Weird History
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1816 Was Known As 'The Year Without A Summer' - Here's What Happened

Updated October 17, 2019 359k views13 items

The early 1800s proved to be an interesting time. This period experienced one of the earliest recorded instances of global climate change. In addition, the War of 1812 ended; Napoleon Bonaparte lost at Waterloo; and Otto von Bismarck was born. The year 1816, in particular, stands out as being almost as tragic as 536 CE.

Known as the "Year Without a Summer," 1816 negatively impacted the entire world, from the most poverty-stricken farmer in China to Thomas Jefferson. In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted, and its aftermath spurred droughts, crop failure, and endless winter.

The volcanic activity altered weather systems, triggered disease, and destabilized regimes. Historians struggle to cite a specific number of lives that were lost during the period, but at least 10 million people passed - many experienced a weather-induced cholera epidemic. The Year Without a Summer also profoundly impacted culture and art in the 19th century, inspiring Gothic and Romantic masterpieces.

The Mount Tambora volcanic eruption changed the course of history.

  • Photo: NASA Landsat7 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    People Around The World Didn't Immediately Notice The Volcanic Eruption At Mount Tambora

    Indonesia's Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, and humankind faced one of history's most significant geological events the following year. Some scientists believe Mount Tambora's eruption was 10 times as mighty as that of Krakatau in 1883.

    However, a while passed before the world felt Tambora's effects. Europe was reeling from the Napoleonic Wars; the United States was constructing a new nation; and the Chinese Qing Dynasty was pursuing an aggressive resettlement plan.

    As the enormous ash plume made its way across the world, it put pressure on entire communities.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Event Claimed At Least 80,000 Lives In And Near Indonesia

    Analysts disagree on an exact number of lives lost due to Mount Tambora's eruption. However, even conservative estimates suggest around 10,000 people perished in the initial eruption, and another 70,000 passed in the subsequent months.

    The largest volcanic event in modern history, the 1815 burst garnered a Volcanic Explosivity Index of seven on a scale of eight.

  • The Global Climate Dropped Around Three Degrees Celsius In 1816

    Though a three-degree temperature drop may not appear particularly profound, this change in weather had wide-reaching consequences in 1816. The ash cloud generated by the volcano made its way to the stratosphere, reflecting incoming sunlight and cooling the Earth.

    The wind disrupted weather systems and increased rainfall across much of the northern hemisphere.

  • Photo: James Mahoney / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Eruption Likely Led To One Of The Worst Irish Potato Famines

    The best-known Irish Potato Famine occurred between 1845-1849. However, many primary sources insist a series of potato famines affected the country in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is believed that Mount Tambora's eruption caused an eight-week-long rainy period in Ireland.

    As a result, local crops failed and famine ensued, leading to a typhus epidemic from 1816 to 1819. Roughly 100,000 people perished.