Year Without a Summer

The year without a summer, part two. That’s what is shaping up this year from all appearances. AccuWeather, one of my prognostication mainstays, is saying that for the upper midwest and into the northeast, this will be the case. From all indications thus far into our summer, I would say that I concur.

I cannot remember the year when I did not go from May until October without ever putting on long pants or long sleeved shirts, other than an occasion like a funeral or a wedding in which such a wardrobe would have been inappropriate. Yet this summer, if one can call it that, I have worn sweat pants and shirts on more than one occasion around the house, rather than my more appropriate beach wear.

Our single week of hot weather came in early June, before summer officially began. We have only had the air conditioners on once since then, for a total of one day. The overnight temperatures do not require a window fan, much less air conditioning, to be comfortable sleeping through the night. I arise in the morning to temperatures in the low fifties, and on a couple of occasions, in the forties. Many daytime highs have not made it out of the low to mid 60s, and only slightly more days have been above 70.

1816 has gone down in history as “the year without a summer.” In that year there was some snow accumulation in every month of the year in northern Europe, parts of Asia, the upper midwest, New England, and Canada. Crops failed due to freezing temperatures, frost, and even snowfall in those regions. There was starvation, economic upheaval, and mass exodus from those frozen regions. It was a year that defined much of a generation in the United States, Canada, and northern Europe. A year when there was not enough food, money, and other necessities of subsistence to keep things going, and it was all due to the weather.

In that year, the northern hemisphere was suffering the after affects of a high level of volcanic activity which had occurred in the previous year. There was so much volcanic ash and residue aloft that the sun was essentially blocked out from delivering its warming rays to large portions of the planet in anywhere near normal amounts. Due to the lack of sunlight, crops failed, temperatures plummeted, and misery and famine were rampant. For instance, oats, a mainstay in the agricultural community at that time, which sold for twelve cents a bushel in 1815, shot up in value to ninety two cents a bushel in 1816. A 1200 percent increase, and even at that, there was not enough of a supply to furnish the market needs. In a society in which horses were necessary, and oats were the main staple diet for the horses, there was not enough of the grain, and what was available was much too expensive, so many horses starved to death. This crippled the economy for years to come.

Is this year on anywhere near an even footing with 1816? In all actuality, no. That doesn’t mean that this summer is not, so far, one of the coolest on record since that one. And while 1816 was clearly an anomaly due to the volcanic ash that blocked out the sun, we have no clear, definitive reason for why this summer has thus far been a close relative of that long-distant year. We hear talk of El Nino, and such, but that’s more difficult to grasp than volcanic ash filling the upper atmosphere. We can only hope that we will get some summer-like weather while summer is still here. Autumn is on the horizon and we have had little summer to warm and refresh our spirits and bodies.

While we may not starve due to another year without a summer, in the actual and literal sense, our spirits will not be nourished and replenished without the warmth of the sun and the heat of the summer. Winter seems to be casting its long shadow over this most comforting of seasons, and that is after a long, cold winter which we endured, just past.

We need the healing power of the sun and the heat, and maybe even the humidity, to make winter recede in our memories. To soothe our bodies and our spirits, and to reenergize them for another winter yet to come. Instead of thinking about the oncoming winter in July, we should be finding somewhere to get cool, to escape the blistering sun, and to luxuriate in the healing rays of the sun and therapeutic value of the heat. Yet here we are in the latter half of July contemplating fall and winter rather than basking in the here and now of warmth, even oppressive heat.

Will 2009 be remembered as a year without a summer? Certainly not anywhere near that of 1816, but I doubt any of us can remember that year well enough to be able to make personal comparisons. This is as close as I want to get to that landmark year, and can only hope that we have warmth, sunshine, and many days of summer to which to look forward before autumn gathers us up in her colors and cool temperatures. Else-wise how will we endure another midwest winter?