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Predicting Snow for the Summer of 1816 | The Year Without a Summer | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Predicting Snow for the Summer of 1816

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The dust from the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) caused a worldwide lowering of temperatures during the summer of 1816, when the Almanac, legend has it, inadvertently but correctly predicted snow for July.
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Culver Pictures
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The Year Without a Summer

Judson Hale
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Here’s a peculiar prediction: Legend says that a July forecast of “rain, hail, and snow” mistakenly appeared in The 1816 Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Robert B. Thomas, the Almanac’s founder, recalled the books and had new ones printed, but news of that forecast had gotten out. He became the subject of much ridicule—until July brought rain, hail, and snow throughout New England!

I always kept my eye out for copies of the 1816 edition. When I occasionally find one, in some antiques shop or sent to me by a reader, I immediately turn to the July and August calendar pages to see whether they contain the famous snow forecasts Thomas supposedly made for that summer.

To date, all I’ve found is “Now expect good hay weather,” “A storm is not far distant,” or “Sultry with thundershowers.” It’s so disappointing.

Elusive Edition

However, I remain hopeful that a few copies still exist that do indeed predict “The Cold Summer of 1816,” as that summer is known in history book.

There’s no question it did snow in New England and Canada during July and August of 1816. An 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the East Indies had left volcanic dust circling the globe, lowering temperatures as much as several degrees.

But did the Almanac predict the snow that summer?

Certainly the story that it did is an integral part of Almanac lore.

  • Some accounts say the printer inserted the snow prediction as a joke while Robert B. Thomas was sick in bed with the flu.
  • The way I’ve always understood it, when Thomas discovered the “error,” he destroyed all—or most of—the “snow” copies and reprinted the 1816 edition with the more conventional summer forecasts. It’s said the word got out anyway, and during the winter and spring of that year, Thomas was repeatedly called upon to deny making such a ridiculous forecast for the following summer. Then, when it really did snow in July, he changed his tune and took full credit. “Told you so!” he allegedly said.

If the story is true, it is one of the earliest and best examples of a subtle skill my uncle always referred to as “almanacsmanship.”

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