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|Year Without a Summer|
1816 summer temperature anomaly with respect to 1971–2000 climatology
|Date||April 10, 1815|
|Location||Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia
|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, 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 about 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.
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 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.
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. 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. 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 that staple food, oats, for example, rose from 12¢ a bushel ($3.40/m³) in 1815, equal to $1.52 in today's purchasing power to 92¢ a bushel ($26/m³) in 1816, equal to $12.6 today. Those areas suffering local crop failures had to deal with the lack of roads in the early 19th century, preventing any easy importation of bulky food stuffs.
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 1815 (April 5–15) 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:
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.
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.
High levels of ash 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 Upper 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 10,000 to 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 stole and rewrote as The Vampyre — a precursor to Dracula. In addition, Lord Byron was inspired to write a poem, Darkness, at the same time.