Year without summer

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Comparison of the temperatures from 1816 to the long-term mean 1971–2000

The year 1816 , which was unusually cold in Northeast America as well as in West and South Europe , is described as the year without a summer . In the United States it was nicknamed "Eighteen hundred and froze to death", and in Germany it became notorious as the year of misery "Eighteen hundred and froze". Today, the main cause is considered to be the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in April 1815 , which volcanologists classify as significantly stronger than the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 and that of Krakatau in 1883 .

The summer season in 1816

This time was characterized by several unusual weather phenomena, for which there was no explanation at the time. These included u. a.

  • Periods of night frost in the US and snowfall in Canada,
  • an unusually cold weather pattern in Europe with crop failures,
  • Severe storms and floods , crop failures and snowfall at higher altitudes throughout the year in Central Europe.


Hunger table in Neulautern , which compares food prices from 1772 and 1784 with 1817: “Variable seasons - 1772 has 8 ℔ (= pound ) bread 8 x (= kreuzer ) cost, 1784 the measure of wine 4 x. 1817 Has the Scheffel Denkel 40 gulten kost , 8 ℔ K. (orn) Brod 2 gulten, the Maß Wein 2 f (= florin = guilder), the Simre Erdbirn 3 f.

About a hundred years later (1920) the American climate researcher William Jackson Humphreys found the first explanation for the "year without a summer". He attributed the climate change to the volcanic winter as a result of the eruption of the Tambora volcano on the island of Sumbawa in what is now Indonesia . This erupted in April 1815 with a magnitude of 7 on the volcanic explosion index and, in addition to around 150 km³ of dust and ash, also threw sulfur compounds, which are estimated to be a sulfur dioxide equivalent of 130  megatons , high into the atmosphere , where they spread like a veil around the entire globe. The cooling of the global climate caused by the eruption continued until 1819. An attribution study published in 2019 confirmed the dominant role the Tambora eruption most likely played in the summer coolness. It probably contributed to the humid conditions of the time.

Aerosol deposits in Greenland and Antarctic drill cores suggest, however, that the Tambora eruption was not the only reason why the decade from 1810 to 1820 became the coldest in the world in the past 500 years. Rather, a comparably large precursor eruption is suspected. Based on reports from Colombia, such a volcanic eruption could have occurred in late 1808 / early 1809 . It is also assumed that the significantly reduced solar activity during the first decades of the 19th century, the so-called Dalton minimum , contributed to the cooling.


Crop losses

In early July and late August 1816 there were periods of night frost in the northeastern United States. Snow fell in eastern Canada and New England and reached a height of 30 centimeters in Québec . This led to severe crop losses and, as a result, to sharply increased grain prices, but there was no pronounced famine this year.

Price increases

The grain price only reached one and a half times the level of 1815 in the following year (1817). The area immediately north of the Alps was hardest hit : Alsace , German-speaking Switzerland , Baden , Württemberg , Bavaria and the Austrian Vorarlberg . Here the grain price in June 1817 reached two and a half to three times the level of 1815. In some remote locations, it was four times as high.

In Eastern Europe (shaped by the continental climate ) and Scandinavia , however, hardly any effects were discernible. In Poland, for example, the price of grain rose by only a quarter from 1815 to 1817 due to increased export demand.

The first harvest wagons move into
Ravensburg after the great famine on August 4, 1817
"Ceremonial entry of the first harvest wagon in Heilbronn" in 1817, based on a lithograph by Franz Friedrich Schmidt.


Severe storms occurred in Central Europe . Numerous rivers (including the Rhine ) overflowed their banks. In Switzerland, it snowed at least once a month down to 800 m above sea level and on July 2nd and 30th down to the lower ground. Due to the lower snowmelt in the previous year and the accumulated additional snowfalls, for example in the Alps, the snowmelt led to catastrophic flooding in some places.


The result of the low temperatures and persistent rainfall in parts of Europe were catastrophic crop failures . Famine broke out. In central Switzerland , the famine was particularly large, for descriptions of Frühmesser Augustin Schibig consumed "the unnatural, often ekelhaftesten things to their cravings to satisfy" the people. In Ybrig , in Rothenthurm in the Altmatt and in the mountain areas "the children often grazed in the grass like sheep, meadow flowers were also in great demand". District Medical Councilor Johann Nepomuk Sauter from Konstanz recommended grass roots and Icelandic moss as emergency food . The Constance brewer Birkenmayer recommended that bread be stretched with beer malt. The Constance archivist Joseph Kastell saw hungry people in the cantons of eastern Switzerland who ate unripe fruit, small snails, leaves and scalded grass.

