In 1816, summer brought a winter chill to region

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This summer has been wet - 17 inches of rain - and the wettest, according to weather records, since 1979. What lies ahead? A stormy and snowy winter? One can only speculate.

This summer was even cooler than normal by one degree, but it's hard to imagine that the temperature made much of a difference given the lingering memories of what seemed like an endless procession of hot days and sultry nights.

But the weirdest Baltimore summer on record was in 1816, when Old Man Winter refused to relinquish his grip on Maryland and the Northeast.

"Old chroniclers speak in awe of this terrible experience thrust upon mankind, and many of the superstitious thought it was the forerunner of the end of the world," wrote Amy D'Arcy Wetmore in a 1912 article in The Sun.

"Not one really warm day was reported, and in vain did our citizens look and pray for sunlight and heat. It is called in the old papers and journals of that time, a 'year without a summer,'" she wrote.

In a 1916 anniversary article, The Sun observed, "Old Sol was completely put to rout, and in his stead there came wintry blasts from the frozen North, which caused Baltimoreans to lay aside their Palm Beach suits - if they wore them in those days - and linen dusters and dig deep in their trunks for the overcoats and ear muffs.

"It was the coldest summer ever recorded. The presence of ice was almost a daily occurrence, blazing fires had to be kept constantly going and summer vegetation was throttled," the newspaper reported.

In April, as balmy winds summoned Marylanders from their winter slumbers, farmers began spring plowing while homeowners planted flowers and vegetables for summer harvest. At the end of the month, a killer frost destroyed most of their efforts.

Instead of bright sunshine and spring rains, frosts continued to plague the region.

"Every green herb, every early vegetable and flower perished outright; black frost reigned on the hillsides and in the meadows, and the harvest fields lay under a canopy of snow and sleet," wrote Wetmore.

"The cool spell began in April and continued until fall and winter shook hands, and the citizens of this town back in 1816 settled to boast of the experience of having twelve months of winter," The Sun reported.

"April hadn't made its debut long before the sky became overcast and in place of balmy breezes came cold, biting winds followed by a drop in the temperature. Ice formed on the pavements and gutters and Baltimoreans shivered," the newspaper said.

The strange weather conditions persisted through May into June and then July, and farmers began to despair if they would even have crops to harvest.

"Freezing weather still held the barren land in its grip and the citizens of the young Monumental City remained indoors and shivered by their fireplaces," The Sun reported.

According to records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average temperature in Baltimore for 1816 was 49 degrees, and there was "ice during every month in the year."

The department noted that the cold weather also affected Europe and caused the coolest summers on record in the West Indies and Africa. Six to 10 inches of snow fell during the summer in parts of Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and Maine.

On July 5, ice "thick as window glass," formed on windows of buildings in Pennsylvania, and in the beginning of August, a cold nor'easter laced the region.

"Corn, which was then in milk, froze so that it rotted in the stalk. Everything green was destroyed, not only in this country, but in Europe," The Sun said.

It wasn't until September that the mercury finally climbed to 70 degrees - 25 degrees warmer than it had been in May. But after only two weeks, the cold returned.

"Southern states fared scarcely any better. Fruit and vegetables that season brought a king's ransom, so dear were they and in many places perfectly impossible to procure, for there were no facilities to bring things from afar as now, and unless one's own State or county supplied the table wants there was nothing to depend on," Wetmore observed.

Because the winter-summer of 1816 had made seed corn a scarce commodity, farmers planting in the spring of 1817 were forced to use seeds grown in 1815. It sold for the previously unheard-of price of $4 a bushel.

Scientists have explained the unusual weather condition as being caused by the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on an Indonesian island, which hurled an estimated 25 cubic miles of debris into the stratosphere.

The reflection of sunlight off the cloud formed by the debris, which surrounded the Earth, was serious enough to affect weather patterns for months afterward.

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