Chasing the extreme weather- how to travel to the weather poles of the Earth

Chasing the extreme weather- how to travel to the weather poles on the Earth

Our planet has a rich variety of geographic zones- from equatorial jungles to polar deserts, from oceans to highland grasslands. And the climate of the Earth’s atmosphere is an important part of these zones, contributing to their beauty. The climate appears in various forms, determining the local weather. It can be cold or hot, windy or calm, rainy or dry, and it can create stunning, sometimes scary, and even deadly phenomena. And it has its extremes that can be seen in certain geographic spots on the Earth. Let’s travel to these places and see their extreme weather– another amazing way to explore the geography of our planet!

Table of Contents

Intro to the climate of the Earth

The atmosphere of our planet is mobile. It consists of several layers, and the lowest one is called troposphere, where we all live and breathe. But due to the different altitude, and the different kinds of Earth’s surface and terrain, the state of the air is different. It can be cold, hot, dry, humid, windy, calm, it can rain or snow, it can be in high or low pressure. And all of this causes a constant air motion, forming the weather.

Temperature

So, the air on the surface of the Earth can be warm. It can be also hot. But how hot it can be? Where and when? There is a certain spot on our planet where the highest temperature ever was detected. Yes, it was detected once, and nobody knows when it can be detected again, but this spot is the place where you can most likely “touch” the hottest weather. Yes, you would be very lucky if you experience the same record, but at least the opportunity to reach something closer is the best in this spot.

Extreme heat

It is the same as the coldest record ever. There are two spots where the lowest temperature has been detected- one in the north, and one in the southern hemispheres. If you go there during the proper season, most probably you can experience at least something closer to the record.

Humidity and precipitation

The percent of water in the air is not the same everywhere. The drier the air is, the less precipitation (rain or snow) is, and vice versa. So, if you want to experience the driest, the most humid, the rainiest, or the snowiest places on the Earth, you have to travel there in the proper season. Probably you will not experience the longest rainfall or the thickest snow cover, but at least you will be closest to these phenomena.

Pressure and wind

Wind, the motion of the air is caused by the difference between high and low-pressure air areas. These areas are constantly moving too. And sometimes, in some places under some conditions, wind can be very strong. There are many kinds of strong winds- cyclones, hurricanes, tornados, and various kinds of storms. And there are certain spots on the Earth where you most likely can experience one of these winds. For example, have you heard about the tornado chasers? They know when and where to go to catch “the best” of the tornado.

Extreme cold

Other weather phenomena

All these combinations of cold and hot, low and high pressure, dry and humid can cause various phenomena, most of them beautiful, but also dangerous, like thunders and lightning, extremely thick snow cover, ice cover, fog, and the most beautiful of the all- rainbow. And there are certain spots on the Earth where you can most likely see these phenomena if you go there during the most proper season.

So, let’s go on a journey!

The place with the hottest recorded temperature- Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, CA, USA

There have been several “candidates” for the record of the highest temperature. It is due to the uncertainty in the measurements, and the criteria. Now, we are talking about the air temperature, because the ground can be much hotter, depending on its chemical composition. So, currently, Furnace Creek Ranch in the Death Valey, CA, USA is considered the most accurate place for this record. It is 56.7 °C (134.1 °F) registered on 10 July 1913.

When should you travel to catch the highest temperature?

The best month with the hottest weather in July. Death Valley is a depression and a desert with conditions causing extreme heating of the air in summer. But it doesn’t mean that the temperature is above 50 °C every day. The average highest heat in July is between 46 and 48 °C, but it can be cooler, even below 40, depending on the atmospheric circulation. So, you should plan a longer stay there, or at least follow the weather forecast and be flexible, if you want to catch the highest possible temperature.

How to reach Furnace Creek Ranch

Furnace Creek Ranch is a part of the local resort Furnace Creek, located inside the Death Valley National Park, at the border between California and Nevada states. The closest large city is Las Vegas in Nevada (about 130 miles), and the distance from Los Angeles is 266 miles. Good roads are leading to the spot, for just several hours driving. Once you arrive, you have to pay a 25 USD entrance fee for your car, unless you have America the Beautiful, The National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass for 80 USD.

More tips and safety

Once you enter the Death Valley National Park, you can drive on the roads inside, or leave them and hike on the trails arranged there. But beware, you must be well-prepared for the extreme heat there in July! Dress properly, wear a summer hat, and always bring a lot of water (at least 4 liters)! Be careful of venomous snakes and spiders that live in the area! And have in mind that there is no mobile signal in most of the park area. In general, if you want to experience what is extreme heat- do it, but don’t go on trekking or other long time activity! 10-15 min are enough to feel what is to be “in the furnace”!

