No Summer, No Vacation, No Fun, No Kidding – WIF Into History

Leave a comment

Global Impact

of the Year

Without a Summer

The year 1816 was the first since the onset of the French Revolutionary Wars in which the western world was at peace. In Europe, the nightmare of the Napoleonic Wars began to fade. In North America, Washington DC began the process of rebuilding after being burned by the British Army during the War of 1812. Global commerce was expected to thrive, unimpeded by the raiding ships of nations locked in a death grip with each other. Farmers expected strong markets for their crops, shippers looked forward to record profits, manufacturers hoped the return of peace would create demand for their products. But then a funny thing happened. There was no summer. As late as August of that year, hard freezes in the farmlands of upper New York and New England destroyed what little crops had been planted during a spring of continuous snow and freezing weather.

1816 was the year of no summer, not just in North America, but across the Northern Hemisphere. Record cold, freezing rains, floods, and frosts occurred throughout the months in which warmer weather could be reasonably expected, given centuries of its showing up more or less on schedule. It did not, and without global communication to understand why, the underpinnings of civilization – farming and trade – suffered across the globe. The year with no summer is now understood to have been the result of a series of geological events which masked the sun with volcanic dust, but to those who endured it, it was simply an inexplicable disaster. The commercial effects continued to be felt for years, as financial markets roiled from the unexpected disruption of trade and investment. For those unconcerned with climate change it remains a stark, though wholly ignored, warning of the power of nature. Here are just a few of its impacts.

10. Thomas Jefferson found his indebtedness increased by drastic crop failures

In 1815 former president Thomas Jefferson, living in retirement at his Monticello estate, offered his personal library as replacement for the losses suffered by the Library of Congress when the British burned the American capital. The sale was a gesture which gained Jefferson some temporary praise, but more importantly to him it provided an infusion of badly needed money. The former president was broke, and the $23,950 (almost $400,000 today) he received alleviated some, but by no means all, of his indebtedness. Jefferson was relying on a strong crop from his Virginia farms in 1816 to reduce his debts further. In his Farm Book for 1816 Jefferson noted the unusual cold as early as May; “repeated frosts have killed the early fruits and the crops of tobacco and wheat will be poor,” he wrote.

Jefferson struggled with the bizarre weather throughout the summer months, recording temperature and rainfall data still used by scientists studying the phenomenon, but he was unaware of its cause. He did lament its effect. Jefferson’s corn and wheat crops were reduced by two thirds, his tobacco even more so, and the former president slipped yet more deeply into debt, as did most of the farmers of the American states of Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and all of New York and New England. The failure of tobacco crops was particularly devastating, ships which normally would have carried the cured leaves to Europe lay idle, and British tobacconists shifted to plantations in Africa as the source of the weed, in high demand in Europe. During the summer, Jefferson reported frosts in every month of the year in the higher elevations of Virginia, and in every state north of his farms.

9. Prices of grains spiked as the summer went on, and remained high for nearly three years

In Virginia, oats were a crop which was considered essential to the survival of the economy. Oats were consumed by humans in the form of porridge, and in oat breads and cakes, but the grain was also an essential part of the diet of horses. Horses were of course critical in the early 19th century as motive power for plows and transportation. The shortage of oats caused the farmers who produced it to respond to the insatiable demand for the grain by raising their prices on the little they were able to harvest. According to Jefferson and other Virginia farmers, oats cost roughly 12 cents per bushel in 1815, a price already inflated by the demand placed on the crops by the recently ended War of 1812, when armies needed horses for cavalry and as draft animals.

By midsummer of 1816, oats had increased to nearly $1 per bushel, an increase which most were unable to pay. The shortage of grain, (as well as other fodder) meant what horses were available were often undernourished. European markets were unable to make up the shortage, as Europe too was locked in the grip of the low temperatures and excessive rains. In Europe the cost of maintaining horses increased dramatically, and the use of horseback for individual travel became the privilege of the wealthy few. A German tinkerer and inventor by the name of Karl Drais began experimenting with a device consisting of a piece of wood equipped with a seat upon which a person would perch while moving the legs in a manner similar to walking. Called variously the velocipede, the laufmaschine, and the draisine, it was the precursor for what is now known as the bicycle.

