200 Years Ago, 1816 There Was No Summer


The civil calendar will soon mark a new year, 2016, and in theory normally by now the cold snowy winter (at least in the northern hemisphere) would have settled.  Yet predictions are being made this may be the warmest winter yet.

Two hundred years ago, 1816 the weather was different. 1816 was known as the year without summer.

On April 5,1815, Mount Tambora, on the Island Sumbaw in Indonesi, the volcano started to erupt. April 10 it blew violently spewing liquid fire, a fountain of ash, water and molten rock into the atmosphere at such a speed and heat; within an hour the nearby villages were completely destroyed. Twelve thousand local village people died in the first twenty-four hours after the explosion, with temperatures reaching 1,000-degree F destroying all life forms in the surrounding areas. The mountain lost 3000 feet off of its top and caused a 3 mile crater in the mountains surface.

The volcano wasn’t an isolated incident; in 1812 there were 2 other volcanos, Krakatoa in 1813 and another in 1814 all near the same area, and all building up dust into the air blocking the sun’s strong warm rays into the worlds’ skies. Krakatoa, in the western Pacific Ocean in August 1813, was the loudest recorded volcano until that time. Krakatoa gained instant recognition due to the telegraph station at Batavia (present day Jakarta, Indonesia) which exported the news to the world.

Mount Tambora, on the other hand, remained unheard of other than by a few British soldiers stationed 100 miles away. Tambora was one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in recorded history; while Vesuvius and Mount St. Helens earn a mere “5” rating, Krakatoa a “6”, on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, Tambora ranks a “7”, with estimates of 1.7 million tons of dust put into the air equaling 6 million atomic bombs. In a few month’s time, the entire atmosphere of the earth had been covered by a cloud of darkness.

The world did not take notice of the terrifying event; since most had never heard of it and until the summer of 1816, nothing extraordinary seem to happen.  In fact the spring was warm and with the normal showers as usual, but the summer never came.

Europe was recovering from the Napoleonian wars having isolated Napoléon on an island. Thomas Jefferson had left his office to go back to his plantation in America only to see his crops fail and put him in further debt.  James Madison was elected again to be president at the end of the year. “Frankenstein” and the predecessor to “Dracula” were both written in that dreary year. Rabbi Akiva Eiger who had just left his Rabbinical position in Märkisch FriedlandWest Prussia went on to fight Reform Judaism, wrote voluminous of chidushei Torah, tshuvos in intricate areas of halacha in his “retirement”. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn was 27 at that point had refused to take the mantel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

In June of 1816, snow fell in Boston.  Plants and crops froze , food was scarce. What surrived: wheat, corn and other grains, sold at extradonary inflated prices.The railroad system through America hadn’t yet been proven to be reliable, so only local produce was available. In England and Ireland their crops were lost and people went hungry. In Switzerland the land masses froze making approcaching by sea difficult. In China cold snap prevented the rice to grow causing hunger. The volcano killed all together 12,000 people on the island and another 80,000 people would eventually die from starvation and diseases.

The outcome of such a seemingly minor event; had tremendous implications for the whole world.  Two hundred years ago, in 1816, there was no summer. What does this new civil year bring?  And what will its real cause be?


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