A year without a summer

  • Flooding in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire during June 2012. Photo: John Giles/PA Wire

    Crater of Mount Tambora, as seen from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA.

    An unsettled and windy weekend to come as low pressure crosses the UK. Image: MeteoGroup.

  • A year without a summer
    20.06.2013 17:00

    Cool and unsettled has been the theme of recent summers in the UK with few prolonged periods of hot and dry weather on offer. The summer of 2011 was the coolest since 1993, and temperatures only widely exceeded 25C on ten days. While fractionally warmer, summer 2012 was still below average and also remarkably wet, as a meandering jet stream brought the highest June to August rainfall since 1912. But nearly two centuries ago in 1816, the UK and various other parts of the northern hemisphere were in the grip of an exceptional summer that saw food shortages and famine develop as a result of unusual weather patterns.

    “The year without a summer” as it was to become known was primarily the result of the super-colossal eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the previous year, believed to be the largest globally in over a millennium. An estimated 150 cubic kilometres of ash and debris were ejected into the atmosphere, producing a sulphate aerosol layer in the stratosphere that reduced incoming solar radiation. A number of other large volcanic eruptions had also occurred globally in the few years preceding Tambora, and the fact that these occurred during a period of low solar activity known as the Dalton Minimum may also have been a contributory factor.

    Across the north-east USA and Canada, frontal systems brought blasts of arctic air from May to September. The most notorious of these struck in June and brought an abrupt end to an early summer heatwave. Frost and snow were reported across Quebec, New England and the Mid Atlantic States with a foot of snow falling on Quebec City between 6th and 10th. Despite a recovery mid-month, further frosts occurred in July and August and river ice was observed as far south as Pennsylvania. Crops that had been replanted after the June cold wave were lost, leading to a poor harvest and rising prices.

    Heavy rains and low temperatures in western Europe gave the UK its third coolest summer on record with a CET of just 13.37C (just behind 1695 and 1725), and in Ireland, rain fell on 142 of 153 days between May and September. Failed harvests led to famine, and riots and looting broke out in some European cities. The famine led to an estimated 200,000 deaths and may have contributed to the typhus epidemic that swept across Europe from 1817-19.

    Back in the UK this week, and temperatures have taken a dip after Wednesday’s warmer interlude, which saw the mercury rise to a high of 27.2C in Southampton in the continental airmass. Conditions look set to deteriorate further into the weekend as a low pressure system sweeps across the UK, bringing showers or longer spells of rain to all areas with blustery winds too.

    By: Billy Payne