Oymyakonsky, Russia, located along the Indigirka River, 30 kilometers (19 mi) northwest of Tomtor on the Kolyma Highway. It is the coldest permanently inhabited settlement on Earth.
The remote village in eastern Siberia is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to the nearest city. A monument in the town square commemorates the day in 1924 when the temperature fell to a record 96 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Oymyakon, north of the Sea of Okhotsk.
The concrete statue of a bull in the center of town marks the coldest temperature ever recorded in any inhabited place on earth. Ironically, Oymyakon takes its name from the Russian for “water that doesn’t freeze.” The settlement was born in the 1920s when winter herders would water their reindeer at a thermal spring there.
Pipes freeze, so most restrooms are plumbing-less outhouses. The ground freezes and few crops grow, so the local diet is mostly meat and fish, sometimes eaten frozen. Engines freeze so quickly that many cars are kept running all the time. Your eyelashes and saliva will freeze into painful little needles on your face as you walk down the street. Even vodka will freeze if a bottle is left outside.
During the shortest days of the year, every night is 21 hours long in Oymyakon. But at the end of every dark winter, the town hosts the “Cold Pole Festival,” hosted by Chyskhaan, the Yakutian “Lord of Frost.” This jolly pagan spirit, who looks something like a cross between Gandalf and the ice queen from Frozen, invites the world into his frigid domain every March for reindeer races, dog sledding, ice fishing, and other merriment. But Oymyakon is a two-day drive from Yakutsk, the nearest airport, which probably cuts down on tourism.
This past January, the temperatures in Oymyakon hit 88 degrees below zero, close to its 1924 cold record. But just two weeks later, the region was hit by a comparative warm spell, with thermometers spiking to a balmy 17 degrees. That’s a 105-degree temperature swing for Oymyakon in just two weeks! Omolon, just to the east, hit 38.4 degrees, which was 64 degrees warmer than its January average.
Extreme temperature shifts in the Arctic may become common on a warming planet—though the residents of Oymyakon might relish the chance to thaw out their eyelashes for a few days every winter.