Year Without a Summer
|Year Without a Summer|
1816 summer temperature anomaly compared to average temperatures from 1971–2000
|Date||April 10, 1815|
|Location||Lesser Sunda Islands, Dutch East Indies
|Impact||Caused a volcanic winter that dropped temperatures by 0.4 to 0.7 °C worldwide|
The Year Without a Summer (also known as the Poverty Year, The Summer that Never Was, Year There Was No Summer and Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death) was 1816, in which severe summer climate abnormalities caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), resulting in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere. It is believed that the anomaly was caused by a combination of a historic low in solar activity with a volcanic winter event, the latter caused by a succession of major volcanic eruptions capped by the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), the largest known eruption in over 1,300 years, which occurred during the concluding decades of the Little Ice Age, potentially adding to the existing cooling that had been periodically ongoing since 1350 AD.
The Year Without a Summer was an agricultural disaster. The unusual climatic aberrations of 1816 had the greatest effect on the northeastern United States, Atlantic Canada, and parts of western Europe. Typically, the late spring and summer of the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada are relatively stable: temperatures (average of both day and night) average between about 68 °F (20 °C) and 77 °F (25 °C) and rarely fall below 41 °F (5 °C). Summer snow is an extreme rarity.
In the spring and summer of 1816, a persistent "dry fog" was observed in the northeastern US. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the "fog". It has been characterized as a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil.
At higher elevations where farming was touch and go in the good years, the cooler climate did not quite support agriculture. In May 1816, frost killed off most of the crops that had been planted, and on 4 June 1816, frosts were reported in Connecticut, and by the following day, most of New England was gripped by the cold front. On 6 June 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine.
Many commented on the phenomenon. Sarah Snell Bryant, of Cummington, Massachusetts, wrote in her diary, “Weather backward.” Samuel Griswold Goodrich said that the summer of 1816 in Connecticut was the coldest of the century.
At the New Lebanon, New York Church Family of Shakers, Nicholas Bennet wrote in May 1816 that “all was froze” and the hills were "barren like winter." Temperatures went below freezing almost every day in May. The ground froze solid on June 9. On June 12, the Shakers had to re-plant crops destroyed by the cold. On July 7 it was so cold that everything had stopped growing. The Berkshire Hills had frost again on August 23.
A Massachusetts historian summed up the disaster: "Severe frosts occurred every month; June 7th and 8th snow fell, and it was so cold that crops were cut down, even freezing the roots .... In the early Autumn when corn was in the milk it was so thoroughly frozen that it never ripened and was scarcely worth harvesting. Breadstuffs were scarce and prices high and the poorer class of people were often in straits for want of food. It must be remembered that the granaries of the great west had not then been opened to us by railroad communication, and people were obliged to rely upon their own resources or upon others in their immediate locality."
Farther north, nearly 12 inches (30 cm) of snow was observed in Quebec City in early June, with consequent additional loss of crops—most summer-growing plants have cell walls which rupture even in a mild frost. The result was regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic,[clarification needed] and increased mortality.
In July and August, lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania. Rapid, dramatic temperature swings were common, with temperatures sometimes reverting from normal or above-normal summer temperatures as high as 95 °F (35 °C) to near-freezing within hours.
The weather in and of itself was not a hardship for hardy Yankees accustomed to long winters. The real problem lay in the weather’s effect on crops and thus on the local supplies of food and firewood.
Even though farmers south of New England did succeed in bringing some crops to maturity, maize and other grain prices rose dramatically. The price of oats, for example, rose from 12¢ a bushel ($3.40/m³) in 1815, equal to $1.51 in today's purchasing power to 92¢ a bushel ($26/m³) in 1816, equal to $12.45 today.
In the United States in 1816, areas suffering local crop failures had to deal with the inadequate transportation network, which included few roads or navigable inland waterways and no railroads; it was expensive to import food.
Cool temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in Britain and Ireland as well. Families in Wales travelled long distances as refugees, begging for food. Famine was prevalent in north and southwest Ireland, following the failure of wheat, oats, and potato harvests. The crisis was severe in Germany, where food prices rose sharply. Due to the unknown cause of the problems, demonstrations in front of grain markets and bakeries, followed by riots, arson, and looting, took place in many European cities. It was the worst famine of the 19th century.
In China, the cold weather killed trees, rice crops, and even water buffalo, especially in northern China. Floods destroyed many remaining crops. Mount Tambora's eruption disrupted China's monsoon season, resulting in overwhelming floods in the Yangtze Valley in 1816. In India the delayed summer monsoon caused late torrential rains that aggravated the spread of cholera from a region near the River Ganges in Bengal to as far as Moscow.
In New York City, the temperature dropped to −26 °F (−32 °C) during the ensuing bitter winter of 1817. This resulted in a freezing of New York's Upper Bay deep enough for horse-drawn sleighs to be driven across Buttermilk Channel from Brooklyn to Governors Island.
