Yesterday we had snow flurries and a high of 5ºC, and today will be more of the same. This is Victoria Day weekend, our first long weekend of the (supposed) summer. It made me think of this post from five years ago.
When I was a child I read a novel that mentioned a year in the 1800s when there was no summer. I read a book a day at that time and they all blend together, so don’t expect me to remember a title. What I’ve never forgotten, however, is that there really was a year without summer.
I imagined a year with snow cover all year round, when people ice skated on frozen lakes in July. It wasn’t quite like that, but 1816 was an unusual weather year. There was a snowstorm that dumped 4 inches of snow in New England in the middle of June, and there was frost overnight for several days in a row in both July and August. In between those extraordinary occurrences, there was normal summer weather, but the frosts caused crop failure in the northeastern US and eastern Canada.
In Europe, there was nearly constant cold and wet, with crop failures there, too. In Ireland, it rained for 142 days in the summer, causing a famine. There was no grape harvest in France and no grain harvest in Germany.
Historians blame the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia the year before, the biggest eruption in recorded history. All those ash particles in the atmosphere of the northern hemisphere were bound to cause significant changes in the weather.
Not every result bad. There were brilliantly colourful sunrises and sunsets, which some say inspired the intense glowing depictions of the sun on the horizon in the paintings of the British impressionist painter J. M. W. Turner. You see an example in Turner’s painting of Flint Castle above, and another in one of his nautical paintings, The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up.
According to oral tradition, we had a year with no summer here in the Yukon, too, and people starved. In the 1970s, Yukon elder Rachel Dawson reported that it occurred over one hundred years before her time. Here’s how she decribes it.
Two winters joined together. No snow, but there was ice all over, and the winters were joined together. 1
There are variations to the story, and it’s impossible to pin down exactly when it was. Perhaps it was 1816, when the Tambora volcano wreaked widespread havoc, or maybe it was either 1845, 1849, or 1850, when tree ring measurement shows very little growth.
But it all goes to show that in the weather realm, strange things can happen anywhere any time.
What I’m waiting for is the year with no winter. Of course, we’d chalk that up to global warming/climate change.
1When I originally posted this, I linked to a source for the information and quote. That document is gone now, but I found this book corroborating the info, but not the quote.