Killer Climate

The April 1815 eruption of  the Tambora volcano left a crater 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide and half a mile (1 kilometer) deep, spewing an estimated 400 million tons of sulfuric gases into the atmosphere and leading to “the year without summer” in the U.S. and Europe.

Can you even imagine that?  A year with no summer. Farmers reporting snow along the Eastern coast through July. Farmers who had never even heard of the  volcano that was responsible for the rapid and ruinous change in climate. No tomatoes, peppers or squash, probably not much fruit, grain crops would have been sparse.

What if this were to happen today?  The child of that volcano is rumbling.

Villagers like Hasanuddin Sanusi have heard since they were young how the mountain they call home once blew apart in the largest eruption ever recorded — an 1815 event widely forgotten outside their region — killing 90,000 people and blackening skies on the other side of the globe.

So, the 45-year-old farmer didn’t wait to hear what experts had to say when Mount Tambora started being rocked by a steady stream of quakes. He grabbed his wife and four young children, packed his belongings and raced down its quivering slopes.   …

People here are jittery because of the mountain’s history — and they’re not used to feeling the earth move so violently beneath their feet. Aside from a few minor bursts in steam in the 1960s, the mountain has been quiet for much of the last 200 years.

Gede Suantika of the government’s Center for Volcanology said activity first picked up in April, with the volcanic quakes jumping from less than five a month to more than 200.

“It also started spewing ash and smoke into the air, sometimes as high as 1,400 meters (4,600 feet),” he said. “That’s something I’ve never seen it do before.”

Authorities raised the alert to the second-highest level two weeks ago, but said only villagers within 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the crater needed to evacuate.

That didn’t stop hundreds of men, women and children living well outside the danger zone from packing their clothes, jewelry and important documents and heading to the homes of family and friends elsewhere on Sumbawa island. source

200 odd years probably isn’t enough time to build up that kind of pressure, realistically.  It does make for an interesting thought experiment though. (And, there are always other volcanoes) What if it does erupt again, with equally damaging consequences? What does that leave people to eat on?  Grain stockpiles?  What are we down to right now for those? 20 days? 30 days? I wonder if that’s people and livestock or just people. (Do ethanol plants get a piece of the stockpile in such a scenario? I hope not.) Crops we buy from some place less effected? The US is large, maybe there would be somewhere with enough sun to grow something to sell to the rest of us.  Other countries too might have some kind of food to sell.  It might be unfamiliar to us, and expensive, but available perhaps.  Speaking of unfamiliar, I wonder what the fast food restaurants will do with no grain crops, especially if most of the livestock gets slaughtered too. (I read somewhere that Americans eat a quarter of their meals out, so it pops into my doom thoughts.)

As a gardener, my first thoughts are, “ok, what can I grow?” Who cares what I’d prefer to eat, let’s break it down to what can I fill my belly with until the sun returns. I’d break out every cold frame I had and beg borrow or steal some manure to turn them into hot beds.  I’d grow things like kale, beets, cabbages, turnips, peas and possibly try for something like rye. Rye is a hardy grain, old Soviet Union republics have long histories with Rye. It’s more tolerant of frost and drought than is wheat. It is the most winter hardy of all cereals, and is frequently grown under conditions where other cereals fail.  Since I have a half a year of grain in my storage, I can judiciously use that to break the monotony of kale and turnip soup with roasted beets.

As a hunter, I can’t help but think that the deer population isn’t going to do so great with grass and greenery that’s stubby and frozen. I’d try to hunt some as early as I could, while there’s still meat on them, and preserve the meat, either smoked or jerky, to make it last.

It’s crazy to think about, I think it would be a really challenging time for everyone.  What do you think? Do you have the stores to see you through the year or 2 of cold and gray? The fortitude?

Tens of thousands of people, animals and rice fields disappeared, a veil of ash blocked out the sun for years. There was no life here…

– Calamity Jane

24 comments… add one
  • KYPrepper September 22, 2011, 7:36 am

    Quite a gloomy picture you paint there Jane. Especially when you consider how much more populated the world is today than it was the last time an event like this occurred. Check out this population growth chart on wikipedia: – so I have to think that this would present many challenges. I imagine staying warm would be a little tougher too since the winter is going to be much colder. The water sources are going to harder to purify/clean. The soil you’re planning to farm/garden in is going to be harder to coax good growth from too. Yeah… thanks for ruining my day.

  • gat31 September 22, 2011, 8:08 am

    Jane, since now we have electricity, are we still gonna be able to in this scenario? If so l have LED grow lights so l think l can grow inside if needed, l think l would turn the whole garage into a make shift growing center. The electricity use is minimal and l think l could keep it warm enough in there to at least get broccoli and brussel sprouts as well as collards a least.

