HTML> Weather Tales in Indiana by Kenneth P. McCutchan John Baburnich American Boneyard Indiana History Evansville Indiana
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"Ken McCutchan is a life-long resident of Vanderburgh County, Indiana, descended from pioneer families that entered the area in the early 1800s. He is veteran of WWII, having served with Army Corps of Engineers in both North Africa and Europe. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Composition and Modern Language from the University of Evansville, a certificate in French Language and Culture from the Sorbonne in Paris, and an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from the University of Southern Indiana. His other books include: The Adventures of Isaac Knight, From then Til Now, Saundersville, An English Settlement, At The Bend in the River, and Dearest Lizzie. Mr. McCutchan's books may be purchased at Willard Library in Evansville, IN.
The Year Without a Summer    

by Kenneth P. McCutchan

When you can't think of anything else to talk about, there's always the weather. The weather is perhaps, universally, the most often discussed subject. We have all heard the oldsters say, "We don't have winters like we used to," and some of the old records indicate they might be right.

Take, for instance, 1816. That was the year without a summer. In the Ohio Valley, the first part of March was cold and blustery, but it turned warmer the last half of the month. Folks began to plant their gardens. The first of April continued mild, but toward the end of that month the thermometers plunged as ice and snow fell. During May there was snow on the ground for 17 days.

During mid-June snow fell over 15 of the 19 states that made up the Union. New leaves on the trees turned black, and some of the young livestock froze to death. Corn was killed and the fruit trees were destroyed.

The weather in Indiana was bitter cold on the 4th of July , and August was worse, with sleet one-half inch thick on the ground. Frost and freezing occurred every month in that year.

Scientists believe they know the reason for this weird weather.

During the second decade of the 19th century, the world seemed to be going through a period of catastrophic change. In December 1811 a great earthquake struck the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. The earth continued to heave and tremble for weeks. The Mississippi River changed its course, and Reelfoot Lake was formed when the ground sank. Heavy snows fell in the Northeast in June and July.

In other parts of the world there were terrific volcanic eruptions that continued from 1812 through 1815. During these years it has been recorded that the sun often appeared as a round copper disc in the sky.

All these goings-on brought on a wave of religious fervor, because many thought the world was coming to an end.

Modern meteorologists believe that the volcanic eruptions had thrown up enough smoke, dust, and ashes to form a layer 100 miles thick around the Earth, which had blotted out some of the sun's light and warming, causing 1816 to be minus a summer.

The winter of 1830-31 was the time of 'The Deep Snow", a milestone from which pioneers dated events, such as births of their children. It was the first winter the Lincoln family spent in Illinois after their removal from Spencer County, Indiana.

"The deep snow" was an important phenomenon. According to the Native Americans, nothing had equaled it for 75 years, when a heavy snow had fallen that killed immense herds of buffalo on the Illinois prairies. This was confirmed by the great volume of deer and buffalo bones found in some locations.

In the winter of 1830-31, the snow began to fall in early autumn and continued at frequent levels until spring. Between the snowfalls were periods of sleet, which formed crusts of ice between the layers of snow. In some places the accumulation was 3 to 5 feet deep.

The sum did not shine for days, and the cold was so intense the wild game was almost decimated. The pioneers had to be holed up in their cabins; there was great suffering and near starvation for many. When spring finally arrived, the enormous mass of snow and ice melted rapidly so that rivers and streams overflowed, causing devastating floods.

When stories are oft repeated, the details sometimes become exaggerated, which may be the case in this account of a sudden freeze that occurred in January 1836. The story was told to a early reporter by an old pioneer women in White County, Illinois, and is recorded in one the of the early county histories.

There was and inch or two of snow on the ground, which had been turned to slush by a spell of mild weather. One day, shortly after noon, a heavy black cloud came up rapidly from the west. The woman said that when she saw it coming, she thought she had better go to the well and bring in a bucket of water before the storm broke. The well was about 100 yards from the house. She filled her bucket and was starting back when a terrific frigid wind struck. It spilled part of the water over her clothing, and before she could reach the house here dress and apron were frozen stiff in a solid sheet of ice.

Ponds and streams that had been free of ice a few moments before were frozen over in a few minutes, trapping ducks and geese in the ice. Cattle in the field were held fast when the slush froze around their feet. In some cases it was necessary to chop ice away to free them. People caught away from home suffered severely frozen ears, hands, and feet, and several froze to death.

It was said that within 10 minutes after the cold wave struck , the ice was solid enough to hold the weight of a man.

So, maybe in the old days the winters were more severe than they are now, but the weather has been, and always will be, something to talk about.

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