The massive eruption of Mt. Tambora (Indonesia) in 1815 was historic in its violence & effects around the world. It brought more colorful sunsets & cooled the entire planet by ejecting massive amounts of aerosols & ash into the troposphere, which reflected sunlight. This cooling brought a widespread chill & often strange, unseasonable weather events around the world in 1816 (especially in summer). True, this was a phenomenal event with effects even in our region. However, the pictures of deep snow with captions of "Indiana June 1816" in some climate books & legends of freezing each month of the summer (even in the Midwest) are far-fetched with a lack of scientific backing. The effects in the Northeast have been lumped to include Indiana, but the two areas saw different results.
Interestingly, it was Krakatoa in 1883 that brought us WORSE winters in the 1884-1887 compared to 1816-17. These winters were absolutely brutal, but the summers were warm with no major droughts until 1887. There was no such record cold in the summers of the period. The 1816-17 period saw cool summer, but not overly cold or snowy winters like you would think.
So, timing of the eruption, other factors, dictate the effects of a massive volcanic eruption.
Here are the top 10 misconceptions about "The Year Without a Summer".
1. It snowed in Indiana in June.
There is no evidence of this whatsoever. Temperatures recorded at Cincinnati & other locations in Ohio show that it did not snow in this region. However, temperatures did drop into the 30s in mid June in Ohio, specifically near 40 at College Hill, Ohio (northwest of Cincinnati near Indiana state line). This is comparable with the June 1992 cold after the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991, like the 1815 Tambora eruption.
There was heavy snowfall in Quebec & over the higher elevations of New England in early June & flurries were reported as far south as Boston.
The last flakes reported in the Midwest/Ohio Valley in 1816 were in April & the first flakes in November.
The snow definitely affected the Northeast more than here.
2. There was a killing frost in every month of the Summer 1816 in Indiana.
College Hill data shows that the lowest temperatures near 40 in June, lower 40s in July & August & upper 40s in September were not especially frosty.
Garden crops were burned by the frost at Boston & Salem, Massachusetts in mid-June. Killing frosts took place in Vermont to late June (frost in July, too), but some farmers were able to get a crop off with a warm up in August.
A newspaper in Albany, New York wrote:
Here [this summer] it has been dry, and cold. We do not recollect the time when the drought has been so extensive, and general, not when there has been so cold a summer. There have been hard frosts in every summer month, a fact that we have never known before.
3. There was no summer. It was indeed a "Year Without a Summer".
There was summer in 1816. Each month June-August showed temperatures reaching 90-92 at least once at Vincennes & College Hill. 90 was even recorded in September. A peak temperature of 93 was recorded at Vincennes, Indiana in July after a low of 40 in June. Like 1992, bursts of hotter weather was interspersed with chilly temperatures. Wide temperature swings were noted, even in the Northeast, including temperatures near/at 100 a couple of times over New England. Salem, Massachusetts hit 99 one day, only to tank to a low in the 40s a day later.
4. It was wet, cold & dismal.
The 1816 summer was part of a massive drought from 1815 to 1818 in our region. Arguably, this drought could even be called the great 1815-1821 drought.
This seem to peak in two periods: 1816-17 & 1820. 1820 summer was the really, really hot one, however. The 1816 saw bursts of heat & burst of chill. It is likely that the dry soils of the drought contributed to the wide, wide temperature swings, in tandem with the significant effects of the volcanic eruption.
The 1816 drought may have been a result of the dominant northwest flow, diverting moisture to the south. This is a clipper pattern in winter that is overall dry. During the Ice Age, such a pattern shift occurred with the ice sheets having semi-permanent high pressure over them, making for extremely dry, dusty conditions on the edge of the ice sheets in Indiana. The wind-blown loess & sand dunes we see in Indiana today is a result of such dryness.
The 1820 scenario that seems to have been dominated by a massive upper ridge like the 2012, 1988, 1954, 1936, 1934, 1925, 1921, etc. droughts.
So, the 1816-17 drought may have been caused in an unconventional way with origins in persistent dry northwest flow & not necessarily a big, hot upper ridge from Mexico & the southwestern U.S. or via an extension of the Bermuda high unusually far westward.
