On this last day of summer I have been reflecting on what an unusual time it has been : the highest summer rainfall of 182mm, some 40+ degree days mixed up with sudden temperature drops even resulting in snow in towns in other states, heavy storms with lashing rains, and even floods in Western Australia. In fact we have had the whole spectrum of weather at a time that is usually steady sunny weather.
And yet it seems not to compare with the weather experienced 200 years ago, particularly in the UK. A severe drop in global temperatures combined with a succession of volcanic eruptions was capped by the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa, in Indonesia (the Dutch East Indies), the largest known eruption in over 1,300 years, an explosion much larger than Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in Italy. Out of a population of 12,000+ people in the province of Tomboro, only twenty-six individuals survived. The impact covered over 1400 miles in circumference and an estimated 70,000 people died. The news spread to Europe via Sir Stamford Raffles, governor of Java at the time. The continuing after effects caused climatic changes around the world throughout 1816 and into 1817. Temperatures fell worldwide as the atmosphere was loaded with volcanic ash. In Europe crops had been poor for years due to the effects of the Napoleonic Wars. Now Europe suffered from food shortages and famine. Recently I was reading Laura Boyle's article about this bizarre summer of 1816, variously called the Year Without a Summer (also the Poverty Year, The Summer That Never Was, the Year There Was No Summer, and Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death.).
Cool temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in Britain and Ireland. Some families travelled long distances as refugees, begging for food, and riots broke out. The only plus seems to have been the spectacular sunsets throughout this period due to the pollution in the sky. In Chawton there was a frost in May, snow fell in June, temperatures rarely rose above single figures and the sun was rarely seen through the rain clouds for the months of summer. The final word goes to Jane Austen herself, who wrote in her letters,
"More rain again, by the look and sound of things..... oh, it rains again, it beats against the window". (September, 1816)
But, at the time, no-one knew the reason for the 'year without a summer'.