The Coldest Town on Earth

No day at the beach is probably a great way to describe the City of Fairbanks, Alaska. Take the year 2009 as an example, and it is a good one because the temperature profile for the United States’ coldest city in that year is quite typical. In 2009 the coldest day of the year occurred on January 12, when the mercury dropped to minus 41.1 F. The warmest day came along on March 29 when temperatures skyrocketed to a toasty 48.2. The average temperature in 2009 was a crisp -6 degrees.

Farming is not a major occupation in Fairbanks.

Imagine the surprise of the crew manning the air station at Snag in the Yukon territories early in 1947 when for two consecutive nights the temperatures dipped below -80 degrees, the coldest recorded temperature in North America at that time.

But Fairbanks dwellers and Snag folks are amateurs compared to the rugged 500 or so inhabitants of Omayakon, located in Siberia. Generally considered to be the coldest town on Earth continually occupied by its townspeople, Omayakon has the distinction of holding the all-time low temperature record of minus 96.2 F. No colder temperature has ever been recorded outside of Antarctica.

A neighboring town, Verkhoyansk, threatened the title in 1892 when on one February day a low of negative 93.6 was recorded.

One January not too many years ago the thermometer never rose above -51 F at Omayakon. Residents frequently refrain from turning their motor vehicles off for fear that they will never start until the following summer. It is not uncommon for 3 and 4 months at a time to pass during the winter, with the mercury never rising above -40. It is a truly epic level of cold.

The research bases at and near the Southern Pole on the continent of Antarctica cannot truly qualify for the sort of record set by those dauntless citizens of Omayakon. They are manned by transient populations; few of the personnel remain for more than a single year, nor, one suspects, do they wish to do so.

The Pole itself is located high on an Antarctic plateau, at an elevation hovering at just about 10,000 feet. This altitude of course adds to the already formidable tendency toward deadly levels of cold.

Lonely Vostok Station, a Russian scientific outpost, holds the current record for the coldest temperature ever recorded at the Earth’s surface. Vostok station sits atop a very large lake of liquid water, Lake Vostok, although that fact was not known when the station was constructed. Over two miles of ice separate the station from the water below.

What is known is that on July 21,1983, a temperature of -128.6 degrees was recorded there.

But Vostok is not alone when it comes to sheer flesh-freezing cold. Plateau Station, another research center on the high Antarctic plateau, passed the entire month of July in 1968 and never saw the thermometer top -69 degrees. For the entire year of 1968, Plateau Station enjoyed 100 days of minus 100 degrees. This is also a record.

Another Russian research station at Sovietskaya enjoyed all of 1951 with an annual mean temperature of -71 F.

It is true that the wind may chill when one shovels out the driveway in Youngstown, Ohio, and the air may have a bite that stings the nose of he who fetches the mail in Omaha, Nebraska. But in Fairbanks, Omayakon and Sovietskaya, where a tossed glass of water strikes the ground as a solid, the cold is something that very few people have ever experienced.

These are truly the coldest locations on earth.