Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Little Ice Age

By Suzanne Norquist

How can an ice age be called "little?"

Apparently, it's little when it when it only lasts for a short period (approximately five hundred years), it doesn't encompass the whole earth, and glaciers don't cover entire continents. The Little Ice Age ran from roughly 1300 A.D. to 1850 A.D. and had the greatest impact on Northern Europe and North America. The early years of the colder temperatures caught people off guard, however the last half of the period was the coldest.

A famine from 1315 to 1322 is often considered the beginning of the Little Ice Age. It rained "without stopping" in parts of Europe, turning fields into swamps. Grain didn't ripen, and people went hungry.

Scientists can't agree on the cause. Some suggest volcanic activity. The catastrophic eruption of the Samalas volcano in Indonesia in 1257 could have started it. Three more minor eruptions followed in that century. Others suggest solar activity, a shift in the earth's orbit, or human population changes.

Northern and Central Europe suffered from poor crops and famine throughout this period. Glaciers expanded throughout the world. In France and Switzerland, advancing glaciers crushed entire villages.

Rivers and canals turned to ice during the winters. In the 1600s and 1700s, Londoners held Ice Fairs on the Thames River. The New York Harbor froze in the winter of 1780, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Stanton Island. Even the Baltic Sea froze over twice in the early 1300's.

The rapid cooling caused erratic weather worldwide, increasing the number and severity of all kinds of storms.

Human responses varied. On the negative side, riots and civil unrest increased. Many attributed the weather patterns to supernatural causes. Witch hunts ensued. In an attempt to calm an angry God, governments enacted morality laws. For example, Germany regulated gambling and drinking. Priests performed exorcisms on advancing glaciers.

On the positive side, people adapted. Chimneys replaced open fireplaces to hold in the heat better. Fashions changed to include additional and heavier undergarments.

More importantly, farmers altered agricultural practices. They developed cold-resistant crops and fed animals grains that built up a better fat layer for warmth. They also created more globalized trade networks.

An increased level of urbanization and enlightenment are attributed to the Little Ice Age. Impoverished farmers flocked to the cities, where people shared resources, thoughts, and ideas. Scientific thinking, art, and culture benefited from this.

Antonio Stradivari produced his violins during the Little Ice Age. The cold weather may have caused the wood to be denser, contributing to their unique tone.

The Dutch society thrived more than others during this time, as they were accustomed to harsh conditions and very adaptable. The seventeenth century is sometimes referred to as the Dutch Golden Age.

Existing trade networks used by the Dutch ensured goods were available from other countries when they could not be produced at home. People had already moved to cities to work in industries engaged in trade, many of which were protected by dikes and sluices.

New wind patterns pushed Dutch sailing ships faster, giving them an advantage. Additionally, their ships were very sturdy. In places where ice covered the water, ship makers greased the ships' hulls or added runners or wheels so that they could glide across the ice.

By about 1850, temperatures had gradually increased, and the Little Ice Age came to an end. However, the adaptations made during the harsh conditions permanently changed societies.

The Little Ice Age was no little thing.


" Mending Sarah's Heart" in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah's Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn't need anyone, especially her dead husband's partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband's share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?


Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, "A Song for Rose" in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and "Mending Sarah's Heart" in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.



  1. Thank you for posting today and Happy New Year to you and your family. As I read this, New England is experiencing its second snow/rain/wind storm in two weeks, with more storms coming. Therefore, your post is assurance that circumstances can always, always be worse! Which I knew, because I have not yet lost power nor loss of life nor been fearful I would freeze to death.

    1. And a happy new year to you, Connie. It is a reminder things could be worse. Stay warm.

  2. Suzanne, I was so excited when I saw your blog. I know a lot about the 17th-century mini-ice age. The Waldensian militia that brought the little-known pre-reformation group of persecuted Christians endured the worst weather during their march through the French and Italian Alps back to their home valleys after being exiled to Switzerland. It was a hazardous journey back through the deep snows of August and September 1689, but most survived. The event is known as the Waldensian Glorious Return. My contemporary suspense novels Light Out of Darkness and especially Undaunted Valor in my Waldensian Series delve into their story. Thanks for talking about that incredible historical period!