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The Year Without a Summer

17 Mar

I freely admit I hate winter. I’m one of those people who want snow on Christmas and want it gone by December 26. I need sunlight, natural vitamin D in its radiant sunshiny glory. It’s St. Patrick’s Day and 20 degrees outside—quite unusual for this time of year. Normally a high of 50 degrees can be expected here in mid-March. I find myself literally growling at our local meteorologists every time they open their mouths to tell me how cold/snowy/miserable it’s going to be outside. I try to embrace the good in each season. At least I did until this winter. I’m over sledding, I no longer find snow pretty and I’m tired of hunching over, looking like Quasimodo in order to brace myself against -15 wind chills and wind gusts strong enough to send me backwards.

I have often wondered, while frantically trying to keep my fingers and toes from going numb with cold, if warm weather will ever return, pondering if we will have a summer this year. While doing research for a family history project, I discovered it’s entirely possible to have a year without a summer.

Mount Tambora, Indonesia Jialiang Gao (peace-on-earth.org)

Mount Tambora, Indonesia
Jialiang Gao (peace-on-earth.org)

Almost 200 years ago, 1815 to be exact, Mount Tambora, in Indonesia, along the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire,” heaved its contents over 26 miles into the atmosphere. The enormous ash cloud spread around the globe and covered the sun, forcing temperatures to drop over five degrees (Fahrenheit) over the course of the year. This natural disaster resulted in 1816 being known as the “year without a summer.”

Mentions of the odd weather appeared in newspapers such as the Boston Independent Chronicle on June 17, 1816, and informed readers yet another hard frost had ruined crops in New Jersey. The sun seemed to have permanently retreated behind dark, angry clouds, resulting in cold, dreary, stormy days. A persistent dry fog encompassed the northeastern United States. Rivers in Pennsylvania were frozen well into June. Snow fell in New York and Maine in June of that year. A disruption of the monsoon season in India led to a horrific cholera outbreak, typhus ravaged southeast Europe that year, livestock died of starvation. Families in Wales traveled as refugees, begging for food. Food prices rose drastically in Germany (and other parts of Europe) and led to demonstrations, which in turn caused rioting, arson and looting. It was the worst famine of the 19th century.  Historians believe the colder than normal temps led to westward expansion in the United States as farmers searched for warmer climes and means to feed their families.

So, as I sit here and pout about how cold, dreary and miserable it is, I am reminded once again how fortunate I am to have been born in this time. Our ancestors were tough, tougher than we can ever imagine.

Here’s hoping warmer weather arrives soon.

Information for this post was obtained from the following sources:

-Oppenheimer, Clive (2003). “Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815”. Progress in Physical Geography 27 (2)

-Peterson, Doug LAS News (Spring 2010) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign p. 11.

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