With a series of storms unleashing their fury across the United States this week — all the way from California to New York — many Americans are experiencing the full wrath of the winter season. Freezing as the temperatures may seem, they are balmy compared to those in Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia, or the Sakha Republic, in Russia. The residents of this remote Siberian city have been enduring average temperatures of below -30°F (-34°C) since December 8, 2020, with the mercury dipping as low as -59° F (-50.6 °C) on January 19, 2021.
While for most, the below-freezing weather would guarantee a slew of "snow days," for kids that live in the "world's coldest city," anything over -40°F (-40°C) is considered "cold but not very cold." Most schools only close when temperatures get below -67°F (-55°C) unless they cater to kindergarteners, in which case the exception is made when the mercury falls to -58°F (-50°C). For adults, it is almost always business as usual. For many, this means spending the day selling frozen fish and other goods in outdoor markets.
One would think that weather like this would have residents pining for summer, when temperatures rise to a more reasonable 65°F (18.5°C). But as it turns out, the residents of Yakutsk prefer the cold weather. Instead of basking in the heat, the long summer days are spent repairing homes and businesses to ensure they can withstand another harsh winter and — even worse — fending off swarms of giant, bloodthirsty Siberian mosquitoes. Fortunately, the warm season lasts for just a few weeks!
Located about 280 miles (450 kilometers) south of the Arctic Circle, Yakutsk was founded in the 13th century by the Yakuts, a nomadic Turkish tribe fleeing from their oppressive Mongolian rulers. It was conquered by Russia in the 1630s and remained mostly insignificant until the 1880s, when large amounts of gold and high-quality diamonds were discovered in the surrounding region.
Today, the bustling city of 300,000 residents boasts several hotels, cinemas, an opera house, a university, and even a zoo. Yakutsk is also home to the NEFU Mammoth Museum, home to one of the world’s only complete woolly mammoth skeletons, as well as those of woolly rhinos, ancient bison, horses, and dogs, dating from as far back as the Ice Age. Also fascinating is the Permafrost Kingdom. The world's only museum dedicated to permafrost, it comprises two neon-lit tunnels burrowed into a permanently frozen hill filled with dozens of fabulous, never-melting ice sculptures of local pagan gods, as well as other recognizable characters such as a sitting Buddha, a pharaoh, and Ded Moroz (Russia’s Santa Claus).
While Yakutsk is the world's coldest city, it is not Earth's coldest place with inhabitants. That honor belongs to the neighboring village of Oymyakon. Home to about 500 residents, "The Pole of Cold" holds the record for the coldest temperature ever documented in an inhabited place — a bone freezing -106.96°F (-77.2°C). Brrrr!
Resources: Nationalgeographic.com, independent.co.uk, yakutia.org