It was the opposite in Europe. The unusually wet, dismal, cold weather in Ireland led to a potato crop failure & fungus & disease wiped out a large chunk of the wheat crop in Europe. There was a bread & potato shortage in what climaxed into a famine. The dismal, very wet, cold weather inspired an incredible amount of literary work in 1816. Numerous writers were inspired to write dark tales as a result of the the weather & overall disaster.
During the very wet, gray weather the classic novel, Frankenstein was written.
5. It was a short summer with a rapid onset of winter in 1816.
It was a rather slow onset into cooler weather in September & October 1816. Peak October temperatures still reached the 80s in southwestern Ohio near the Indiana state line.. However, like 1991 (after Pinatubo eruption), November did turn cold & winter-like with lows in the single digits by late month. However, it was not extreme. The winter overall did not rank in the brutal winters of Indiana weather history. College Hill, Ohio data shows temperatures a bit below modern-day averages with temperatures slightly below zero at least once in January & February, but nothing really extreme.
6. The 1815-16 & 1816-17 winters were brutal.
The 1819-20 winter saw the greatest amount of brutal cold & snow in the 1815-1821 period. Settlers reported & data supports that the 1819-20 winter was the worst since 1810-11 in the Midwest & specifically Indiana area. One settler wrote in southwest Indiana (east of Vincennes in northern Daviess County) in the late 1890s that the horrible "winter of deep snow" in 1810-11 wiped out the entire buffalo population in that area according to early explorers & Native Americans from the area.
7. There was a lack of hurricanes in 1815-17 as a result of the eruption.
1815, 1816 & 1817 (even 1818, 1819) were active hurricane years, per ship logs & East Coast weather records for the time. The hurricane peak seems to have occurred in 1816.
An early June hurricane lashed the Florida Keys & was pulled northward, but tracked away from the East Coast.
Haiti was raked by a hurricane in mid-August, while early to mid-September saw a hurricane devastate Cuba, then rake Florida before making a final landfall in South Carolina.
On the heels of the South Carolina final landfall, another hurricane, albeit weaker, struck Virginia, then rode the East Coast into New York to Massachusetts. Significant flooding occurred Virginia to Maryland.
At nearly the same time, a significant hurricane leveled Barbados & Puerto before tracking offshore along the East Coast. It only brought heavy surf & big swells along the hurricane-weary East Coast.
Dominica & Martinique was hit hard by a hurricane in October.
In 1815, at least 6 significant hurricanes hit the U.S. Two historic, likely major hurricanes caused major U.S. impacts in 1815. The great Long Island Hurricane of 1815 was THE major, historic hurricane for the New York area. Thousands of square miles of forest were leveled.
The 1815 North Carolina was also a historic, noteworthy major hurricane.
An August 1817 hurricane, similar to Charley in 2004, raked a large chunk of the East Coast with historic wind, damage & surge.
1818 was very active.
1819 saw the Camille of 1819.........it was the great Bay St. Louis Hurricane of 1819, a likely Category 4-5.
8. Lakes were covered in ice in June as far south as Pennsylvania.
There was lingering lake ice to early June in New England & southeastern Canada, but ice did not cover lakes in June anywhere in the Northeast, let alone in Pennsylvania. In the high elevations of northern Pennslyvania, a frost/freeze in early June & then July did cause ice to form on puddles & shallow streams briefly, but not lakes or rivers as some modern-day text states.
Frost did injure plants as far south as modern-day northeast Phily, however, in early June.
9. The effects of the historic volcanic erupton lasted a very long time & the Arctic was extremely cold, even for them.
Amazingly, the atmosphere recovered quickly & within 1.5-2 years, aerosol levels were back to normal.
The Arctic was actually unusually warm during this cold period, while the lower latitudes were unusually cool overall.
This led to greater exploration of the Arctic as new passages opened up as much sea ice melted.
10. The effects caused mass upheaval in the world & setback to civilization.
Disease & famine caused massive issues in the world, attributed to the event. However, the historical weather/climate episode triggered a boom in innovation & literature. From the writing of famous works like Frankenstein to Arctic exploration to the diving into superior crops to better tolerate such massive weather changes (to prevent famine), these were all positive effects. Innovation like the invention of the early bicycle (people couldn't afford horses due to agriculture losses) to colorful artwork as artists were inspired by the highly-colorful sunsets (from the ash & aerosols).
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