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The Summer of Gloom & Doom - 1783

     On June 8, 1783 the Skaptar Jokull Volcano in Iceland shattered the air with tremendous explosions which sent huge clouds of ash high into the skies.  Ash rained down over Scotland and Norway from this eruption in amounts great enough to damage crops.  Then, on June 11 and well into July, vast quantities of lava poured out from a 15 mile-long fissure containing 135 craters.  The largest of the lava flows was 50 miles long, 12 miles wide and between 100 and 600 feet deep.  River beds were filled with lava, and the diverted river waters together with water from melting glaciers poured out over the countryside causing floods which killed livestock and destroyed farms.

     This was not the worst of the volcano's effects, however.  The volcanic cloud from Skaptar Jokull was also filled with sulfurous gases and other gases which caused a large number of people in Iceland to die of suffocation while the bluish haze produced by the cloud stunted grass and caused a famine.  Approximately 9,500 people in Iceland, one-fifth of its population, died.  In addition, Iceland lost about three-fourths of its horses and sheep and 230,000 head of cattle.

     Meanwhile, the cloud drifted across northern Canada and Alaska.  There, the Eskimos were just about to gather their berries, fish and other meat that would carry them through the next winter.  Summer never really came to the Eskimo's land that year, though, as the wind switched suddenly to the north and brought cold weather and snow.  All along the Bering Sea coast and Norton Sound area the Eskimos starved to death.  Only 10 of them in that region survived.  Tree rings in Alaska backed up the sad fact of this summer which never came.  For the rings of that year were normal during the first part of the year, but the dark growth which normally would be put on later in the summer was completely missing that year showing that summer never really came.

       Over in England, there was what seemed to be a strange haze or smoky fog between June 23 and July 20.  There were also a number of violent thunderstorms during this time.  The sun appeared "as blank as a clouded moon, and shed a rust-colored ferruginous light on the ground" at noon according to historian, Gilbert White.  The sun had a blood red color at sunrise and sunset.  Winds over England shifted direction much more often than usual, and there was such heat that meat would decay in just a day.

     The volcanic cloud from the Icelandic volcano drifted across the Pacific Ocean, as well, reaching Japan where 1783 was also known as the year summer never came.  In addition to the cloud from Skaptar Jokull in Iceland, Mt. Asama in Japan also had violent eruptions from May to August that year, sending up its own ash cloud.

     However, the main culprit was Skaptar Jokull.  The sulfurous gases from this volcano combined with water vapor high in the atmosphere to produce a cloud of tiny sulfuric acid crystals which reflected a considerable amount of solar radiation back out into space.  This lowered the temperature of the earth by about a degree Celsius, and these effects were felt for about two years.  In fact, Summit Greenland had a summerless year in 1784.

 

     

                               Tambora Volcano as it looks today.

 

The Year Without A Summer

     The year 1816 has long been known as "the year without a summer", and the cause of this unusually cold year has long been charged to the eruption of Mt. Tambora Volcano on the Island of Sumbawa near Java, Indonesia.  Although Mt. Tambora was, perhaps, not so much to blame as once thought, it did play a part in making 1816 a year which truly seemed to have no summer.

     On April 5, 1815, Mt. Tambora began to erupt with such violence that its explosions could be heard for 1,000 miles.  Three columns of "flame" rose high into the sky, streams of lava issued from the volcano, stones and pumice rained down for miles, and some of the pieces were the size of a man's head.  Ash fell two feet deep over 850 miles away.  Darkness cloaked a 300 mile area around the volcano for three days, and only 26 of the 12,000 people living on the Island of Sumbawa survived.  Mt. Tambora lost 4,100 feet in height and threw out an estimated 36.4 cubic miles of debris.  Volcanic dust was hurled into the atmosphere where it circled the earth, darkened the sky and eventually helped to make 1816 known as the year without a summer.

     The months of January and February in the northeastern part of the United States and the Ohio Valley were above normal in temperature, while March was about normal.  April began warm but turned colder toward the middle of the month and closed out cold and snowy.  When May came, buds and young fruits were frozen.  Corn was planted, frozen, replanted and frozen again until the season grew too late.  In some places, ice an inch thick formed.

     Frost, ice and snow were common in June.  Most growing things were killed.  Ten inches of snow fell during June in Vermont, seven inches fell in Maine and Massachusetts and New York reported three inches of snow.  In the Berkshire Mountains, a foot of snow fell in June.  Farmers had to wear overcoats and mittens to work outside during June, as cold north winds were common.  Birds sought refuge from the cold in houses and barns, and a large number of birds fell dead in the fields.  Sheep which had just been shorn also perished. Only that corn which was in heavily sheltered locations managed to live through that summer, and that corn was so stunted that it was cut and used for fodder in August.  One Vermont farmer did raise acorn crop but only by making large bonfires around his cornfield every night there was a frost.  Some wheat made a crop, but that was harvested in quite cool conditions during July.

     There were heavy frosts throughout July and even ice storms.  Water in a well at Lyman, Maine was frozen over eight feet below the ground on the fourth of July, and it stayed frozen until July 25.  In Pennsylvania and New York, ice was also noted on July 5, 1816.  Ice as thick as window panes was also seen on July 5 in Ohio.  One man from China, Maine even picked Baltimore orioles off orchard trees and took them into the house to warm them.

     Frost and ice were common in August, also.  A heavy freeze on August 29 killed what corn had survived, notably in parts of Pennsylvania where the buckwheat crop was destroyed, as well.  Potato crops also were largely a failure, and most garden vegetables froze.

