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Green Bay vs. Siberia: comparing Poles of Cold

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 5:02 PM GMT on January 20, 2008

Sure, it's cold in football's Pole of Cold--Green Bay, Wisconsin--where game time temperatures for today's NFC Championship Game will be lucky to crack zero degrees Fahrenheit, making it the third coldest NFL playoff game ever. Yeah, those crazy bare-chested Green Bay fans sure look pretty tough in that extreme cold, but they are total wimps compared to the people living in Siberia's Pole of Cold--Ojmjakon, Russia. The temperatures in Ojmjakon this weekend fell to -76°F, making the game being played in Green Bay seem like a summer tea party.

This weekend's -76°F reading was not very unusual for Ojmjakon (also spelled Oymyakon), which is considered to be the coldest inhabited town on earth. Ojmjakon also reached -76°F in both 2007 and 2005. The city lies in a river valley in eastern Siberia, and the cold air pools at night in the bottom of the valley, creating ridiculously low temperatures. On February 6, 1933, an absolute minimum of -67.7°C (-89.9°F) was registered in Oymyakon, putting the city in a virtual tie with the -67.8°C (-90.0°F) measured at Verkhoyank, Siberia on January 15, 1885. These are the two coldest temperatures ever measured on earth, outside of Antarctica. On January 26, 1926, a astonishing -71.2°C (-96.2°F) was measured at Ojmjakon. However, this temperature is unofficial, since the temperature was not directly measured, but obtained by extrapolation.

Figure 1.The world's coldest inhabited city, Ojmjakon, Russia, lies in a river valley in eastern Siberia. Image credit: Google.

According to Chris Burt's Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book, supply trucks servicing the area must never turn off their engines in winter. If the engine block freezes, truckers light a fire underneath it to warm it up. When the temperature falls below -58°F (-50°C), ice crystals in the atmosphere make a swishing sound called the "whispering of the stars". What's it like at -80°? Again, Chris Burt's book provides some insight. Two weather observers at the Snag airport in the Yukon of Canada experienced -81.4°F on February 3, 1947, and reported:

"We threw a dish of water high into the air, just to see what would happen. Before it hit the ground, it made a hissing noise, froze, and feel as tiny round pellets the size of wheat kernels. Spit also froze before hitting the ground. Ice became so hard the axe rebounded from it. At such temperatures, metal snapped like ice; wood became petrified; and rubber was just like cement. The dogs' leather harness couldn't bend or it would break...It was unique to see a vapor trail several yards long pursuing one as he moved about outside. Becoming lost was of no concern. As an observer walked along the runway each breath remained as a tiny motionless mist behind him at head level. These patches of human breath fog remained in the still air for three or four minutes before fading away. One observer even found such a trail still marking his path when he returned along the same path 15 minutes later".

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.