Is anywhere colder than the UK?
The weather has changed. Summer clothes are put away. The hats, scarves and gloves that we tucked away carefully only a few short months ago, are now being worn. It's winter.
If the weather experts have got it right, this winter will see snow blizzards in certain parts of the UK, with some 100-year old or snow records being broken.
The dark, cold, wet weather always means more traffic on the roads – and out comes the advice for winter driving (including our article, below). Despite all the warnings, we always seem to be caught unprepared for the snow and the country grinds to a standstill.
But take heart. While we shiver for a few short months, there are people around the world living normal lives in year-round temperatures well below freezing.
The coldest town on Earth is Oymyakon in Russia – with a population of only 500 or so people living there permanently. Oymyakon has all the facilities of a small town – markets, schools, even an outdoor playground. All this in a town where the average temperature doesn’t rise above -40°c for at least three months of the year. The people there have normal lives, the sorts of jobs that people in small isolated communities have, they just do it all in a significant amount of winterwear.
Verkhoyansk, also in Russia, holds the Guinness World Record for having the highest variation in temperatures of any town. The lowest recorded temperature was -67.8°c, and the highest 37.3°c – a temperature range of 105°c. How do people cope with such variability? For the most part, Verkhoyansk is cold, very cold, and the wardrobes and activities of the people reflect that. Living in a state of permafrost brings its own challenges – before digging the ground, the earth has to be warmed with fires for several days, for example. The air is so cold and dry that the simple act of breathing can cause serious lung problems.
Tosontsengel in Mongolia, has a population of around 900, a school and a small hospital – despite also having a sub-arctic climate with lows of -52.9°c. A small hydropower station and timber processing plants provide employment for many of the townspeople, and it’s business as usual even when the temperatures can be less than zero all year round. They do get some sunny days though, with temperature spikes up to around 31°c in June and July.
Vostok Research Station, and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica are not permanently inhabited, but have made this article as they stand testament to the extremes that people can cope with. People live in these research centres to monitor and document, extending the limits of human understanding of the world, and they do so at temperatures which can drop to around -90°c.
Humans are incredibly resilient and can get used to almost anything – with people living their lives, having families, work and leisure time in incredible extremes. Whether in a town like Oymyakon, where the temperature as low as -67.8°c, or, at the other end of the spectrum, Dallol, Ethiopia, where the temperature can hit 40°c any month of the year.
We humans are tough and if the snow hits Britain, even if the pipes freeze and the trains stop running, and even if there’s always one glove missing from every pair, we will be okay. If that’s not quite enough to put a smile on your face, the shortest day – after which the nights will start to get lighter – will be with us on Sunday 22 December.