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January-February 2010

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The Volcano-Climate Connection

During the chilly, wet summer of 1816, a group of people gathered together on Lake Geneva in Switzerland to spend a summer holiday. They included the poets George Gordon Byron, also known as Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as Shelley's fiancé, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont; and Bryon's physician, John William Polidori. The weather that summer—in what would eventually become known as the Year Without a Summer—was unrelentingly grim.

“At first,” Mary recalled, “we spent our pleasant hours on the lake or wandering on its shores. But it proved a wet, ungenial summer and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.” The group passed the rainy, gloomy days reading and discussing German ghost stories. During one of these conversations, Byron suggested that each of them write a ghost story and, “his proposition was acceded to.”

JACK WILLIAMS, the author of the AMS Weather Book and editor of the USA TODAY Weather page from 1982 until 2005, is a freelance science writer. He answers weather questions on his Web site,

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