Now, let’s go to the extreme cold. There is one hot zone on the Earth, around the Equator, but two cold zones, in the two hemispheres. So, let’s go to their extreme cold points respectively. First- let’s go to the north.

The place with the coldest recorded temperature in the North Hemisphere- Oymyakon, Yakutia, Russia

For many geography and climate lovers, this is a well-known place, although only a very few tourists go to visit it. Oymyakon is located in a double valley on a plateau, in the eastern part of Yakutia. It is just one of the rare villages on the permanently frosted tundra (partially mixed with taiga). The terrain around Oymyakon creates temperature inversions in winter, trapping the cold air on the bottom of the valley. Here, in January 1924 was recorded the lowest temperature in the North Hemisphere- −71.2 °C (−96.2 °F). Now, there is a monument with a sign: “Полюс холода (Pole of Cold)”.

When should you travel to catch the lowest temperature?

Although Oymyakon is the Northern Pole of Cold, it doesn’t mean that it is permanently cold during the whole year. In July and August, the temperature can reach 30°C at noon- which, by the way, makes Oymyakon one of the few places on the Earth with more than 100°C temperature amplitude.

So, to catch something like the coldest temperature of the North, you have to arrange your trip in January. Most probably, you will not feel what is -71°C, but it is quite possible to reach at least -60°C and a little lower. And since Oymyakon is much more difficult to reach (compared to the Death Valley), it would be more difficult just to follow the weather forecast. But at least you can try to spend a long time there, waiting for the extreme cold.

How to reach Oymyakon

Oymyakon is located around 100 km aside from the Kolyma Highway, called also “The Road of Bones”, built during the Stalin period. This highway starts from Yakutsk, or more precisely, the nearby town of Nizhny Bestyakh. You have to travel on the snow by motorcar for more than 1000 km on this highway to reach Oymyakon, passing stunning sub-arctic natural landscapes.

There are some tour companies, organizing expeditions to Oymyakon, and it is the best (and safest) way to travel to this place. Otherwise, if you can find a proper car from Yakutsk, you have to be well-prepared for a very challenging adventure, with enough fuel, not only for driving but also for warming. Once you reach the place, don’t look for hotels, the only option is to sleep in a local’s house, waiting for the coldest time.

More tips and safety

The extreme cold is a serious thing. When the temperature drops below -40°C, the water vapor in the air freezes and forms an icy fog. And when you breathe it, it makes you thirsty very quickly. Besides, if you breathe too intensely, it can cause bronchitis, even pneumonia, but if you are careful, you should not have a problem. And of course, dress properly, with 4-layered clothing, or just like the locals.

Another thing to consider is food. The only food you can find in Oymyakon is what locals eat, like raw flesh, frozen horse blood, etc. If you don’t like it, you should bring your own food. Also, if you follow an organized expedition, you can “enjoy” not only the extreme cold but also the local culture in the form of folklore performances and other activities.

Now, let’s go more extreme- to the southern Pole of Cold- the coldest place on the whole planet.

The place with the coldest recorded temperature in the South Hemisphere and the whole planet- Vostok Station, Antarctica

This spot is located in one of the harshest “in the middle of nowhere” places on the Earth- on the central part of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Its altitude is 3488 m above sea level. Vostok is a Russian station, occupied by scientists throughout the whole year. And it is a great challenge for them, more than like living on another planet than on the Earth.

Here, on 21 July 1983 was recorded the lowest natural temperature on our planet- −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F). Can you imagine that at that time, there were people in the station? Most probably they haven’t go out in the polar night to “try” this temperature, so it should have been like a night on Mars.

When should you travel to catch the lowest temperature?

Actually, this is not Oymyakon. This is totally different and much more serious. The best season when you could catch such extremely low temperatures is winter, around July-August. But you simply can’t do it, unless you are a scientist in Vostok station. There is not only any tourism to the spot in winter, there is no transport of any kind traveling to Vostok. Even scientists don’t travel there during the polar night. Once they arrive there at the end of summer, they don’t move until spring, when the first flight comes.

How to travel to Vostok station

The only way to reach Vostok is to become a scientist or to join an expedition. But don’t imagine “normal” tourism. Scientists reach Vostok only by specially arranged planes. Only explorers (and only the most extreme of them) reach Vostok on land, combining it with visiting the nearby Pole of Inaccessibility. And all of them do it only in summer. Nobody travels there in winter.

