How to Survive Winter in the World's Coldest City

Atlas Obscura
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Jan. 31 2014 12:30 PM

Surviving Winter in Yakutsk, the World's Coldest City

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To watch the sun rise during winter in Yakutsk, you need to set your alarm clock for 10:40 a.m. In late December, the sun will appear a few minutes later, softly illuminating a few scurrying, fur-clad forms on the snowy fog-filled streets.

Yakutsk, located in Yakutia, a republic in Siberia, is the world's coldest city. In January the mean temperature hovers around minus 40 F, but days in the negative 70s are not unheard of. At this level of coldness, it's best not to wear glasses outside—the metal freezes and sticks to your face, making it difficult to remove your specs without tearing off chunks of cheek.

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The 270,000 residents of Yakutsk have a few key methods for surviving the unrelenting cold. The first is to spend as little time as possible outside. Five to 10 minutes in the fresh air can be enough to cause fatigue, stinging pain in the face and long-lasting aches in the fingers and toes. Twenty minutes is the point at which even the most hardy Yakutsk resident thinks it's time to go indoors.

Fortunately, Yakutsk has a decent public transport system that functions even in extreme cold. People travel to work and school by bus, or hail a taxi if it's late at night. Those who own cars park their vehicles in heated garages with a blanket wrapped around the battery. When they drive, they keep the engine running all day.

The right clothing is crucial. For maximum warmth, it's all about fur: reindeer boots, muskrat hats, and fox coats. Such gear is pricey—a pair of decent reindeer boots costs around $600—but it's a solid investment in not freezing to death.

Winter in Yakutsk lasts from October to April. The arrival of spring is cause for celebration, but comes with its own problems: the thawing of all the ice and snow can result in severe floods. A short-lived summer—basically July—brings a brief respite, with temperatures that can reach into the 90s. After that it's time to prepare for another seven-month winter.   

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