The Coldest Places on Earth

On December 26, 2010, snow fell from Florida to Maine.  Atlanta received three inches, North Carolina eight, places like Boston had over two feet, and even parts of Florida saw snow flurries.  And that was only in December!  What can the southern regions expect in January when temperatures typically plummet even more?

For many people more accustomed to heat and sun than to six months of frigid winter weather, the thought of colder temperatures brings grimaces and involuntary body shakes.  Just imagine if they had to live in the coldest places on Earth!  Invariably the answer would be, “No thanks,” but some people do live in these places, and they survive.

#1 –      Without a shadow of a doubt, the coldest place on Earth is Antarctica.  90% of the Earth’s ice can be found on this continent as can the most extreme weather – the coldest and windiest.  Hurricane force winds of 190 mph frequently buffet the coastal regions.  Despite it’s title as coldest place on Earth, Antarctica is classified as a desert because it receives such little precipitation each year, slightly more than the Sahara Desert.  Vostok Station on inland Antarctica is a Russian research station that houses scientists and support staff, mainly during summer, though the station is manned year-round.  The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was -89.2 Celsius (-128.6 F) recorded at Vostok Station on July 21, 1983, which is about the middle of the Southern hemisphere’s winter.  Vostok Station was established in 1957 by the 2nd Antarctic Expedition.  Research conducted here includes ice core drilling, magnetometry, actinometry, geophysics and climatology.  In 1996 British and Russian scientists discovered Lake Vostok approximately 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) beneath the station.  Lake Vostok is the largest known subglacial lake in the world with an area of 14,000 km squared or 5,400 square miles.

#2 –      The second coldest place on Earth, and the coldest in Asia and in the entire Northern Hemisphere is Verkhoyansk, Siberia.  This tiny town lies within the Arctic Circle and calls itself the Pole of Cold with a lowest recorded temperature of -72 Celsius (-97.6 F) and average temperatures in January of -49 Celsius.  The 1,300 residents can only drive out of town during winter when lakes are frozen because there are no land roads to Verkhoyansk.  Though the area offers a fortune in natural resources, including gold, the cold is too severe to develop any useful mining.  Residents survive largely by herding reindeer and hunting for furs.

#3 –      A close third place to Verhoyansk is another Siberian town, Oimyakon.  This town actually claims an unofficial low temperature of -78 Celsius (-108.4 F) but their officially recorded low temperature is -71.2 Celsius (-96.2 F).  This low temperature, however, was arrived at through extrapolation rather than a true measurement because the mercury dropped below the lowest indicator marks.  Oimyakon, together with Verkhoyansk, is located in an area called “Stalin’s Death Ring” for the extreme temperatures.  The name Oimyakon means “non-freezing water” in the Sakha language, because of a nearby hot spring.

#4 –      The coldest spot in the Western Hemisphere and fourth coldest in the world belongs to Greenland.  On January 9, 1954 the Northice Research Station recorded a temperature of -66 Celsius (-87 F).  The research station is located on the Greenland Ice Sheet.  Northice was established by the British North Greenland Expedition, led by Commander James Simpson RN, and was operational for two years from 1952 to 1954.  Temperatures below -59.4 Celsius were recorded 16 times in that two year period.

#5 –      Snag, Canada holds the fifth coldest spot and is the coldest place in North America.  As in Oimyakon, the lowest recorded temperature, -63 Celsius (-81 F), was extrapolated because the temperature indicator marks did not go low enough.  Weathermen made a notch at the point where the mercury dropped.  That temperature was recorded on February 3, 1947 at a military airport.  Metereologists recorded several weather phenomena that winter, including a voice’s ability to be heard up to four miles away.  Frozen breath hangs in the air up to 15 minutes, making this phenomenon possible.

Other Coldest Places

–          The coldest place in Europe is Ust’shchugor, Russia, with a low of -55 Celsius.

–          The coldest place in South America is Sarmiento, Argentina:  -32 Celsius.

–          Ifrane, Morocco claims the coldest place on Africa with record lows of -23 Celsius.

–          Australia’s coldest temperature matches Africa’s.  Charlotte Pass holds that record.

–          The coldest city in the world is Yakutsk, Siberia at -50 Celsius.

–          The coldest place in the continental US is International Falls, Minnesota with a record low of -53 Celsius (-64 F). 

–          The coldest place in all of the US is Prospect Creek, Alaska, where a record temperature of -62 Celsius (-79.8 F) was recorded in 2003.

 Many other places in the world share extreme temperatures, even if not as extreme as these cities and towns.  Ask any of the residents and they will likely say you get accustomed to the cold.  That’s probably true, but residents of the Caribbean will not soon be caught living in Yakutsk, Siberia, and those who live in Snag, Canada probably think the 80 and 90 degree weather of the Caribbean is very hot.  It’s all relative, and in these coldest places, it’s extremely frigid.