More tips and safety

If you somehow join a scientific team remaining in Vostok during winter (the only possible way to be there in the right season), again, you can’t be outside if the temperature is below -70-75°C, unless you wear something like a spacesuit. Otherwise, the extreme cold can severely burn every uncovered spot on our skin for seconds, including your eyes. If you try to breathe it, it can burn your lungs. Remember, the temperature record there is around 20°C lower than in Oymyakon!

Recently, the satellites have detected even lower temperatures on the East Antarctic Plateau, reaching -93,2°C, but until today it remained unconfirmed. Who knows, it is not impossible. Anyway, nobody can survive such cold, unless he or she is equipped like an austronaut on Mars.

Now, let’s chase precipitation, starting from the driest place on the Earth. Probably you have studied at school that this is the Atacama Desert. And yes, there are spots in the desert, especially near the abandoned Yungay town that receive a little rain once per 2-3 centuries! But there is another place on Earth, much drier than the Atacama, and it is again in the extreme continent of Antarctica.

The driest place on the Earth- Dry Valleys, Antarctica

This is a unique desert, located not far from McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Due to the specific terrain features, the winds from the Antarctic interior push out all the moisture on this place. It is considered that Dry Valleys haven’t received any precipitation- rain or snow, for millions of years! This is the reason why this area is ice-free, just a dead desert. No animals, no plants, only some small saline lakes, permanently covered by ice, remnants from another ancient era, and a stream from the nearby ice sheet, called Onyx River- these are the only bodies of water there, and they are not fed from the sky.

The best time to visit Dry Valleys

This place is permanently dry, in every season. So, whenever you go there, you can’t see any kind of water falling from the sky. In such a case, you should just choose the best (least severe) weather- in summer. It will be dry, but not extremely cold, at the same time not hot.

How to reach Dry Valleys

To reach Dry Valleys, first, you have to travel to McMurdo station. There are expeditions and even organized tours- by plane and cruise ships to the station. Once you reach McMurdo, you can go on an expedition to the Dry Valleys- they are some 90 km west of the station. Today, some tour companies like Oceanwide Expeditions arrange tours to McMurdo, including the valleys. Alternatively, you can go there as an independent traveler. But have in mind that this is a protected area and you have to get a special permit to visit it!

More tips and safety

Prepare for hostile wilderness! You have to be well-equipped and well-trained to go there. And once you arrive, you can enjoy hiking in the valleys, the mountains between them, the frozen lakes and the streams. There is no other place on Earth so similar to Mars (yet still far, of course), and such an expedition would be fantastic!

So, this is the driest spot on Earth. And where is the rainiest spot? Let’s go to Northeast India!

The rainiest place on the Earth- Mawsynram, Meghalaya State, India

This area has a very interesting terrain. It is a hilly place, surrounded by flat plain on the south, to the Bay of Bengal coast, and the majestic Himalayas on the north. And when the wet monsoons start impacting this place, the combination with the terrain creates endless heavy rain that looks like pouring for days and weeks without stop. Actually, there are two towns in the area, in competition for the title “the rainiest place on the Earth”- Mawsynram, and the nearby Cherapunjee, and at least for now, Mawsynram is the champion.

The best time to experience rain in Mawsynram

Normally, travelers don’t like rain too much, it is considered “bad weather”. So, it would be too weird how someone could be attracted by such rainfall. But it’s just because it is not an ordinary rainfall, but a rainfall of adventure.

However, rain is not constant. It pours only during the wet monsoon. Other times- December, January, weather in Mawsynram is dry, cool, and sunny. So, if you want to meet the famous champion rainfall, you should come here in July. And bring a good umbrella and a raincoat (probably not just one, if you plan walking and dancing in the rain).

How to reach Mawsynram

To reach Mawsynram, first, you have to travel to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya State. There are regular flights to Shillong from many cities in India. Once you arrive there, the best and easiest way is to find a shared sumo vehicle (it is something like a jeep) to Mawsynram. But if you want to experience the endless pouring rainfall, better do this before it, when the rains already have begun, but still not constant. Because when the highest rainfall starts, transport is very limited.

More tips and safety

In general, if you want to experience the rainiest place on Earth, be ready for a long stay in Mawsynram. Find a local guesthouse or another cheap place, and prepare to stay for a month. Even the rain in July stops for a while, it would be difficult to find transportation to help you “escape”. Anyway, endless rain can be an amazing experience. Btw, it is the best time to read the story about Noah and the Great Flood in the Bible, when you stay in Mawsynram in July.