8. Temperatures throughout the Northern Hemisphere were abnormally cold, especially in New England

The New England states were particularly hard hit during the summer of 1816 by abnormally low temperatures. In the New England states, which were at the time still mostly agricultural, every month of the year suffered at least one hard frost, devastating crops in the fields and the fruit trees which had managed to blossom during the long and wet spring. On June 6, a Plymouth, Connecticut clockmaker noted in his diary that six inches of snow had fallen overnight, and he was forced to wear heavy mittens and his greatcoat during his customary walk to his shop. Sheep were a product of many New England farms, well adapted to grazing on the hillsides in pastures too small to accommodate cattle herds. Shorn in late winter, as was customary, many died in the unexpected cold, and the price of lamb and mutton reached record highs.

By the end of June, temperatures in New England had begun a rollercoaster ride which they would retain for the rest of the summer, further damaging crops and livestock. Late June in western Massachusetts saw temperatures reach 101 degrees only to plummet to the 30s over the Fourth of July. Men went about in their hayfields harvesting their sparse yields dressed in overcoats. Beans – long a staple crop of New England – froze in the fields. From Puritan pulpits across the region, the weather was attributed to a righteous judgment of God. In August there was measurable snowfall in Vermont, and though winter wheat crops yielded some harvests, the cost of moving the grain to market was often prohibitive. New Englanders, especially in the rural areas, began to forage off the land in the manner of their ancestors, surviving on what game and wild plants they could find in the woods.

7. The lack of summer provided one of literature’s most infamous characters

Most people had no idea what were the scientific reasons behind the bizarre weather in the summer months of 1816. Many of the wealthy, better able to weather the storm, so to speak, went about their business despite the adverse weather conditions. In Europe, a group of young English writers and their guests summered at Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The group included Lord Byron and an English poet named Percy Shelley, who brought with him his wife, the former Mary Wollstonecraft. Housebound by the continuing inclement weather (Mary later wrote that it was an ungenial summer), the group was forced to find ways to entertain themselves. Bored of playing parlor games one of the members, probably Lord Byron, suggested that each member of the group write a story, along the lines of a ghost story, for the entertainment of the rest.

Mrs. Shelley at first balked at the idea, unable to come up with a plot until mid-July, when she confided to her diary that at the group’s nightly discussions she arrived at the idea of “Perhaps a corpse could be reanimated.” She began writing a short story, which grew into a full length gothic novel which she entitled,  “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” Her husband was later credited with assisting Mary with the work, though the extent of his contributions to the classic tale of horror remains disputed by scholars. Mary Shelley later credited her inspiration to a waking dream which came upon her during one of her long walks in the woods around Geneva, immersed in the gloom of the strange weather that summer. Shelley wrote that while her husband Percy – who committed suicide in 1822 – helped her with technical aspects of the writing, the tale wholly originated with her.

6. The year with no summer coincided with the end of the Little Ice Age

The year without summer is commonly ascribed to the summer months of 1816, though its effects were felt for three years, part of the final months of what is known as the Little Ice Age. Crop failures were acute in the first harvest season of the period, and such continued for at least another two years. Wet and cold weather impeded planting in the spring as well as harvests in the fall, and the size of the harvests from North America to China were insufficient to support the populations. Hunger became famine in many areas, including Europe and China, residents of rural communities migrated to urban areas in search of food through begging, and population density grew those diseases which strengthen among hungry populations, including cholera and typhus. Medicine of the time was inadequate to treat either.

The result was a globally felt – at least in the Northern Hemisphere – calamity, which encompassed starvation, diseases, and popular unrest for a period of three years. Hundreds of thousands of former soldiers, veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, roamed Europe seeking the means to feed themselves and their families. In England sailors who had manned the ships of His Majesty’s Navy found themselves unemployed as warships were decommissioned, and the absence of crops reduced the amount of goods available for international trade. Ships rotted at their moorings. By the summer of 1817 organized groups of former soldiers across Europe were rioting in the belief that government warehouses held grain being kept from the starving people. In the United States, especially in still largely agricultural New England, failed crops caused farmers to pull up stakes and head for the promised lands west of the Ohio River.

