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Storminess Of The Little Ice Age

February 6, 2014

By Paul Homewood



With the recent run of stormy weather in the UK, it is worth reflecting on just how stormy it was during the Little Ice Age, and even before.


Brian Fagan, in his book “The Little Ice Age”, states that,”throughout Europe, the years 1560-1600 were cooler and stormier, with late wine harvests and considerably stronger winds than those of the 20th Century. Storm activity increased by 85% in the second half of the 16th Century and the incidence of severe storms rose by 400%.”.

HH Lamb comes to similar conclusions, “there was a greater intensity, and a greater frequency, of intense storm development during the Little Ice Age”, in his book “Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe”.


Edward Bryant, in the book, “Natural Hazards”, gives us a rundown of some of the biggest storms:-

  • Four storms along the Dutch and German coasts in the 13thC killed at least 100,000 each. The worst is estimated to have killed 300,000.
  • North Sea storms in 1099, 1421 and 1446 also killed 100,000 each in England and the Netherlands.
  • By far the worst storm was the All Saints Day flood of 1570, when 400,000 people were killed throughout Western Europe.
  • The Great Storm of 1703 sank virtually all ships in the English Channel, with the loss of 8000 to 10000 lives.
  • Other storms with similar death tolls occurred in 1634, 1671, 1682, 1686, 1694 and 1717.
  • Much of the coastline of northern Europe owes its origin to this period of storms. For instance, storms reduced the size of the island of Heligoland from 60km to 1km.
  • The Great Drowning Disaster of 1362 eroded 15km landward of the Danish coast, destroying over 60 parishes.
  • The Lucia storm of 1287 carved out the Zuider Zee.



It was not just flooding that was a problem. There were many sand storms that caused great destruction, such as the great Culbin Sands storm in 1694, which blew so much sand over the Culbin Estate in Scotland, that the farm buildings themselves disappeared. The Estate became a desert and was never reclaimed.

A similar event took place at Forvie, also in Scotland, in 1413 when the town disappeared under a 30m high sand dune.

Lamb also refers to the storms, between 1570 and 1668, which blew millions of tonnes of sand miles inland across the Brecklands of Norfolk and Suffolk, burying valuable farmland. The area has never been recovered, and is now heathland.

Lamb believes the wind strengths of these events are probably unparalleled in the 20thC. (He wrote this in 1991).




It was not just Northern Europe either. Studies suggest an increase in storms and floods in Spain.

Martin and Olcina in ‘Clima y Tiempos de España’ note four periods of catastrophic events (mid-15th century, 1570-1610, 1769-1800 and 1820-1860) marked by heavy rains, snowfalls and sea storms. These were interspersed with interludes of droughts far more severe and persistent than those of today.

Another study looked at the Vera basin, at the eastern margin of the Betic ranges, the driest region in Europe and the Penedes basin in Central Catalonia. Specifically, during the Little Ice Age, old terraces were swept away and new terraces were deposited along nearly all river systems in both basins. particularly because of an increase in flood magnitude and frequency ‘related to the southward shift of the Northern Hemisphere westerlies during the Little Ice Age’.


The Science

This is much more than just an anecdotal list.

Lamb believes that “it is likely that the increased intensity of storms in the Little Ice Age had to do with the source of potential energy in the, at that time, enhanced thermal gradient between the colder ocean surface in the seas about Iceland and the ocean south of 50-55N and the Bay of Biscay.”


A paper in 2011, by Trouet, Scourse & Raible, comes to the same conclusion. They have evaluated a number of proxies, which provide evidence for enhanced storminess in NW Europe, during the LIA. For instance,

1) The onset of the LIA in NW Europe is notably marked by coastal dune development across western European coastlines linked to very strong winds during storms (Clarke and Rendell, 2009; Hansom and Hall, 2009) and often inundating local settlements and therefore with supporting archival evidence (cf. Lamb, 1995; Bailey et al., 2001).

2) A number of studies of Aeolian sand deposition records from western Denmark exist that have recorded a period of destabilization of coastal sand dunes and sand migration during the LIA and have ascribed it to a combination of increased storminess and sea-level fluctuations (Szkornik et al., 2008; Clemmensen et al., 2001; Aagaard et al.,2007)

3) Similar records and interpretations are available for the British Isles (Hansom and Hall, 2009) and Scotland (Gilbertson et al., 1999; Wilson, 2002)

4) Seasonal information on storm frequency is provided by historical naval documents. In an analysis of Royal Navy ships’ log books from the English Channel and southwestern approaches covering the period between 1685 and 1750CE, Wheeler et al. (2010) note a markedly enhanced gale frequency during one of coldest episodes of the LIA in the late seventeenth century (1685–1700 CE) towards the end of the Maunder Minimum (MM).

During these cold years of the MM the gale index – the proportion of days with a gale – was markedly higher,with the warming of the 1730s marked by a reduction in gale activity
(Wheeler et al., 2010).

5) This late phase of the MM is also registered by the deflation of sand into the ombrotrophic peat bogs of Store mosse and Undarmosse in southwest Sweden (De Jong et al., 2006).

6) More evidence for increased storm severity during the MM is provided by an archive-based reconstruction (1570–1990) of storminess over the Northwest Atlantic and the North Sea (Lamb and Frydendahl, 1991), which shows a sequence of severe, predominantly winter half year (October–March) storms in the period 1690–1720 CE.

7) It is worth noting, however, that increased storm activity during the LIA was not restricted to northwestern Europe, but was also recorded further south along the Atlantic coast (sic) in The Netherlands (Jelgersma et al., 1995) and northern (Sorrel et al., 2009) and southwestern France (Clarke et al., 2002). These regions are located at the southern margin of North Atlantic westerly storm tracks during positive NAO phases and could thus potentially support the high winter storminess LIA scenario.



The evidence points quite clearly to storms in the Little Ice Age being much more intense. It is far too soon to start making judgements about recent events, but if it proves to be the start of a long term trend, the last thing I would be worrying about is global warming




There is a wealth of studies, far too numerous to elaborate here, which come to similar conclusions. There is a good summary here though.

  1. February 7, 2014 12:26 am

    Wow! No wonder they wanted to move out of the reach of the North Sea.
    Thanks Paul. Good article.

  2. Scott Scarborough permalink
    February 7, 2014 2:45 am

    Severe storms rose by 400%? It’s amazing there was anything left!

  3. John F. Hultquist permalink
    February 7, 2014 2:54 am

    Thanks. I’ll be doing some reading. Example, with photo:

    • GB_Dorset permalink
      February 7, 2014 8:01 am

      Good sea trout fishing.

  4. John F. Hultquist permalink
    February 7, 2014 3:29 am

    The base outline of the Church (various names; St Adomnan’s Church)
    can be seen here using Google Earth.
    57.33019, -1.9673
    Map is here:
    A photo is here:

    Another building is closer to the sea but not identified (by me).

  5. February 7, 2014 4:01 pm

    Low temperatures and storminess in UK.
    After the LIA there was suddenly the extreme cold winter 1939/40 in Europe,
    __ January 17: Copenhagen –26°C/-15°F
    __ January 17: Moscow in the morning –45°C/-49°F.
    __ January 17: Sella/Finland, above the Arctic Circle –48°C/-54°F; also Viborg.
    __ January 21: Moscow –45°C/-49°F.
    __ January 21: Rhayader/Wales/UK –23°C.
    More at :

    Followed by a snow- and ice storm that struck the UK. on 26/27 January 1940 :
    ___SNOWSTORM; On the 26th, two occlusions were moving up from the SW engaged the cold air over the UK. At the same time, the anticyclone over Scandinavia was intensifying blocking the fronts from pushing through the UK, they became stationary over Wales and SW England. This resulted in a great snowstorm across many northern and eastern areas.
    The snowfall lasted to the 29th of January
    ___ICESTORM; On the low ground in the south, the preciptation fell as freezing rain …. the severest that has struck the UK in recorded history….. lasting up to 48 hours in places.

  6. February 7, 2014 5:44 pm

    There has been no net warming for 16 years and the earth entered a cooling trend in about 2003 which will last for at least 20 years and perhaps for hundreds of years beyond that. For a review of the weather patterns on a cooling earth and an estimate of the coming cooling see
    For an estimate of the NH temperature trends see the latest post at
    The current weather patterns in the UK and USA are typical of those developed by the more meridional path of the jet stream on a cooling earth. The Fagan book is indeed an excellent guide as to what we might expect.

    • Brian H permalink
      March 11, 2014 6:47 am

      If you back out all the data adjustments, the “Pause” is a lot longer than 2 decades.

  7. Sparks permalink
    February 7, 2014 7:14 pm

    Is there evidence suggesting that; during a cooling period, when frost fairs had occurred was there an episode of flooding before hand?

    I think that a period of flooding would make an area around rivers more susceptible to icing over. Rivers were also shallower back then in the UK.

  8. lapogus permalink
    February 7, 2014 8:43 pm

    As it hasn’t been mentioned, this is a good online collation of historical weather events in the British Isles – much of it is based on Lamb’s books and other published research – .

  9. February 7, 2014 10:16 pm

    Reblogged this on CraigM350 and commented:
    A brilliant and timely article.
    Thank you Paul.

  10. February 7, 2014 10:21 pm

    Slowly, ever so slowly, the truth is coming out.

    Secret efforts to hide information on the abundant source of energy that powers our beautiful, benevolent world from the cores of

    Heavy atoms like Uranium
    Some planets like Jupiter
    Ordinary stars like the Sun
    Galaxies like the Milky Way

    Were first exposed when Climategate emails revealed manipulation of data to fit a political agenda in November 2009, . . .

    . . . Yet most critics (except Donna Lafamboise) could not then, and will not now, believe that NASA and other federal research agencies were manipulating observations and data to fit the UN’s agenda when President Eisenhower warned of this threat to our form of government in January 1961:

    With deep regrets,
    – Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  11. Andy DC permalink
    February 8, 2014 12:07 am

    It is frustrating that we don’t have the same kind of long term weather records here in the US that you have in the UK. Unfortunately, the native Americans kept no good weather records, which is a bit odd, considering that weather was so important to their survival and existence.

    • Sparks permalink
      February 8, 2014 1:54 am

      Which native Americans? I always wondered where did they come from and when? and what were the climatic conditions like for them to be able to reach the American contents?

  12. February 19, 2014 12:12 pm

    Reblogged this on CACA.

  13. Ronald permalink
    April 6, 2014 9:50 am

    And the problems are found all over the world. Remember the tall ships? Most of them sunk during heavy storms. And desserts like the Sahara? Same thing global cooling. There is not enough water vapor in the air to cool the air or even make clouds to let it rain. The same goes for Australia, yes its hot but thats no global warming thats global cooling.

    All over the world sings cane be found for what happens when the earth cools and warms. Even to day you cane learn about how the different systems work. You want to look at global cooling? Go to any dessert. You want to see global warming? Go to the tropics, yes go you want to feel for your selfs how a climate optimum feels like? Go to Indonesia there you find how the climate optimum feels and works.

    And for those who still believe in global warming. Consider your selfs brain dead no relay do that because your are just that total brain dead.
    Why? Look the earth has warmth no doubt about it but where coming out of an ice age so its pure logic that the earth warms. But the phase of warming what makes agwers say there is danger-es global warming is the problem. If you belief that a warming of 0,7 degrees over a 100 years is danger es global warming yes your brain dead.

    How about this? 0,7 degrees in 100 years is just 0,007 degrees per year. You cant even measure that.
    The cold spell (cane we still cal it that way) in the US make all the 0,7 degrees disappear like ice cubes in the hot dessert sun.


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