Home (Main Menu)

1816, the year without a summer

Benjamin Franklin was the first to establish the link between volcanic eruptions and climate change when he suggested the bitterly cold winter of 1783-84 in Europe was a result of the dust cloud from the massive eruption of Iceland's Mt. Laki in 1783.

Mount Tambora, which is on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, erupted on April 5, 1815; and resulted in an extremely cold spring and summer in 1816, which became known as the 'year without a summer.'

Its explosion threw so much material into the atmosphere that, as it spread around the world, it changed the climate of the entire planet. In 1816, it snowed in June in the United States and Europe. Crops failed, there was starvation, people lost their farms, and it touched off the wave of emigration that led to the settlement of what is now the American Midwest. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands more starved around the world.

New England and Europe were hit exceptionally hard. Snowfalls and frost occurred in June, July and August and all but the hardiest grains were destroyed. Destruction of the corn crop forced farmers to slaughter their animals. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry. Sea ice migrated across Atlantic shipping lanes, and alpine glaciers advanced down mountain slopes to exceptionally low elevations.

The large amount of sulfuric acid eventually produced in the stratosphere by sulfur-rich gases released during the eruption blocked out solar radiation, resulting in a cooling of Earth's surface for several years after the eruption.

The 1815 eruption of Tambora was one of the largest eruption in historic times. About 150 cubic kilometers of ash were erupted (about 150 times more than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens). Ash fell as far as 800 miles (1,300 km) from the volcano. In central Java and Kalimantan, 550 miles (900 km) from the eruption, one centimeter of ash fell.

The eruption column reached a height of about 28 miles (44 km). The collapse of the eruption column produced numerous pyroclastic flows. As these hot pyroclastic flows reached the ocean where they caused additional explosions. During these explosions, most of the fine-fraction of the ash was removed.

The eruption formed a caldera. An estimated 92,000 people were killed by the eruption. About 10,000 direct deaths were caused by bomb impacts, tephra fall, and pyroclastic flows. An estimated 82,000 were killed indirectly by the eruption by starvation, disease, and hunger.

See Tambora, Sumbawa, Indonesia

Tambora is famous for giving birth to Mary Shelley's Gothic novel ''Frankenstein.''

The late frosts of that cold, dark 1816 summer destroyed crops across Europe and kept Shelley and her husband Percy holed up on the shores of Lake Geneva at the house of Lord Byron, who suggested a ghost story writing contest to amuse them.

Percy Shelley and Lord Byron soon abandoned their efforts, but Mary persisted, creating a mixture of Gothic horror and science fiction which has influenced our views of science to this day.

See Lord Byron's poem DARKNESS (1816)



From Brethren Life: Frontier

"This was a very bad year, everywhere, but especially on the frontier. A popular expression was: "1816 and froze to death!" It got cold at night all summer and crops would not grow, There was a killing frost at least once during every month. June 5 and 6, the temperature dropped to below 40, then on the 7th it snowed. There were killing frosts all three nights. By June 11th, the corn was withered and dead in the field. It was replanted, then in July the new stand was killed by another killing frost.

On August 20, 1816, the temperature again plunged and any remaining crops were destroyed. Sept. 27 saw the start of winter with another killing frost. ... Snows started early in October, and stayed on the ground until April 1817. The snows were two feet deep with a terrible ice crust on top. Many survived only because the deer were trapped by the snows and ice and could not escape the hunters.

Following that winter, deer were so scarce that they could not be depended on as a source for meat, nor was the common deerskin britches and jacket any more available ..."

ARTICLE from The Decatur County Journal, June 9, l892

``The year without a summer, l8l6, is now being quite generally recalled.

According to the records, January and February of that year were warm and spring like. March was cold and stormy.

Vegetation had gotten well along in April when real winter set in. Sleet and snow fell on seventeen different days in May.

In June there was either frost or snow every night but three. The snow was five inches deep for several days in succession in the interior of New York and from ten inches to three feet in Vermont and Maine.

July was cold and frosty, ice formed as thick as window panes in every one of the New England States.

August was still worse; ice formed nearly an inch in thickness, and killed nearly every green thing in the United States and in Europe.

In the spring of l8l7, corn, which had been kept over from the crop of l8l5, sold for from $5 to $l0 a bushel, the buyers purchasing for seed ... ''

Avon to 1974 -- Top -- Home -- What's New