Mount Tambora is an active volcano located in Indonesia. It erupted in 1815 — the largest eruption ever recorded, with an explosion equivalent to 800 megatons of TNT. (For comparison’s sake, the strongest ever atomic bomb detonated, the Soviet Tsar Bomba, was 50 megatons. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima? About .2, if not less.) The explosion could be heard over 1,500 miles away and an estimated 70,000 people died due to the explosion, with roughly 10,000 directly. Tambora wiped out many, many people and things.
Including the subsequent summer.
The eruption spewed volcanic ash into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and therefore cooling the Earth as a whole. This was joined by eruptions from other volcanoes, adding to the effect, and a dip in solar activity known as the Dalton Minimum. The end result: unseasonably cool summers in Western Europe and the Northeast United States and Canada. For example, Quebec City received nearly a foot of snow — in June.
Being 1816, this was not a minor inconvenience akin to making trips to the Jersey shore unpleasant, especially from a North American perspective. At the time, most of the United States’ population was on its eastern shore states (and there were only 18 states total at the time). The U.S. economy, still quite agrarian, was centered similarly, and the impact on crops enormous. For example, the price of oats — about 12 cents per bushel in a normal year — skyrocketed up over 700% to 92 cents per bushel.
Overseas, times were similarly tough. Famine struck Wales, where crops died before they were able to be harvested. The famine and eight weeks of non-stop rain in Ireland led to poor health and conditions generally, and, ultimately, to an outbreak of typhus. Germany saw a severe rise in food prices, leading to riots. China experienced weather cold enough to freeze livestock, such as water buffalo, to death, while India was hit by a delayed monsoon season which helped spread cholera across the nation — and into Moscow.
The events of 1816 have become known as the “Year Without a Summer,” and, per one historian, is “the last great subsistence crisis in the western world” to date.
Bonus fact: If there is a silver lining, it comes again from the high cost of oats. A German inventor, seeing a fleet of horse-drawn carriages to expensive to power (as horses eat oats) created the velocipede, a predecessor to the modern-day bicycle (and, in some sense, motor vehicles).
From the Archives: Volcanic Scream: How a volcanic eruption changed the world of art, in ways one would never imagine.
Related reading: “Volcano Weather: The Story of 1816, the Year Without a Summer” by Henry M. Stommel. Three reviews, two of five stars and one of four. 177 pages about that topic discussed above, but not available on Kindle.