs remember things can and will change always does in weather
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881. cchsweatherman
12:59 PM EST on March 08, 2008
Good afternoon all! Looks like I was incorrect regarding the squall line. There was some nasty winds, very heavy rainfall, and dangerous lightning this morning here, but no major severe weather to speak of. I based my statements on the soundings that were coming in during the early afternoon hours. Just goes to show that I have much learning to do. Need to stop jumping the gun too much like I have been lately.
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880. Skyepony (Mod)
5:08 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
Here's a cloudsat of the front while it was in the gulf yesterday.

That low in the Atlantic is falling apart now but looked oh so impressive yesterday morning...
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879. Weather456
12:33 PM AST on March 08, 2008
Tropical Cyclone 23S

1600 UTC MAR 08 2008 by W456

Tropical Cyclone 13R is located near 13.1S-86.1E moving towards the west-southwest. Estimated 1 minute sustain surface winds are near 55 knots and minimum central pressure is at 984 mb. Vertical wind shear is near 20 knots and sea surface temperatures are near 28-30C.

The position of the storm was first found using a microwave pass from 1353 UTC this morning which placed the center near 13.1S/86.8E. The final position was adjusted further west to 86.1E based on infrared satellite imagery through 1600 UTC, Morphed Integrated Microwave Imagery at CIMSS (MIMIC) and QuikSCAT. The winds and pressure were estimated using Dvorak classifications. The cyclone possessed a curved band arc of more than 1.0 which gave a data T-no of 3.5. Further Dvorak analysis using model expected pattern t-no (MET) also gave a T-no of 3.5 which corresponds to 55 knots and a pressure of 984 millibars. A QuikSCAT pass from 11:38 UTC this morning further supported the classifications using Dvorak and revealed a radius of maximum winds of 30 nmi. Satellite imagery showed a fairly organize system with bursts of deep convection near the center, which may justify increasing the intensity to 60 knots. However, there is a fair amount of easterly shear affecting the system as microwave imagery showed the low level center on the edge of the deep convection. Satellite derived winds of the 200 hpa level showed outflow is established in all quadrants. The more pronounced outflow channel to the south is being enhanced by a nearby upper anticyclone at 20S-100E. Outflow is also evident on conventional satellite imagery.

The cyclone is forecast to track towards the southwest around a 500 hpa high over the next 3 days, while gradually deepening due to warm sea surface temperatures and more favorable upper winds. After which, in about 84 hrs, the CMC and GFS showed the system interacting with a mid-latitude trough and becoming extratropical.

by W456

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878. weatherbro
5:02 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
This Wednesday maybe Dr. Masters can give us an indepth analysis on the '93 superstorm it being the 15th anniversary...
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877. Ivansrvivr
2:53 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
Actually, I recall seeing that subtropical low on GFS (i think) about a week ago. The GFS(I think) had the low being picked up by the front that just passed by S.Fl and deflecting it nw then N-Ne. It is way too early for something like that to have a chance. Move it sw of bermuda and maybe, in May, it would become a sub tropical non-event. Such systems are not unusual, and really have no bearing what is to come this tropical season.
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876. kellnerp
2:40 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
Maximum tyre speed for the A320 is 195kt. If the nose was pointed 20deg to the side of the actual path at this speed the wind gust would have been 67kt. Since the pilot probably was operating at a speed lower than max tyre speed the gust would also have been lower in speed.

The gust didn't lift the wing but rather the fact that the left side gear was in contact with the runway while the right side was not coupled with the fact that the pilot had to straighten the plane for the wheels to track caused the right wing to have more lift because it was more perpendicular to the prevailing wind than the left wing. This is a peculiarity of the swept wing design. Had the plane had reverse swept wings it might have been able to better deal with a cross wind at the expense of overall stability.
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875. Weather456
10:15 AM AST on March 08, 2008
Interactions with Mid-Latitude Flow

Mid-latitude circulations often affect the tropics. These interactions are illustrated by the interaction between a mid-lattitude trough in the upper troposheric westerlies and the ITCZ or NECZ. As a trough approaches from the west and dig deep into the tropics, rising motion ahead of the trough induces a band of cloudiness and bad weather extending from actvity along the ITCZ/NECZ into the mid-latitudes. Other effects include the slackening or break within the tradewind regime as seen in the QuikSCAT pass.

