The Year without a Summer?

In 1816, average global temperatures fell. A strange fog drifted across the Northern Hemisphere. Sunlight dimmed. Crops died due to unusual amounts of dust. What caused “The Year without a Summer?”

Painting showing the strange sunrises following the Year without a Summer

Chichester Canal: The Year without a Summer gave rise to spectacular sunrises, which were immortalized in works of art such as this one
Painted by J.M.W. Turner (1828)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What was the Year without a Summer?

“The Year without a Summer” was indeed a strange year. It was most apparent in the northeastern United States, Atlantic Canada, and western Europe. These regions experienced a heavy summer frost which killed off crops, summer snow, persistent fog which reduced and reddened the sunlight, icy lakes and rivers, and rapid temperature changes. In turn, these factors led to rising food prices, famine, riots, arson, looting, disease, and death.

What caused the Year without a Summer?

The Year without a Summer lasted past 1816, into 1817, and possibly into 1818 as well. What could’ve caused such an extended period of climate change?

Well, most scientists attribute the event to the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Incidentally, Mount Tambora was the largest eruption of the last 1,300 years and one of the three largest eruptions of the last 2,000 years. Along with four other significant eruptions between 1812 and 1814, Mount Tambora kicked up huge amounts of volcanic dust into the upper atmosphere, which served to block incoming sunlight. Making matters worse, this occurred during a period of significantly reduced solar activity.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Year without a Summer was one of the most horrible ones in recent history. But even in bad times, good things can sometimes arise. The volcanic dust in the upper atmosphere led to a period of incredible sunsets, which were immortalized in J.M.W. Turner’s paintings (including the one at the beginning of this post). The vast crop failures also caused American families to seek out better growing conditions. This led to the settling of western and central New York as well as the Upper Midwest.

Joseph Smith’s family was one of those who left New England. His move to Palmyra, NY was an essential step in his founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (it should be noted that past periods of violent climate change have often resulted in the growth of new religions). Also, large amounts of rain in Switzerland led Mary Shelley and John William Polidori to stay indoors for most of the summer. During that time, Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus while Polidori wrote The Vampyre.

Still, the event must be remembered for the awe-inspiring destruction it wrought throughout the world. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the Black Death, which may have been caused by the loading of cometary dust into the upper atmosphere. “The Year without a Summer” serves as a reminder of how much we depend on nature for our survival…and how easily it can be taken away.

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