1816: The Year Without A Summer
Imagine for a moment how shocking this would be.
You wake up in July expecting a steamy Saturday afternoon relaxing in the backyard. The grill is fired up, the kids are ready to do cannonballs in the pool and yet, instead of hot weather, snow is falling.
Seems impossible, doesn't it?
What I just described sounds like something from Rod Serling's show, The Twilight Zone. Two hundred years ago, this scenario took place in our country. One major geological event in a remote part of the world that most people at the time never heard of caused a crisis in America.
Today, I want to share with you the true story about "The Year Without a Summer." What you'll learn will both amaze and shock you. For me, it was a strong reminder of why we prepare like we do here at My Patriot Supply.
1816: THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER
You could forgive the young patriots in the United States for taking a few extra deep breaths in late 1815 and early 1816.
Since the late 1790s, chaos ruled Europe after the fall of King Louis XVI of France. The French Revolution exploded and the "Reign of Terror" dominated European politics.
Here in the United States, both Presidents Washington and then Adams paced nervously in the White House. Sure, we won our freedom and independence, but the warring powers of Great Britain, France and Spain could return.
It was during this time, a young artillery officer named Napoleon Bonaparte rose up and ruled France. For 15 years, several European nations fought each other on the fields of battle. From Madrid to Moscow, Napoleon left a path of death and destruction in his wake.
Napoleon's rule would come to an end in 1815 on the battlefields at Waterloo. That same year, President Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent with Great Britain, ending our War of 1812.
There was a false sense of peace at last.
With Napoleon exiled on the island of St. Helena and the United States at peace and focused on expanding its borders westward, life in our young country seemed to be at a point where it was settling down. No more war, revolutions or worrying if our country would be soon invaded again.
Yet, just two months before Napoleon's defeat, a far larger explosion that would disrupt the life around the world was taking place in far off Indonesia.
On April 5, 1815 in Indonesia, people began to feel rumbles that grew more violent by the day. Four months later, the volcano known as Mount Tambora exploded.
This volcanic explosion would be the largest in recorded history.
Approximately one-third of the mountain itself would fragment from the eruption and explosion. Mount Tambora's cataclysmic blast took two whole weeks to settle and die out.
Mount Tambora's Crater
In the immediate surroundings of Indonesia, ash and aerosols were pushed into the atmosphere. The blanket of airborne debris was so thick, the sun was completely blotted from view.
Darkness descended around the island. Much like the eruption of Pompeii, people simply disappeared into the dust. However, the real danger was just beginning for the United States.
As the finer mountain particles floated up to the stratosphere and into jet streams, the blast debris cloud would created a thick blanket of dark skies and winter over each continent. One of the first people in America to notice the bizarre weather patterns was none other than Thomas Jefferson. He penned:
"The spring has been unusually dry and cold. our average morning cold for the month of May in other years has been 63° of Fahrenheit. In the present month it has been to this day an average of 53° and one morning as low as 43°. Repeated frosts have killed the early fruits and the crops of tobacco and wheat will be poor."
Jefferson's last remark about the frosts killing early fruits would develop into a major national crisis. That summer, the skies over America darkened as sunlight was literally was blocked by all the volcanic ash and dust.
People froze to death or starved. As conditions worsened, millions of American had their nerves and level of preparedness severely tested.
Remember the shocking summer scenario I mentioned earlier?
On June 6, 1816, six inches of snow fell over the greater New England area. There were flurries in Boston. The day after, 18 inches of snow was dumped on Cabot, VT.
Earlier in April, Americans were enjoying pleasantly warm temps at around 74 degrees. At that time, they never expected a June gloom where the thermometer would reveal summertime temperatures as low as 30 degrees.
Americans expecting to wear lighter clothing during the warm-weather season now had to throw on heavy woolen coats to survive.
Meanwhile, American farmers began experiencing massive crop failures.
Prices for food skyrocketed from the shortages as many patriots struggled to eat and make ends meet. The U.S. government simply had no means or ideas on how to combat a time when warmth and sunshine was replaced with cold and darkness.
American crops froze and died
Along with the crop failures came rampant outbreaks of disease.
The human body, when malnourished, becomes weaker and immune systems are compromised. People simply didn't have the food nutrition to fight off infections, including something as simple as a common cold. Cholera became the bane of everyone's existence as this little known disease became the 19th century's bubonic plague.
It would take almost two years for weather patterns to return to normal.
Yet, as miserable as the "Year Without a Summer" was, Americans found a way to survive and thrive. With food scarce, innovations thrived. With the main form of transportation being horses, new methods of traveling were invented. It's during this time period that we saw the first bicycles rolling through city streets. New forms of artwork emerged as the volcanic ash created stunning sunset colors never seen before.
Most importantly, the "Year Without a Summer" reminded us how critical it is to be prepared for things which are out of our control. We cannot possibly prepare for every difficult scenario, but we should try.
Learning from our nation's past and knowing that history repeats itself, it is the responsibility of every patriot to prepare for unforeseen circumstances of this nature.
Enjoy our warm summer months - they are never guaranteed!
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Read last week's Survival Scout: THE HUNGRY HISTORY OF WASHINGTON'S ARMY