    • Calamity Jane September 22, 2011, 9:24 am

      Oh yea sure, there probably would be some increased demand on electricity as everyone with the capability to do so will probably plug in electric grow lights. Some not as minimal as yours. But, as long as the grid can handle the load, electricity is one of the things we have in our favor for such an event.
      I have some grow lights, but anything other than lettuce would be stunted without actual sunlight to finish them. Mine just aren’t that powerful.

    • Chef Bear58 September 23, 2011, 4:38 am

      I agree with C.J…. I think that unless there are factors which disrupt the power distribution system (aka “the Grid”) specifically, then we will likely still have power. A problem that some folks will experience is that solar panels will not be able to draw nearly as much “juice” from the sun, simply because we won’t have nearly as much solar radiation hitting the surface of the planet. Wind-turbine generators might also experience a deminished ability to produce electricity, again because of the reduced solar radiation, heat from the sun is on of the driving-forces behind our weather, and thus wind.

      For once I am kinda glad that our powerplant is nuclear! From what I understand from a friend of mine who works security for the power station; when they swapped out the fuel a few years ago, they are now stocked with enough to generate power for 50+ years with the current demand. I know that the demand will increase with time, but even if the population/energy-demand in this area doubles we would still have enough fuel in the power plant to last about 25 years. Still… makes me wonder what they would do with the spent fuel, and if it would still be regulated in the same manner that it currently is… radiation leak might just ruin my day… especially post-SHTF/TEOTWAWKI!

  • Spook45 September 22, 2011, 8:54 am

    All im gonna say is….. I LIKE SNOW! BRING IT ON!

  • waif September 22, 2011, 9:51 am

    Imagine “The Road” …Worse case Scenario

  • millenniumfly September 22, 2011, 9:52 am

    I wonder if this would be a situation for using grow lights? I’ve never used them and have no idea what they cost. Remember, we’re not talking about cold weather or frost… it’s the lack of sunlight that’s the ultimate problem.

  • Prepared N.D. September 22, 2011, 10:28 am

    I would try to grow what I can. If the farmers market is available, I would probably buy a little extra and can it. We have stored canned food and grains, so we just need to find a way to make it stretch an additional year. As it currently stands, we wouldn’t have enough protein to make it (well, comfortably at least). First order of business would be a bulk purchase of lean ground beef and can and preserve that. Set it aside and continue to buy meat and use caught/hunted game as normal as long as we can.

    If we experience some sort of total failure in crops, I would start looking for edible native grasses and herbs. There are quite a few that are edible and overlooked. Invasive species such as kudzu would probably survive (cockroaches and kudzu would rule Earth after a nuclear holocaust). Migratory patterns of birds and animals would be all screwed up, if you’re planning on hunting you better do it quick.

    I think there would be a period after the eruption where prices remain somewhat stable and supply isn’t disrupted. The scientists are going to fight and argue while the government does the best it can to squelch any doom speak. This will lead to an overall false sense of security until people start to see shortages and prices increases.

  • Joanne September 22, 2011, 12:06 pm

    Plant Roy’s Calais Flint Corn. This flint corn, or some closely related variety, was the only type to survive and produce a crop in Vermont during the infamous Year Without a Summer (1816), when snow fell in June and killing frosts struck in every summer month. The unusually cold weather resulted from the ash cloud that filled the upper atmosphere and blanketed the Northern Hemisphere following the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora—located halfway around the globe, on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies.

    In rural areas of New England, and in many parts of western and central Europe, the disastrous growing season of 1816 precipitated what has been described as “the last great subsistence crisis in the western world.” This remarkable year, in New England history and folklore, has also been dubbed The Mackerel Year (presumably from the increased reliance on fish in the local diet) and “Eighteen Hundred and Near Froze to Death”. And, although certain crops, like potatoes and apples, produced record harvests in New England, the widespread failure of the corn harvest throughout the region represented a serious problem for both humans and livestock. Corn prices skyrocketed on the Philadelphia market, going from $1.50 a bushel in April 1816 to $3.11 a bushel in May 1817.

  • russell1200 September 22, 2011, 12:11 pm

    Tamburi inspired artistic works. The Byrons and Shelleys were couped up together during the freakish weather. It is said to have inspired Ms. Shelley’s Frankenstein, and did inspire this poem by Byron:

  • Juliette of Ohio September 22, 2011, 12:31 pm

    So where do you get seed for Flint corn??? We have enough vegetables and grains for two years, but not enough meat. Our main source of local protein in a year like this would be groundhogs. I hear they’re not that awful and goodness knows, nothing seems to kill them. Doubt they’d be as fat and sleek as they are now. Anybody have a recipe for groundhog? I’m serious.

