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Saturday, December 24, 2016

1816 - Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death

Two hundred years ago, in 1816 is known as the 'Year Without a Summer", due to extreme fluctuating temperatures which made growing crops virtually impossible.  Other names assigned to this dark year were, "Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death", "The Poverty Year", "The Summer that Never Was" and, the "Year There Was No Summer".  

Paricutin volcano erupting in Mexico - Image credit:  mexicoimportarts.com.au
In New England, the "Dark Veil" anomaly prevailed, as 6 inches of snow fell on June 6th, and there was a impenetrable frost during every other normal summer month.  During July and August, temperatures fell to as low as 40 degrees, which caused the inability to raise crops and resulted in farmers charging exorbitant prices or, people hoarded what they had. 

Some went hungry and some farmers even left New England to try their luck in the west.  Snow fell the following day, in Boston, which was the latest time ever recorded.  On June 8th, in Cabot, Vermont 18 inches of snow blanketed the ground.  

The New England Historical Society states, "On June 11, a temperature of 30.5 degrees was recorded in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Frozen birds dropped dead in the streets of Montreal. Lambs died from exposure in Vermont."  Then, just 11 days later, temperatures soared to 101 degrees in Salem, Massachusetts, and then plummeted between 30 to 40 degrees around the region, during the beginning of July. 

An unrelenting "dry fog" persisted which gave the skies a reddish hue and sunlight was weak and subdued.  People were able to observe sunspots by the naked eye.  Winds blew, and rain fell but it didn't lift the fog.  Temperatures dramatically soared, and then fell to freezing within hours.  

Here in the east, people were fearful of famine and rightfully so, as the railroad from the west had not been operating so they were unable to share the stocks from their granaries, so the east did what they could in their own communities to simply eat.  But, the effects were felt across the world.  

Remarkably, it gave rise to the growing and production of opium in China.  After their crops failed, they found new prosperity in this trade. 

The origin of this strange year was the result of a volcanic eruption, that occured in April, 1815 (designated as the most powerful eruption in recorded history) at Mount Tabor, in Indonesia.  

Image source: eh-resources.org
The Tambora volcano registered a 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index whose measurements are from 0 to 8, with 8 considered a "mega-colossal" event.  To compare this to other historical eruptions, Mount St. Helen's and Mount Vesuvius (Pompeii) registered as a 5.   It was reported that the mountain summit site was viewed up to 370 miles away, as nothing but pitch blackness for about 2 days.

Billions of tons of gas, ash and debris were expelled from the violent explosion, and lingered in the atmosphere which caused the severe oscillation of temperatures, lingering fog and the ability to see sun spots.  It is assumed that at the time of the eruption, possibly hundreds of thousands of people died from the pyroclastic lava lows which extended up to 12 miles surrounding the site.  Tsunami waves crashed onto shore at heights up to 13 feet.  Sulfurous gas and falling ash likely choked people to death. 

This natural disaster likely slowed the Indian monsoon, which is the world's largest weather system, encouraging drought due to the devastation of crops, and inevitably brought disease.  A breakout of a deadly strain of cholera, developed in the Bay of Bengal as the volcano actually altered the microbial ecology in the surrounding seas and mutated into a new strain. It began to affect the local population and then spread into Asia.  The disease continued it's path around the globe and, before all was "said and done", an estimated death toll was in the tens of millions.  

Fortunately, the global climate change lasted about 2 years.  The ash and debris settled back onto the earth's surface, and the sun's radiation slowly returned to normal.   Tomorrow is Christmas, 2016, and I can't help but wonder if the phrase "Christmas in July" was the result of this phenomenon?

mentalfloss.com gives 3 additional facts about this horrible year:

"CROP FAILURES FURTHER HARMED A FOUNDING FATHER.  We don’t normally think of leaders of the United States as individuals without money—especially in current times, it’s common for candidates to require vast personal wealth in order to seek the highest office in the land. In the early days of the United States, however, this wasn’t always the case. Thomas Jefferson lived most of his life deeply in debt, and the summer of 1816 didn’t help. That year’s extreme weather caused Jefferson’s crops to fail for several years afterward, heavily contributing to the Founding Father’s already-considerable debt. Jefferson never recovered financially, and he lived the waning years of his life in debt that would equal millions of dollars in 2016."

"THE YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER HELPED GIVE US THE BICYCLE.  When crops failed as a result of the extreme weather in 1816, it wasn’t only humans that suffered without food. The failed harvests sent the price of oats soaring, making it harder and more expensive for individuals to afford to keep horses for transportation. Looking for a new way to get around, Karl Drais invented a device called a “Laufmaschine,” or a “running machine.” The contraption is very similar to the bicycle we know and love today—instead of using pedals, however, you operated it with your feet Fred Flintstone-style."

"THE COOL DOWN LED TO ARCTIC EXPLORATION.  Weather exists as nature’s way of trying to balance out the atmosphere. When one part of the world experiences extreme weather, somewhere nearby is often experiencing the opposite weather to balance it out. When much of the world experienced a cool-down in the wake of Mount Tambora’s eruption, the Arctic warmed up, and it warmed up enough that it cleared the sea ice and allowed British explorers to map out the area and hunt for the Northwest Passage."