In April 1815, a volcano known as Mount Tambora erupted in a massive explosion on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. It obliterated the top of the mountain and produced tsunamis, pyroclastic flows, and ash killing at least 10,000 islanders. The explosion propelled ash, pumice, and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere and impacted global temperatures. As a result, the year 1816 was known as the Year Without a Summer.
The first mention of the Mount Tambora explosion (also known as Mount Tomboro) appears in our archives in the fall of 1815. A British paper printed a letter from a merchant in Batavia (present-day Jakarta) describing the scene. The merchant said they heard the volcanic explosions even though they were some 800 miles away. He told of falling ash and total darkness at noon. He also reported that the waters around the island of Sumbawa were so full of tree trunks and pumice stones that they were practically unnavigable.
In February 1816, The Evening Post in New York printed an account of Mount Tambora’s explosion. It described minor explosions beginning April 4, 1815, culminating with a massive explosion on April 10, 1815. A sailor aboard a ship near Macassar heard the eruption and assumed his boat was under attack. “On the 5th of April, a firing of cannon was heard at Macassar – the sound appeared to come from the Southward, and continued at intervals all afternoon…During the night of the 11th, the firing was again heard, but much louder, and toward morning the reports were in quick succession – sometimes like three or four guns fired together, and so heavy – that they shook the ship, as they did the houses in the Fort. Some of the reports seemed so near that I sent people to the mast head to look out for the flashes.”
With nearly 36 cubic miles of ash, pumice, rock, and sulfur dioxide expelled into the atmosphere; the sunlight had difficulty reaching Earth. At that altitude, the sulfur dioxide reacted with water vapor to form sulfate aerosols, which floated above the rain and could not be washed out. One month after the eruption, papers in America blamed the unusual haze and weather on sunspots. The haze impacted temperatures, and the average global temperature dropped by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
On June 25, 1816, The Franklin Repository in Pennsylvania reported that snow blanketed the area. Around the same time, The Evening Post in New York described freezing temperatures and nearly a foot of snow. Farm animals in Vermont succumbed to the freezing temperatures as long-time residents said they’d never seen anything like it!
By July, things had not improved. The Alexandria Gazette in Virginia reported on frost and the possible scarcity of food. In Pennsylvania, the frost was so thick on the grass that it could be scooped up by the handful. On the other side of the pond, The Times in London reported, “The weather this year has been equally unseasonable almost everywhere.” A Scottish paper wrote of horrific hail and rainstorms across Europe that destroyed crops and property.
As fall approached, the Hartford Courant noted that 1816 would go down in history because there had been frost every month of the year. European papers complained that constant rains had ruined crops and created a famine.
Some estimates put the worldwide death toll from the Year Without a Summer at over 60,000. It would take scientists well into the 20th century to link the volcanic eruption and unusual weather of 1816.
If you would like to learn more about the Mount Tambora eruption and the Year Without a Summer, search Newspapers.com™ today!
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