The states of Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts make up what is commonly referred to as the New England area of the United States. Located in the northeastern section of the country, New Englanders are quite used to surviving cold spells. Heck, the area is known for it.
But in 1816, something drastic happened on that front.
The winter of 1815-16 had been unusually mild, concluding with less precipitation than was typical. Thus, when spring hit, most probably thought they were in for an unusually warm season.
They were wrong.
Actually, the weather really didn’t change at all. In other words, though the winter had been somewhat mild, it had still been colder than our usual spring season. Thus, spring started off somewhat cold for that time of year. Further, there was little rain. Two things that are never good to hear when growing crops.
Then things even got stranger.
1816: The Year Without A Summer
On May 15th, frost hit home in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Three days later, it took root in New England. Further, the majority of May was more frigid than those previous, and although there was a very short spell where milder temperatures returned, it was short lived.
In June, New Englanders had to deal with several snowstorms, high winds, and severe frigidity. Punctuating this, on June 6th, ten inches of snow fell in some areas of New England.
Snow in summer. Can you imagine?
Again, there was another short respite in July. But later in the month cold weather mixed with rain to form a layer of ice that spread over sections of the area. This weather continued into August.
In other words, in 1816 New Englanders (and many others) experienced something that none of us ever have. A year without summer.
Many years later, we learned that the disruption in climate was due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. This was the largest eruption that’s ever been recorded, and the pyroclastic flow emanating from the volcano ended the lives of everyone on the island (approximately 10,000).
But the aftermath of the volcano killed many more ( tsunamis, storms, etc. ). However, what caused the lost summer was the fact that during the eruption, Mount Tambora shot 25 cubic miles of debris into the atmosphere. These dust and sulfate aerosols took hold in the stratosphere, and took their time coming back to Earth.
Thus, it shielded our world from its normal elements.
Sounds a lot like a nuclear winter, no? Or perhaps the aftermath from an earthbound asteroid. Still, this true to life excerpt simply demonstrates that warm weather is not guaranteed for any of us. Further, a longstanding winter can be caused by more than one event.
Or for that matter, perhaps there has been no worldly emergency. Maybe you’re just stuck out in the wilderness in the cold. Regardless, this all leads to the following issue:
How To Survive The Cold
First, let’s just talk about the cold itself. You see, there are several scenarios present. For example, if the problem was due to a volcanic eruption or perhaps a nuclear bomb being set off at a distance (causing particles to be released into the stratosphere) then you may still have your house and heat. If you do, then that’s the place to stay as often as you can.
Simple common sense.
However, a longstanding winter would impact the global and national economy in a very negative way. Thus, it wouldn’t be a bad idea- as a precaution- to have two heat sources. For example, if you only have oil heat and issues cause oil to skyrocket in price, it could be an issue for you. It is in these cases that you might wish that you had that wood stove.
Which brings us to the next point. Coal and wood stoves sometimes offer nice alternatives. Especially a wood stove, because if things really break down then you can find and chop your own in many locations.
Regardless, try to have reserves on hand. It’s a smart preventative measure.
But, let’s face it; turning on the heat is not what this article is about.
See also: The best cold weather survival gear
How To Deal With The Cold
A nuclear bomb or asteroid touching down very close to your area could, in essence, knock out your heat source. In reality, it could knock down your house as well. Further, if you’re stuck out in the wilderness, a thermostat simply isn’t available.
Under such circumstances, you should know the facts. Humans are not made to deal with frigid conditions. We’re basically tropical animals. That said, it takes adaptations on our part to survive. These adaptations must serve to foster two things.
First, we must stay warm by consuming appropriate food, which the body ‘burns’ for heat.
Second, we must prevent the loss of the heat gained by our burning of appropriate food via shelter and clothing. We all know we need food. However, this article is about the basics of dealing with the cold only.
