On Tuesday, the apocalyptic-sounding "polar vortex" swept through the United States from Montana to New York, bringing wind chill factors as low as 45 degrees F below zero near the U.S.-Canada border. Local governments and power companies across the United States went into overdrive preparing for the cold, especially in southern states that never experience such frigid winter temperatures. Power companies implemented pre-emptive blackouts to prevent power grid strain, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state's power grid, declared its second-highest emergency level, and schools were canceled as far south as Atlanta.
Still, for places like Finland or Siberia, the freezing temperatures making history this week in the United States are nothing exceptional -- just part of the winter norm. Here are some of the places that really do see the world's most extreme -- and often brutal -- winter cold.
It's probably no surprise that Antarctica tops the list of coldest spots in the world. In 2010, the coldest recorded temperature in history &ndash 135.8 degrees F below zero -- was sensed via satellite on an ice plateau in the eastern part of the continent. The record maintained by the official World Meteorological Organization, which does not honor remotely sensed temperatures, also comes from another part of the continent and remains at a still ghastly 128.6 degrees F from 1983. It is the driest, windiest continent on Earth, with ice that reaches two miles deep at some points. And strangely, warming trends that have shrunk Arctic ice to historic lows seem to be affecting Antarctica differently, with ice even increasing in some places in recent years.
Above, the remains of a whaling station on Deception Island, Antarctica, on Oct. 27, 2008.
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