By Kevin Ambrose
Has anyone heard of Washington’s Blimp Snowstorm of 1921? I never knew about the event until I stumbled upon it while researching snowstorms of the 1921-22 winter season – same season as the Knickerbocker Snowstorm.
The Blimp Snowstorm was the first snowstorm of the snowy 1921-22 season. The storm dropped 4.5” of snow on Washington as the Navy made its first blimp test flight with a new, inflammable gas called helium. Helium gas had been discovered in 1903 during an oil drilling operation, but at the time had only recently been processed for industrial purposes.
The C-7 blimp flight from Hampton Roads, Va. to Washington, D.C. was said to be the first helium-filled air ship flight in history.
As the snow ended on Dec. 5, the Navy’s C-7 blimp arrived over Washington from its home base at Hampton Roads. It was the first flight of the helium-filled blimp and by all accounts it was a huge success.
The blimp did circles, dips and turns over Washington as thousands of people watched from below. It flew over the Capitol and around the Washington Monument. The air ship then landed in Bolling Field in Anacostia and the crew posed for photos on the ground in the snow.
After a brief stop at the air field, the blimp lifted off again and made one more circle over Washington before flying south, bound for a return flight to Hampton Roads.
The media of the day touted that helium could be the future of air travel. There was excitement about the gas since it provided a much safer alternative to hydrogen gas, which had been found to be quite flammable and explosive in blimps. It was noted that helium had 98% of the lift ability of hydrogen gas and did not leak during the C-7’s flight.
Regarding the snowstorm of December 4-5, most of the snow fell during the evening of Dec. 4, but light snow fell on Dec. 5 with a high temperature of 39 and a low temperature of 30. There was a light wind which made for great blimp-flying weather as the snow ended.
Washington weather enthusiasts will note that December 5 has been a common date for early-season snowstorms in Washington. It’s also interesting to note that the winters of the Knickerbocker Snowstorm (1921-22) and Snowmageddon (2009-10) both featured a Dec. 5 snowstorm to kick off a very snowy season. Unfortunately for Washington snow-lovers, this season lacks a snowy Dec. 5.