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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

The Year Without a Summer

The Year Without a Summer

After this winter’s crazy weather, coupled with the chill and wet of last summer, the more normal conditions the Farmers’ Almanac has predicted for the coming season should come as a relief. But last year’s soggy summer was nothing compared to the infamous “Year Without a Summer,” a weather event so devastating, people are still talking about it nearly 200 years later.

Referred to by many names, including “the poverty year” and “eighteen hundred and froze-to-death,” the year 1816 was literally a year without a summer across much of the Northern Hemisphere. Throughout not only North America, but also Northern Europe and parts of Asia, an exceptionally cold summer, featuring killing frosts in July and August, crippled food production. Crop failures and food shortages were so widespread that rioting and looting became common in the United Kingdom and France.

On this side of the Atlantic, many residents of New England and the Canadian Maritimes froze to death, starved, or suffered from severe malnutrition as storms–bringing a foot or more of snow– hit hard during May and June. Many others from the region pulled up their stakes and moved to Western New York and the Midwest, where the cold was less severe. In fact, the year without a summer is now believed to have been one major catalyst in the westward expansion of the United States.

Though the northeastern section of the continent was hardest hit, southern states still experienced their share of the cold. On July 4th of that year, for instance, the high temperature in Savannah, Georgia, was a chilly 46° F. As far south as Pennsylvania, lakes and rivers were frozen over during July and August.

So, what caused this tragically cold summer? The likely suspect was a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred during the winter of 1815, in particular, the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia, believed to be the largest eruption of the last 1,800 years. The volcano ejected a tremendous cloud of fine ash and dust was ejected into the stratosphere, where it remained for a very long time. This ash insulated the earth from the heat and light of the sun, resulting in a cooling effect throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

This ash also gave the sky a yellowish tinge in some areas, which can be seen in many landscape paintings from the era. Fortunately a summer like this had yet to repeat itself and the Almanac’s outlook for this summer is much more enjoyable.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.