The recent heatwave in the UK left many of us thinking of creative ways to cool down – whether that was surrounding ourselves with fans or spending a little too-long getting things out of the fridge. It won’t be long until the days shorten and the dark evenings leave us longing for the summer sun to return though. As cold and gloomy as winter in Britain can sometimes feel, the chilliest night here is almost tropical compared to some of the very-coldest locations in the world.
Vostok Station, Antarctica
Home of the lowest temperature ever measured on Earth, Vostok Station is also situated at one of the most unique and geographically-isolated areas on the planet. In July 1983, a temperature of -89.2°C was measured here, with ‘summer’ temperatures averaging highs of a nail-biting -31°C. Positioned right by the South Pole, this facility is home to groups of scientists who battle extreme conditions to carry out advanced research that is possible nowhere else – such as the enormous sub-glacial lake buried 4km under the ice here, thought to contain life forms that have been sealed off and evolved separately from anything else over millions of years. In addition to the freezing conditions, the station is based at an altitude of 11,444 feet and is annually one of the sunniest spots on Earth – despite experiencing no sunlight at all between May and August!
With a tiny population of 500 people, the village of Oymyakon is the coldest permanently-inhabited location in the world. A temperature of -67.7°C was measured in 1933, which is still considered to be the lowest temperature ever measured in the Northern Hemisphere. With daily temperatures averaging the -40°C’s throughout the winter months, residents are used to eating frozen meat and leaving their cars running 24/7 to prevent them from freezing solid. With only three hours between sunrise and sunset in December, there aren’t many places colder and darker than here. In the summertime though, Oymyakon is a completely different place with days frequently hitting the 20°C’s, making it home to one of the most wide-ranging climates in the world.
The highest peak in North America is also one of the most punishing spots on the planet. A temperature of -59.7°C was measured here in December 2003, but it’s the extreme wind chill that poses such a problem for those looking to scale the mountain’s enormous 20,310ft summit – this can cause temperatures on the mountain to sink as low as an unforgiving -83.4°C. The extreme winter conditions mean that the nearby wildlife have developed some interesting ways of coping with the cold – for example, the species of wood frog found here has learned to store necessary nutrients and allow it’s organs to freeze throughout the winter, thawing out and hopping away again once spring arrives. Though the mountain doesn’t rank among the world’s very highest peaks (due to its base being at a comparatively low altitude) when measuring the full distance from base to summit Denali is actually taller than Everest!
The harsh winters of Yakutsk make it the coldest city in the world - the lowest temperature ever recorded here was a piercing -64.4°C and the entire city is built upon permanently frozen soil. Through the winter months temperatures average around -34°C, which is so cold that any brave tourists who venture here are reminded not to wear glasses outside as the icy weather can actually cause the metal frames to freeze to your face! The city is also particularly remote – it’s too cold for most planes to fly, there’s no railway line and it sits so far East of Moscow that it’s 6 time zones away. In fact, it’s not even possible to use a mobile phone without keeping it warm as the cold is so severe that batteries cannot hold their charge.
Situated in Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital city in the world with an average year-round temperature of -0.4°C. While the summer months are typically temperate, the harsh winters here mean that January temperatures can sink as low as -40°C. Perhaps the best illustration of winter in Mongolia is found at Lake Khuvsgul – the country’s largest lake – which freezes thick enough to support heavy trucks and provide a shortcut between roads for those in a real rush. The high altitude across the country (Ulaanbaatar itself is 4,430ft above sea level) contributes to short, intense summers and long, stark winters – Mongolia is known as ‘The Land of the Blue Sky’ as these conditions mean the sky is left without clouds for two-thirds of the year.