The mysterious weather and climate anomalies of the Year Without Summer did not end with the coming of fall or the end of the calendar year 1816. The Tambora effect—the chilling of the world’s climate by volcanic dust from the 1815 mega-eruption—lingered long after that. The failure of summer crops in many parts of America, Europe and the world meant a lean and hungry winter for millions of people. And for many of them, the brutally cold winter of 1816-17 was much colder and more harrowing than any they had ever lived through before, or would again.
In this episode, the final in this minseries, you’ll shiver along with missionaries and Indians on the frontier; you’ll learn about some of the bizarre theories that people advanced for what was causing the events, such as an “electrical fluid” around the Earth supposedly linked to earthquakes; and you’ll meet a very eccentric Scotsman whose obsession with weather, sparked by the 1816 anomalies, utterly consumed his life for the next half century. This episode contains threads that connect to various other SD installments, including Episode 6 (Jefferson in Winter), 7 (Volcano), 24 (New England’s Cold Friday), and 25 (The Man in the Buffalo Fur Suit).
Sean’s Book: “The Warmest Tide: How Climate Change is Changing History”
Additional Materials About This Episode
As with the previous installment, it’s quite hard to find “extras” that lend themselves well to this page.
[Above] William Plumer, Governor of New Hampshire, whose Thanksgiving proclamation of 1816 gave little to be thankful for as a result of the Year Without Summer crop failures. Plumer was inaugurated for his second (non-consecutive) term as Governor on the day it began snowing in New England, June 6, 1816. Four years later he gained notoriety as the only presidential elector to cast a ballot against the reelection of James Monroe, who ran unopposed in 1820. Plumer lived to the old age of 91, dying in 1850.
[Above] A modern view of Dornoch, Scotland, the original home of George Mackenzie. Mackenzie spent much of his time roving about the countryside observing clouds and taking weather readings. He never married and had no children, and was regarded as an eccentric. No known image of him survives.
Here is a link (Archive.org) to Mackenzie’s bizarre book about his “system of the winds.”
[Above] A contemporary sketch of the giant eruption of Krakatau (Krakatoa) in August 1883. The eruption proved key to the understanding of the effects of stratospheric volcanic eruptions on the Earth’s climate. Krakatoa was a much smaller eruption than the 1815 Tambora blast that was the partial cause of the Year Without Summer, but it is much more well-known.
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