Well, here we are – it’s finally summer. Or, at least, it will be in five days. And yet, for some reason it doesn’t really feel like summer to me. Maybe that’s just because the temperature this weekend was IN THE FORTIES. IN JUNE. WHAT THE HECK. Seriously, though, it’s been bizarrely cold and rainy here in the PNW. I know that that’s what most people think of the northwest as being like, but it’s usually not this bad.
I joked with my boss last week that maybe we’re seeing a redo of the Year Without a Summer. It certainly feels that way, at least. The Year Without a Summer refers to 1816. On April 10, 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia experienced a catastrophic eruption. The eruption was so large that it could be heard 240 miles away. The explosion demolished part of the mountain, bringing its peak from 14,000 feet high to 9,000 feet high. Over 10 cubic miles of material was ejected. Some of the fine ash was launched high into the atmosphere, where it circulated for months.
This ash contributed to a global cooling effect, causing temperatures to decrease by almost a full degree. That might not sound like very much, but as an average over the whole globe, this is a big deal. This disrupted the global climate enough to have severe effects. In many parts of the northern hemisphere, leading to the coldest summer in Europe from 1766-2000. The cool temperatures were enough to cause large crop failures in Europe, Asia, and America, leading to famine and a serious refugee crisis.
In Germany, a lack of oats to feed horses led to Karl von Drais’s invention of the velocipede – an early bicycle. In the United States, cold temperatures increased the number of people leaving the Northeast and setting up farms in the Midwest. A scientist, Justus von Liebig, grew up during the famine, which inspired him to develop chemical fertilizers.
And perhaps my favorite thing which can be attributed to this event is the writing of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John William Polidori were vacationing at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. However, the cold temperatures and rain forced them to stay inside. To relieve the boredom, Lord Byron suggested they each attempt to write a scary story. It was at this time that Mary Shelley had the inspiration to write Frankenstein. One of the themes Frankenstein explores is the outsider searching for a place to belong. Literature historians have suggested that this was a result of Mary Shelley seeing all the refugees displaced by the famines. Amusingly, though Lord Byron was the one to suggest the competition, he never really completed his story.
Earlier this year, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in the Tongan archipelago erupted. This eruption was only a 5 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), compared to Mount Tambora’s rating of 7. This means that Tongan eruption produced about 1/100th as much ejecta. As a result, it did not significantly impact Earth’s climate.
So although we did have a volcanic eruption earlier this year, and it has been very cold, those phenomena are evidently unrelated. I hope that those of you in the Southwest are staying cool, and that it doesn’t get quite that hot up here.
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