The effects were widespread and lasted beyond the winter. In eastern Switzerland, the summers of 1816 and 1817 were so cool that an ice dam formed below a tongue of the Giétro Glacier high in the Val de Bagnes. In spite of the efforts of the engineer Ignaz Venetz to drain the growing lake, the ice dam collapsed catastrophically in June 1818.
It is now generally thought that the aberrations occurred because of the April 5–15, 1815, volcanic Mount Tambora eruption on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia (then part of the Dutch East Indies, but under British rule during Napoleon's occupation of the Netherlands), described by Thomas Stamford Raffles. The eruption had a Volcanic Explosivity Index ranking of 7, a super-colossal event that ejected immense amounts of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere. It was the world's largest eruption since the Hatepe eruption over 1,630 years earlier in AD 180. That the 1815 eruption occurred during the middle of the Dalton Minimum (a period of unusually low solar activity) may also be significant.
Other large volcanic eruptions (with VEI at least 4) during the same time frame are:
- 1812, La Soufrière on Saint Vincent in the Caribbean
- 1812, Awu in the Sangihe Islands, Indonesia
- 1813, Suwanosejima in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan
- 1814, Mayon in the Philippines
These other eruptions had already built up a substantial amount of atmospheric dust. As is common following a massive volcanic eruption, temperatures fell worldwide because less sunlight passed through the atmosphere.
According to a 2012 analysis by Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, the great 1815 Tambora eruption caused a temporary drop in the Earth's average land temperature of about 1 degree C. Smaller temperature drops were recorded from the 1812-1814 eruptions.
As a result of the series of volcanic eruptions, crops in the above-mentioned areas had been poor for several years; the final blow came in 1815 with the eruption of Tambora. Europe, still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars, suffered from food shortages. Food riots broke out in the United Kingdom and France, and grain warehouses were looted. The violence was worst in landlocked Switzerland, where famine caused the government to declare a national emergency. Huge storms and abnormal rainfall with floodings of the major rivers of Europe (including the Rhine) are attributed to the event, as was the frost setting in during August 1816. A major typhus epidemic occurred in Ireland between 1816 and 1819, precipitated by the famine caused by "The Year Without a Summer". It is estimated that 100,000 Irish perished during this period. A BBC documentary using figures compiled in Switzerland estimated that fatality rates in 1816 were twice that of average years, giving an approximate European fatality total of 200,000 deaths.
New England also experienced great consequences from the eruption of Tambora. The corn crop was grown significantly in New England and the eruption caused the crop to fail. It was reported that in the summer of 1816 corn ripened so badly that no more than a quarter of it was usable for food. The crop failures in New England, Canada and parts of Europe also caused the price of wheat, grains, meat, vegetables, butter, milk and flour to rise sharply.
The eruption of Tambora also caused Hungary to experience brown snow. Italy experienced something similar, with red snow falling throughout the year. The cause of this is believed to have been volcanic ash in the atmosphere.
In China, unusually low temperatures in summer and fall devastated rice production in Yunnan, resulting in widespread famine. Fort Shuangcheng, now in Heilongjiang, reported fields disrupted by frost and conscripts deserting as a result. Summer snowfall or otherwise mixed precipitation was reported in various locations in Jiangxi and Anhui, located at around 30 degrees latitude. In Taiwan, which has a tropical climate, snow was reported in Hsinchu and Miaoli, while frost was reported in Changhua.
Cultural effects 
High levels of tephra in the atmosphere led to unusually spectacular sunsets during this period, a feature celebrated in the paintings of J. M. W. Turner. It has been theorised that it was this that gave rise to the yellow tinge that is predominant in his paintings such as Chichester Canal circa 1828. Similar phenomena were observed after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa and on the West Coast of the United States following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.
The lack of oats to feed horses may have inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to the invention of the draisine or velocipede. This was the ancestor of the modern bicycle and a step toward mechanized personal transport.
The crop failures of the "Year without a Summer" may have helped shape the settling of the "American Heartland", as many thousands of people (particularly farm families who were wiped out by the event) left New England for what is now western and central New York and the Midwest (then the Northwest Territory) in search of a more hospitable climate, richer soil, and better growing conditions.
According to historian L.D. Stillwell, Vermont alone experienced a drop of between 10,000 and 15,000 people, erasing seven previous years of population growth. Among those who left Vermont were the family of Joseph Smith, who moved from Sharon, Vermont, to Palmyra, New York. This move precipitated a series of events which culminated in the publication of the Book of Mormon and the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In July 1816 "incessant rainfall" during that "wet, ungenial summer" forced Mary Shelley, John William Polidori, and their friends to stay indoors for much of their Swiss holiday. They decided to have a contest to see who could write the scariest story, leading Shelley to write Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Lord Byron to write "A Fragment", which Polidori later used as inspiration for The Vampyre — a precursor to Dracula. In addition, Lord Byron was inspired to write a poem, Darkness, at the same time.
Comparable events 
- Toba catastrophe 70,000 to 75,000 years ago.
- The 1628–26 BC climate disturbances, usually attributed to the Minoan eruption of Santorini.
- The Hekla 3 eruption of about 1200 BC, contemporary with the historical Bronze Age collapse.
