Saturday 18th December 2010

When Compton Verney was going to exhibit its Volcano season Old Fart looked into the histories of volcanic activity only briefly so that he could pass on some small pieces of information to visitors if they should ask questions of him.

The director had said that he would appreciate a small volcano eruption somewhere to add credence to the exhibition. ALf at the time denied he had anything to do with the forth coming eruptions of the Iceland volcano Eyjafjallajokull.

But ALf did have an unusual amount of ash about him for quite a few days after his return from a few days away back in April 2010 and just before the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.

He later admitted to me that he was only trying to help out Compton Verney and their special Volcano exhibition and after all the Sir Director had requested a volcano be it a tiny one to erupt somewhere on the planet.

Old Fart  having read into the ideas of volcano’s found and said at the time that he thought it possible we will have a white Christmas as Volcanic eruptions in Europe have caused White Christmas situations in the past. And Charles Dickens white Christmas situations in his novels lead to the Christmases of the Victorians due to the eruption of Tamboran.

Small flurries of Christmas cards are falling on doormats across the land today, bearing pictures that combine idyllic village scenes with the snow conditions of northern Greenland. The Met Office, which tends to be less romantic in its outlook, provided an entirely different forecast for Christmas Day in Britain yesterday: it will be cloudy, mostly dry and rather mild.

Some will blame climate change for the discrepancy, and imagine snow-bound Christmas Days from distant childhood — yet the truly snowy Christmas of Christmas cards has occurred only seven times since 1900. Before then, sparse records suggest that less than a score of 19th-century Christmases were white.

It now appears that the true culprit was Charles Dickens, whose childhood coincided with a decade of freakishly cold weather. The novelist persistently described a Britain smothered in snow on Christmas Day.

He wrote A Christmas Carol before the Christmas of 1843, while suffering from a cold, walking at night in a feverish state through the streets of London and drawing inspiration from all he saw.

Records suggest the weather was mild at the time, yet Dickens would describe Scrooge in the city on a Christmas morning, watching inhabitants “scraping the snow from the pavements in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their houses: whence it was a mad delight to the boys to see it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting into artificial little snowstorms”.

A specialist in Dickens’s Christmas books, told The Times: “The whole of A Christmas Carol is really an invocation of his childhood Christmases with his family before his father fell into debt and was sent to the debtors’ prison.”

Those dearly remembered childhood Christmases coincided with the second decade of the 19th century, the coldest decade in Britain since the 1690s.

Some regard those winters as the last hurrah of a “little Ice Age” that had gripped Northern Europe for several centuries, though the immediate cause of the cold was a series of colossal volcanic eruptions that enveloped the globe in dust and shrouded the sun.

Six of Dickens’s first nine Christmases were white. One of these fell in the winter of 1813-14, when Britain’s last Frost Fair was held on a frozen River Thames and Dickens was nearly 2. The ice around Blackfriars Bridge was thick enough to bear the weight of an elephant.

When, in 1843, Dickens came to raise the Ghost of Christmas Past, he did so with the spirit of those colder Christmases, with “quick wheels dashing the hoar frost and snow from the dark leaves of the evergreens like spray”.

The tale is now credited with establishing the Victorian genre of the Christmas story, and spurring a revival of the celebration of Christmas in early Victorian England.

“A Christmas Carol made Christmas respectable for the English bourgeoisie, who had come to regard it as somewhat antiquated,” Dr Allingham said.

Christmas trees, brought over to Britain by Prince Albert in 1840, were adopted too, after Dickens wrote a popular essay on the subject.

Other tales would later complement Dickens’s idealised snowy Christmas. From the mid-19th century a poem first published in America 20 years earlier gained currency. The Night Before Christmas put Santa Claus on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

It was also around this time that artists consistently drew Santa in red robes. But Dickens had done most of the groundwork, driven by an enduring obsession for the season. In The Pickwick Papers,published six years before A Christmas Carol, he had written: “Happy happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days.”

Global effects

In the Year 1816 – Tamboran Volcano

The 1815 eruption released sulphur into the stratosphere, causing a global climate anomaly. Different methods have estimated the ejected sulphur mass during the eruption: the petro logical method; an optical depth measurement based on anatomical observations; and the polar ice core sulphate concentration method, using cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The figures vary depending on the method, ranging from 10 to 120 million tons S.

In the spring and summer of 1816, a persistent dry fog was observed in the north-eastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the “fog”. It was identified as a stratospheric sulphate aerosol veil. In summer 1816, countries in the Northern Hemisphere suffered extreme weather conditions, dubbed the Year Without a Summer. Average global temperatures decreased about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the globe. On 4 June 1816, frosts were reported in Connecticut, and by the following day, most of New England was gripped by the cold front. On 6 June 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. Such conditions occurred for at least three months and ruined most agricultural crops in North America. Canada experienced extreme cold during that summer. Snow 30 centimetres (12 in) deep accumulated near Quebec City from 6 to 10 June 1816.

1816 was the second coldest year in the northern hemisphere since CE 1400, after 1601 following the 1600 Huaynaputina eruption in Peru.The 1810s are the coldest decade on record, a result of Tambora’s 1815 eruption and other suspected eruptions somewhere between 1809 and 1810 (see sulfate concentration figure from ice core data). The surface temperature anomalies during the summer of 1816, 1817 and 1818 were −0.51, −0.44 and −0.29 °C, respectively. As well as a cooler summer, parts of Europe experienced a stormier winter.

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