This is seen in the image below. A very broad positively tilted upper trough extends from the northeast Atlantic into the tropics. Upper divergence (associated rising motion) "taps" into moisture assoicated with thunderstorms along the ITCZ/NECZ. This flow produces a continuous band of cloudiness into the mid-latitudes.

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874. hurricane23
9:31 AM EST on March 08, 2008
The system if you asked me never really had a chance at sts or even pure tropical and to be honest it was never considered by the NHC.Wait 3-4 months.

The front came through with a few showers and a few rumbles of thunder but nothing crazy as i figured with the lack of instability in the area.
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873. sporteguy03
2:26 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
Good Evening!
Thanks for the update Dr.Masters I checked out the video on youtube amazing!
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872. Weather456
10:00 AM AST on March 08, 2008
That system has become less organize and the gale force winds are well removed from the center. And vertical shear has is slowly increasing over the disturbance. Still an area to monitor for subtropical signs of development until the next cold front arrives in about 3-4 days.
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871. eaglesrock
9:00 AM EST on March 08, 2008
Guess you're right Pat...I just looked at the models and not even the hyperactive CMC shows development from this.
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870. Patrap
7:54 AM CST on March 08, 2008
No mention of formation in the TWD this am.

Tropical Weather Discussion Link

Mid-Atlantic Low Link
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868. Patrap
7:36 AM CST on March 08, 2008
Tornado batters Florida; winter storm prompts warnings

Story Highlights
Woman is killed when a tree falls on her home; another dies in a generator accident
Severe weather damages dozens of homes in northern Florida
Winter storm warnings in effect for parts of Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky
Up to a foot of snow could fall in Louisville, Kentucky, AP reports
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867. Weather456
9:35 AM AST on March 08, 2008
Serious wind and wave action pushing through the Central Gulf behind the front, which is exiting the region.

Central Gulf Buoy

Sarasota, FL, United States

Clearwater Beach, FL, United States

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866. Patrap
7:33 AM CST on March 08, 2008
Beira, Mozambique
wunderground site Link
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865. Patrap
7:32 AM CST on March 08, 2008
The 10-day GFSx model and the next storm .Link
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864. BahaHurican
8:12 AM EST on March 08, 2008
No news so far on strike effects in Mozambique.
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863. BahaHurican
8:07 AM EST on March 08, 2008
Morning everyone.

Looks like Nassau can expect some stormy weather in the early afternoon at the rate this line is moving. It's currently hazy here, with moments of sunshine broken by clouds. Should be an interesting day.

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862. Finnmet
12:47 PM GMT on March 08, 2008
13R it's almost a hurricane acording to JTWC,and Mauritius didn't name it...they have a serios problem IMO(a tropical depression with 995mb)
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861. Ivansrvivr
11:36 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
What's with the showers building near Tampa/St Pete. Is the actual cold front back there? This squall line acted more like a pre frontal trough.
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860. Ivansrvivr
11:34 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
We got a good T-storm, lots of lightning, that's all. now just steady rains. I hope lake O got tons of rain.
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859. Weather456
7:30 AM AST on March 08, 2008
Cyclone strikes Mozambique

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858. Weather456
7:26 AM AST on March 08, 2008
Good Morning,

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857. Tampawxgirl
6:11 AM EST on March 08, 2008
Good morning everyone. I pray the Floridians didn't get much damage last night... the storm wasn't severe here in my neck of the woods. But we're having very gusty winds this morning.
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856. Ivansrvivr
7:22 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
I did listen to that lecture and heard plenty of political idealogy. I will discuss it further in a e-mail as I do all political subjects rather than causing turmoil on the main blog.
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855. sullivanweather
2:07 AM EST on March 08, 2008

People should listen to this lecture so they can learn a little something about sustainability.

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854. Ivansrvivr
6:46 AM GMT on March 08, 2008
I think that Marxist ranting has no place on this blog. People come here to discuss weather. Not communist idealogy. If you want to debate politics, e-mail me anytime and I'll be happy give you all the political discussions you can handle, but this isn't the place for that. All political debate will do here is lead to arguements and blog trashing.
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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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