- The Hatepe eruption (sometimes referred to as the Taupo eruption), around the year 180 CE.
- Extreme weather events of 535–536 CE have been linked to the effects of a volcanic eruption, possibly at Krakatoa.
- An eruption of Kuwae, a Pacific volcano, has been implicated in events surrounding the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
- An eruption of Huaynaputina, in Peru, caused 1601 to be the coldest year in the Northern Hemisphere for six centuries (see Russian famine of 1601–1603).
- An eruption of Laki, in Iceland, caused thousands of fatalities in Europe, 1783–84.
- The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 led to odd weather patterns and temporary cooling in the United States, particularly in the Midwest and parts of the Northeast. An unusually mild winter and a warm, early spring were followed by an unusually cool, wet summer and a cold, early autumn in 1992. There was enhanced rainfall across the West Coast of the United States, particularly California, during the 1991–92 and 1992–93 rainy seasons.
See also 
- Angry Summer
- Global cooling
- Little Ice Age
- New England's Dark Day
- Timetable of major worldwide volcanic eruptions
- White Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere
- "Weather Doctor's Weather People and History: Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death, The Year There Was No Summer". Islandnet.com. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- Stothers, Richard B. (1984). "The Great Tambora Eruption in 1815 and Its Aftermath". Science 224 (4654): 1191–1198. Bibcode:1984Sci...224.1191S. doi:10.1126/science.224.4654.1191. PMID 17819476.
- "Saint John New Brunswick Time Date". New-brunswick.net. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- The Quebec Chapter of the Canada Country Study Climate Impacts and Adaptation executive summary
- Evans, Robert Blast from the Past, Smithsonian Magazine. July 2002
- Oppenheimer, Clive (2003). "Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815". Progress in Physical Geography 27 (2): 230–259. doi:10.1191/0309133303pp379ra.
- Oppenheimer 2003
- Sarah Snell Bryant diary, 1816 Remarks, original at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; Samuel Griswold Goodrich, Recollections of a Lifetime (New York: Auburn, Miller, Orton, and Mulligan, 1857), 2:78–79, quoted in Glendyne R. Wergland, One Shaker Life: Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793-1865 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), chapter 2.
- Nicholas Bennet, Domestic Journal, May–September 1816, Western Reserve Historical Society ms. V:B-68, quoted in Wergland, One Shaker Life: Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793-1865, chapter 2.
- William G. Atkins, History of Hawley (West Cummington, Mass.: 1887), 86.
- Oats are a necessary staple in an economy dependent upon horses for primary transportation.
- John Luther Ringwalt, Development of Transportation Systems in the United States, "Commencement of the Turnpike and Bridge Era", 1888:27 notes that the very first artificial road was the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, 1792–95, a single route of 62 miles; "it seems impossible to ascribe to the turnpike movement in the years before 1810 any significant improvement in the methods of land transportation in southern New England, or any considerable reduction in the cost of land carriage" (Percy Wells Bidwell, "Rural Economy in New England", in Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 20 [1916:317]).
- "The 'year without a summer' in 1816 produced massive famines and helped stimulate the emergence of the administrative state", observes Albert Gore, Earth in the Balance: ecology and the human spirit, 2000:79
- Facts – Year Without Summer Extreme Earth, Discovery Channel
- Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford University Press) 1999:494.
- The flood is fully described in Jean M. Grove, Little Ice Ages, Ancient and Modern (as The Little Ice Age 1988) rev. ed. 2004:161.
- Tambora, Indonesian Volcano (Tambora Volcano Part I): Tambora: The Year Without A Summer Anthony Tully, Indodigest, archived on June 15, 2006 from the original
- "The Year without a Summer" Bellrock.org.uk
- Sir Thomas Stammford Raffles: A History of Java; Black, Parbury, and Allen for the Hon. East India Company 1817; reprinted in the Cambridge Library Collection, 2010.
- Berkeley Earth Releases New Analysis, 29 July 2012
- Serious Famine in Yunnan (1815–1817) and the Eruption of Tambola Volcano Fudan Journal (Social Sciences) No. 1 2005, archived on March 26, 2009 from the original
- "Brimstone and bicycles" New Scientist, January 29, 2005
- Nettels, Curtis (1977). The Emergence of a National Economy. White Plains, NY: M. E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-87332-096-4.
- "Joseph Smith Jr. – Significant Events". Lds.org. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Random House. pp. XV–XVI. ISBN 0-679-60059-0.
Further reading 
- BBC Timewatch documentary: Year Without Summer, Cicada Films (BBC2, 27 May 2005)
- Willie Soon and Steven H. Yaskell: Year without a Summer, Vol. 32, # 3 May / June, Mercury (Astronomical Society of the Pacific) 2003
- Hans-Erhard Lessing: Automobilitaet: Karl Drais und die unglaublichen Anfaenge, Leipzig 2003
- Henry Stommel and Elizabeth Stommel: Volcano Weather: The Story of 1816, the Year without a Summer, Seven Seas Press, Newport RI 1983 ISBN 0-915160-71-4
- The Story of the Year of Cold, by Dozier, Lou Zerr Press, 2009