Hoosiers across Indiana are celebrating the state’s bicentennial this year, marking 200 years of statehood. But this year also is the 200th anniversary of a significant event in Hoosier history, one that was far less joyous.
The year 1816 became known as “the year without summer.”
In the Ohio Valley, the first part of March was cold and blustery, but it turned warmer the last half of the month. Hoosiers began to plant their gardens. Early April continued mild, but toward the end of that month the mercury plummeted and snow fell. During May, there was snow on the ground for 17 days.
In the spring and summer that year, a persistent “dry fog” was observed in parts of the eastern U.S. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight. Neither wind nor rain dispersed the “fog.”
During mid-June snow fell in 15 of the 19 states that made up the Union. New leaves on the trees turned black, and some young livestock froze to death. Corn was killed, and the fruit trees were destroyed.
When Indiana celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, the temperature was bitterly cold. August was worse, with sleet one-half inch thick on the ground. Frost and freezing occurred every month that year.
The problem wasn’t limited to Indiana or the eastern United States. Northern Europe and parts of Asia also experienced an exceptionally cold summer, with killing frosts in July and August that crippled food production. Crop failures and food shortages were so widespread that rioting and looting became common in the United Kingdom and France. Many residents of New England and the Canadian Maritimes froze to death or starved.
So, what caused this tragically cold summer? The most likely culprit was a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred during the winter of 1815, in particular, the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. It was believed to be the largest eruption in recorded history. The volcano ejected a mammoth cloud of ash and dust into the stratosphere, where it stayed for a long time. This ash insulated the earth from the heat and light of the sun, resulting in a cooling effect throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
This ash also gave the sky a yellowish tinge in some areas, which can be seen in many landscape paintings from the era. That explains the “dry fog.”
Fortunately, this year’s forecast calls for nothing like the weather of 1816. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting summer will be hotter and slightly drier than normal, with the hottest periods in mid- and late June and mid- and late August. September and October are expected to be drier and much warmer than normal.
So don’t count on snowballs in July.