Did Madras Really Freeze Over?
The Hindu carried a story a couple of days back on a possible event 200 years back when Chennai had sub zero temperatures. Since then one of the most trending stories on Facebook is “When Madras Froze Over”.
The above article refers Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gilien D Arcy Wood as one of the source of the events. If one goes through the book the only reference to Madras in that book is on Page 78 where it mentions “in late April in Madras, on the Southeast Coast of India the morning temperatures plummeted over the course of a single week from 50 F to 26 F, a harbinger of Tambora’s profoundly disruptive effects on the weather systems of India”.
The book does not quote any direct meterological data for these temeprature data instead quotes reference from Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, 1875 by JJ Higginbotham. The reference is of a source thats almost 60 years after the incident happened.
Now lets put into context 50F is in Celsius terms approximately 10 Degrees. During summer period it is pretty much unimaginable for Chennai to have a temperature that was 10 degrees celsius and further plummetting to -3 degrees celsius.
The article also quotes an article from “Madras Courier” dated August 29th an eye witness account of the Skipper of “Catherina” ship that sailed from Jawa about the eruption but strangely does not talk mention anything about the impact of climate thanks to the Spread of Volcanic Ash from the eruption. https://ludditebicentenary.blogspot.in/2015/04/how-press-reported-news-of-tambora.html
Further reference linking this Tambora volcanic explosion to freak weather in Chennai could be found in this book https://books.google.co.in/books?id=g9ZogGs_fz8C&lpg=PA269&pg=PA269&hc_location=ufi#v=onepage&q=madras&f=false But this again does not contain any direct reference.
Almost all other references to this incident is based on a study by Stothers in the year 1984 which had recreated the event and tried to understand the effect of the Tambora volcanic explosion. During this study the author had made a lot of efforts to go through original documentation available from the time of the incident and has put together a convincing recap of the incident. During the course of this simulation the temperatures in Northern Hemisphere during the year 1816 went up by about 0.7 Degrees above normal.
Finally if one goes through the meteorological data available the lowest minimum temperature recorded during the month of April for Chennai is 20 Degrees in the year 1939 as per the records maintained by IMD https://www.imdpune.gov.in/Temp_Extremes/temp_extremes_index.html?hc_location=ufi
So did Chennai actually froze over, we think its a case of exaggeration.
Image Source: The Hindu