I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguish’d. The opening line of Byron’s poem Darkness
Not much summer in Grater Wellington
By Roger Childs
For Kapiti and Wellington people there has been virtually no summer.
There have been possibly a dozen days when the beach beckoned, compared with over a hundred in the early months of last year.
A couple of weeks ago Wellington sunshine hours for the first 70 days of the year were nearly 100 behind 2016.
But our absent summer, pales into insignificance compared with what happened in the Northern Hemisphere in mid 1816.
Eruptions on a stupendous scale
The colossal explosions of Indonesia’s Mt Tambora in mid April 1815 were to have huge world-wide ramifications.
The series of eruptions was the greatest volcanic outburst in human history. On the Volcanic Explosivity Index it rates a 7 out of 8. (Krakatoa in 1883, gets a 6, and Mt St Helens in 1980, a 5.)
Tambora’s outburst is estimated to have released 150 cubic km of material into the air (25 times more than the Mt St Helens eruption), and the volcanic column probably rose over 40 km high!
1816: the summer that never was
Already in the grip of the ’Little Ice Age’, many people froze to death or died of starvation, as the devastating effects of the eruption took their toll. Pam Childs
It killed tens of thousands in southeast Asia at the time, and thousand more in Europe and North America in the ‘summer’ of 1816.
Snow fell in June in parts of North America and the weather in Europe during mid 1816 was cold, gloomy and wet. The atmosphere was darkened for much of the time and for weeks people never saw the bright sun.
Crop production was well down, food prices went up and starvation was widespread.
In addition to food shortages, the natural climate change caused disease outbreaks, widespread migration of people looking for a better home and religious revivals as people tried to make sense of it all. USA Today
Some unusual outcomes
Because the price of oats sky-rocketed, many people couldn’t afford to feed their horses.
This may have helped inspire a German man named Karl Drais to invent a way to get around without a horse: the bicycle. UCAR Centre for Education.
It also had an impact on literature.
Mary Shelley, hunkering down in Switzerland, was inspired by the gloomy weather to write the ultimate Gothic novel, Frankenstein.
Meanwhile in America, the dismal weather in New England and other eastern states encouraged many people to head westwards in search of better places to live.
Fortunately by late 1816 the ash in the atmosphere fell to earth and the following year Eurasia and North America had a normal summer.