In the Loop

In the Loop: June 13, 2008 Archive

Cold summers, food crisis, high cost of transportation? We've seen it before.

Posted at 10:05 AM on June 13, 2008 by Sanden Totten

Yes, this summer in Minnesota is pretty cold. Not as cold as this one though: 1816 - the year without a summer.

In June of 1816 two snow storms swept the US and Canada causing havoc to food (and in a way, fuel) prices:

"Even though farmers south of New England did succeed in bringing some crops to maturity, maize and other grain prices rose dramatically. Oats, for example, rose from 12¢ a bushel the previous year to 92¢ a bushel . . and oats are a necessary staple for an economy dependent upon horses for primary transportation."

Temperatures would manically swing from 95 degrees to near freezing within hours. There were famines in America, Europe and Asia. Red snow fell in Italy.

Scientists now believe that the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia was the root cause of this strange year. The volcano sent up clouds of ash that disrupted weather patterns across the globe.

1816 did have some positive effects though. It led to the invention of the Dandy Horse, a predecessor to the modern bicycle (click the link for the delightful picture). It kept Mary Shelley inside, inspiring her to craft the horror masterpiece Frankenstein. And the volcanic ash in the air reportedly created some magnificent sunsets.

But all in all, 1816 was a very difficult year. It helps to add a little perspective to the strange occurrences we are going through now. But if the year without a summer teaches us anything, it's that our climate is a delicate and chaotic thing. We'd be smart to keep a close eye on it and do what we can to help keep it balanced.

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