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Blinkhorn: Volcanic Disruptions

05/03/10 5:55PM By Tom Blinkhorn
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(HOST) The recent airline disruptions across Europe caused by the Iceland volcano reminded commentator Tom Blinkhorn of another volcanic eruption which had a devastating impact on Vermont and New England.
 
(BLINKHORN) It happened almost 200 years ago - in 1816, "The Year Without Summer." Or, as Vermonters called it, "Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death."

A severe cold front swept down from Hudson Bay on June 5 and lasted for days. The region was pelted with freezing rain, hail and snow.
 
Writing in the Danville North Star, Editor Ebenezer Eaton observed, "Snow drifted 18 to 20 inches in depth in places." Craftsbury reported 12 inches. Six inches were reported at Lunenburg and Lancaster, New Hampshire.  Although the science of meteorology was in its infancy, Middlebury college, Dartmouth, Williams college all kept detailed weather reports, as did local newspapers and individuals.
 
The cold continued throughout the summer, with snow in July, August and into September. Crops failed, livestock perished and many people had to live on wild turnips, nettles and hedgehogs to avoid starvation.
 
No one knew that the probable cause was a massive eruption from the Mount Tambora volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. Beginning in early April, 1815 and continuing through to mid-July the same year, its explosion rocked many islands and impacted most of the globe's northern hemisphere.  The volcano scored a 7 on the volcanic eruptions index - the only eruption in recorded history to do so. Its top was blown off, reducing the peak from a height of almost 14,000 feet to about 9,000 feet.The dust from Tambora entered the northern hemisphere's atmosphere and encircled the globe. It blocked sunlight. Snowfalls and frost occurred throughout the northern hemisphere, not just New England.
 
Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, is better known. It erupted almost 70 years later than Tambora, in August, 1883. But its eruption was less severe than Tambora's, possibly only a 10th as powerful. By the time Krakota erupted, the telegraph had been invented and news of the disaster spread quickly around the world.
 
Although it was hard to detect at the time, there was a bit of silver lining in Tambora's ash-laden clouds. The invention of the bicycle. A German inventor, Karl Drais, troubled by the shortage of oats in 1816 to feed horses came up with the idea of replacing horse power with human power by balancing a human on two wheels. The invention's first demonstration was in June 1817, but roads were poor, and once harvests started to improve, it was possible to feed the horses again. The bicycle novelty wore off and wasnt revived commercially until the 1860s.
 
Tambora is also said to have inspired a famous novel. In 1816 Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, were huddled in the home of Lord Byron on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Byron suggested a ghost writing contest. Mary Shelley produced "Frankenstein," perhaps an appropriate creation for such dismal times.
 
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