The Year Without Summer by William Klingamen

Summer is meant to be hot with ample growing time for crops. What would a season be like if this did not happen? 1816 proved that such an event could happen.

William Klingamen and Nicholas Klingamen in The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History examine the weather in 1816 and what took place in the United States and Europe. The Tambora volcano in Indonesia sustained a powerful eruption in 1815 that left atmospheric residue that changed the climate. Temperatures and precipitation underwent a dramatic change in 1816. The records reveal extremes as the devastation continued through the year.

The authors state that the weather had been changeable for several years prior to this event. In 1816 New England saw snow and bitter cold as late as June. Farmers watched their newly planted crops perish in the unseasonal storm. Sheep which had been sheared for the summer died of exposure. After the snow melted, drought set in along the eastern United States. Between the late winter storm and lack of moisture, staple crops such as wheat, corn, and oats did not fully develop. Fruit trees had already lost their blooms leaving nothing to harvest.

Europe experienced opposite conditions. Very wet weather persisted in western and northern Europe throughout the summer. Grain and other produce like potatoes suffered from it and did not grow. Many rivers flooded the land as well. England, France, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland are chronicled for their hardships during that summer.

Government officials showed little concern for the state of the harvest or what would happen to their citizens. They predicted good crops despite the bad growing season. In most cases they failed to grasp the ramifications that high prices and low yields would have on the poor. Riots broke out as people became desperate for food. Private relief efforts did what they could to alleviate the growing poverty of citizens in Europe and the United States.

The harsh conditions drove many from their homes. Immigrants left New England for better land in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Europeans found new homes in Russia and the German states.

Besides examining the weather conditions, the authors provide insights on that year from individuals such as Lord Byron and Mary Shelley who witnessed the strange weather throughout the summer. Churches on both sides of the Atlantic opened their doors and encouraged prayers for a change in the weather.

Many people looked for an explanation of the unusual weather pattern. Sunspots were seen as a likely cause. Some thought it would be the end of the world. Some in Europe even blamed the end of the Napoleonic Wars! There is not enough evidence, but it is thought unusual weather conditions happened elsewhere in the world as well. Now scientists have learned that large volcanic eruptions have an adverse effect of worldwide weather. In 1816, those who did not enjoy a regular summer had no idea of either the wet, dry, or unusual cold that left all without a summer.

This proved to be an enjoyable read. With our cold spring, I felt the weather conditions that kept the crops from growing. Climates change and this is a wake-up call for the hardships that take place when farmers have little to harvest. We need to protect our fragile environment so we can continue to enjoy a good quality of life even though volcanoes and other natural events are beyond anyone’s control.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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