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Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death

The Year Without a Summer took place in 1816 when freakishly bizarre climatic changes took place because of a large amount of volcanic activity in the recent years leading up to 1816.

The eruptions believed to have caused the anomaly were –

  1. The 5 April – 15 April 1815 volcanic eruptions of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies
  2. Mount La La Soufrière in Saint Vincent in the Caribbean in 1812
  3. and Mount Mayon in the Philippines in 1814

Because of these eruptions a large amount of volcanic ash was launched skyward into the atmosphere and resulting in lower temperatures and sudden cold snaps worldwide.

In the northeastern US the summer of 1816 started out with a climatological bang. May brought on a hard frost that killed off most of the crops that would have been harvested later that year, then in June snowstorms hit eastern Canada and New England resulting in many deaths.

The interesting thing about that summer was that the cold didn’t last the entirety of the summer, it only came in fits and spurts, with the temperatures ranging from downright hot one day to below freezing later the same day. As an example, on the 5th of June the temperature in Salem, Mass reached 89 degrees, whereas on the following day, after thunderstorms blew through the temperature was 41 degrees. The temperatures then rose until they reached, for that area, almost heat wave proportions. Then as June slipped into July the cold returned.

Because of the cold snaps, freezes and snow the prices on corn, wheat and other grains rose dramatically. Conversely beef prices fell, given the fact that farmers found it hard to feed their livestock and wanted to make all the cash they could off of already starving animals.

So what did this climatic abnormality end up causing, besides possible starvation and cold toes? Historians believe that it was the impetus for many Americans to migrate westward and start settling the Midwest. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, was one such man, having begun his move westward after he had several crop failures.

In Europe, where the cold snap was even worse, there were food riots in England and France, the government of Switzerland declared a national emergency, while brown and red snow fell in Hungary and Italy, respectively, the cause of which is assumed to have been volcanic ash.

And the prolonged rainfall forced Mary Shelley and her friends to remain indoors during most of a planned holiday in Switzerland. They all decided to hold a contest, seeing who could write the scariest story, leading Shelley to write Frankenstein.

Published inHistory

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