There’s no place on Earth quite like Oymyakon, a remote village in Siberia, within Russia’s Sakha Republic. The village is known as the “Pole of Cold.” Considering the average temperature in January is -59°F, Oymyakon is officially the coldest permanently inhabited area on Earth. Even though residents are used to the frigid temperatures, this year seems to be colder than it normally is.
The village got its name from the Oymyakon River. The river’s name comes from the Even language – a dying language that is spoken by the people of the Even ethnicity. The word Oymyakon stems from the work kheium or heyum, but the actual meaning is questionable. Some people suggest that it means “where fish spend the winter,” “frozen lake,” and even “unfrozen patch of water.” The settlement itself is less than 100 years old.
During the 1920s and 30s, Oymyakon wasn’t inhabited by humans, but reindeer herders of the Yakut ethnicity frequently visited the area. The shepherds used the thermal springs there to water their herds. Because the Soviet government wanted to force nomads to have permanent homes, they declared the area a permanent settlement. Even though the conditions are extreme, Oymyakon grew.
Currently, Oymyakon has a population of around 500 people. The residents live a rural life, using fishing and herding as means to make a living. The most common cattle are reindeer, Yakut horses, and cows. Their keepers have to make sure that they don’t freeze in the winter, so they put them in barns at night in order to keep them warm. On the other hand, fish sellers thrive from the cold.
Every day, street vendors sit outside so they can try to sell the catch of the day. Because the temperature is colder than the average freezer, the fish don’t have to be put in a refrigerator. The vendors stand outside for hours every day, making the outsiders wonder how they are able to stay warm. But it’s the tourists that seem to be more extreme.
This picture is of a group of Chinese tourists playing around in the village’s thermal springs. On this particular day, the temperature dropped down to -76° F! But not all tourists are interested in doing this. In 2015, Amos Chapple, a photographer from New Zealand, visited the village and was shocked and amazed by how truly cold it was in Oymyakon and how the residents handled it so well.
“I was wearing thin trousers when I first stepped outside into – 47°C (-52°F). I remember feeling like the cold was physically gripping my legs. The other surprise was that occasionally my saliva would freeze into needles that would prick my lips,” said Chapple to Weather.com. Even though it was below freezing, he was still able to get some amazing shots!
Because they’re dealing with such extreme temperatures, life in Oymyakon can be pretty tough for residents. On a positive note, though, Oymyakon is a winter wonderland. The blanket of snow covering every inch of space makes Oymyakon one of the most beautiful places in the world. You shouldn’t do it this year, though, considering it’s so cold that thermometers are bursting.
The official weather station in Oymyakon reported that temperatures got down to -74°F! But the electronic thermometer they recently installed said it got all the way down to -79°F! Soon after reading the temperature, though, the thermometer broke because it was so cold. You may be shocked to find out that that’s not the coldest temperature recorded in Omyakon!
The temperature in Oymyakon in 1933 was a whopping -89°F! It has been officially accepted as the coldest temperature ever recorded in the northern hemisphere. That happened before Oymyakon was turned into a permanent settlement. Now, locals are just used to the below-freezing temperatures.
The villagers of Oymyakon have done a good job at adapting to the subarctic conditions. Residents are provided heat from a local coal plant. It’s pretty much impossible to have indoor plumbing because the ground is frozen solid, so most toilets are outside. Unless temperatures reach below -61°F students are expected to attend school. You won’t believe the amount of daylight they get in the winter!
Oymyakon’s winters are dark and long. There are only three hours of sunlight during the entire month of January. On the contrary, in June, there are 21 hours of sunlight every day, and the temperatures are warmer, as well. It’s common to see temperatures reach 86°F in the months from June to August. Does that make you want to visit? Well, it’s definitely not an easy trip to make.
There’s only one way to reach Oymyakon. The R504 Kolyma Highway stretches through the whole of Russian Far East. During the construction of the highway, many forced laborers lost their lives, and their bodies became part of the road, thus giving the highway the name “Road of Bones.” You may make it into Oymyakon just fine, but you might not get out.
Keeping a car running is extremely difficult in Oymyakon. The cars have to be kept in heated garages, or the engines would freeze. When a car is left outside it has to keep running, or it won’t turn back on. Operating vehicles in these harsh conditions is an obstacle, but there was no way Allied forces in WWII was going to let that stop them.
In an effort to combine their territories, Russian and American forces built an airfield in Oymyakon during World War II. Due to the lend-lease policy, American aircraft’s were brought to the Eastern Front from Alaska on ferries. Third regiment pilots that were flying from Fairbanks to Yakutsk used the airfield.