New Scientist is running a nice article titled, “1709: The year that Europe froze.” It hits many interesting points – at the very dawn of systematic temperature records, we have consistent recordings of the winter from several observers across Europe. And then there are the descriptions:
In more humble homes, people went to bed and woke to find their nightcaps frozen to the bed-head. Bread froze so hard it took an axe to cut it. According to a canon from Beaune in Burgundy, "travellers died in the countryside, livestock in the stables, wild animals in the woods; nearly all the birds died, wine froze in barrels and public fires were lit to warm the poor". From all over the country came reports of people found frozen to death. And with roads and rivers blocked by snow and ice, it was impossible to transport food to the cities. Paris waited three months for fresh supplies.
It is harrowing to think of just how terrible one bad winter could be for agricultural productivity across the Northern Hemisphere. We have more buffering today than pre-industrial Europe, but an unexpected blockage of sunlight from volcanoes or impacts could happen at any time.