Installing a washing machine in a location that freezes is extremely risky, even if the machine is disconnected and in storage.
There are many and plastic parts in the machine, that will crack easily in freezing conditions. Some of them have water in them at all times, e.g. bottom of drain hoses. Some have pressurized water, such as the water inlet valves: a crack here will dump thousands of gallons of water.
Your main stack is physics.se, so I'm sure I don't have to explain the behavior of freezing water and why it destroys equipment. Allowing this equipment to be exposed to freezing temps is a foreseeable mistake.
Preparing a washing machine to be stored outdoors/in freezing conditions is called winterizing. To be clear, the washing machine does not have any functionality that would auto-winterize the washing machine, even if it could detect ambient temp, which it could not. It would certainly do nothing for the hoses from the wall or the plumbing in the wall. Those, you would have to remove and disconnect yourself.
Most likely what happened is the hoses to the washer, or the pipes in the wall, froze just solid enough to block them but not enough to crack. That blocked water flow, so the machine never filled, so the timer could not advance. You thawed those pipes in the nick of time. I would say "you got lucky" - don't push your luck.