Weather Week: The year without a summer

Imagine if, after a long Rochester winter, summer was simply canceled, and instead, summer felt…well…more like winter.
In 1816, this was not fiction. Instead, it was a harsh fact for many across the Northern Hemisphere, and it all started in 1815 with the eruption of Mount Tambora, a volcano nearly halfway around the world.
According to Farmer’s Almanac Editor Tim Clark, “It threw so much dust and sulfuric acid high into the atmosphere, and into the stratosphere in fact, and all around the world, and affected the temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere close to a full degree centigrade.”
The climate disaster that followed had many consequences globally, and locally. In old newspaper clippings of the day, there are mentions of a June snowfall in Geneva, and the need for heavy winter coats in Canandaigua. An account from an article in a July 1816 edition of the Cortland Republican really captures the moment, the author writing, “I can find no person who has ever seen snow…In June. Great coats and mittens are almost as generally worn as in January and fire is indispensable.”
Wayne County Historian Peter Evans has many records of how our area’s settlers making their way here from New England dealt with the conditions which included severe crop loss.
“The last big freeze was in August but then September started the winter freeze. The plants would start to come up, and then a freeze would come in and kill everything. So they go back out, till it up again. Some people went through at least four of these exercises. Things that were vital like grains, wheat, corn, particularly corn just did not survive,” said Evans.
Weather diaries are just one example of a living relic of that cold summer. The others live on through some pretty famous stories from authors of the time that you may just know.
“One of them Mary Shelley wrote was called Frankenstein,” said Clark. “The other was a short story about a vampire that was then adapted by someone else in England into the famous story of Dracula.”
And yes, there’s also a living legacy of time right here in Monroe County, all because of a farmer named Thomas Ramsdell, who was just one of a few who could actually grow corn.
William Keeler is an Archivist with the Rochester Historical Society.
“People from all around would come there to get seed corn from him and they bought it from him and they were very religious people and they remembered a passage from the Bible. The Israelites went to Egypt to gather their grain, and so when it came time to name the community they basically named it Egypt after this particular incident,” said Keeler.
So the next time you’re upset by a cool rainy summer day in Rochester, just cozy up with a good book, and remember, it could be worse, and it has been.

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