American Airlines Flight 1897 met a storm from hell on Sunday. Strong updrafts tossed the aircraft and thick hail battered its body.
The incredible pictures of the plane's destroyed nose captured the world's attention. Meanwhile, though, observers on the ground captured another wild visual: the flight's meandering real-time path as pilots tried to navigate around the worst of the monster storm.
, a graphic artist at NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, created this image of the plane's "terrifying track." He superimposed AA 1897's flight path from with weather data from GOES-16, the latest sat from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program. These sats capture storms as they develop, giving meteorologists a space-based tool to predict storms and warn people about ones that exist.
The storm was violent, as meteorologists noted at the time. GOES-16 images showed a pulsing updraft with an -80 degree Celsius cloud top temperature. Differences in temperature drive the convective power of storms, so the more extreme the temperature, the higher speed the updraft and the more potential for big hailstones.
This storm’s hailstones gave the crew something to worry about. This fear is shown in the twisted flight path the pilots took as they avoided these violent areas. Still, hail caved in the radome in the airplane’s nose and broke cockpit windows. No injuries were reported to the 130 passengers and five crew members on board. The plane made an emergency landing in El Paso, TX.
“We commend the great work of our pilots, along with our flight attendants, who safely landed the Airbus A319," American Airlines said in a statement.