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The Year Without a Summer

Baby, it’s cold outside! In fact, New York is currently colder than Antarctica. Yet, today’s single digit temperature pales in comparison to the temperatures of 1816, known as the year without a summer.

On April 10, 1815 the largest volcanic eruption in history occurred at Mount Tambora in Indonesia. It was so large that the volcanic ash it spewed into the air caused weather anomalies reaching as far as Europe and the Americas. The volcanic ash caused a cloud that made temperatures drop immensely making the following year, 1816, the “year without a summer.”

In New York, spring started to come and then quickly retreated temperature wise. This caused death in livestock and crop failure resulting in the greatest famine of the 19th century. The temperatures dropped to -26 Fahrenheit. It was so cold that the Buttermilk Channel froze over. It froze over so deeply that horse drawn sleighs could cross it and get to Governor’s Island! While Christmas in July sounds great, it wasn’t so fun for the farmers who had to replace all of their crops after snow fell on June 6th!

So great was the fear of another such year, that westward expansion boomed the following year. New York newspapers, such as the Albany Advisor, did their best to remind their readers this weather was extremely abnormal for the entire East Coast and Europe. People didn’t listen. The cause of this freeze was not known at the time. People did not understand the effect that volcanic ash could have on the entire globe until another eruption, the eruption at Krakatoa, took place several decades later. After studying the Krakatoa eruption, scientists links the two events and found credible evidence for that Tambora was the cause of the crazy cold weather in 1816. At the time however, theories ranged from irregular sunspots seen by astronomers to Ben Franklin’s lightning rod experiments. Whatever the cause, it was a year of famine, poverty, and cold those in New York. Eileen Marguet summed up the year with the following poem.

“It didn’t matter whether your farm was large or small.
It didn’t matter if you had a farm at all.
Cause everyone was affected when water didn’t run.
The snow and frost continued without the warming sun.
One day in June it got real hot and leaves began to show.
But after that it snowed again and wind and cold did blow.
The cows and horses had no grass, no grain to feed the chicks.
No hay to put aside that time, just dry and shriveled sticks.
The sheep were cold and hungry and many starved to death,
Still waiting for the warming sun to save their labored breath.
The kids were disappointed, no swimming, such a shame.
It was in 1816 that summer never came.”

Prospect Park during the polar vortex.

Prospect Park during the polar vortex.


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