North Carolina’s “Year Without a Summer,” 1816

Mountain waterfalls in ice and snow, circa 1910. Image from the State Archives.

On August 22, 1816, a heavy frost was recorded in the state.

The unusually early frost was attributed to the Mount Tambora volcano eruption in Indonesia in April of the previous year. The eruption was the most powerful of the 19th century and is thought to have caused a number of strange weather phenomena around the world. Mount Tambora is still an active volcano to this day.

The year 1816 is often referred to as the year without a summer because of the unusually cold weather during the spring and summer months. The bizarre and destructive weather was the result of massive amounts of volcanic dust being thrown into the upper atmosphere by the eruption.

Much of what we know about the climate of the period comes from The Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Those records indicate a fickle weather pattern of unusual heat in June, an abnormally stormy July, an early August dominated by drought and heat and the descent of the frost on the 22nd. The frost was followed by more drought, extended periods of rain and cold and raw weather from late September to the end of the year.

Many crops failed and others had dangerously low yields that threatened the livelihoods, and indeed, the lives of many North Carolinians.

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