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Photographer captures stunning scenes from coldest inhabited place on Earth

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
December 14, 2016, 2:18:12 PM EST

Following a disruptive snowstorm, a fresh wave of arctic air is expected to move into the Midwest and Eastern U.S. this week. While conditions will be frigid, they will likely pale in comparison to the subzero winter climate of Oymyakon, Russia, widely considered the coldest inhabited place on Earth.

Located in the Sakha Republic of Russia, the isolated town of about 500 will endure high temperatures that struggle to surpass minus 20 F through the middle of this week and that's perfectly common during their winter months. Lows will range from minus 50 to minus 40 F.


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It may not be the first location that comes to mind when planning somewhere to visit during the winter, but for photographer Amos Chapple the opportunity to capture what life is like in this frozen landscape was too tempting, so he went not once, but twice.

Chapple, a native of New Zealand, spent six weeks there during January of 2013 and 2014 to “hunt out the beauty of the region.” He took a seven-hour flight from Moscow to visit the capital city of Yakutsk, the coldest major city on Earth, before traversing the tundra on a two-day drive to Oymyakon.

The average high in January for Oymyakon starts at minus 53 F (minus 47.2 C) but rises to minus 47 F (minus 43.9 C) by the end of January, according to AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls. The only other location around the world with similar normals would be would be interior Antarctica where the mean annual temperature is minus 70 F (minus 57 C), he added.

However, the lowest temperature Chapple felt during his visit, was minus 63.4 F (minus 53 C) in Yakutsk, not Oymyakon. When he first stepped out of the plane in Yakutsk into temperatures below minus 50 F, "It felt like the cold was physically gripping my legs," he said, adding that he couldn't have managed without his fur hat and boots.

Chapple, who speaks 'decent' Russian, stayed in a private residence which housed travelers for a fee. He said the villagers of Oymyakon avoided the cold as much as possible.

“The streets were completely empty and any time you saw someone they were usually hurrying between buildings with their mitts over their faces,” he said. “The locals are extremely wary of the cold.”

The brutal cold presented a challenge to Chapple in terms of shooting photos. There was a lot he needed to learn, including holding his breath before making a frame, because the mist from his breath swirled around like cigar smoke.

“If [the mist] drifts in front of your lens, the picture's ruined,” Chapple explained.

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It was a challenge trying to keep the camera as warm as possible, because as soon as he left the home he was staying in, the temperature of the camera began to drop. While walking outside, he kept the zipper of his jacket half open and stuffed the camera inside, pulling it out only when he saw a worthwhile photo.

"Because I had so many layers underneath, it wasn't hugely uncomfortable, but it made a world of difference for slowing down the cooling of the camera. Once the guts of the camera froze, that was it for the day,” he said.


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Whenever he would return inside, Chapple said he experienced a 70- to 80-degree temperature jump. That drastic increase in temperature would cause the cold camera to fog up for several hours. To combat this potential nuisance, Chapple placed the camera inside a plastic bag with a clean cotton t-shirt, squeezed as much air out as possible, then twisted the bag tightly shut before walking inside.

“It would take around three hours before the camera was warm enough to safely take out of the bag without fogging,” he said.

Despite the bone-chilling temperatures, Chapple said the weather was very settled, sunny out on the tundra, but foggy in the cities.

“Their climate is dry, averaging only 53.7 mm (2.11 inches) for the year. Most of their precipitation comes in their short summer,” Nicholls said.

During this past month of January, temperatures for Oymyakon were actually above normal by 21.3 degrees F (11.9 degrees C), according to Nicholls. Through the middle of this week, temperatures will range from minus 15 to minus 20 F in Yakutsk, while in Oymyakon, temperatures will shift from minus 30 F on Tuesday to minus 23 F by Wednesday.


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