A volcanic eruption in 1815 caused the “year without a summer.”

  • Eruption of Tambora
Eruption of Tambora
Credit: Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo/ Alamy Stock Photo

The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland was certainly disruptive, but it pales in comparison to the blast that caused the “year without a summer.” That eruption took place on Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in April 1815. The explosion ejected mass amounts of sulfur dioxide, ash, and dust into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and plunging the global temperature several degrees lower, resulting in 1816 being the coldest year in some 250 years. In part because of the volcano, Europe and North America were subjected to unusually cold, wet conditions that summer, including a “killing frost” that destroyed crops in New England. The year was sometimes referred to as “Eighteen Hundred and Nearly Frozen to Death.” 

Initially, the chilly summer was misunderstood. Some speculated that the position of the planets caused the horrible weather, and legend has it that The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicted snow that summer. That the volcanic eruption had occurred more than a year before explains why the link wasn’t readily apparent. The volcanic ash was ejected into the upper atmosphere and carried around the planet by the jet stream. That dust blanketed the Earth, resulting in the strange weather that followed.

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