5. The Swiss disaster of 1816-1817 was among the worst of the global catastrophe

Over a period of 153 days between April and September, 1816, Geneva, Switzerland recorded 130 days of rain. The temperature remained too cold for the snow in the Alps to melt, which prevented the disaster from being far worse. The streets, and more importantly the sewers and drains, of Geneva were flooded, and Lake Geneva was too swollen with rain to absorb the runoff. Meanwhile local crops were drowned by the incessant chill rains, and the harvest of 1816 was a complete failure, leading to the last recorded famine on the European continent. The lack of fodder led to the demise of hundreds of thousands of draft animals and cattle and oxen died in the waters in the fields and alongside the Swiss roads. Hundreds of thousands of Swiss were rendered homeless, living in the streets and fields unable to feed themselves, as the brutal cold of an Alpine winter settled upon them.

Beginning in early 1817 the death rate in Switzerland, already well above normal due to starvation and disease, increased by more than 50%. Oxen, horses, and cattle dead from starvation and rotting in the fields became sources of food for the desperate populace. Aid from European neighbors was nonexistent, as the harvests on the continent and in England were similarly sparse. France had but recently survived its revolution and the ravages of the Napoleonic Era, it was short of manpower, and its newly restored monarchy was inadequate to the challenges of the disaster which had befallen. As the seemingly unending winter lengthened it soon became obvious to the people of Europe that those of wealth and privilege were better able to cope, and that the burden of suffering was being borne by the urban and rural poor.

4. The Year with no summer was well documented by the educated and wealthy, including Thomas Jefferson

In the United States, former president Thomas Jefferson left behind a record of meteorological events which was so detailed it remains in use by scholars and scientists studying the global disaster two centuries later. In modern times it is compared to scientific data acquired through means not understood in Jefferson’s day. For example, the studies of tree rings cut from trees which were alive during the catastrophe in Vermont indicate that for the period including 1816 there was little or no growth, which corresponds to the notes left by Jefferson in his Farm Book and other diaries, recording observations he made hundreds of miles to the south. Among the observations left by Jefferson are records of rainfalls, which while devastatingly heavy in some areas were scant in others, including Jefferson’s Virginia.

Jefferson wrote to Albert Gallatin towards the end of the summer of 1816 describing the shortage of rainfall which had been prevalent during the ending growing season, as well as the unseasonably cold temperatures. Jefferson, who used the records he had prepared every year since occupying his “Little Mountain” as a basis, informed Gallatin that an average normal rainfall for the month of August was 9 and 1/6 of an inch. Rainfall for August 1816 had been less than one inch; “we had only 8/10 of an inch, and still it continues”. He also noted the continuing cold weather conditions, including the frosts well to the north of Virginia, of which he had learned through his voluminous correspondence. Yet not Jefferson, nor any other student of science or the weather of the time, was able to postulate the global disaster had been due to a natural event, occurring many thousands of miles away.

3. In England, the army was called out to crush urban uprisings of the starving

England, which had been instrumental in the formation of the coalitions which crushed Napoleon, was particularly hard hit by the lack of a growing season. Unable to feed itself with the best of harvests, England found its own crops devastated by the adverse weather and its trading partners unable to provide food in sufficient quantities to make them affordable for most of its population. England had already endured years of shortages as the nation threw its might behind the wars with Napoleon, and the people by 1816 had had enough. As early as in the spring of 1816 food and grain riots were experienced in the west counties. In the town of Ely armed mobs locked up the local magistrates and fought the militia which mustered to rescue them.

By the following spring mobs in the urban centers of the midlands were common. Ten thousand armed and angry people rioted in Manchester that March. The summer of 1817 saw the British Army called to quell riots and other uprisings in England, Scotland, and Wales, while the transports to the newly established penal colonies were increased. Local landlords and magistrates often ignored the pleas of the authorities in London, establishing their own mini-fiefdoms through the promises of bread and grain. In England, as well as on the European continent, demands from the wealthier classes led to an increase in more authoritarian governments and the subsequent loss of civil liberties – such as they were at the time – in response to the international demand for food. On the other side, the suspicion that governments were hoarding food and grain at the expense of the poor led to a rise in radical thought, especially in France and the German principalities.

