Coldest Places on Earth

Noticed a chill in the air? You’re not alone. A blast of subzero temperatures has swept the Northeast, closing schools, stalling cars, and collectively freezing billions of nose hairs.

Many Americans outside the Northeast weren’t much warmer. Even Tallahassee, Fla., saw temperatures drop to 25°F. Outside the US, South Koreans are seeing the lowest temperatures in almost a century, prompting the government to require public agencies to keep the thermostat set below 64°F to save energy.

Still, these temperatures are downright balmy when compared to some places on Earth. Here’s a list of sites that will make today seem like T-shirt weather.

4. International Falls, Minnesota

Widely described as the coldest city in the continental United States, International Falls, Minn, sits on the Rainy River, just across from Fort Frances, Ontario.

The town has long promoted itself as the “Icebox of the Nation,” but the trademark for this slogan has been repeatedly challenged by the town of Fraser, Colo. In 1986, International Falls paid Fraser to relinquish its claim, and then registered it as a federal trademark. Ten years later, the town forgot to renew the trademark, and Fraser tried to snap it up. A 12-year legal battle ensued, with International Falls prevailing in the end. Needless to say, relations between the two towns remain chilly.

3. Oymyakon, Sakha Republic, Russia

On February 6, 1933, a temperature of -90 degrees F was recorded in Oymyakon, the coldest place in the northern hemisphere and the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth.

Home to a few hundred people, Oymyakon’s single schools closes only when the temperature drops to 61 degrees F below zero. The city of Yakutsk, population 210,000 is a three day-drive away, and is the world’s coldest city. There, according to the BBC, residents leave their cars running all day. Visitors are advised not to wear glasses outside, as they may become difficult to subsequently remove.

2. Vostok Station, Antarctica

The lowest reliably-measured, naturally-occurring temperature on the Earth’s surface happened about 800 miles East of the South Pole and at an altitude of 11,444 feet, on July 21, 1983. There, temperatures dropped to minus 126.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The site is Vostok Station, Antarctica, a Russian research outpost whose fields of inquiry include hot cocoa, fuzzy socks, and getting dressed very quickly in the morning. It is one of the most inaccessible and inhospitable places on Earth. Some 25 scientists live there in the summer, where temperatures get up to a relatively pleasant minus 25 degrees F. Only 13 or so remain there through the long winter, when the mercury plunges to minus 85 degrees F. (We mean that metaphorically, because mercury actually freezes solid at around 40 below zero.)

1. Up in the air

The earth’s coldest natural temperatures are occurring about sixty miles above your head, where temperatures can get as low as 146 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

This is the top of the mesosphere – the layer of the earth’s atmosphere above the stratosphere. Being too high for aircraft but too low for orbiting spacecraft, the mesosphere is the least-understood part of our atmosphere. The coldest part of the mesosphere is the mesopause, the boundary between the mesosphere and the thermosphere.

Above the mesopause, solar radiation can push temperatures to over 2,700 degrees, although the gas molecules at these altitudes are so far apart that temperature cannot be measured in a conventional sense.

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