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The Greatest Snow on Earth?

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A look at some of the world's coldest places

Winter is upon us and the thaw is still months off, yet many of us are already dreaming of warmer weather, lighter clothes and daylight hours that last beyond the workday. No matter how cold or blustery your winter has been, just remember it could always be worse. Comfort yourself by having a look at some of the world's coldest locations, and your own winter experience might end up seeming downright balmy.

The seasons are swapped in the Southern Hemisphere, making January an ideal time to check out South America, but unless you like losing feeling in your fingers, you'll want to avoid Argentina's Patagonia region during the winter months of June, July and August. The continent's coldest temperature was recorded at more than 20 degrees below zero in Sarmiento, a village tucked into a small fertile valley, and temperatures in the unpopulated areas of petrified forest likely drop even lower--and stay there for quite some time.

That doesn't even come close to the coldest place in North America, however, at minus 87 degrees Fahrenheit. This claim to fame belongs to the northern reaches of Greenland where there are no stable populations and where only researchers and adventurers dare tread. A few nights in a snow cave here would make an uninsulated Minnesota barn seem an attractive alternative.

Then there's Russia where the snowflakes are big enough to catch you and the temperatures are just ridiculously low. Oymyakon, a small village in Siberia, has the not-so-coveted honor of experiencing the lowest recorded land temperature in a regularly populated area, and in the Northern Hemisphere as a whole. In February of 1933, the temperature dropped to minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit; average temperatures for the winter months, which last more than half the year at this latitude, are regularly below minus 50 degrees F. Shoveling the driveway doesn't seem so bad when you reflect that the task at least has a foreseeable end.

What makes Oymyakon truly amazing is that even as the record holder for the coldest regularly inhabited locale on Earth, it's still only about three-quarters as cold as the coldest temperature ever recorded on land. Researchers at the Vostok Station in Antarctica recorded a temperature of minus 128.6 degrees F on July 21, 1983, and this record is still going strong almost 30 years later. There usually are some residents at this station through the winter, though without bringing in sufficient supplies, the area would be completely uninhabitable by humans.

You can still get colder within the confines of Earth's atmosphere and gravitational pull, but you can't keep your feet on the ground. If you head straight up for about 80 miles, you'll come to the top of the mesosphere where temperatures stay at around minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and can dip as low as minus 140. The lack of oxygen up there creates other survival difficulties, but the cold alone is enough reason to discourage a trip to the upper atmosphere anytime soon. Instead, just be happy you're relaxing in a country where the average winter temperatures are actually above zero - practically swimsuit weather!

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