Clothing In Frigid Conditions – Some Basic Principles
Remember that clothing in frigid conditions should serve to accomplish the following:
1. Keep the body warm. This is especially true for the outer extremities like fingers and toes.
2. Allow perspiration to disperse.
3. Allow free movement.
4. Be comfortable.
Thus, here are some guidelines that can help to accomplish this.
Guideline #1 – Generally it is better to have several layers of lightweight clothes than one or two larger layers. One reason for this is because several layers allow for good ventilation. Thus, the area between layers can serve to trap air which acts as good insulation.
Further, this may serve to foster free movement and comfort more easily than huge and puffy clothes. And one section of clothing may serve to shield the rest from unwanted moisture more easily.
Guideline #2 – Have boots. This one would seem obvious. However, the type of boot should fit your environment. For example, if you’re a Floridian surrounded by swamps that are suddenly very cold and slushy, you might want to have some type of high waders in case you have to travel in such areas. Just remember that your feet and toes are at extreme points on your body. Thus, cold that halts blood flow will attack these areas first.
Guideline #3 – Have gloves. Remember, it is important to protect your furthermost extremities; in this case, your fingers.
Guideline #4 – Protect your face. Having goggles can shield your eyes from the wind and possible UV rays depending on your situation. If somehow you’re caught in an area that is cold in summer, sun screen may also be prudent.
Guideline #5 – Find a shelter. This is probably the most important piece to the puzzle. People in frigid climates often survive by sheltering themselves during the worst times (nighttime, for example). If you can find your way to a cave, do so. If a safe shelter- even a broken down one- is available, then go for it. Same if you have an insulated tent (here are a list of the best survival tents if you don’t). If you really want to plan for something like this- for example, perhaps you’re going out into the wilderness- then get your hands on the following to shield you from the elements where you lie: a butyl ground sheet, inflatable mattress and sheepskin. Further, a double insulated sleeping bag is recommended (see some of our the best low temperature ultralight sleeping bags here).
Remember, in the end, something is better than nothing.
A Final Point: Watch One Another
Hopefully, if you’re forced to survive the elements you have a partner. If you do, both should observe one another closely. Remember that the extremities (fingers, toes) are places to keep an eye on for frost nip ( usually areas of the body with frost nip will turn a pasty white ) and especially frostbite ( when rewarmed, frostbitten areas will turn blue or purple ). If you note frost nip, provide more insulation to that area, if possible.
Frostbite, of course, is worse. This means that ice crystals have formed in the living cells of the skin, killing them. Sometimes, when the dead layers are taken off, new skin is revealed ( this is called superficial frostbite and is less of a problem ). However, at other times, this isn’t the case.
Which may lead to amputation.
Please note that it may be best to seek medical attention before trying to rewarm badly frostbitten parts of the body. Further, when available seeking medical attention is obviously always recommended.
Of course, usually when someone encounters frostbite, medical attention isn’t available.
Final Things To Note When Dealing With The Cold
Just some interesting notes.
The elderly tend to have the most difficulty with frigid conditions. Further, women tend to be able to handle it better than their male counterparts. Even race can have a say, as non-white elderly men tend to have more issues with the cold than anyone else.
Of course, infants and small children will also be susceptible.
Keep in mind that these are just tendencies; that’s why you have to watch. Further, anytime medical opinions are available when it comes to exposure, first consult them.
In sum, there are many situations that could eventually cause us to have to live in frigid conditions for an extended period. If we have our houses and heat sources, great! If not, then knowing a little something in advance couldn’t hurt.
So should you have appropriate supplies of clothing, materials, and non- perishable ( dry food ) available in case such an event occurs? Should you go as far as to have these supplies kept at work and at home?
Guess the answer to that depends on how viable you believe such a threat is. But one thing is for sure. If you’re about to go out into the wilderness on your own at a time when frigid temperatures are present, you’d be smart to read this article, check out the references noted below, consult with medical professionals, and know your environment before deciding to pack.
It could be the difference between surviving and not.