In particular, the misery in eastern Switzerland prompted Tsar Alexander I to donate 100,000 rubles and grain deliveries from Russia .


To commemorate this time, so-called Hungertaler were minted in some places in Germany ; other forms of memorabilia are also known.

Hunger thaler

Indirect consequences

The famine of 1817 was the reason for various measures to promote agriculture as well as for organizational reforms in the state sector, which are also to be seen in connection with restoration and the discussion of the constitution, as well as the foundation of charitable organizations. In the badly affected Württemberg, for example, King Wilhelm I initiated the establishment of an agricultural association in 1817 , the Centralstelle of which organized an annual agricultural festival with competitions from 1818 , today's Cannstatter Volksfest . His wife Katharina planned and managed the charity , which from 1817 as a semi-governmental organization assumed functions comparable to domestic development aid and hunger and disaster relief and through which the Württembergische Sparkasse was founded in 1818 . Also in 1818 Wilhelm founded an agricultural teaching, experimental and model institute , today the University of Hohenheim .

In Bavaria, the crisis played a major part in the dismissal of Minister Maximilian von Montgelas in 1817, and popular piety, which had previously been suppressed, flourished. Pilgrimages were made in droves to Altötting , and prayers for a good harvest were now even arranged by the authorities. In eight months, over 60,000 loaves of bread and 45,000 portions of Rumford soup were given out for free or at a reduced price. King Max Joseph also tried the Rumford soup in a Munich soup kitchen in April 1817 and announced that he had really enjoyed it.

The memory of the famines inspired the chemist Justus von Liebig to investigate the conditions of plant growth. As a result of his research, mineral fertilization was introduced, which led to a considerable increase in agricultural yields.

According to the technical historian Hans-Erhard Lessing , the development of the draisine , the original bicycle , goes back to the death of horses as a result of the shortage of feed in 1816/17 after the Tambora eruption. However, this theory is now considered controversial.

In the United States, crop failures caused many farming families from New England and other coastal states to move west to the then frontier , so that the states of Ohio , Indiana and Illinois were settled within a few years .

Thousands of the Europeans who also suffered from the consequences of the Napoleonic Wars eventually emigrated to the United States of America. In the south-west of Germany there were emigrations, especially from Württemberg , where the emigration ban was lifted in 1816. After advertisers of the Russian crown invited people who were willing to emigrate, emigration to southern Russia, for example to Bessarabia , reached its peak around 1817/18.

Long-term consequences

For decades after the volcanic eruption, there were noticeable changes in daylight. This was particularly pronounced in the evening and in the morning, as the sun's rays encountered a large number of aerosol particles on their then longer path through the atmosphere , were scattered by them and thus mainly the long-wave parts of the light spectrum (red) reached the viewer. The Biedermeier sunsets in Europe were of unprecedented splendor - in all shades of red, orange and purple, and occasionally in shades of blue and green. The grandiose evening moods and the intense earth colors, ocher and yellow tones of William Turner , which appeared almost unreal outside of landscapes with corresponding natural colors (such as Tuscany and the Camargue ), were visibly influenced by this.

Literary reflection

The British writer Mary Shelley spent the summer of 1816 with friends near Lake Geneva . They often visited Lord Byron at the nearby Villa Diodati . Due to the extremely bad weather, those present were often unable to leave the house. So they decided to write horror stories and tell the others. Shelley wrote the Frankenstein story . Byron's personal physician John Polidori (1795-1821) wrote The Vampire - a vampire story long before Bram Stoker's Dracula was created . Lord Byron did not complete his story; he processed impressions of that summer in the poem Die Finsternis .

Comparable events

There were comparable events in Central Europe around 535/536 , 1258 , 1529, 1588, 1601, 1618, 1628, 1675 and 1813.

Benjamin Franklin reported a remarkably cold winter in 1783/84 . He suggested that the cold in Philadelphia could be the result of a dust cloud in the atmosphere over Europe and North America. He is considered the first researcher to recognize such a connection.

