What is cold?
How we perceive cold weather varies significantly from person to person – while one person might be overwhelmed by a mild European winter, others won’t wear a hat for love or money even when the weather forecast declares it’s -15 Celsius. In my home region – Bashkortostan – waking up and seeing -30 C on the thermometer was a January dream for every kid as it served as a lawful excuse to miss school. If you ask me, I’d say the moody climate of St. Petersburg makes it the chilliest place on Earth (it’s all hiding in the piercing sea winds blowing from everywhere). Long story short, we’re here to experience really frosty temperatures by visiting some locations in different regions of Russia where it takes five seconds for hot water to freeze outside. Who knows, maybe this acquaintance will make us less picky about the rare winter rains of the Northern Capital?
- Where: The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)
- Minimum temperature record: -71 С, 1924
Welcome to Oymyakon, the coldest place in Russia, which, by the way, also contends for the title of the coldest place in the world. The road here is paved with the bones of prisoners who built the numerous Gulag camps here in 1932. Life here is no fairy tale – ask any of the 462 local residents, who face an average temperature of -42 to -50 C every winter and are totally familiar with -60 C. Such an inhospitable climate is a result of a unique geographic location: there’s no ocean nearby to moderate the extreme conditions deep in the frigid valley. Add dry air and no wind and voila, it is almost impossible to catch a cold here! The daily routine of the village’s inhabitants is unusual as well – they wear mostly fur and woolen clothes, widely use sleds as a substitute for public transport, and have no plumbing due to the permanently-frozen soil.
- Where: The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)
- Minimum temperature record: -64.4 С,1891
If you’ve already thought that no forms of life but small villages can survive these severe conditions, we’re here to prove you’re wrong. What about chilling out at Yakutsk, the icy capital of Yakutia with a population of 320,000? The climate here is slightly milder than in Oymyakon – the average winter temperature hovers around -40 C, although it can drop to below -50 C, so spit can freeze before it hits the ground, and that’s not a hyperbole. From October to May, the locals wrap themselves in warm fur coats and clean the frost from their eyelashes. It may come as a surprise, but in summer the air here can warm up to 35 C. Despite crazy temperatures, citizens don’t hide at home – they mostly work in diamond mining and logging, and the city preserves a rich cultural heritage. Generally, Yakutsk is not so hard to reach: a seven-hour direct flight from Moscow will take you right to this chilling destination, but you probably want to ask yourself if you really want to take the leap of visiting there.
To give you a rough idea of what all this fuss is about – I know it’s hard to imagine what -50 C is life if you’ve never been there (because a couple of hours ago I had no idea as well) – let’s take a short break here to enjoy this video from a Yakutian guy who demonstrates the influence of weather on objects by hammering a nail with a frozen banana and easily tearing up bed-sheets.
- Where: Krasnoyarsk Region
- Minimum temperature record: -61 C
Moving towards the warmer places among the coldest points, we hit Dudinka, a closed town that sits on the Yenisei River. With only three hotels for the few tourists who are granted permission to enter the town, Dudinka is ready to please with long winters, during which temperatures generally hover around -30 C, although able to dip to below -50 C, and the summers barely hitting double digits. It is home to the Day of the Reindeer Herder, a festival for which the indigenous populations dress up in traditional costumes and race reindeer. Here, you can also notice a feature of many northern cities – colorful facades of panel houses meant to brighten up pale landscapes. However, this view doesn’t bring a lot of joy to the locals, who consider it a little ironic and a little depressing.
- Region: The Republic of Komi
- Minimum temperature record: -52 С, 1978
Europe’s easternmost city, Vorkuta is located by the Vorkuta River and was founded after large coal deposits were discovered in the area. It offers a 70-day respite from sub-zero weather a year, embraced by snow and icy wind the rest of the time. Despite the harsh climate, Vorkuta is a beautiful city with inspiring mountain landscapes and spell-binding summer-long white nights. There are black pages in the history of this place associated with the name Vorkutlag. The area around is inhabited by the Nenets, the nomadic reindeer herders, who feel quite comfortable among this unusual nature.