2. The Great Migration from New England to the west began in 1816

 

Most history books attribute the movement of the American agricultural population to the west following the War of 1812 to the end of the threat from the Indian tribes formerly supported by their British allies. The end of British influence was no doubt part of the mass migration, but it takes more than just the potential of new lands to uproot families from farms held by their ancestors for generations. The catastrophic crop failures which began in 1816 were a large part of the motivation for the movement to the west, as indicated by the massive depopulation of the New England states which began during the Year with no Summer. Particularly hard hit were Vermont and New Hampshire, as residents packed up and left for the west. For many of them, it was a journey away from divine punishment, a new exodus to a promised land, a view encouraged from pulpits.

family from Vermont was one of them, which headed to the west into the lands which are now upstate New York, Indian Territory before the American victory during the War of 1812. The move coincided with a religious revival across America which became known as the Second Great Awakening, a return to the fundamentalism which had protected Americans from the ravages of an angry God, in the view of many. The family which settled for a time in New York were the Smiths, of Sharon, Vermont. While in their new home one of them, a son named Joseph, experienced the visions which eventually led to his discovery of the Book of Mormon. Without a rational explanation for the seemingly apocalyptic weather, divine explanations sufficed, not only among the Smith family, but with thousands of families fleeing what they were unable to understand, in search of an explanation and deliverance.

1. During the global cooling, the Arctic experienced warming and ice melt

As nearly all of the Northern Hemisphere in the climes occupied by humans felt decreased temperatures and abnormal rain patterns, the Arctic, including the ice cap, experienced a sharp increase in temperature which led to a melting of the ice at the top of the world. The receding ice cap allowed explorers, especially those from the United States and Great Britain, to travel deeper than ever before into the polar region, using waterways which until then had been unwelcoming sheets of ice. Since the days of Henry Hudson and the earliest English exploration of North America, the quest for the fabled Northwest Passage had occupied the minds of explorers and adventurers, and the opportunity presented by changing weather conditions was too good to pass up. 1818 was the first year in a new series of English led Polar Expeditions which continued for most of the 19th century.

Among them was an expedition led by Englishman John Ross which included a counter-clockwise navigation around Baffin Bay, which had the salutary effect of opening the waters for the exploitation of whaling ships. Though the Northwest Passage eluded him, as it did so many others over history, the boon to the whaling industry was immediate, and whalers from Great Britain and the United States were soon delivering the fine oil for illumination to ports around the world. By 1820 the effects of the Year with no Summer were relegated to history, a part of family lore in which elders described to children the weather events of the past as far more consequential than those of the current day. Unknown to them, the real effects continued for decades, and in some ways continue to this day.


No Summer, No Vacation, No Fun, No Kidding –

WIF Into History

Melting the Polar Ice – WIF Chicken Little Chronicles

Leave a comment

Things That

Would Happen

if the Polar Ice

Caps Melted

Hey! Ever lie awake at night, thinking about the meaning of life, exactly how much money you’ve got stashed away in your mattress… and then your mind wanders to what’s going on with the polar ice caps? We’re not surprised, there are many people – both sleepy and quite wide awake – who are giving this topic serious thought.

The polar ice caps are already melting, at quite a rapid speed. From 1979 to 2006, Greenland’s ice sheet had an increase of 30% in the melting rate. You can thank this melting for some of the truly odd and extreme weather we’ve seen, all over the world and perhaps right in your backyard. Whether you’ve had three feet of snow when you usually only get a couple of inches at most, or if you’re seeing temps like 100 degrees F when summer is most often in the 80s. The kids may be thrilled for snow days home from school, but the adults know something pretty odd is going on.

