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1816: The Year Without a Summer

1816: The Year Without a Summer

When we released our summer forecast— we knew the heat is coming! And it’s been H-O-T from coast to coast. But what if there was no summer? Back in 1816, that’s exactly what happened. The infamous Year Without a Summer was a weather event so devastating, people are still talking about it over 200 years later.

What Was The Year Without A Summer?

Referred to by many names, including “the poverty year” and “eighteen hundred and froze-to-death,” the year 1816 was literally a year without a summer across much of the Northern Hemisphere. Throughout not only North America but also Northern Europe and parts of Asia, an exceptionally cold summer, featuring killing frosts in July and August, crippled food production. Crop failures and food shortages were so widespread that rioting and looting became common in the United Kingdom and France.

On this side of the Atlantic, many residents of New England and the Canadian Maritimes froze to death, starved, or suffered from severe malnutrition as storms—bringing a foot or more of snow—hit hard during May and June. Many others from the region pulled up their stakes and moved to Western New York and the Midwest, where the cold was less severe. In fact, the year without a summer is now believed to have been one major catalyst in the westward expansion of the United States.

Though the northeastern section of the continent was hardest hit, southern states still experienced their share of the cold. On July 4th of that year, for instance, the high temperature in Savannah, Georgia, was a chilly 46° F. As far south as Pennsylvania, lakes, and rivers were frozen over during July and August.

What Caused It?

So, what caused this tragically cold summer? The likely suspect was a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred during the winter of 1815, in particular, the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia, believed to be the largest eruption of the last 1,800 years. The volcano ejected a tremendous cloud of fine ash and dust was ejected into the stratosphere, where it remained for a very long time. This ash insulated the earth from the heat and light of the sun, resulting in a cooling effect throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Read how the Year Without A Summer Inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein!

This ash also gave the sky a yellowish tinge in some areas, which can be seen in many landscape paintings from the era. Fortunately, a summer like this had yet to repeat itself and the Farmers Almanac’s outlook for this summer is much more enjoyable.

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  • Lawrence McGowan says:

    Very interesting

  • oak says:

    This “summer,” if you can can it that, is more like fall. Cool and wet. Farmers can’t get fields planted, harvest likely to be 50-60% down. Almanac got it wrong.

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Hopefully, when summer officially arrives on Friday, things will start to turn around!

  • Madder says:

    I don’t want to starve, but I have learned to like the winter. I wouldn’t mind skipping summer this year.

  • Patrick Leng says:

    Residents in Fundy New Brunswick 2018 said they had their latest known Spring frost coming in around June 20th. 70% strawberry and blueberry crops lost because of this. No major volcanic eruption but sunspots were near zero for past 2 years.

  • Tom says:

    Some of the comments ~ Gary, you joking? Today we have food in cans that can last years. Frozen etc. We have plows that can get food in from very southern climes. Yeah there’d be problems, but we are much better set to deal with a ” year without summer ” today then in 1816!

  • James says:

    What are you afraid of? We are much more equipped and better prepared than they were 200 years ago to deal with something like this. We’ll be just fine IF something like this happens again.

    • Gary says:

      You must be joking James. People in the early 1800’s were much more self sufficient and generally able to cope than we are today.

      We have become extremely dependant on on our house of cards infrastructure. As such, we would not fare nearly so well as they did then.

  • Robert Nuckles says:

    We’re heading into another Solar Grand Minimum similar to the Maunder Grand Minimum in the 1640’s – 1700’s. Climate change scientists say this isn’t so but solar activities are the lowest in over 250 years.
    The book- “The Little Ice Age Theory by James A. Marusak includes detailed documentation of the weather and climate extremes during this period -very similar to what we’re experiencing now.

  • Penny says:

    Early spring here.

  • Gloria says:

    Knew about the year without summer. Experienced a similar, smaller event in the winter of 1980 when Mt St Helens blew which is when I learned of the 1816 event. This year 2017 is strange also. The buds of the fruit trees are very late up here in the Cascade Foothills of SW Washington.So far calling it a late spring but who knows how long it will last.

