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The Midwest is colder than Antarctica, Alaska, and Siberia right now

North American cities will be some of the coldest places in the world this week

Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images

Saying that the upper half of North America is cold right now would be like saying that the Sun is hot. A polar vortex has caused extremely cold winds to sweep across the country, promising record-low temperatures, with highs still well below freezing.

How cold is that? Not that many places are likely to beat the coldest inhabited place on Earth, Oymyakon in Russia, which is expected to see lows in the negative 40s Fahrenheit this week. But plenty of Midwestern cities are going to be chillier than areas in the Arctic, Antarctic, and even other planets. Here is a list of places that will be warmer than the Midwest over the next couple of days.


While the Midwest shivers, Alaska has actually canceled its Willow 300 Sled Dog Race because it’s too warm. (The 300 Sled Race is a qualifier for the famous Iditarod.) Warm — which here means “above-freezing” — temperatures have led to pockets of open water on the trail, which would make the race dangerous. Similarly, the Yukon Quest race has been shortened because there’s just not enough snow.


The low in Siberia is about 4 degrees Fahrenheit today. Milwaukee? Negative 20. Major bragging rights, but at what cost?

Mount Everest base camp

Early on Wednesday, Indianapolis was already negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Indianapolis Star. In contrast, Everest’s base camp (which, to be clear, is not the peak of Everest) was a positively balmy negative 2 degrees.


By Thursday morning, Chicago is likely to reach its coldest-ever temperature of negative 27 degrees Fahrenheit, with a high of negative 15 degrees Fahrenheit, according to CNN. In comparison, Antarctica’s Priestley Glacier, which is part of the continent’s Deep Freeze Range, will have a low of negative 7 degrees and a high of 6 degrees.


To be fair, the Mars reading that Chicago and Madison are currently beating is a daily high, and it was recorded by one instrument on the Curiosity rover. Other places on Mars are probably colder. In fact, the last recorded low on Mars was negative 99.4 degrees Fahrenheit — way colder than the Midwest, but still pretty impressive.

The dramatic temperatures we’re seeing this week are not an indication that global warming has slowed. A study last year found that extreme winter weather events like these are linked to a warming Arctic. That means that even as average temperatures rise, people living in those areas need to adjust to sudden cold snaps.

The situation is so dire that experts who have worked in the Arctic and Antarctic are giving advice to Midwesterners on how to stay warm. Stay dry and combine layers of wool and silk, Akiko Shinya, an Antarctic researcher and the chief fossil preparator at Chicago’s Field Museum tells the Chicago Tribune.

But no matter how cold it is in Chicago, Minnesota, or Wisconsin — even if it’s colder than some places on Mars — we need to keep things in perspective: at least we’re not with the spacecraft New Horizons, which has been plunging farther and farther into the Solar System. It’s somewhere near the Kuiper Belt, which has a temperature hovering not above zero, but above absolute zero, which is the lowest theoretical temperature possible. Take notes, #PolarVortex 2020. Time to start setting goals.