The Year without a Summer - Could you have resisted? - History Key

The Year without a Summer – Could you have resisted?

Every year the weather seems different, for sure is not the same since from our childhood. The climate is constantly changing. In some places summers are getting shorter while in other places are getting longer. But no matter what, in every year there are times when we say “Today it’s too hot!” or “I can’t stand this cold anymore, it’s freezing outside!”.

Our today’s story is related to a series of unique and incredible weather circumstances, which will make you, wonder why you cried so many times about the weather. Believe it or not, there was a year without a summer close to our times. The year 1816 is also known as the summer that never was, poverty year or the year of eighteen hundred and froze to death. Totally uncommon and drastic climate abnormalities caused average global temperature to decrease by 0.4-0.7°C. The anomaly was probably triggered by two volcanic eruptions, which lead to what is remembered as a volcanic winter. During 1815, there was a massive eruption of the Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, plus the eruption of the Mayon in the 1814, in the Philippines.

The 1816 had the heaviest marks on Western Europe, Atlantic Canada and New England. It was a total crash for the agriculture, resulting in major problems regarding shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

Summer temperature anomaly
Summer temperature anomaly © Image Source: Wikipedia

Strange days of June

“On June 6, 1816 six inches of snow covered New England. On June 8 the snow was 18 inches, on June 11 frozen birds dropped dead in the streets of Montreal, lambs died from exposure in Vermont.” (Chauncey Jerome, autobiography)

Famine, heavy rains and cold affected Europe. Many riots took place in European cities, as prices exploded fast; several families were forced to beg food in order to survive. It was the worst famine of the 19th Century. In North America, the sunlight was filtered by a cold and dry fog, which was described as a “stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil”(Oppenheimer, Clive 2003). On June 6, it was snowing in Albany, New York and in Dennysville, Maine. On June 9 the ground was solid frozen, during July everything stopped growing. On August 23 the Berkshire Hills frosted again. In Cape May, New Jersey, frost was reported for five consecutive nights and severe crop damages were reported. Dramatic temperature drops and rapid changes were reported during July and August. Frost, river and lake ice were reported both in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Temperatures reverting from above normal to near freezing in only few hours.

“It is now the middle of July, and we have not yet had what could properly be called summer. Easterly winds have prevailed for nearly three months past… the sun during that time has generally been obscured and the sky overcast with clouds; the air has been damp and uncomfortable, and frequently so chilling as to render the fireside a desirable retreat” (Columbian Register (New Haven, CT), July 27, 1816, 2.)

This disastrous situation, produced also another tragic outcome: the diseases. A cholera epidemic took place then, becoming a dark mark of the 19th century, killing millions of people. As “other news” related to the year without summer, we can remember some interesting ones, generated by this extreme situation.

The cold down permitted Arctic explorations. During the Mount Tambora Eruption and all the cool-down, part of the Arctic warmed up, releasing the access for British explorers for the Northwest Passage, being able to map the area for the first time. Incredible nice sunsets could have been spotted during the Poverty Year. When the sunlight meets the eruption’s moisture floating in the air, results in vivid colors, even more powerful having a black background, provided by the eruption. The famous Turner painting “Chichester Canal” was inspired by one of those volcanic sunsets.

Chichester Canal, 1828, J.M.W. Turner
Chichester Canal, 1828 © J.M.W. Turner/Image Source: Wikipedia

Not only humans suffered during 1816. Extremely high numbers of animals died because of the lack of food. Having no more horses around, the German inventor Karl Drais invented a transportation vehicle, the ”Velocipede”, the ancestor of the bicycle.

Velocipede, colour lithograph by Nathaniel Currier and James M. Ives, 1869
Velocipede, colour lithograph by Nathaniel Currier and James M. Ives, 1869 © Museum of the City of New York/Corbis


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