Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Coldest Places on Earth

A few days ago, I woke to find my pipes frozen. The outdoor temperature was in the single digits, and the house temperature hovered in the 50s all day. The next day was warmer, but an ice storm soon followed. I made myself feel better by looking up the coldest places in the world.

International Falls

International Falls, Minnesota is known as the coldest spot in the lower 48 states. The town of almost 7,000 people has an average temperature of 36.4 °F (2 °C). The average low for December, January, and February is below zero. The local Icebox Days festival features snowmobile racing, snow sculptures, bowling with frozen turkeys, and the “Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.” Fraser, Colorado also claims the title of “Icebox of the Nation”. The two towns have disputed each other’s claims for years. It’s a matter for the courts even now.


Umiat, Alaska is the coldest place in the United States, with an average temperature of 10.1°F. That beats Barrow easily. Considering that Umiat can reach the 70s in the summertime, you know the winters are bonechilling. However, the population hovers around five people with no permanent residents. You can follow weather conditions at Umiat Air Field online.

But those are warm, compared to other places on earth.


This picture of Jim Brader shows what it’s like to be a meteorologist in Alaska. The photo was taken as Brader was on his way to the Snag airstrip in Yukon, Canada. Snag was the site of the lowest temperature ever recorded in North America. On February 3rd, 1947, weathermen etched a notch in the thermometer, because the mercury was below the lowest indicator marks. When the thermometer was analyzed later, it was found that the temperature would’ve read -81.4°F (-63°C). In temperatures that low, the voices of people could be heard four miles away. Frozen breath hangs in the air for up to 15 minutes, making it easy to find where someone has gone.

Northice Station

The coldest place in the western hemisphere is Greenland, although the country is historically claimed as part of Europe. The Northice Research Station in the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet recorded a temperature of -87 °F (-66 °C) on January 9th, 1954. The researchers immediately packed up and went home to the coast. Just kidding! However, it must be too cold to take photographs, since I couldn’t find any of Northice.


Yakutsk, capital of the Yakutia region in Siberia claims to be the coldest city on earth. Considering it has a population of 200,000 people, that may be so. In January, daily high temperatures average around -58°F (-50°C). Residents often leave their cars running all day long to ensure they can get home. You are warned not to wear glasses outside, as they will freeze to your face and tear the flesh when you try to remove them.


Verkhoyansk, in the Yakutia region of Siberia, lies within the Arctic Circle, an eight-day drive from Yakutsk. But you can only drive there in the winter, when the lakes are frozen, because there are no land roads! 1,300 people live in Verkhoyansk, the biggest part of whom make their living herding reindeer and fur hunting. The area has abundant natural resources, including gold, but is too cold to develop profitable mining.
Temperatures that have been recorded at the Verkhoyansk Weather Station have shown a record low of minus 72 degrees Celsius, and an average temperature for January being minus 49 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, a nearby town by the name of Oimyakon is also trying to gain the title of Cold Pole, with an unofficial record low of minus 78 degrees Celsius. It is no wonder that this region has the nickname of “Stalin’s Death Ring”.


Oymyakon, the other village that claims to be the coldest spot in the northern hemisphere, is also in the Yakutia region of Russia. In English, the name means “Oy, My Achin’ Toes”. Just kidding! In the Sakha language, it means “non-freezing water”, because of the presence of a hot spring in the midst of the permafrost. On January 26, 1926, the temperature in Oymayakon was recorded as -96.2 °F (-71.2 °C). Some will argue with this figure because it was achieved through extrapolation instead of a direct thermometer measurement. Like Snag, Canada, Oymyakon lies in a bowl between mountains, which traps cold air. The temperature in winter is often lower than -50°F.

Vostok Station

In the southern hemisphere, there’s no argument about the coldest place. The coldest temperature ever recorded on earth was at Vostok Station, a Russian research station in inland Antarctica. On July 21st, 1983, thermometers read -128.6 °F (-89.2 °C). The station is manned year-round. Russians are hardy people.

credited to and flickr users: ssoross, morad.geo, bolotbootur, kozzak, kulema


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