See also


  • Hans-Heinrich Bass : Hunger crises in Prussia during the first half of the 19th century. Scripta Mercaturae, St. Katharinen 1991, ISBN 3-922661-90-4 (= studies on economic and social history , volume 8).
  • Jelle Zeilinga de Boer , Donald Theodore Sanders: The year without a summer. The great volcanic eruptions in human history and their consequences (original title: Volcanoes in Human History, translated by Manfred Vasold), Magnus Essen 2004, ISBN 3-88400-412-3 .
  • Wolfgang Behringer : Tambora and the year without a summer. How a volcano plunged the world into crisis. Beck, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-67615-4 .
  • Stefan Brönnimann, Daniel Krämer: Tambora and the “year without a summer” 1816. Oeschger Center for Climate Research, University of Bern, 2016, ISBN 978-3-905835-45-8 ( PDF ).
  • Susanne Haeseler: The eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 and its worldwide consequences, especially the "year without a summer" 1816. Study by the German Weather Service, July 27, 2016.
  • Charles R. Harington (Ed.): The Year Without a Summer? World Climate in 1816, Ottawa 1992, ISBN 0-660-13063-7 (English).
  • Senta Herkle, Sabine Holtz, Gert Kollmer-von Oheimb-Loup (eds.): 1816 - The year without a summer. Crisis perception and crisis management in the German southwest. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2019, ISBN 978-3-17-036523-0 .
  • William J. Humphreys: Volcanic dust and other factors in the production of climatic changes, and their possible relation to ice gases. In: Journal of the Franklin Institute (August 1913), 131–172 (English)
  • Hubert Raab: 200 years ago: 1816 - the year without the sun . In: Aichach-Friedberg district (ed.): Altbayern in Schwaben 2016 . Yearbook of history and culture. 2016, ISBN 978-3-9813801-4-9 , ISSN  0178-2878 , pp. 109-128 .
  • Henry and Elizabeth Stommel: Volcano Weather. The Story of 1816, the Year Without a Summer. Newport (RI) 1983, ISBN 0-915160-71-4 (English).
  • RB Stothers: The great Tambora eruption in 1815 and its aftermath. In: Science 224 (1984), pp. 1191-1198.
  • Hans Peter Treichler : As if the end was coming: The famine years 1816/17. In: Hans Peter Treichler: The mobile wilderness. Biedermeier and the far west. Schweizer Verlaghaus AG, Zurich 1990, ISBN 3-7263-6523-0 , pp. 27-50.
  • Louis Specker: The Great Visitation. The famine year 1816/17 in Eastern Switzerland. 2 volumes, Historisches Museum St. Gallen: 1st part 1993, 2nd part 1995 (without ISBN).
  • Volker Kennemann: The famine year 1816/17. In: To Bigge, Lenne and Fretter. Issue 25, December 2005, p. 124 ff. (Mainly refers to southern Westphalia).
  • Gillen D'Arcy Wood: Vulkanwinter 1816, die Welt im Schatten des Tambora (Original title: Tambora, The Eruption That Changed the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 2014, translated by Heike Rosbach and Hanne Henninger). Theiss, Darmstadt 2015, ISBN 978-3-8062-3015-4 , (Review: Matthias Schulz: Planet Asche. The eruption of the Tambora volcano 200 years ago brought hunger, death - and social progress . In: Der Spiegel . No. 15 , 2015, p. 116 f . ( online - April 4, 2015 ). )
  • Sabine Kaufmann: 1816 The year without a summer. G. Braun 2013, ISBN 978-3-7650-8618-2
  • Ralf Dannowski, Claus Dalchow and Hermine Sell: The "year without summer" 1816 in the Spiegel Möglinscher publications - local echo of a global weather anomaly , in: Thaer heute Volume 6, The agricultural region around Möglin. , 2009 ( online )

