August 27, 1883: Krakatoa erupts.
The volcanic island of Krakatoa, located between the islands of Java and Sumatra, lay dormant for at least two centuries, before a passing European ship reported seeing enormous clouds of ash and dust rising from the area in May of 1883. Over the following months, volcanic activity in the region intensified, before reaching an apex on August 26th and 27th of that same year.
Four enormous explosions took place on August 27th, resulting in the destruction of at least two-thirds of the island. The sound produced by the eruption was so loud that it could be heard 3,000 miles away (on the island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, the sound was initially thought to be the “roar of heavy guns”). The black clouds of ash spewed into the air by the volcano rose fifty miles high. Each of these colossal explosions was accompanied by tsunamis, which single-handedly killed off a large fraction of the (official) death toll, which was estimated at 36,000. Pyroclastic flow reached neighboring islands (including Sumatra) and wiped out vegetation, villages, and people. For months around the world, sunsets glowed unusually brilliant colors as a result of the gases emitted by the volcano; one British poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, described this phenomenon:
…more like inflamed flesh than the lucid reds of ordinary sunsets… it bathes the whole sky, it is mistaken for the reflection of a great fire.
It is also sometimes theorized that Edvard Munch’s The Scream also depicts the after-effects of Krakatoa, similar as to what was described by Hopkins.
In modern terms, the eruption of Krakatoa is estimated to have had a yield of around 200 megatons; to put things into perspective, the “Fat Man” device detonated over Nagasaki had a yield of 21 kilotons, while Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, had a yield of 50 megatons.