Wednesday, June 6

Summer Snow

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By Grant Davies

On this day in 1816, children in New England must have been gleeful when they looked out their windows to see that it had snowed.. a lot. Ten inches of the white stuff collected on the ground before it stopped. But as much fun as the prospect of sledding in June may have seemed to the kids, it wasn't with the same sense of wonderment that their parents beheld the atmospheric anomaly.

No, this was no random event in the "Year without a summer." In fact it was more of a culmination of bad weather news, not only in the northeastern US, but all over the northern hemisphere. The disturbance even reached as far as China. Rumor has it that growing food in such conditions is a slight problem.

In fact, much of the crop had already been wiped out by numerous frosts and this most recent blast of "winter in summer" polished off almost all of whatever was left. With the harvest prospects heading south, the price of food of all types went straight north. Food riots occurred in many places in Europe and people died in alarming numbers from the famine.

The climate problem had been brewing for some time. Between 1812 and 1814 there were four major volcanic eruptions in different parts of the earth. The upper atmosphere was heavy with the ash and particulate matter they produced. The sun was having trouble getting through because of it. But as it turns out Old Sol was in a lazy mood anyway. Sunspot production was down and solar flares were fizzling.

The final insult came in April of 1815. That's when Mount Tambora in Indonesia decided to join the fun. It was the most powerful eruption in recorded history. It was classified as a VEI-7 event. (In scientific terms that means "really big.") With that last straw, the crops turned to straw.

But in 1816, who knew what caused it? People in many European cities needed to blame someone, so they started demonstrating in front of grain markets and bakeries. Soon they began rioting, burning stuff, and stealing whatever they thought they could get away with. (Just click on the "Occupy" link on the Ancestry Dot Com site to see if there is a direct connection between these folks and anyone you know.)

Thankfully, human beings are a lot smarter now. When the weather changes today they don't blame their local baker, they just blame it on other human beings driving SUVs. It's more fun than demonstrating in front of volcanoes.

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