  • Leona Dubois says:

    -30C here in Saskatchewan last week and we were hit with 2 feet of snow in 2 days…snow is in the forecast for the next couple days but it has warmed up to -5C this morning…will consider planting extra cool weather and rainy weather crops this year just in case…better to be prepared and thought a fool than not be prepared and proven a fool I always say….

  • Walter Clark says:

    I hope that 2017 won’t also be called “The Year Without a Summer.” like 1816. Right now we are in March (today is March 14, the day of the major snowstorm), and the first day of Spring is about a week away. In March, temperatures were in the below-zero range, and hopefully, nothing like that won’t happen in April, or in May (if that were to happen, kiss Spring, and warm temperatures that come along with it goodbye, and Summer goodbye).
    Imagine what would be like if that same thing similar were to happen in 2017, just like what happened in 1816, there would be no picnics (barbecues), ice cream and hamburger stands would lose business, beaches would close, and parks, where people camp at, would shut down, and all summer activities such as outdoor concerts would end up being cancelled, and stores that sell spring or summer clothes would lose business (sales).

    • candy says:

      Well now its summer 2020 and all the events Walter imagined have come to pass for just about the entire world. But this time a virus has closed us down. I wonder if there has been any exploration as to the influence of the lunar and solar effects on viral activity in this world. If planting, sowing etc is so influenced by the moon and its rising and ebbing…. and we humans are just part of the entire system… why would our vulnerability to viruses and their mutations also be influenced by just such forces? Would it be illogical to think that the immunity of humans may also be influenced by lunar and solar cycles?

  • Daniel jones says:

    I wonder. …are these matters, a possible cool summer, a possible volcano erupting, are these discussed with congress and what steps do they have mapped out for us???

  • Bob Sexton. says:

    I read the nonfiction book Dark Winter by John L . Casey. I recommend this. I liked the section about the year without summer.. I thought it was interesting.

  • DeAnna says:

    They are all signs of the end times today Jesus is coming back, in the bible it speaks about the weather changes.

  • JimmyJO says:

    What would be your recommendations on what to plant in the event we get another “year without a summer”?

  • Walter Clark says:

    We are now in April, but there is no warm air that we usually get in Spring, this is when we see dandelions growing in the grass, when ice cream stands open in April, or when baseball season starts, (e.g., between 60° and 70°), is in sight. In 2016, with the polar vortex in April, unfortunately, that won’t happen. The polar vortex that we had in April of 2016 may have killed those warmer temperatures we usually get and enjoy in the Spring, replacing tempetures between 25° and 50° during the day, and much colder temperatures at night, because like what happened in 1816, which was 200 years ago, which was nicknamed “the year without Summer,” 2016 to me will have a new nickname: “the year without Spring.”

  • What Crazy weather for the holiday s. andrewjtullos@suddenlink.net says:

    Sure doesn’t fell like winter. Andrew J Tullos at andrewjtullos@suddenlink.net

  • What Crazy weather for the holiday s. andrewjtullos@suddenlink.net says:

    Where the cold weather. Just brought a new coat st. ill in closet. Sure doesn’t fell like Christmas.

  • Cheryl says:

    Great informative story! Makes me want to research this more… I have NO DOUBT that this will happen again, it’s just a matter of when? Others have commented on how ppl. of today’s world would cope. Maybe this is a wake up call we need? We are NEVER prepared enough until it has happened and thus we become prepared for the possible
    next time…

  • LCB says:

    If we used Mother’s geotherms we would be more than okay. If we submit to Love, Respect and Harmony, we we do better during difficult times, and if we accept we are One, those butterfly affects would lessen.

  • Karin says:

    This could have an interesting impact on the world if it came to rely on solar as an alternative energy, with solar rays being blocked, thus no or little energy being produced in addition to the crop failures. Add in the psychological disorders affecting people due to the lack of sun and you have a real mess.

