Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Year Without a Summer

Wherever your ancestors were 200 years ago, in the UK, Ireland, Western Europe, Eastern North America or further afield they were dealing with an exceptional climate anomaly. In April the previous year Mount Tambora has exploded, the largest volcanic eruption in at least 1,300 years, spreading a veil of dust high in the atmosphere. Effects of another major volcanic eruption in 1809, location unknown but identified from sulphur deposits in ice cores, had barely subsided.

Spectacular sunsets in paintings from the period, such as Chichester Canal by J.M.W. Turner, record one of the more benign impacts.
Particles lofted into the stratosphere caused cold and wet weather, famine and disease in Ireland, now overlooked because of the Potato Famine three decades later. Scotland experienced a high frequency of days with gale-force winds. In England July was miserable, the coldest in a record going back to 1659 and the fourth wettest in 250 years. Yields of many crops were disappointing. Famine conditions prevailed in Western Europe. History records that Mary Shelley conceived the novel Frankenstein while trying to sleep through a frigid early morning of 16th June 1816 in a villa on the shore of Lake Geneva.
At the time Ottawa had only a handful of settlers; it was decades until there were any official weather records. Snow was reported during the first half of June at Kingston, Montreal, Quebec City and places in New England. Crops were destroyed or set back. Not knowing of the volcanic eruption the newspapers had much discussion on the possible cause by sunspot anomaly now known as the Dalton Minimum.
For more on the situation in Canada see the article in Canada’s History magazine at

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