1816: The Year Without A Summer That Changed The World

Via/ UW Lib. Freshwater and Marine Image Bank

If you think the recent weather has been strange lately, listen to this tale of a year without a summer. In 1815 a volcanic eruption caused the following year’s weather patterns to be drastically different. People across the world experienced unusual weather and increased hardships, but they did not associate the volcano with the conditions at the time. This strange phenomenon deeply affected the Eastern U.S. and the Appalachian Mountains, but hit the whole world, causing odd rain events and weather that could not be explained, and altering the course of human history.


The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia (then known as the Dutch East Indies) in April of 1815 was the result of a highly pressurized volcanic environment. The initial stages of eruption were reported to have sounded like an army attack with guns and cannons. As flames shot up from the top, hot pumice and volcanic rock were forced into the air. The geological event caused tons of ash and sulphur-dioxide into the air over the course of five days, enough to cover a 100 mile radius with a foot of ash! This event and the resulting cloud, some scientists proffer, is the cause of the the weather extremes and global cooling the following year. Many experts do believe that this is the only reasonable explanation for the year without a summer, though there is not total agreement on the matter. This volcano is still active today, though volcanic activity is closely monitored to ensure minimal losses if the pressure does build up again.

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Folks began to notice that the usual signs of spring weren’t there in 1816. First-hand accounts tell us that the weather was so cold that birds dropped from the sky mid-flight (presumably from exposure or starvation). The ground was frost-covered in May in some regions, but that was the least of the problems to come since snows in June and July were a huge problem for Appalachian and New England farmers. The spring and summer months were dotted with slightly warmer periods that did not last, giving false hope to some. Crops could not grow and yields were reduced by 90% in some places. The prices of produce and wheat soared dramatically as goods became increasingly hard to come by.

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