Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Coldest Town on Earth Wants You to Stop Complaining

We all grumble and grimace as we trudge through the snow, heads down, faces firmly looking at the ground to avoid the stinging wind. When you’re just trying to go about your daily life freezing weather is uncomfortable, it’s annoying, and you always find yourself wondering why the hell anyone decided to build a town in the town that you’re living in.

It’s important to remember, however—In an attempt at finding the silver lining of the situation—that there are places much, much colder. In fact, the only people who can truthfully have the last word on complaining about the cold are the citizens of Oymyakon, Russia. The coldest town on Earth.

Oymyakon is a remote village, population size between 500 and 800, tucked away in windswept Northeastern Russia that experiences average winter temperatures of -58 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest temperature ever recorded in this freezerbox of a town was -90 degrees Fahrenheit in 1933. To put things in perspective, the coldest temperature ever recorded on the ground was -128 degrees Fahrenheit, and that was in the inhospitable continent of Antarctica.

Oymyakon, Siberia. Image: Google Maps

Most of Oymyakon’s inhabitants are Turkic Yakut, indigenous to the Northeast region of Siberia. They are traditionally hunters and reindeer herders, and because the they live in part of the permafrost region of the globe where the soil is frozen as much as 1,640 meters down, they can’t grow crops and still rely heavily on meat. A local by the name of Bolot Bochkarev told weather.com that "Yakutians love the cold food, the frozen raw Arctic fish, white salmon, whitefish, frozen raw horse liver, but they are considered to be delicacy." In regular daily life, he said, "We like eating the soup with meat. The meat is a must. It helps our health much.”

Living in such extreme environments means other aspects of life that we generally take for granted are also affected. Wearing glasses, for example, is risky because they will freeze to your face. Indoor plumbing is a fool’s errand because of the frozen ground, so most toilets are in outhouses. Yes, this means you must run through -50 degree weather just to take a pee.

Heated garages are a necessity unless you want the axle grease on your car to freeze—and when you run errands, the engine’s got to keep running. Planes don’t fly into the area in winter. Period.

Living in extreme cold can bring its own set of health problems as well, particularly with regard to older people, like frostbite and body temperature loss. The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety—a department quite familiar with cold—notes that exposed skin in temperatures of -50 degrees can freeze in 5 to 10 minutes. This means going outside in Oymyakon with exposed skin puts you at very high risk of getting frostbite and hypothermia—an overall drop in body temperature that can be fatal in severe cases. That kind of cold also constricts blood vessels, which can increase the risk of heart attack in older people.

A Yakutian horse in Oymyakon. Image Maarten Takens/Flickr

Being in a constant state of cold makes you hungry, too. To keep its body temperature up, your body needs lots of hearty fuel, or it can experience an unhealthy amount of weight loss over time. The meat-heavy diet of the Yakuts people in Oymyakon helps keep them warm.

So how do you live in a veritable freezer—colder than a freezer—actually? “Russki chai, literally Russian tea, which is their word for vodka,” photographer Amos Chapple told weather.com after a visit to the village. Another trick is bundling up, truly bundling up, with many layers and hats, scarves and gloves. No, “I’m only going to be outside for like 5 minutes so I don’t need gloves,” business. That, and staying inside.

Oymyakon is a two-day drive from the regional capital Yakutsk (risk lovers will be familiar with this city), which is itself, the coldest city on Earth. But, although the Sakha Republic (the autonomous region of Russia containing Oymyakon and Yakutsk) might hold the icebox crown, many other places in Northern Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia experience needle sharp icicle boogers, too.

In the United States, for example, the town of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the U.S., boasts an average annual temperature of 11 degrees, and winter averages in the -20s. 5 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, Barrow also experiences polar night—that is, over 60 days of complete darkness (no, there aren’t any vampires though). This makes New York’s average January low of 26 degrees seem balmy.

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