This is the true story of a devastating year of cold weather that brought summer snow storms and wiped out crops, resulting in famine in North America and Europe.
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Snow In July
When we visit historical sites and pioneer villages, I like to buy the little booklets and diaries about the families that lived there. Years ago, I read one that mentioned in passing that in the early 1800’s there was a summer snowstorm in Waterloo Region (southern Ontario, Canada).
Snow in July? Here? That sounded unbelievable to me and (pre-internet) I began looking for other references. While it is not out of the question to have some snow in May, a killing frost or snowstorm in July would be incredible.
The 1815 Eruption of Mount Tambora (Indonesia)
Turns out, the article was probably referring to the summer of 1816. Apparently, a significant volcanic eruption at Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 caused highly unusual weather around the globe over the next year.
- It was the earth’s worst volcanic eruption in over 1300 years. Huge amounts of volcanic dust was sent into the upper atmosphere compounding this era of already diminished solar activity* and cooler temperatures.
- In short, the sunlight just could not fully get through to the earth’s surface. The result was extreme cold (and some heat), incessant rains, summer snowstorms, and flooding.
*The Dalton Minimum was a period of low solar activity, lasting from about 1790 to 1830, which resulted in a period of global cooling.
Summer Frosts and Snowstorms
The effects were felt around the globe:
- Eastern Canada and New England had frosts and snow from May to August, as well as unusually high temperatures. Crops were destroyed, replanted and destroyed again.
- Unaware of the volcanic eruption or its ability to disrupt weather, newly settled farmers in New England blamed their locations and uprooted to settle farther west.
- Food was scarce and famine ensued in these areas as well as parts of Europe and China.
While there was a significant rise in deaths (twice the usual annual total) and suffering, there were some other interesting side effects.
- The painter Turner is said to have painted his famous yellow-based sunsets to represent the unusual yellow tinge the sky took on during this time.
- Many reported the most brilliant sunsets as the light made its way through the volcanic dust.
- The ‘incessant rains’ of 1816 drove Mary Shelley indoors for her Swiss holiday providing her time to write Frankenstein.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