There’s an interesting article on the Washington Post today, about a weather phenomenon that most of us probably don’t even remember being quite so deadly:
Saturday, July 2, 1994, was hot and humid when USAir Flight 1016 took off from Columbia, SC to Charlotte, NC. The plane carried the usual mix of passengers, including a couple embarking on their honeymoon and an entire family that had never before flown.
As the aircraft approached the north end of the runway at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, an intense thunderstorm was in progress. While the captain and first officer discussed the storm as they flew the final approach, evasive action was not taken until they encountered intense wind shear inside a wall of heavy rain. By then, it was too late. The DC-9 cut a grotesque path through a thick stand of trees to the right of the runway, then crashed on the west side of the airport. Thirty-seven perished.
The cause of the crash was a downburst, a sinking column of air that spreads out in all directions, producing fierce and damaging winds up to 150 mph. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, these downbursts caused an appalling number of deadly airplane accidents, and almost took out Air Force One with Ronald Reagan aboard.
Fortunately, science came to recognize the threat and advanced warning systems and training have almost eliminated such catastrophes. The entire article is a fascinating and somewhat chilling read.
I find it interesting that downbursts are, in a historical sense, somewhat of a spiritual cousin to another deadly natural phenomenon: ship-crushing rogue waves. Both effects are now implicated in significant loss of life (rogue waves in sea travel, downbursts in air travel) but both of them were rare enough that it took a lot of time for science to even recognize their existence, let along understand them.
The world is a complicated place; who knows what other rare dangers might still be out there, not recognized?