    • Chef Bear58 September 23, 2011, 2:20 am

      If you look in the archives of the site, under the gardening topic (if I am not mistaken), there are several posts about groundhogs, or as we refer to them around these parts… “whistle-pigs”, and I remember seeing a few “serving suggestions”.

      You can cook them similar to rabbit, my friends grandfather eats them regularly, he simply marinates the cut-up meat (on the bone) in buttermilk for a few hours, seasons it, dredges the peices in flour, and then fries it in lard/crisco depending on what he has. He claims it tastes like a cross between squirrel and fried chicken thighs.

  • Carl September 22, 2011, 12:45 pm

    Very good article Jane. If it happened tomorrow, how long would it take for the ash cloud to cause problems? Would the Summer of 2012 be without sun? How many Sheeple would be able to survive until then? The grocery store shelves would be empty by October.

    I think if you come to this blog you are surely prepped to some degree anyway, if not then get busy. If this doen’t happen something else will.

    It is just a matter of time.

  • Novice September 22, 2011, 1:28 pm

    One thing is for sure. In our day of rapid information it won’t take long for the talking heads to share the doom with the general population. As soon as that happens the run on the stores will begin. It will at least look like the beginning of TEOTWAWKI that we’ve been prepping for.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. September 22, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Yeah, living with a volcano over your shoulder can’t be easy, especially one that is active and might erupt any time now. Mount St. Helens was quite a lesson for those in that area, the effects of that was felt for WEEKS. My aunt lived in the Pasco / Sunnyside area (extreme southeast corner of Washington state), the ash went on for a long time.

    As for others, with a year without summer . . .

    Vitamins would be good to stock up on. Not food by a long shot, but at least some nutrition would be available. Sprouts are pretty full of nutrition, and don’t require sunlight to grow, might be a good source of vegetables for a while.

    Possible benefit – bugs will become very limited, but so would things that feed on bugs – birds for example. No food for either, they both starve.

    A whole lot of questions are spurred by this scenario – thanks for writing it up.

  • Laura September 22, 2011, 10:18 pm

    I have given this some thought too, since there was the scare about the unpronounceable volcano is northern Europe a year or two ago.

    I have tried to start stocking enough alternate grains (like rye) that I could give those a try if need be. Fresh greens would definitely be a problem, but I think I will look for more seed varieties that do well in short season areas hoping that it would warm up enough at some point to get in a little fresh harvest with enough light.

    Stockpiling grow lights would be a good idea, but I agree that they are mostly useful for starting seedlings, not getting them to flourish into full-grown plants. They always seem to get very leggy and then just quit growing at a certain point without direct sunlight. A greenhouse would be more helpful, but still dependent on adequate sunlight.

    I wonder if insect populations would come back if they missed an entire year cycle. For instance, if it doesn’t warm up enough to grow beans or corn, would the bean beetles and earworms be wiped out? How about honeybees? That would be a world of trouble for years to come if we didn’t have pollinators.

    Vitamin D!! Better stock it now since we’d get less of it under those circumstances. On the up side, we’d need a lot less sunscreen!

  • Chef Bear58 September 23, 2011, 4:05 am

    I know folks have probably heard about it in movies and TV shows, but Yellowstone National Park is sitting in-side/on-top of a” super-volcano”. I was watching a History Channel show about volcanoes and they stated that several different scientists claim if it erupted it would cause roughly 1/3-1/2 of the sunlight that usualy makes its way to the surface of our planet would be blocked by the ash/debris and it could potentially trigger another “ice-age”. They also said that for hundreds of miles around the area that would be completely decimated by the eruption, there would be ash so deep that it would be measured in feet! That is freakin’ scary, because when volcanic ash mixes with water, or even just himidity in the air it turns into a substance similar to concreate… which means if you breath enough ash into your lungs, they would stop working because the moisture in your lungs would cause the same concreate like substance to form.

