RECALLING THE DREADFUL YEAR OF NO SUMMER (June 10/05)

After that long and depressing rainy spell in May, a history-minded friend wondered if we were going to have another “year of no summer.”

He was referring to the year of 1816 when a dark cloud cover settled over Nova Scotia and most of Canada, lingering for the entire summer and well into fall. As a result, Nova Scotia experienced one of the most drastic periods of weather in its history. Literally, it was a year of no summer; or as one newspaper account called it, the year “two winters joined together.” During that year, snow, ice and frost persisted into August, crops either failed or froze in the ground, and the threat of famine lurked on the horizon.

Actually, it was the second catastrophic year in a row for Nova Scotians. In 1915 huge swarms of mice appeared in many rural areas, destroying entire crops over a wide area before the arrival of cold weather brought an end to their depredations. Newspapers referred to it as “The Plague of Mice” and it was likened to the plague of locusts that struck Egypt in biblical times.

Nova Scotians must have thought they were cursed when summer never arrived the year after hordes of mice destroyed food supplies. But more than Nova Scotia was struck by bizarre summer weather in 1816. That year a broad band of volcanic ash clouded the atmosphere over much of Canada and parts of the States, lowering temperatures and in effect bringing about a mini ice age. Meteorologists attribute the ash cover to extremely violent volcanic eruptions thousands of miles away the year before in Indonesia; combined with abnormalities in the weather and simultaneous solar variations related to sunspot activity, its effect was devastating.

The year began peacefully enough here and the weather for a spell was normal. Records kept in that year indicate that April opened to warm weather but by the end of the month the entire countryside was ice-locked. May began with weather similar to January and Nova Scotians were given a foretaste of what was ahead. May, newspaper accounts say, was much like winter with snowfalls and ice half an inch thick on lakes and rivers. Farmers attempting to plant crops over and over again as seeds rotted in the ground and heavy frosts killed the few plants that managed to sprout.

June was another catastrophic month, the entire month being cold and blustery. The entire Maritime region was hit by a major snowstorm on June 17 that left a foot of snow, followed the Berwick Register reported by “bitter winds and biting cold.” Other newspapers reported that several persons caught in the unexpected June storm froze to death.

There was no respite in July, the month being colder than June. August was colder than July and several reports mention ice still half an inch thick on ponds and rivers. “To the surprise of everyone,” one report said, “August proved to be the worst (month) of all.” By this time most farmers had given up trying to raise crops and people were said to be living on fish and wild game.

Warmer weather finally arrived with the onset of September but the respite was short-lived. By mid-September, it was bitterly cold again. Throughout the remainder of September, through October and November, frequent snowstorms lashed the countryside. In December the weather did a complete turnabout and the month was warm and sunny. The cloud of volcanic ash was finally dispersing and the following year the weather returned to normal.

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