Most of us in the UK have woken up to snow at some point over the last week or so, with temperatures dropping well below freezing. Roads have been blocked, trains cancelled and airports shut, whilst many schools throughout the UK have been closed. But spare a thought for the pupils attending school in Oymyakon, Siberia, they have to wait for the needle to drop below -52°C before they get sent home from school, and even worse, they only built an inside toilet last year! Average temperatures are usually a comparatively mild -45°C so; perhaps they have just learnt to cope better in the snow than we have here in the UK.
The unfortunate inhabitants of Altnaharra in the most northern reaches of Scotland have broken the record so far in 2010 for the coldest temperatures in the UK, with a bone tingling -22.3°C recorded recently.
Whilst Altnaharra in Scotland has recorded the lowest UK temperatures this year, they do not hold the record for the coldest ever, this honour goes to Braemar, slightly to the south east, where in January 1982, the thermostat dropped to -27.2°C!
To some of us that is simply too cold to even think about, but for others, it’s positively mild. The record for the lowest temperature ever recorded on earth for an inhabited area was in Vostok, Antarctica, in 1983 when temperatures were recorded at a staggering -89.2°C! Amazingly, Vostok and the nearby South Pole receive very little in the way of snowfall, but they do have to put up with 80 days a year of total darkness due to their unique geographical location.
The record for the coldest city on earth goes to Yakutsk in Russia which has recorded temperatures of -64.4°C and is where when the River Lena freezes, it’s actually possible to drive your car over it; however it prides itself in the fact that both the city’s airports hardly ever have to close.
The coldest temperature ever recorded in North America is at Snag, Yukon in Canada, the temperature dropped to -63.9°C in 1947, however as the mercury in the thermometer once froze, this may well have been beaten at some time. Breath vapour trails hung in the air for several minutes and the freezing silence was so eerie you could actually hear dogs barking and people talking four miles away!
Stanley in Idaho sits at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains and despite summer temperatures often hitting 30°C, in winter they plummet to -47°C, showing a massive difference in annual temperatures.
Another record breaker for freezing temperatures is International Falls in Minnesota where the temperature drops to the same in Celsius as it does in Fahrenheit; -40°C is the only point on the scale where the two temperatures coincide.
Probably the warmest lowest temperature (if that makes sense) happened in Singapore, where temperatures once dropped as low as 19.4°C, yes 19.4, no minus sign! Due to its location on the equator, this is the coldest ever recorded in the country – lucky them! That’s a staggering 110° higher than poor Vostok!
So as you scrape the ice from your windscreen again in the morning, or nip to the nice warm toilet in your centrally heated school. Spare a thought for those slightly less fortunate than yourself, for those who wake up to sub zero temperatures nearly all year round, and even for those who live in Singapore, as they may go through life and never witness the sheer icy beauty that overwhelms us when the snow sets in.