05 August 2007

1816 did not have a summer.

The first I knew of this happening was from PCGS member Anna Stimson. She had very interesting information and found that some of her family probably moved because of the cold summer. The following article was just published in the Ithaca Journal in Ithaca, NY. The situation is very well described by historian Carol Kammen as follows:

The year 1816 started out cold — and never really got warm

The winter in 1816 had been cold and dry with temperatures below normal all over the Northeast. March and April were no better.

A report in the Ithaca Democrat recounted that there was ice a half-inch thick in May, and three inches of snow in June. People reported that ice formed on glass windows as late as the 5th of July. The fields could not be plowed.

It was called the “year without a summer.” Where crops could be planted, they failed to thrive; where they managed to grow at all, the frequent frosts killed off the plants, which were cut down and dried for fodder in August.

In June fires were necessary to keep houses warm, and there was a cold and piercing wind like those more usual in the month of November. On June 6, in Elizabethtown, N.Y., a cold front passed just before dawn, bringing in its wake a three-hour snow storm. The westerly winds froze the ground and destroyed most garden crops.

One man in Vermont recorded in his diary for June 7 that “the surface of the ground was stiff with frost—the leaves of the trees were blackened,” and tubs of water were covered with ice.

Birds fell to the earth and newborn sheep died. In some places there were five consecutive nights of frost — as if in December.

For people with little land under cultivation, as in much of Central New York, the cold was devastating. The cold killed the blooms on fruit trees. A New Hampshire newspaper reported the “season very unpromising, we begin to despair of corn, hay will come extremely light.”

Then the weather moderated, with high temperatures from June 22-24. People thought that the regular weather pattern might be returning. The first days of July brought the promise of being able to make a harvest and the Albany Advertiser predicted that if the warm weather continued, “apprehensions of scarcity will have subsided.”

But on July 6, the wind shifted and the temperatures fell, bringing cold throughout the Northeast, Pennsylvania, and as far south as Virginia. There was a slight moderation for the rest of the month but August brought only gloom with new waves of cold dashing all hopes of a normal harvest. Throughout New England the cold “killed a large part of the corn, potatoes, beans and vines, and also injured many crops.”

In New Jersey a writer mourned August as “such a cheerless, desponding, melancholy summer month.”

The summer weather in 1816 had been terrible, the coldest on record for nearly 200 years of record keeping, and there was great distress everywhere. In addition to scarcity on the farms, prices rose for the produce that was available. Corn, usually 78 cents a bushel, sold for more than $5 a bushel in many places. The shortages were felt most severely in the spring of 1817 when there were no reserves. In De Ruyter, one farmer dug up his newly planted potato crop to feed his family, and others sent agents to agricultural centers to buy whatever was available — at whatever price was asked.

What had caused this awful weather?

Most people agree that the year with no summer was caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Lesser Sunda Island of Indonesia in 1815. That blast rated a 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index and sent into the atmosphere 150 to 180 cubic kilometers of ash. By comparison, the eruption of Krakatau in 1883 ejected only 20 cubic kilometers of volcanic material into the air.

In 1816, most people had little idea where Mt. Tambora was located. Its eruption, however, may have had repercussions — even here in Central New York.

Originally published August 4, 2007

The direct link is:
Ithaca Journal Columnist Carol Kammen

1 comment:

  1. What great information. I enjoyed reading that. It was also nice to see that nobody blamed it on global warming.