Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Year Without A Summer

By Suzanne Norquist

Last month, I wrote about the Little Ice Age, a period of about 500 years from the 1300s to the 1800s with colder-than-normal temperatures through most of the northern hemisphere.

The “Year Without a Summer” refers to 1816, near the end of the Little Ice Age, when summer failed to arrive in the Eastern United States and most of Europe. Snow and freezing temperatures dominated the months of June, July, and August. Southern states also experienced unseasonably cold temperatures. China and India suffered from monsoons and the resulting floods.

This was before weather forecasts and atmospheric models. No one knew how long the cold would last. When crops froze, people tried to replant that summer only to have them freeze again. For all they knew, the winter could last for many years.

In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia, spewing ash into the atmosphere. It was the largest eruption in over one thousand years. This was after three years of significant volcanic activity worldwide. A fine layer of ash blocked the sun, lowering global temperatures.

At the time, many people blamed sunspots. Haze from the volcanic ash allowed for easier viewing of sunspots with the naked eye. People sought any explanation for the severe cold, and sunspots was as likely a candidate as any.

The ash created a red haze in the sky, particularly noticeable at sunrise and sunset. It shows up in paintings of the time. The coloring gave a hint of despair.

Many areas suffered from famine, leading to rioting and looting. Some regions didn’t experience food shortages, but prices skyrocketed everywhere because crops could be exported.

Food crises only lasted for a season, but the Year Without a Summer created some long term effects around the globe.

In China, widespread flooding caused the cholera bacteria to mutate into a more resilient strain. No one had immunity, and many died. This strain emerged in Asia, and by 1831, it had reached Western Europe. The following year, cases were found in America. Even today, it has not been completely eradicated.

In New England, the harsh conditions pushed westward expansion. Farmers searched for a more hospitable climate. More than ten thousand people moved out of Vermont alone. Who knows how long settlement of the United States would have taken if summer snow hadn’t prodded people to new territories?

Lack of feed for horses caused German inventor Karl Drais to design the velocipede, the precursor to modern bicycles. The human-powered device didn’t require animals or feed for them.

The dreary mood of the cold and red winter skies led to the creation of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley spent a Swiss holiday indoors with her friends, where they made up ghost stories while pondering the unrelenting cold and darkness. She drafted the Frankenstein story there.

Lastly, the Year Without a Summer increased the world’s supply of opium. In China, farmers needed more durable and profitable crops. They turned to poppies. This gave rise to the “Golden Triangle” of opium production.

The sky eventually cleared, and warm weather returned the following year, but the summer of 1816 left lasting impacts on the world.

So, remember, when you are slathering aloe on your sunburn, things could be worse. It could be a another year without a summer.




”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?


Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.



  1. Thank you for posting. Wow, I didn't know about this!! It sounds horrible, but then I am not a fan of winter.

    1. I'm already tired of winter. This does sound horrible.

  2. Volcanic activity has caused problems on this planet for hundred of billions of years. So no surprise that it cause a year round winter for a year way back then. Very interesting thanks for posting this.

    1. As I researched this, I noticed the news about current volcanic erruptions and wondered if it could happen again.

    2. With Volcanic erruptions anything is possible.