Weather played an important role in the 1912 disaster of the sinking of the Titanic and it likely played a direct role in another disaster that took place 25 years later – at least that is the prevailing belief. On May 6th, 1937, while the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg was attempting to land at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, a flame appeared on the outer cover of the rear of the ship. Within 34 seconds, the entire airship was consumed by fire and the golden age of airship travel was over.
Early part of the final flight
The effect of the weather on this tragedy actually began on the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. On most trips across the ocean, the Hindenburg maintained an altitude of about 650 feet and cruised at nearly 80 mph; however, on this particular trip the airship encountered strong head winds that slowed it down, pushing back the expected arrival time in New Jersey from around 6am to about 4pm on May 6th, 1937. This change in expected arrival time was critical as late afternoon and early evening hours are much more likely to feature thunderstorm activity in New Jersey compared to the early morning hours. Indeed, on that particular afternoon, a thunderstorm was brewing over Lakehurst, New Jersey and winds were kicking up to nearly 30 mph. As a result, the Hindenburg circled around for quite some time while waiting for the weather conditions to improve. By 6pm, the rain was still falling quite heavily from thunderstorm activity throughout much of New Jersey and lightning storms were clearly recorded in the weather observations for the day. Finally, shortly after 7pm, the decision was made by the commander of the airship to land as “conditions definitely improved”.
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