Did you know that if your body freezes beyond 70 degrees F (20 degrees Celsius), you simply fade off into oblivion? Well, unless you have the superpowers of Wim Hof, “The Iceman.” In most cities, the coldest winters bring life to a standstill making life seem almost impossible. However, human beings have survived for centuries on earth by enduring, adapting or simply improvising through the coldest of times. While time and intelligence have helped us seek out more temperate places to live, some people still survive in sub-zero temperatures for months every year. The stories of the lowest temperatures that these people have to endure simply sound like miracles. These are 10 of these coldest places that other members of our species still live in.
1. Oymyakon, Russia
The most interesting story was of the journalist who said his saliva froze to sharp needles in his mouth that pierced him. Surprisingly enough, Oymyakon actually stands for the non-freezing waters, named because of the warm spring in the area. 3,300 miles east of Moscow lies this town with 500 inhabitants whose temperatures have never hit zero between December and March. These four months for the inhabitants of Oymyakon are long and testing. Stories of people freezing to death while running from their dead cars are quite common here. The lowest recorded temperature was about -75C, just 20C above the coldest temperatures ever recorded on earth.
Being the coldest inhabited place on earth means people here survive. The cold winters are withstood with long hours next to burning coals, wood and of course lots of strong alcohol. Schools operate into the heart of the winter only stopping if –
2. Verhoyansk, Russia
Oymyakon and Verhoyansk are the two contenders for the top spot for the coldest frozen habitats. None can be said to be colder than the other, the only fact is that Verhoyansk’s pole of cold museum has more details on the actual stories of surviving or succumbing to the frost since the 17th century. Stalin used this city as the hell for punishing political prisoners, they however thrived and their generation of over 1500 descendants inhabit the town nowadays. Accessing the isolated town is actually easiest in the winter because you can drive over the frozen marshes, the summer is a different story altogether.
Survival here is no different from Oymyakon. Residents got a supply of fresh water in the form of a large block of ice, nowadays, there is a heating pump that runs nonstop to keep the city alive. Being an agricultural town and the home of many reindeer, attacks from wolves are not rare, the locals have to brave the cold and keep watch in the ice for these four-legged devils. The stories of people who give up and commit suicide by simply being less cautious come from Verhoyansk almost every winter.
3. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Ever heard of having to thaw the ground to bury the dead? At a 1.3 million population, Ulaanbaatar has the highest number of extreme cold survivors every year. A cold winter becomes a death storm when the wind blows at a high speed onshore freezing everything in it’s way to death. In 2010, the cold storms killed more than one million animals and subjected the whole city to the threat of death. If you have to stay in Ulaanbaatar in the winter, you need to avoid moving around in January as much as possible, Oh, and your boot will make a perfect fridge too.
Many people don’t understand just how cold a Mongolian January can get because of the high average annual temperature and the high-temperature difference between the cities. Mongolians have braved these winters for centuries though. With heavier layers of clothes and stronger fires to warm their homes, Mongolians who are mostly herders keep each other warm and life goes on. The people have actually developed a culture of generosity offering tea and food to almost any stranger in need during these hard times.
4. Yakutsk, Russia
The Yakutsk winter is popularly referred to as the Siberian curse because of the centuries the people here have had to live close to death. At minus 50, if you have spectacles, you simply can’t use them, they will rip off your skin if you try to pull them off. Imagine a city with over 270,000 people where you cannot put on spectacles for over 3 months. Yakutsk Russia is known for some sweet summers but it’s under 40 degrees winters make it the coldest city on earth. Vicinity to the extreme North is explained as the main cause of these killer sub-zeros that make Yakutsk the largest cold death zone in the northern hemisphere.
Living here is simply impossible, planes cannot land at the airport unless they are rated for -40 degrees. The houses need a thermosyphon that keeps the ground frozen and the phones can’t hold the power just long enough. At -70f the human lungs cannot hold any moisture making the 300,000 locals thirsty through the winter. The cold doesn’t freeze all the fun in Yakutsk though, the locals still get time to throw ice balls and also flush buckets of boiling water into the frozen sky and watch the heat wither into the frost.