     September did have two mild weeks - the mildest of the year, but it got off to a cool start.  Snow fell in Springfield, Massachusetts on September 11, and colder weather settled in again during the final days of September with ice up to one-fourth inch thick.  October, although fairly normal, had its share of frost and ice, also.

     The sun just did not seem to have any heat that summer.  Each morning it seemed to rise in "a cloud of smoke", it did not seem to give much light, and it appeared to set behind a thick cloud every evening - apparently a cloud of volcanic dust from Mt. Tambora. 

 

       

        Coseguina, or more correctly, Cosiguina, Volcano, Nicaragua

 

Coseguina and the Cool Summer of 1836

     Coseguina Volcano in Nicaragua had a powerful eruption in January of 1835.  It began with a white cloud rising from the volcano during the morning of January 20, 1835.  Soon, the cloud changed color.  First it turned gray, then yellow, and lastly crimson.  At La Union, El Salvador lamps had to be lit at 11:00 a.m. due to the volcanic ash obscuring the sky.  Darkness really settled in at La Union by the middle of the afternoon as pumice with the consistency of flour rained from the sky.  Forty miles north of the volcano, at Nacaome, Honduras ash was three inches deep on the ground by 5:00 p.m.  Fifty miles to the northeast, at San Miguel, El Salvador, there was such darkness by 4:00 p.m. that one couldn't see his hands when held in front of his eyes.  Ash was falling 110 miles to the northeast at San Salvador by the time night came.

     All of Honduras lay in darkness from Coseguina during the 21st.  But the climax of the eruption came during the night of the 22nd.  Coseguina's roar was so loud 400 miles to the north in what was then British Honduras (now Belize) that the superintendent of Belize City mustered the troops at the garrison thinking some kind of naval action was taking place outside the harbor.  Even at Kingston, Jamaica and Bogota, Columbia the sounds of the erupting volcano alarmed the inhabitants.  At some locations, the volcano's roar was nearly continuous for seven hours, and there was total darkness within a radius of 50 miles of the volcano.

     This eruption of Coseguina was blamed for the cool summer of 1836.  That summer was nearly as cold as the summer of 1816 in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio.  There were frosts in every month of the year, and the only true summer weather was limited to the first 14 days of September.  In fact, during the period 1817-1890, 1836 had the coldest summer of record.

     

   

This photo was taken on August 26, 1883

From a ship passing through the Sunda Strait

a few hours before the final violent explosions.

 

Krakatoa's Effects on World Weather

     Krakatoa (more correctly Krakatau) is a volcanic island in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra, Indonesia.  On Sunday, May 20, 1883, one of Krakatau�s three cones began to erupt clouds of steam and ash.  This activity continued for a week and then died down.  Then, on June 16 eruptions began anew but from a different crater, and these eruptions persisted through July.  The third cone of Krakatau joined in on August 10, and the next day the eruptions grew larger and came from as many as 11 different vents.

     On August 24, the eruptions increased further.  Then on August 26, the most violent phase of the eruption commenced.  At about 1:00 pm, a huge roar came from Krakatau, and a gigantic cloud shot upward to a height of 17 miles and spread out like a huge pine tree.  From that time on terrific explosions, which increased in violence as the afternoon wore on, came from the volcano.  Darkness came at 3:00 p.m. that afternoon due to the volcanic clouds, and the volcano�s explosions just kept on increasing in violence until they formed one continuous roar which drowned out every other sound.

     All night Krakatau continued its violent eruptions.  Morning of August 27 found the darkness from Krakatau extending 100 miles out from the volcano, and, according to someone�s estimate, the ash cloud from Krakatau rose to 50,000 feet above the earth�s surface.  Finally, Krakatau�s roar died down.

     At 10:02 a.m., a mighty, tremendous roar came from Krakatau.  The sound of this explosion was heard 2,200 miles away in Australia and over 2,980 miles away on the Island of Rodrigues, and sound waves from the explosion were traced circling the earth seven and one-half times.  Krakatau�s final explosion was equal to 200 megatons of TNT.  Yet the people nearest the explosion hardly noticed it, for the ash-laden air screened out the sound.

     Although numerous tsunamis had been produced by many of the volcano�s other violent explosions, this last explosion triggered a huge tsunami which reached at least 116 to 130 feet high in places and 50-100 feet high in other nearby areas.  This tsunami even raised the water level in the English Channel (11,500 miles away) two inches.  Officially, the Indonesian death toll was put at 36,417.  Skeletons even floated across the Indian Ocean and washed up on the African Coast a year after the eruption.

     Months after this huge eruption, brilliant glows before sunrise and after sunset were seen all around the world due to the high dust cloud of Krakatau.  Also, red sunsets due to the volcanic cloud were first seen August 28, 1883 on islands 3,000 to 3,500 miles from Krakatau.  Red sunsets were seen in Florida (13,000 miles from the volcano) beginning September 6, 1883 and in Brazil (10,000 miles away from the volcano) on September 30.  In England, they were first noticed September 9, but Sweden did not see this phenomenon until November 30 because the volcanic cloud took time to spread northward.

     During the winter of 1883-1884, snow in Scotland, Holland and northern Germany was found to contain tiny particles of volcanic dust.  The same was true from different parts of the United States.  In addition, the dust particles from Krakatau could be seen on a clear day around the sun.