    I have succesfully grown some plants, start to finish, in my folks basement using grow-lights. I tried it a few years ago so we could have really fresh, tasty lettuce and tomatoes during the winter. Some items didn’t do very well, but for the most part it worked great. There is also the option of creating a hydroponic system to grow your fruits/veg. Another idea for fruit, though I don’t know if they can still be found; I remember as a kid we had a few small fruit trees in our house. My dad bought them from some old mail-order nursery/gardening supply company. The trees were some variety of apple, that had limbs from other trees “grafted” onto the apple tree (at least thats how my former Boss, a Master Gardener explained it to me). It was REALLY strange to see 4-5 different types of apples growing on one tree, and I remember being amazed at how much fruit those little trees could produce, though the fruits weren’t as large as they tend to be on bigger, outdoor trees. We had the apple tree, a pear tree (with 3-4 different types of pears), and a peach tree that had yellow and white peaches (all of which were “free-stone”, my favorite).

    Another option for growing IN your home, is mushrooms. They grow best in a cool, dark place… Like a basement! They are high in protein, compared to most other vegetables; They are fairly easy to grow (just be sure you are growing good ones); They are a great way to recycle organic “waste” from other plants and of course manure (human, dog, cat excrement should probably be avoided!); They are delicious and easy to cook/preserve (they dry VERY easily and can be stored like that for years, they can also be canned); Different varieties of mushrooms can be used as a meat-substitute… For example portobello/crimini (they are the same mushroom, just different stages of growth, and the crimini label usually costs more!) is used by many folks in place of a beef hamburger patty, because it has a “meaty” flavor and good texture; Morel mushrooms are probably my all-time favorite mushroom, they can be farmed… to a degree… I haven’t heard of anyone actually growing/cultivating them in a “farm”setting, I was always taught to shake the spores loose over a “scraped” (leaves, sticks, debris moved aside with foot/feet to expose soil) patch under a tree, so that the spores will have a good chance to create more of the delectible little morsels for the next year! They have a somewhat “chewy” texture, not over-kill by anymeans but risitace/texrure similar to a NY Strip steak, they are also excellent to add into soups/stews, because of the flavor/texture they can help you “stretch” a little bit of meat (or no meat) in a dish. Morels are not cheap when/if you can find them in a store (~$15-18/lb fresh; ~$25/oz dried), there are a few mushrooms that look similar to morels, however they will kill you if you eat the wrong ones, in my opinion (even though I can tell the difference, thanks to my father and grandfathers!!) they are well worth the effort/time to grow, or learn how to “hunt” them! Lobster mushrooms are wonderful when sauteed in a little butter and have a slightly sweet/earthy/almost brine-like flavor which is somewhat remenicent of shellfish; Oyster mushrooms are great in stir-fry (especially with shrimp), and they have a slight flavor of oysters/clams because they have a slightly salty/brine-sweet flavor (similar to good oysters) and their texture when cooked is very good, when done right they will almost melt-in-your-mouth! Shitake and Chantrelle are two other varieties that can be found in the forrests of North America, and some parts of Europe. You have to be VERY careful when picking wild mushrooms… if you have a minute look up “destroying angel mushroom” and read about them, they look similar to a shitake mushroom, and I have seen folks mistake them before… luckily they were spotted before they could work their way into home-made cream of mushroom soup!

    I don’t think that hunting or freshwater fishing will be a very good source of protein to rely on. If for no other reason than everyone who didn’t prep for anything more than dinner 3 days from now will have the same idea, and you are likely to get shott by some dumb-ass who has never been in the woods before, let alone with a rifle/shotgun trying to get some game to bring home to the family! Saltwater fishin might still be a viable option for some, and at least here on the East-coast, in the “tidal zone” of VA, we have migratory species of fish (like striper/rockfish, herring and shad) which. unless disrupted by the climate changes, canprovide a large and somewhat reliable source of protein to load-up-on and store for later in the year. We don’t have much migratory game around here, except a few species of birds, but in other locations migratory species might just save your skin by coming at the end/begining of a harsh season when your stocks are depleted. In S.E. VA they are starting to have serious problems with ferrel-pigs, they might be a pest/nuisance right now, but in a TEOTWAWKI situation they might just save your bacon (no pun intended!)

    • Chef Bear58 September 23, 2011, 4:26 am

      Sorry folks… Guess I kinda “wen’t nuts” with this topic! I didn’t realize I had typed so much until after I posted it!

      • MamaTeresa September 23, 2011, 8:02 am

        Why are you sorry? Is there some other way that those of us who can use one or more of your ideas to get them – or even know that you have them – than for you to share them? I appreciate every idea I can get my hands on, particularly ones I have not thought of, or that I never envisioned in that context. Mushrooms are brilliant! Thank you.

  • Briar Rabbit September 24, 2011, 4:37 pm

    For power one could use a bikegen. Or a marine windgen. (cost more & less work to use.)

