On January 5, temperatures plummeted—not, perhaps, a surprise in European winter. But was no ordinary cold snap. Dawn broke the next morning on a continent that had frozen over from Italy to Scandinavia and from England to Russia, and would not warm up again for the next three months.
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During the worst winter in years, extreme cold followed by food shortages caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in France alone, froze lagoons in the Mediterranean, and changed the course of a war. The country most affected by the terrible cold was undoubtedly France. The year had already started badly. French peasants had been hit by poor harvests, taxes, and conscription for the War of the Spanish Succession.
The cold snaps of late were as nothing to the crash in temperatures that took place over the night of January 5 to 6.
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Animals were not spared either: Numerous livestock froze in their pens, barns, and coops. The rivers, canal network, and ports froze, and snow reportedly blocked roads across France. In the port of Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, and at various points along the Rhone and Garonne Rivers, the ice was able to support the weight of laden carts, which places it around 11 inches thick. In cities that stopped receiving provisions, accounts circulated of desperate inhabitants forced to burn whatever furniture they had to keep themselves warm.
Paris remained cut off from supplies for three months.
Even the well-off, who could fall back on stocks of food and drink, found that the intense cold rendered them unusable. Bread, meat, and even some alcoholic drinks froze solid. Only hard liquors such as vodka, whiskey, and rum remained liquid. The climatic crisis held both rich and poor in its icy grip. I am sitting by a roaring fire, have a screen before the door, which is closed, so that I can sit here with a fur around my neck and my feet in a bearskin sack, and I am still shivering and can barely hold the pen.
Never in my life have I seen a winter such as this one, which freezes the wine in bottles. Across the rest of Europe, many strange effects of the cold were observed. Numerous witnesses recorded how the abrupt drop in temperature made seemingly solid items brittle. Tree trunks would shatter with a startling cracking sound, as if an invisible woodcutter were hacking them down.
Church bells when rung also fractured due to the extreme cold temperatures. The canals and port of Amsterdam suffered a similar fate.
NHESS - A hazard model of sub-freezing temperatures in the United Kingdom using vine copulas
The Baltic Sea was solid for four whole months, and travelers were reported crossing on foot or by horse from Denmark to Sweden or Norway. Almost all the rivers in the north and center of Europe froze.
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Even the hot springs of Aachen in modern-day Germany iced up. Heavily laden wagons trundled across the lakes of Switzerland, and wolves ventured into villages looking for anything left to eat—which sometimes turned out to be villagers who had frozen to death.
In the Adriatic, the freeze left numerous ships trapped in the ice, their crews perishing from cold and hunger.
A 1-degree difference in room temperature boosted math scores by nearly 2 percent. Chang cautioned that more studies need to be conducted before anyone attempts to eliminate gender-based performance differences on standardized tests by tweaking the thermostat. For employers, these findings mean that by insisting on the subzero fridges you call cubicles, not only are you making half your employees miserable, you are also sacrificing productivity.
For some women, this study finally provides an explanation for why the creative juices flow so freely at tropical indoor temperatures.
And unfortunately, it also means you should hang on to that summer sweater collection. Or at the very least, as my colleague Sarah Zhang suggested, get a foot warmer. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic.