Patterns of subsurface wedges of ice that form along cooling-induced tension fractures, expressed at the ground surface by ridges or troughs spaced 10 30 m apart, are ubiquitous in polar lowlands. Fossilized ice wedges, which are widespread at lower latitudes, have been used to infer the duration and mean temperature of cold periods within Proterozoic and Quaternary climates, and recent climate trends have been inferred from fracture frequency in active ice wedges. Here we present simulations from a numerical model for the evolution of ice-wedge networks over a range of climate scenarios, based on the interactions between thermal tensile stress, fracture and ice wedges. We find that short-lived periods of severe cooling permanently alter the spacing between ice wedges as well as their fracture frequency. This affects the rate at which the widths of ice wedges increase as well as the network's response to subsequent climate change. We conclude that wedge spacing and width in ice-wedge networks mainly reflect infrequent episodes of rapidly falling ground temperatures rather than mean conditions.