    This is where the buckets of wheat/grains come in… GRUEL, it’s what’s for dinner… (and breaky, and lunch, ad nausium…) Apx 3, 50# bags of feed-store wheat will fit into 5, 5gal buckets, add some oxi-absorbing “hand warmers” and tape shut. Figure a pound a day per person… Don’t forget sugar and spices! Buckets of wheat are the fastest & cheapest to acquire survival food that exists! With proper storage, wheat can last – and germinate – >1000 years later! ~ Sprouts…

    Also, as Calamity says, you can dry yard-greens and eat them later! As for hunting, slow dry that meat! (More enzymes!) When killing large livestock (cows) clean & butcher them fast, because they decay fast! Even a 30 minute wait will taint your steak! Raw, & slow dried meats have large amounts of all vitamins!

    As for manure, there’s no need to steal it! The Humanure Handbook is free (100% legal too!) as a torrent! Granted it takes a year to compost…

    Dust MASKS are also important… So are viable seeds! Always let some of your garden “go to seed!”

    This sort of thing happens often. (In geological time.) So it’s a good idea to prepare for this.

    When the sun finally comes back prepare for LOTS of work! There will be a riot of growth, because of the additional ground nutrients/minerals from the ashes.

  • Briar Rabbit September 24, 2011, 4:47 pm

    Slow dried (raw) meat can last for almost ten years! No canning required! But it does need super-dry storage! Buckets…

    To eat this rock-like super-food, grind, add water, then add to whatever you are cooking.

  • Izzy October 8, 2011, 2:44 am

    A year without a summer…. who could imagine such a thing? While the whole US was roasting it’s been 50-60 and cloudy in the NW. Wore a down vest on July 4th… winter is the same. We even envy TX ;)
    Calamity you have the right idea – Weeds can adapt to anything. Native edibles are the way to go. (Often they have your vitamin C also.)
    Winter crops under plastic did well once the day got long, and some spring crops. (It may not be much daylight, but it’s still longer daylight than fall.)
    I am going to try moveable insulated planters for winter- and coverings to keep the rain OUT! since being waterlogged is the problem. Mushrooms do well – but you really don’t want to encourage them in or next to the house.
    BTW, don’t forget the best heated cold-frame of all – your house. Yeah, it shouldn’t be a jungle, but replace that houseplant with something edible – put it in the south window with a mirror behind it. Also put mirrors outside on the window ledge, or paint them white. Sometimes snow actually makes it brighter & warmer inside.
    Bring the tomatoes inside to ripen. It took until Sept for them to show up here, – now in Oct. we bring produce indoors, put in a jar or a glass bowl & cover with fine netting, and eat tomatillos in January. Keep root vegies buried in sand in the basement. Buy some water containers & keep them in the house. Fortunately, if it’s really cold outside, food storage is a snap.
    In ye olde days, they kept the livestock in the house when it was really cold. Made the house warmer, kept the food from freezing alive, and no potentially lethal walk to the barn in a blizzard.
    If power outage, assuming you’ve already: well-insulated, double-pane windows on south side mainly, dark siding, light interior, dark floors or wool rugs, and ability to close off unheated rooms.
    And just think – after TEOTWAWKI, all that ash will make for extra-fertile soil…

  • Izzy October 8, 2011, 3:20 am

    Don’t know much about rye or grain storage myself, but if you’re gonna commit to it, you may want to look up ergot fungus. (Lots of historical hype, but it is harmful.)
    Out here it rarely gets under 10 above, but never dries out. Mold, rot, fungus are big problems. You’d have to dry things before the SHTF, and have dessicant / zeolite on hand. Woodstoves are good but wood might get rare. Air circulation is a must, and for dust it might not be a bad idea to have extra furnace filters around also.
    As Mary Shelly said – ” a wet summer, and incessant rain” .

  • Izzy October 8, 2011, 4:16 am

    Wow, just did more reading on this 1816 event – more widespread than I thought! From zero to 95 degrees – and back again – in summer – ?! Cholera in Moscow, snow in Taiwan? A lot of food for thought on your blog entry.

    A few modern developments since 1817 could act as buffers nowadays:
    – Better transportation. Carriage roads & canals were the main transportation – & the US didn’t have many. (No rail network yet then.)
    – No local horses & livestock today= not as much grain demand locally?
    – Better food preservation now. (Canned food not widespread & affordable at that time.) Also more frozen & packaged foods now.
    -Wider variety of plants (international seeds) = more tolerance?
    – Better insulated houses, less heat loss.
    – Better communication, & radar – may know how long to plan for bad weather (approximately) & to stay indoors.

    Even without a similar eruption, this scenario is good prep for our current temperature swings/weather extremes. Many thanks.


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