Some scientists say this will take 5,000 years to happen. Others estimate we will see the polar ice caps really start to melt by 2030. One thing is for certain: people are starting to sit up and pay attention to this topic, because it is no longer “just” a possibility – it is a strong likelihood to happen one day, whenever that might be.

Yes, we do want you to sleep soundly and regularly. You’ve got to protect all of that cash in your mattress after all! But we thought you should realize a few of the simple things that will happen, should our polar ice caps melt completely.

10. If the Ice Caps and Glaciers Melt, the Oceans Will Rise

No, this is not the typical high tide versus low tide you see when you go to the beach. Consider the oceans getting higher by 216 feet. To give you a sense of the size of that, the Mount Rushmore sculpture in the Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota, with the four President’s faces sculpted into it is 465 feet high. So George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln would be about nose high in ocean water!

And if you live in a coastal area, well… let’s just say you’ll be much, much more than nose-deep. Say goodbye to that beach house you’ve been saving up for with that money in your mattress, because it’ll go the way of Atlantis.

9. Extreme Weather Will Continue and Get More Severe

If we do lose the ice caps, weather conditions in your area may become quite unpredictable. This is actually history repeating itself. In prehistoric times, harsh weather was one of the top reasons to cause the extinction of many species that used to roam the earth. No, not the guys who wore mullets – think more along the lines of dinosaurs.

Today people have many more resources than people did in centuries past to survive weather that can be extremely cold, hot, windy, or any other type of circumstance that may occur. We are fortunate to live in times with items such as solar energy, batteries, electricity, canned or other pre-packaged foods, medicine that can last for awhile, boats, planes, and other types of vehicles which can navigate over various terrains. But extreme weather still causes hundreds, and even thousands of casualties each year, and it would likely only get worse as the weather gets more extreme and violent.

8. Millions of People in the Arctic Will Have to Relocate

Scientists say that this could happen as early as 2030, which actually isn’t as far off as we might think. Heck, that’s only three World Cups away. Keep in mind this includes everyone who lives in Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. Many of these are coastal communities and they will simply vanish, with no ice there to help protect them from storms.

You could see a situation where upwards of four million people will need to relocate to flee the changing, extreme weather conditions. And that’s not even mentioning all those people on the more southern coasts we alluded to earlier. In short, the world is about to get a lot smarter if the ice caps melt.

7. The Ocean Ecosphere Will Become Unpredictable

Now, Arctic regions are already seeing an increase in the fish that are in the waters. Five Arctic nations have promised to not participate in unregulated fishing in international waters. Scientists say that the photosynthetic plankton that lives out in the ocean will take the place of the algae, which grew on ice.

So fish and sea mammals will have plenty of nutritious food to eat, so that’s good at least. It is expected, in fact, without ice that fish and sea mammal populations could increase by up to 70%. While some of you may be thinking about enjoying the low cost of a seafood meal – a lot more is at stake here.

6. Give Polar Bears a Big Kiss Goodbye

You can do the same for the seals and walruses that call the Arctic home, too. Because without the ice, they are going to starve to death. The US Fish and Wildlife Service listed polar bears as a “threatened” species in 2008. It is estimated that there are 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic in total, with about 2,000 of them actively living on the polar ice. That’s not too many, right?

But we can see that other Arctic animals will quickly be “threatened” or “extinct,” only to be seen in the rare and lucky zoo. So that’s… something, we suppose?

5. Regrowing Polar Ice Goes Way Beyond What Anyone Wants to Do

There may be a few of you responsible citizens who are reading this article and saying, “well, if we’re running out of this, why don’t we create more of it?” The scientists have already pitched that big idea and basically have struck out. The steps needed to limit the ice becoming warm are things that most people and countries simply don’t want to make the efforts to do. They would need to create large forests from land and then use high-tech technology to pull the carbon dioxide out of the air.

That would help to slow down the warming of the polar ice caps. To actually grow the ice caps, countries would need to do so much more. So if they are unwilling to take the steps to slow down the warming, it is clear that they won’t help to grow ice. You can put down your ice cube tray, we know you were really trying to help!