However, there is a new place- Lloro, Colombia, which is probably even rainier than Mawsynram. The problem is that the rainfalls there are not measured professionally, so it has to wait for more accurate measurement to become the “new champion”.

This is about rain. And how about the snow? Obviously, the snowfall champion has less precipitation than the rainfall one, but where is it? It is also worth visiting. And to find it, we have to go to Japan, to the northernmost coast of Honshu Island, Japan.

The snowiest place on the Earth- Aomori, Japan

I like the snow. 30-40 cm of snow is great for winter games, and beautiful winter fairy-tale images. How about 2 m snow? And how about 3 to 7 m, even deeper snow? Deeper than a house, burying cars, buses, even low trees? Or cars, traveling on a clean road, surrounded by two 7 m tall snow walls? This is what can be seen in Aomori during the winter. But it is not considered a disaster, and people can even celebrate the snow in various attractive ways.

The best time to see the deepest snow in Aomori

This deep snow cover forms not by a single snowfall, but by gradually growing of the snow cover by multiple snowfalls. In fact, the deepest snow cover of 209 cm produced by a single snowfall has been registered in February 1945. But the deep snow like a wall on both sides of the roads appear after many snowfalls, and it can be expected in February. So, this is the best time to visit Aomori.

How to reach Aomori

Aomori is well-connected to the rest of Japan and abroad by air, land, and water. There are regular flights from Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Sapporo. There is also the northern terminus of the Shinkansen speed train, as well as other railway stations for local regular trains. Same with buses- there are a lot of buses to the rest of Japan. Finally, there are ferries to Hakodate, on the neighboring island of Hokkaido.

More tips and safety

Such deep snow can be an exciting challenge. But you still have to be careful. Depending on the snow quality, your weight, and other factors, you can sink very deep and be blocked in the snow. Anyway, I would advise staying for a longer time in Aomori, so you can see and enjoy some local snow festivals. While you are in the city, snow can be a pleasure. But if you want to go out in the wild nature, have in mind that it is buried under the deep white cover.

Now, let’s try the wind. There are many windy places on Earth, where you can experience some extremely strong winds. But they are not constant, at least not strong all the time. However, to find the windiest place, based on average wind speed in time, we have to go to Antarctica again. So, it will be not only windy, but cold, and the winds severely increase the chill feeling. Welcome to Cape Denison on the Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica!

The windiest place on the Earth- Cape Denison, Antarctica

This place is an icy cape, inside a bay, called Commonwealth Bay. It is located in the eastern part of Antarctica, almost directly south of Tasmania Island. And as the whole coast of Antarctica, the ocean is in the north, and the icy dome of the continental glacier is on the south. There are constant winds, blowing from the glacial plateau of the continent, and descending to the ocean coast, with different power and intensity, depending on the season and local terrain. They are called “Katabatic winds”, and they are strongest at Cape Denison.

The best time to catch the strongest winds in Cape Denison

In general, these Katabatic winds blow permanently on this spot. And the specific local terrain makes these winds more intensive there, compared to any other place in Antarctica. But in winter they are stronger. That’s why the record has been confirmed in winter. It happened on 6 July 1913. Seems it has been an extremely windy day, with a wind, continuously blowing at 95mph (153km/h).

How to reach Cape Denison

It is possible only by a cruise expedition. Some cruises visit Commonwealth Bay and Cape Denison, but if the Katabatic winds are too strong, they can’t reach the shore. Today, the place is turned into a historic site- the huts from the Australian expedition to the spot, called Mawson’s Hut (1912 to 1914) still remain and can be visited, but only under heavy restrictions. No more than 20 people are allowed to step onshore. Besides, there are no expeditions in winter, unless, again, you are a scientist on an expedition.

More tips and safety

The heavy restrictions are mainly for safety. The winds are fierce and can be life-threatening. Since the temperatures are mostly below 0°C, the chilling effect of the hurricane-strong blowing can be devastating for your skin, and the wind can easily push you down. For all those reasons, you can visit Cape Denison, but you can’t experience its strongest winds.

However, these are not the strongest gusts of winds measured on Earth. There are two records- on Mount Washington, on 12 April 1934, and on Barrow Island, on 10 April 1996, both cases during a hurricane, when gusts of wind reached 253mph (408 km/h). And even this is not the highest wind speed ever recorded, but the absolute record (not in wind gusts, but in a tornado) has been detected in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, USA, on 3 May 1999- 302mph (486 km/h).

But we don’t count this, because these are isolated cases. Yes, there are regular tornadoes in Oklahoma, but still, most of the time the weather is much calmer. It is the same with Barrow Island and Mount Washington. On average, the weather in these places is much better than Cape Denison, that’s why we chose it.

