It’s hard to define exactly where the coldest places on Earth are. It sounds like it should be easy – measure how hot or cold everywhere is, and then rank them. But how you define a place? Antarctica is surely the coldest place on Earth but is it all one place? Or many different points? And do you take the lowest ever temperature or an average over the year? And which year? There are a lot of questions and, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t make for a flawless list. But here are ten places you certainly would’t want to be striding around in swimwear. Shrug on an extra sweater and read our Top 10 Coldest Places on Earth.
10. Rogers Pass, Montana, USA
Located 5,610m above sea level on the Continental Divide in Montana, this is one of the warmer places on the list, but the average temperature in January still fluctuates between 14 and 33F, so never going far above freezing. It’s like that for the whole winter, with lows at freezing point or below from October till April. But on the bright side, the summer months are fairly hot, with a high of 82 in July. So, overall the average mean temperature for the year is 43.5F, which is relatively high. But that would be little comfort if you happened to visit in December and you knew it wasn’t going to warm up till Easter. It’s also the place where the lowest ever temperature was recorded in the contiguous United States – a bone-chilling minus 70F on January 20 1954.
9. Stanley, Idaho, USA
This Idaho city has a population of just 63 – little wonder as the winters are pretty unforgiving. The record low is -54F in December, and the average lows every January hit the -1F level, only getting up to 18F on a warm day. But again, the summers are warmer with highs of up to 78.5F in July. There was even a record high of 98F, but most Julys there are 10 frosty nights in the month. So, it’s a city of extremes, which makes the average..fairly average at 35F. But given that’s just above freezing, it’s probably not the place to head to if you’re after sea and sun. But it does have a museum, a mayor and even its own chamber of commerce – not bad for just 63 people!
8. Prospect Creek, Alaska, USA
This settlement is currently uninhabited, but it was once home to several thousand construction workers who were building the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System between 1974 and 1977. The camp was taken down after the pipeline was finished and now there’s no-one to enjoy the daily mean temperatures of -14.9F in January. The lowest temperature ever in the US was recorded there, beating Rogers Pass by 10 degrees with a -80F recorded in January 1971. Like many of these places, it warms up during the summer, thoroughly confusing the bears and bald eagles that do live there, and raising the overall annual average to 24.4. Still, I’m not applying for planning permission to build my next home there, especially as it snows constantly from October to April, with up to 24 inches in February and March!
7. Snag, Yukon, Canada
We’ve had the record for the lowest temperature in the contiguous USA, the lowest temperature in the whole of the USA…now, how about the lowest in continental North America? That honor goes to the village of Snag in Canada, where a temperature of -81F was recorded on February 3rd 1947. That broke the long-standing record of 80F set in Snag…on February 2nd 1947. When that was recorded, there were between 8 and 10 people living in Snag and they were a mixture of natives and fur traders. It also had its own airstrip, with a staff of 15-20, but that closed in 1968. While in Snag, researchers also noticed a strange acoustic effect – voices could be heard clearly over a distance of several miles. This has never quite been explained.
The average annual temperature in Snag nowadays is a high of 34.3F and a low of 10.3F, making a mean average of 22.3F. January regularly goes down as far as -27F, so again there is quite some difference between the hottest and the coldest months. Snag is currently uninhabited.
6. Oymyakon, Russia
When it comes to cold, Russia is just in another league. Oymyakon has a record low of -90F, which is the lowest recorded temperature for any permanently inhabited location on Earth, and it was recorded on February 6th 1933 (the first week of February seems to be a good week for these kind of records). Of course, the daily temperatures don’t ever go quite that low, but the average lows for December, January and February are all in the minus fifties. Even the average for January is still a terrifying -51.5F, although in July it climbs all the way up to an average of 58.8F. With a population of 472, the town is quite big compared to some on the list and its far north location means that it enjoys a 21-hour day in June, although the December day only lasts 3 hours. Fancy booking a holiday there yet?
5. Eureka, Canada
This research base has no permanant inhabitants, but there is a rotation of 8 staff who work there at any one time. It’s been used as a weather station since its inception in 1947. It can’t be the most alluring place to work, with no sunlight from October to February and an annual average temperature of -1.8F. But at least you wouldn’t get rained on during those long winter months – there is no rain between October and May, causing the area to be a polar desert. Even so, there’s a lot of plant life as the temperatures are too low for the moisture in the air to evaporate. It’s even been described as “The Garden Spot of the Arctic”, with wildlife such as oxen, foxes and wolves roaming around, and the endless sunshine of the summer makes it an ideal habitat for nesting birds. A place of great contrasts.
4. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Certainly the most populated place on our list, the capital of Mongolia holds the dubious honors of being the coldest capital in the world and one of the most polluted. It’s also quite high up, being 1,310m above sea level, and home to 1,278,000 people. Apparently, it’s a great cultural center, with museums like the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, which is just as well because you’d hardly want to linger outside in temperatures of -16F like the ones you’d find there in January. Across the year, the average temperature is around -2.4F and the climate is like a subarctic one, thanks to icy winds. But I hear the people are friendly, so that’s something…
3. Eismitte, Greenland
It’s fair to say that the next few places on the list are largely devoid of museums of fine art. In fact, Eismitte (literally “Middle of the Ice” in German) is largely devoid of anything. It was the site of an expedition in the 30s which took temperature readings of between -85F and 27F and although we don’t have enough information to accurately gauge what the annual average would be, we can take a guess by splitting the difference between the average of the warmest month (July, 10F) and the coldest (February, -53F). That gives us a chilly average of -21.5F, which is definitely cold enough to get onto the list.
You can’t be too churlish about the lack of information – the figures we do have came at a horrendous cost. That 1930-1931 mission claimed the lives of Alfred Wegener and Rasmus Villumsen, while another member of the party had his toes amputated without anaesthetic. That’s enough reason to never want to go there and find out more…
2. North Ice, Greenland
Another place about which little is known, North Ice was the subject of a British expedition in the 1950s, where they successfully recorded the lowest temperature in North America, beating Snag’s record by 6 degrees (but as Snag is part of continental North America, it still gets to keep that title). An astounding -87F was recorded at North Ice on January 9th 1954 and, though it warrants its own page on tourism sites, it’s unlikely to be a top holiday destination any time soon.
1. Vostok, Antarctica
And of course, the number one spot has to go to Antarctica which, if inhabited and measured, would probably fill these kind of lists on its own. Vostok is a Russian weather monitoring station which holds the record for the lowest ever recorded temperature on Earth – minus 128.6F, on 21st July 1983 – although there are claims that it dipped to -132F in 1997. The warmest month there is January, with a mean average of -25.8F, but the mean averages for the winter months are consistently in the minus 80s. It’s also 3,488m above sea level which means there’s a distinct lack of oxygen and there’s almost no moisture either. All considered, it is one of the most dangerous, inhospitable and unpleasant places in the world. Surprisingly, there are no permanent inhabitants…