Web links

Commons : year without summer  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Ronald D. Gerste: How the weather makes history: Disasters and climate change from antiquity to today. Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-608-94922-3 , p. 192.
  2. ^ Hans Graf: Climate changes caused by volcanoes ; Research report 2002 of the MPI for Meteorology
  3. This causal relationship is also proven by other large volcanic eruptions, see for example Krakatau # Effects worldwide (1883).
  4. Andrew P Schurer, Gabriele C Hegerl, Jürg Luterbacher, Stefan Brönnimann, Tim Cowan, Simon FB Tett, Davide Zanchettin, Claudia Timmreck: Disentangling the causes of the 1816 European year without a summer . In: Environmental Research Letters . August 2019, doi : 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / ab3a10 .
  5. See Daniel Lingenhöhl: First eyewitnesses of the unknown volcanic eruption. On: (September 19, 2014).
  6. ^ A b c John D. Post: A Study in Meteorological and Trade Cycle History: The Economic Chrisis Following the Napoleonic Wars. In: The Journal of Economic History. 34: 315-349 (1974).
  7. The various texts include at the top left: “Written / and / excellent / by / Heinrich / Sinzinger / Weingärtner”, top center: “Zum Angedencken der Grossen / Theuerung / 1817 / You best consolation of the poor / You lord of the whole world O father / Full of compassion, who bears and holds everything, Look / Her on our need. Have mercy on yours, the poor / Walk and weep and languish Lord for Brodt ”(cf. hymn book for the evangelical parish of Bunzlau. Bunzlau: Carl Friedrich Appun , 2 1826, p. 495, No. 621 , verse 1). The table to the right of the Kiliansturm :
    amount price
    1 sheep of spelled 32 [guilders]
    1 sheep of pits 80 [guilders]
    1 shepherd of wheat 72 [guilders]
    1 shepherd of grain 52 [guilders]
    1 sheep of barley 54 [guilders]
    1 Shepherd Haber 20 [guilders]
    1 sheep of field beans [Gulden]
    1 shepherd of peas 51 [guilders]
    1 sheep of lentils 54 [guilders]
    1 sheep [fel] cartofel 24 [guilders]
    8 pounds of bread 1 [guilder] 40 [cruiser]
    2 Loth Weck 1 [cruiser]
    1 Meuse wine 1 [guilder] 36 [cruiser]
    1 Maas beer 18 [cruiser]
    1 pound butter 48 [cruiser]
    1 pound of beef 18 [cruiser]
    1 pound of pork 18 [cruiser]

    Bottom left: “On July 8th, the first Erndt wagon was brought into town. From Heinrich / Safe. He was / attended by all school children From the Sülmertohr to / the market square. Around town and in the Zendschuern. / With the song: Be praise and honor ( Evangelisches Gesangbuch 326) and now thank all God (EG 321) the 3rd Roevermacionsfest or jubilation / festival celebrated. Which was celebrated every hundred years. Which / the 3rd | Segulo was. And the schoolchildren / Denckmunz received ". See Haus der Stadtgeschichte (Heilbronn) , sources and worksheets .

  8. ^ Hans-Heinrich Bass: Hunger crises in Prussia during the first half of the 19th century. Scripta Mercaturae Verlag, St. Katharinen 1991, pp. 126-177.
  9. Jürg Steiner: Catastrophe in front of a blood-red evening sky. In: Tages-Anzeiger . April 6, 2015, accessed December 21, 2018 . Stefan Hotz: «1816 - the year without a summer»: The discovery of the last famine. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . January 4, 2016, accessed December 21, 2018 . Stefan Hotz: 1816 - the year without a summer: when nature upsets people's lives. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. June 1, 2016, accessed December 21, 2018 .

  10. a b Outbreak 1815 - Famine in Central Switzerland. In: Neue Luzerner Zeitung from April 17, 2010.
  11. Ralf Baumann: "People were now grazing with the cattle." In: Konstanzer Anzeiger of August 24, 2016.
  12. Mass poverty, famine and emigration Section of the article The Industrial Revolution on
  13. Volker Kennemann: The famine year 1816/17. In: To Bigge, Lenne and Fretter. Issue 25, December 2005, p. 124 ff.
  14. Music, dance and flail threshing: village festival in Langenbeutingen on August 18 and 19 - new things for the old linden tree. In: . August 13, 2007, accessed December 12, 2015.
  15. ^ Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg: Finding aid for inventory E 191. Central management of the charitable association or for charity - introduction
  16. Johannes Molitor: King Max Joseph and the bone soup . In: Passauer Neue Presse of June 10, 2015, p. 23, supplement Heimatblocken. No. 130.
  17. ^ Hans-Erhard Lessing: What led to the invention of the early bicycle? In: Cycle History, 11, San Francisco 2000, pp. 28-36.
  18. Christian Wüst: Veil over it . In: Der Spiegel . No. 10 , 2017, p. 98 ( Online - Mar. 4, 2017 ).
  19. CS Zerefos u. a .: Atmospheric Effects of Volcanic Eruptions as sees by Famous Artists and depicted in Their Paintings, in: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 7 (2007), No. 15, pp. 4027-4042, here quoted from: Jelle Zeilinga de Boer: Das Year without summer , Essen 2004.
  20. Frankenstein and Vampire: How the Tambora Explosion Inspires World Literature in Neue Zürcher Zeitung on June 7, 2016
  21. Lord Byron: The Darkness (full text)
  22. Daniel Lingenhöhl: The volcano that brought winter to, accessed on October 1, 2013.
  23. Christian Pfister: Weather forecast - 500 years of climatic variations and natural disasters. January 1999.
  24. Revolution and the end of the world - the myths about Iceland's volcanoes. on, accessed on May 28, 2014.