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1816 and froze to death!

Editors note: This is part of an occasional series on global warming and climate change. Part 1 of 2
February 2008s bad winter weather may be to blame for some serious bouts of cabin-fever, but it doesnt compare with the hardship endured by Vermont residents during the terrible year of 1816. A frustrated Addison County farmer summed up the miserable weather events of 1816 in a letter-to-the-editor published during July in a Burlington newspaper: (This is) the most gloomy and extraordinary weather ever seen. The infamous Year Without a Summer spanned the period 1815-16. It was triggered by the Mt. Tambora supervolcanic explosion centered in the far-away Sunda Islands of Indonesia. At the time Mt. Tambora blew its 14,000 ft. stackbetween April 5-15, 1815more than 36 cubic miles of volcanic ash and gases were shot high into the gyres of Earths stratosphere. Within a few weeks and months, a mountain-sized cloud of sulphuric ash encircled the northern hemisphere like a death shroud. The ash reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the surface. Air and ground temperatures dropped. The result was a very big chill in places such as Vermont. By the summer of 1816, and as the ash cloud circulated high above the northern hemisphere, climate changes were destroying vital crops in Europe, the U.S. Northeast, and the eastern Canadian provinces. Among the hardest hit of Northeastern states was Vermont. The state was already struggling after the War of 1812-15 also known as Americas Second War of Independence against the British. During the early months of the war, a major two-prong land and lake battle occurred around Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Lake Champlain. At the Vergennes, Vt., shipyard a small flotilla of U.S. warships was constructed. At nearby Burlington, Battery bluff and some waterfront buildings were shelled by British warships. Many young and old Vermonters, despite growing anti-war sentiment in the state, had joined the Army (and Navy) to fight the British. And when this climate crisis hit the states slowly recovering post-war economy in 1816, it spelled disaster for many Vermonters. Farmers, especially war veterans returning to Vermont fields after the War of 1812-15, bore the brunt of the natural disaster in the state. "Some account was given . . . of the unparalleled severity of the weather. It continued, without any essential amelioration from the 6th to the 10th (of June) with instant freezing... (with) hard frosts five nights in succession as it usually does in December, reported the front-page of the North Star newspaper of Danville, Vt., on the cold morning of June 15, 1816. On the night of the 6th, water froze an inch thick and on the night of the 7th and morning of the 8th, a kind of sleet or exceeding cold snow fell, attended with high wind, which measured in places where it was drifted, 18 to 20 inches in depth. Saturday morning the weather was more severe than it generally is during the storms of winter. Next week: Conclusion.

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