With yet another storm unleashing its fury on the Eastern, Midwestern and even Southern regions of the United States, residents are really feeling the wrath of winter this year, and probably thinking that nobody in the world has it as bad as they do. Turns out, such is not the case. The people of Yakutsk in Russia have been enduring even worse weather for centuries, and have actually gotten to like it!
Located in remote Eastern Siberia, the world's coldest city that boasts a population of 220,000, endures through winter temperatures that average -45°C (-49°F). And while for most of us, that means a guaranteed 'snow day', for the kids of Yakutsk it is just a normal winter day. They only get days off from school when temperatures get below -55°C (-67°F) unless they are in kindergarten in which case they get to relax when the mercury falls to -50°C (-58°F). As for the adults? For them it's almost always work as usual, which often means spending hours selling wares in outdoor markets. Of course, these are the same people that find temperatures of -25°Ç (-13°F) balmy!
Though the locals are accustomed to the harsh weather, for visitors the area can be very intimidating. Most do not last in the open for more than a few minutes and even those that do, have to be careful given that the freezing fog restricts visibility to less than 10 meters (32 feet). Also, people that wear glasses are advised to tuck them away whilst outside, because the freezing weather causes metal frames to get so glued to their cheeks that there is a danger of the skin being ripped out when the glasses are removed.
One would think that weather like this would have residents pining for summer when temperatures rise all the way to 35°C (95°F). But as it turns out, they are not big fans of warm weather. That's because not only is it their busiest time of year, given that they have to check on the infrastructure to ensure it can endure another winter, but it also, brings out hordes of mosquitoes. Fortunately, the season only lasts for two to three weeks!
Getting to Yakutsk, which lies six time zones away from Moscow, is not easy. And while the place is hardly a tourist destination, it does need supplies. These are hauled in by truckers on the only road the leads to this remote area. Often referred to as 'Road of Bones' because of the many inmates that lost their lives while building it, the 1,200-mile M56 Kolyma highway stretches all the way from Magadan, a Russian port on the Pacific to Yakutsk. With washed out bridges and sections of road covered by streams, the highway is in such disrepair that it is only accessible during the winter, when the frozen water allows for the trucks to be driven over.
As you can imagine, the two-week journey across some of the world's most desolated areas is not for the faint of heart. The brave truckers that do undertake it, always travel in pairs. That's because a breakdown on the way, would result in guaranteed death. The truckers also never switch off their engines during the entire time, for fear that a freeze will set in causing the vehicles to stall.
So how did this remote city even get established? It was founded in the 13th and 14th centuries by a nomadic Turkic tribe known as the Yakuts, who fled to get away from the oppressive rule of the Mongols. In the 1630's Russia conquered the area and established it as one of their outposts. While the Russians used it to transfer some political prisoners in 1917, Yakutsk remained pretty much insignificant until the 1880's when large amounts of gold and diamonds were discovered in the area.
Today the bustling city, which boasts an opera theater and university, is the headquarters of Russian company Alrosa, which controls 20% of the world's rough diamonds. And while 40% of the city's residents are still Yakuts, the majority are immigrants seeking an adventure and higher salaries. But don't feel sorry for them - They are thriving in the weather and would not have it any other way.
The residents probably take solace in the fact that while Yakutsk is the coldest in the world, it is not the coldest place. The few inhabitants of neighboring Oimyakon have it much worse. Also known as the The Pole of Cold, it holds the record for the coldest temperature in an inhabited place - a bone freezing -71.2°C (-106.96°F). Brrrr!
Resources: wikipedia.org,independet.co.uk, mnn.com