  • Dan Davis says:

    Nuclear winter…

  • Tom says:

    The 206 year Grand Solar Minimum cycle was the cause of the increased volcanic activity and we are about to experience it again. It repeats every 206 years when the surface of the sun cools slightly . Just part of nature stay warm.

    • Daniel jones says:

      I would like to know more..so from 1815,add 206 years and in 2020 we should experience the Sun cooling and the effects that follow??

  • Steve says:

    Interesting comment on the art of the period. Writers like Dickens also give us a hint of the climate then.

  • Back in the 1970's we had a year without summer, we had snowfall every month but August. It was a cold rainey windy windy summer. Hardly anyone went to the beach.no water skiing at all. It was a very sad time. says:

    Correcting spelling from my last comment
    Anyone remember the year it snowed every month but August in Northern Michigan. It was in the 1970’s I believe.

  • Back in the 1970's we had a year without summer, we had snowfall every month but August. It was a cold rainey windy windy summer. Hardly anyone went to the beach.no water skiing at all. It was a very sad time. says:

    Anyone know the exact year in the 1970’s that it snowed everyone but August.

  • Wu Tang says:

    War of the masses. The outcome disastrous. Many victims families saved their ashes.

  • Wu Tang says:

    War of the masses the outcome disastrous. Many victims families saved their ashes.

  • dwayne says:

    Very Interesting, for sure. I have my doubts the facebook-America we know today would survive. In fact, I feel certain it would not. Had it occurred in the 1940-1950 era America, I believe they could have and would have survived. They were much higher quality people than we have today.

  • Luvmyblanket says:

    Would be

  • Luvmyblanket says:

    I would like to witness an event of this magnitude in my lifetime!!!!! Would me like time travel into the past !!!!❄️❄️❄️

  • Eddie says:

    I grew up in NW Louisiana and the following winter of Mt. St. Helen’s eruption, we had one of the coldest and snowiest winters ever recorded. Our planet is warming but it would only take a slight chain of events to send us into another ice age. Our environment & eco-sys are very delicate.

  • Sean says:

    Interesting article, I think today if something like this were to happen today that many people would lean more towards having to depend on green houses as their source of fruits and vegetables or ways to grow small indoor gardens as a way to survive. On the contrary, this could cause economic effect in many ways as well as many people in the northern hemisphere do much of their recreational traveling throughout the summer and just like in 1816 damage to the outside vegetation such as resource of crops during the summer. Also it may have an effect onto the psychological point of view of those who experience seasonal depression as well.

  • Caroline says:

    I had heard of this. I had taken the 8th on a field trip to Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana. The docent there told us that when Abe was a boy there was time when it snowed every month in the year. He told us it was due to a volcano that had erupted on the other side of the world. This didn’t surprise us since Mt St Helens had erupted only a few years before.

  • Christal Bates says:

    I have never heard of this. Reading it is very interestin and it makes you think of what else will happen years later.

  • Nancy says:

    Very interesting! I have never heard this story. Good to learn something new. I enjoy all the articles in The Farmers Almanac, always so interesting and informative

  • Wcorrell says:

    I too have never heard of this before, it will be interesting to research the art work from that time. Thanks for posting!

  • Laura says:

    Awesome article didn’t know about this weather phenomenon. The for the article am researching more on this

  • twinsmom says:

    Super interesting article. I’ve never heard of this. I learned something new today!!

  • Lena says:

    Interesting, what with the greenhouse effect and global warming kind of makes me wonder if we couldn’t simulate an eruption similar if needed

  • Joe ward says:

    So very interesting. I would like to learn more. Thx again.

  • Cbailey says:

    That’s very interesting! I’ve never heard of “The year without a summer”. Thanks for the article!

  • Mothereearth2 says:

    I love the snow. Getting ready!

  • If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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