'Year without summer' killed crops ... and created a monster
(This is the long – unedited version of the column that appeared in the) EAGLE ARCHIVE By Kevin Dayhoff Posted on www.explorecarroll.com 6/21/09
Well, it’s half-way through June and for those of us who love Maryland’s stultifying heat and humidity many are wondering “where’s summer?”
For me, my thoughts wander to the birth of Frankenstein.
Perhaps I need to explain.
So far all we have seen is below average temperatures and above average precipitation. Yeah, we need the rain all right – but enough already.
“News” circulating on the Internet recently has been forecasting that 2009 is going to be the year without summer. While attempting to track down the story at its source, My research led me to I came across an article on livescience.com, “Year Without Summer? Don’t Believe It,” by Robert Roy Britt.
Britt explains that the “year without summer” hype began with a news story on Accuweather.com, and “involves a misconstrued quote” from a long-range forecaster. What the Accuweather article meant was that summer would behas been delayed because the “jet stream has been farther to the south than normal this spring.
In the article, Accuweather Ssenior meteorologist Henry Margusity explained a “‘cold pool of air over Canada for the past two months has delayed summer… We will see some moderation happening…’ meaning summer will get here, but “‘it won't be a real hot summer…’”
In the annals of weather history, in 1816, there really was a “year without summer.” The phenomenon event is known by various names such as “the poverty year.”
In the book, “Legacy of the Land,” by Carol Lee; she explains that “the year without summer” caused quite a bit of hardship in Carroll County. According to Lee: “Farmers in Maryland and elsewhere would remember 1816 as… ‘eighteen hundred and starve-to-death,’” and there were freezing temperatures well into June.
For Carroll County the year without summer followed the equally disastrous economic collapse caused by the “War of 1812,” with Great Britain, which witnessed the naval blockade of the Chesapeake Bay which “cut off trade, stopped the mill wheels, and left the plow still in its furrow.
“Then in 1815, after the Treaty of Ghent restored peace between Britain and the United States, England enacted “Corn Laws” that placed (a) prohibitive tariff on American wheat products… The export market virtually disappeared.”
So you may ask, what in the world caused the year without summer? Well, according to a July 2002 article in Smithsonian magazine, “Blast from the Past,” by Robert Evans; he quoted historian John D. Post to identify that year as the “last great subsistence crisis in the Western world.”
The agricultural and economic catastrophe of 1816 was a volcanic winter, caused by the April 5 – 15, 1815 eruptions of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, in what we now know as Indonesia.
Evans describes the eruption as the “most destructive explosion on earth in the past 10,000 years” which “blasted 12 cubic miles of gases, dust and rock into the atmosphere,” and killed an “estimated 90,000 people on Sumbawa and neighboring Lombok.”
This caused “Pharaoh Chesney, of Virginia,” notes Evans, to recall that in June, the following year, “another snowfall came and folk went sleighing… On July 4, water froze in cisterns and snow fell again…”
In addition to the resulting crop failure, famine, and economic collapse; the volcanic winter had widespread psychological and sociological impacts that are still felt, to a certain degree, to this very day.
Thomas Jefferson, reports Evans, “having retired to Monticello after completing his second term as President, had such a poor corn crop that year that he applied for a $1,000 loan.”
For one thing, the volcanic winter spurred the westward expansion of the United States: “Thousands left New England for what they hoped would be a more hospitable climate west of the Ohio River. Partly as a result of such migration, Indiana became a state in 1816 and Illinois in 1818.”
In Europe, Great Britain – and Ireland, the disastrous weather caused widespread crop failures and prompted many folks to pack up and leave – for America.
“It rained nonstop in Ireland for eight weeks. The potato crop failed. Famine ensued,” says Evans.
Meanwhile in Switzerland, in 1816, “Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his soon-to-be wife, Mary Wollstonecraft … sat out a June storm reading a collection of German ghost stories…”
“The mood was captured in Byron’s “Darkness,” a narrative poem set when the ‘bright sun was extinguish’d’… John Polidori wrote The Vampyre, and the future Mary Shelley… began work on her novel, Frankenstein, about a well-meaning scientist who creates a nameless monster from body parts and brings it to life by a jolt of laboratory-harnessed lightning.”
Evans notes that Frankenstein has long-since served as a cautionary allegory that serves “as a warning not to overlook the consequences of humanity’s tampering with nature.” Think about it.
When he is not playing with laboratory-harnessed lightning, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff AT gmail.com or visit him at www.westminstermarylandonline.net.
www.explorecarroll.com 1816: 'Year without summer' killed crops - created a monster - K Dayhoff http://tinyurl.com/krpqny
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20090621 SDOSM KED SCE Year without summer created a monster.