The anomalous winter of 1783–1784: Was the Laki eruption or an analog of the 2009–2010 winter to blame?



[1] The multi-stage eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki beginning in June, 1783 is speculated to have caused unusual dry fog and heat in western Europe and cold in North America during the 1783 summer, and record cold and snow the subsequent winter across the circum-North Atlantic. Despite the many indisputable impacts of the Laki eruption, however, its effect on climate, particularly during the 1783–1784 winter, may be the most poorly constrained. Here we test an alternative explanation for the unusual conditions during this time: that they were caused primarily by a combined negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and an El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) warm event. A similar combination of NAO-ENSO phases was identified as the cause of record cold and snowy conditions during the 2009–2010 winter in Europe and eastern North America. 600-year tree-ring reconstructions of NAO and ENSO indices reveal values in the 1783–1784 winter second only to their combined severity in 2009–2010. Data sources and model simulations support our hypothesis that a combined, negative NAO-ENSO warm phase was the dominant cause of the anomalous winter of 1783–1784, and that these events likely resulted from natural variability unconnected to Laki.