Everybody talks about…the weather

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed history by W Klingaman and N Klingaman.

Here we sit worrying about global WARMING… But global cooling could be just as bad! One message of this book is that there’s a good deal we don’t know about atmosphere and climate. Research should be supported.

In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia exploded. Dirt and dust were flung into the upper atmosphere. The particles were big enough to block sunlight and too small to drop rapidly to earth. So the next year, the world’s weather was cold and stormy. Many areas experienced frost in every month of the year 1816. 

I’m from New England, so I paid particular attention to what was written about Maine and the surrounding areas. It was grim. Crop after crop was destroyed after planting, or before harvest. One consequence was the exodus of many residents, who decided to leave their rocky farms and head west.

One chapter of this book is entitled “Poverty and Misery”, and that sums it up. In Ireland, as hunger spread, civil authorities bemoaned that fact that the Irish clung to their habits of charity and community. They continued to shelter (and try to feed) wandering beggars. The beggars had fleas, which carried typhus. As people died, their families hosted traditional wakes, which offered another opportunity to spread disease. Along with food crops being lost, the Irish had difficulty harvesting the turf/peat they used for fires, so they were cold as well as hungry.

This book makes clear the changes that have come with improvements in communications and science. Nobody knew why summer never came in 1816. The extent of the problems wasn’t clear. The authors believe problems also arose in Asia and elsewhere, but there’s no documentary record.

We are fortunate to be able to predict some disasters. Imagine if we hadn’t know that Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy were coming! The loss of life would have been (even more) staggering. 

This book is well written. No scientific background is assumed. I would have liked a little more meteorology, but the history is detailed and interesting. Read and enjoy!


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