5. Astana, Kazakhstan
The Coldest “STAN” as people call it, Kazakhstan is no foreigner to harsh weather but Astana seems to have the worst of them all. It is the second coldest capital city in the world after Ulaanbaatar but the killer snowfalls are made deadlier by the stronger winds. While a minus 30 in Mongolia may be deadly enough, in Astana, they may be accompanied by 50km/hr. of winds freezing everything in their wake.
Winters in Astana also come earlier because of the high altitude. The whole city is subjected to frozen roads from November to march with parents having to overdress the young ones to school and stand on the ready to pick them up in case the weatherman predicts another deadly storm. Despite the harsh weather, Astana seems to have the best snow clearance team in the world. While a 5cm snow in London takes a whole week to clear, Astana’s specialized team clears up 8 lane roads within a day or two of a snowfall, the locals hardly notice the difficulty.
6. Yukon, Canada
Snag, a small town in Whitehorse holds the record for the coldest day ever in North America recorded in February 1947. The accounts of water freezing before your eyes and being blown away by the wind still haunt the day. Although the summer is full sunlight, the winter here is dark and full of cold snap. The town was evacuated some years back but it has since been repopulated with the Canadian government putting in more effort to manage the ice.
While this is a popular destination for watching the Northern lights, this place is also a death zone in the winter. Popularly labeled as North America’s colder than Mars, Yukon gives the perfect description of the
7. Alaska, USA
Just like Yukon Canada, Alaskan winters come with less than 6 hours of sunlight turning the state into a gloomy freezer for months. Alaska holds the record for the US’s lowest ever temperature at -79.8F. Alaskan winters stay below 60 degrees for days giving the same experience as Yukon in Canada, records of -70 degrees are common in most places turning Alaskan air into total ice fog. If you hear on the news that Alaskan weather has warmed up, you are probably dealing with 38 below zero, just an expression of how cold it can get down there.
The cold doesn’t stop
8. Yellowknife, Canada
Once Yellowknife comes up on any map, Ostersund Sweden stops being the real winter city. The summers are great because of its southern placement making it a great tourist destination with 24 hours of the day. The cold is, however, the exact opposite. The coldest record for Yellowknife stands at minus 65 making it colder than any regular winter for a city considering the human activity and many structures. Although the annual average is just -29 degrees, Yellowknife always stands at the top of Canada’s coldest cities and of course the longest chilling winds in the world. The mayor once said that it takes a special breed of people to survive the winter in Yellowknife but the locals do not consider it that bad. Life continues through the winter with a recent influx of tourists in the region during the winter as well.
9. Montana, USA
While weather is predictable in most freeze zones, Montana cold and hots are simply a flip of a coin, it can happen any time. Snowstorms are less frequent nowadays but it is still the 9 months of winter state. Montana set a record -69.7F making it the coldest ever Contiguous state. This record low does not hold forever though because of the nature of temperature fluctuations due to the state topography but a cold day here is not so far from the Martian lows. A drop from 44 above zero to 56 below zero is the USA’s highest ever drop and it was recorded in Browning Montana in 1916. December lows sometimes hit -50 in some places but life here doesn’t stop.
Montana winter bravery is actually the most unique in the US, unlike other states where a drop below 20 means and of a business day, In Montana, it is just another day on the calendar. The children in Montana are called the thickest-skinned kids in the US braving the lowest temperatures to go to school. At -26, children still enjoy class and recess with teachers arguing that it is the safest place for them to be because the parents are not home either.
10. Hell, Norway
This “Hell” does not mean eternal damnation, it actually means luck. The biggest Irony of weather is that Scandinavian countries have warmer winters than some places further from the pole but winters here still get cold. The closer you get to Antarctica, the colder it becomes right? Actually no, there are other factors to consider especially the warm gulf stream, the Antarctica freeze still has an Impact on Eastern Norway. The “hell that freezes over” is a popular joke for this town in the coldest place in Norway. With one of the coldest breezes in the world hitting at it and the sun shining for less than 3 hours for many days, temperatures below 25 are not so rare here. The wind chills make it even colder giving one of the coldest freezes to its 1500 inhabitants.