Saturday, August 08, 2015

1816, the year with no summer

In April 1815, Mount Tambora erupted for 10 days. Putting aside the devastation that happened locally, what follows was the result in 1816 around the world.

As the ash drifted into the Northern Hemisphere, the eastern seaboard of the United States experienced a very cold spring. Even stranger, New England was beset with a “dry fog” that would not dissipate. The lingering fog dimmed and refracted the sunlight, creating a constant eerie red glow in the sky. Even heavy rainfall failed to disperse it.

In eastern Canada and the northern U.S., temperatures routinely fell below freezing through May of 1816— far past the usual Canadian cold season. That, of course, caused crops to fail up and down the east coast of North America. And it just stayed cold. Snow fell on June 4 throughout the region. A storm in Quebec City on that day dropped over a foot of snow. As spring moved into “summer,” lakes and rivers as far south as Pennsylvania iced over. Temperatures fluctuated wildly in some areas, hitting 95°F, then rapidly dropping to below freezing after sunset.

The situation in Europe was even worse, where the weather exasperated conditions in a region trying to rebuild after the devastation caused by the Napoleonic Wars. Wales was hit so hard that refugees fled to England’s major cities, begging for food and shelter. Already limited food supplies ran low, and prices skyrocketed in Germany and Ireland.

Abnormal rainfall caused rivers to rise, while many areas endured frost in mid-August. Elsewhere, people in temperate countries such as Hungary and Italy reported snowfall throughout the summer months. And the dust in the atmosphere turned the white snowflakes red.

Switzerland was hit particularly hard. Temperatures there were so low that an ice dam formed beneath the GiĆ©tro Glacier in the Swiss Alps, creating an artificial lake in the process. The dam eventually burst in the summer of 1818, sending millions of gallons of water into the valley below. Towns were destroyed and thousands of people were killed in what has become known as one of Switzerland’s worst natural disasters.

Read the whole story here.

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