4. Enjoy Miami and Shanghai While They’re Here

As the polar ice caps melt, the beautiful coastal cities we know all around the world are going to change and some may even disappear. The shape of some countries may be quite different hundreds of years from now – than what you see today. Remember that whole “216 feet of rising water” thing we were talking about earlier? Yeah, this is where that comes into play. Most of Florida, New Orleans, and so many other cities around the world would eventually be underwater.

So now is the time to go visit those fantastic places you’ve always wanted to see, especially the ones that have an ocean view. When the polar ice caps melt, these cities may look quite different one day.

3. The Amazon Will be Bursting at the Seams

Admittedly, many today when they hear the word “Amazon” first think of shopping online. But long before you could click a mouse, there was the mighty and impressive Amazon River. If the polar ice caps melt, this river will be changed significantly and permanently.

The massive influx of new water around the world would conceivably flood the Amazon, pushing it well past its capacity. What is rather unique is that it actually would transform into a sea. The Amazon River would then cover quite a bit of Brazil’s landscape.

2. Deserts Would Become Much Larger

All around the globe, you’d see major growth to the world’s deserts. Yes, that means the ice caps melting would make some places even more dry. It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s true. Australia’s desert would cover most of the country.

So living in Australia would become quite different. Remember that some coastal cities in Australia will be lost, too. The southeastern part of Africa would become 100% desert. Terrain will change as the climates change, too.

1. This Isn’t Something Only the Arctic Should Worry About

Most of us would be dealing head-on with the polar ice cap “situation,” as a reality TV star might say. According to the Daily Mail, over 75% of the world’s people live at less than 300 feet above sea level, which sounds okay. It sounds like most of us would be safely out of harms way.

But keep in mind, the level of our oceans is expected to rise by more than 200 feet. Suddenly, if you’re living in Arkansas or Vermont, you may suddenly find yourself sitting on some beachfront property. Better start investing in Missouri farmland now… it could become a tropical paradise before too long!


Melting the Polar Ice –

WIF Chicken Little Chronicles

Cold, Snowy History

1 Comment
From Top Tenz

From Top Tenz

December 14, 1911: Roald Amundsen Reached South Pole

December 14, 1911: Roald Amundsen Reached South Pole

A Brief History

On December 14, 1911, Roald Amundsen of Norway narrowly beat a doomed English expedition to win the race to the South Pole!


Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find the Norwegian team of Amundsen (the tenth most famous explorer in history!) and 4 other men arriving just over a month before the Robert Scott led English expedition reached the South Pole only to find the Norwegian flag and evidence of Amundsen’s feat.

While the Norwegians made it back to base camp safely, the ill fated Englishmen died along the way back, carrying the crushing burden of knowing they had been beaten.

Roald Amundsen was an accomplished explorer and learned during his forays into Eskimo country (Inuit and Aleut Native Americans were then known as Eskimos) gave him the experience and the knowledge from the natives of how to survive in polar conditions.

Key items of knowledge included the use of meat to stave off disease, use of sled dogs, and how to use animal skin based clothing instead of the more conventional but less effective wool then used by Europeans.  Amundsen used this expertise to carefully equip and plan his expedition, and set off with 4 sleds pulled by 54 dogs.  His plan included eating some of the dogs on his return trip, which they did!  The 5 men returned with only 11 of what was once 54 dogs.

The doomed Scott expedition used a combination of inferior dogs, horses ill suited for polar conditions, and motorized sleds (an early version of snowmobiles).  In 1911 the state of gasoline engine reliability was nothing like today, and with the failure of his inferior animals, Scott and friends paid for their mistakes with their lives.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Roald Amundsen later led a trip to the North Pole in 1926 and became the first (with his companions) to verifiably reach the North Pole.  The previous expeditions of Cook, Peary and Byrd all claimed to have reached the North Pole earlier, but each of those claims are disputed today. (Note: Amundsen’s North Pole feat was achieved via aircraft.)

Amundsen died in 1928 in the Arctic while flying on a rescue mission, probably crashing into the Barents Sea.  He is remembered today with numerous land marks and bodies of water in the Arctic and Antarctic named after him.

 

Cold, Snowy History