Now, let’s chase the thunders and lightning. To find “the best” of them, let’s go to Venezuela and Maracaibo Lake.

The place with most lightning on the Earth- Catatumbo Mouth, Maracaibo Lake, Venezuela

Thunders and lightning are magnificent, beautiful, and scary. Many people have seen a summer rainstorm when sometimes (once per 1-2 min) they see a bolt of lightning, followed by thunder. But imagine lightning that occurs 30 times per min- every 2 seconds? And imagine it continuing for 10 hours, most of the days of the year! This is what happens on the Maracaibo Lake, particularly at the mouth of Catatumbo River.

The best time to see the Catatumbo Lightning phenomenon

It can be seen most of the year, but to be sure that you would not miss it, go there between October and December, during the rainy season. The lightning starts usually after sunset and proceeds the whole night.

How to reach the mouth of Catatumbo River

There are organized tours to the best spot where you can see the lightning of Catatumbo. But you can go there independently too- by bus, or by local transport (taxi, motorcycle or something else) to Puerto Goncha. But the most exciting way is by boat, to some of the wooden huts built on stilts on the lake water. You can easily find such boats at weekends, and if you are in a group of few people, you can share the price.

And this area is not attractive only for its lightning. During the daytime, you can enjoy the stunning nature of the jungle, the local culture, and the lake beauty, waiting for the night.

More tips and safety

Thunders and lightning can be dangerous. There are many stories of people hit by lightning. Some of them died, some remained with weird injuries and other body harms. And the lightning here at Catatumbo River is not different. Fortunately, most of it happens between the clouds and doesn’t hit the ground, so the place is not more dangerous than any other place with a rainstorm in the world, but you still have to be careful. And when it starts, it’s better to find a shelter.

Also, have in mind that this is a remote area. Jungles and their wildlife can be dangerous. Some people can be dangerous too. So, be with other people increases safety. And don’t forget your camera, ready for night photos!

Usually, what comes after a rainstorm is a rainbow. This is one of the most beautiful natural weather phenomena. So, let’s chase rainbows, and let’s go to the place with most rainbows on the Earth- in Hawaii.

The place with most rainbows on the Earth- Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Rainbows are formed when the light passes through tiny water droplets in the air, under a certain angle. They are not something that you can touch, and if you try to approach them, they don’t become bigger because you are closer. You can’t go under a rainbow, and if you see someone else is going under, it is an illusion, actually, this person sees the same rainbow like you.

Nevertheless, this is one of the most romantic atmospheric phenomena. It can be caused by rainy clouds, by waterfalls, or by every kind of water spray, if it is on the right angle from the Sun. And the largest and most spectacular rainbows are those made by rainy clouds. The place with the best conditions for rainbows in the world is Kauai, in Hawaii, where tropical rainstorms occur, followed by the shining sun before sunset.

The best time to see rainbows in Kauai

The best rainbows time is during the rainy season. It is in winter, between November and February. The rain usually falls in short series of rainstorms, followed by sunshine on the clouds. And the best rainbows can be seen on the east part of the island, because they appear at the eastern part of the horizon, before sunset.

How to reach Kauai

This is the northernmost of the big Hawaii Islands. It is well-connected by air and water to the other islands. The main airport of Kauai is Lihue, and there are many flights from the rest of the USA to Kauai. There are also some cruises, traveling between the main islands of Hawaii, including Kauai. Once you arrive there, the best way to explore the island is by car. And if there is rain, just go to a good panoramic spot to wait for the rainbow.

More tips

Here I would not talk about safety, because, of course, rainbows are safe. There are other things on Kauai that you should be aware of, but they are of a different nature. So, the most important tip- prepare your camera! Find a proper location before, or during the rain, and wait for it to stop. After that, a rainbow will be most likely appear, and you can enjoy it, combined with the stunning tropical views of the island.

There are many other weather phenomena, like fog, dew, various kinds of winds, as well as other events that are not weather phenomena but are caused by them, like floods, landslides, or giant ocean waves. Some of them are beautiful, others can be scary and deadly. And various places on the Earth have various local features, creating specific local weather, and from the other side, shape by powers that include weather. All of this is worth exploring, as a part of the amazing geography of the Earth.

Take a look at some books about extreme weather and geographical adventures:

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Let's explore the geography of weather. A guide to the most extreme weather places on the Earth! Let's explore the geography of weather. A guide to the most extreme weather places on the Earth! Let's explore the geography of weather. A guide to the most extreme weather places on the Earth!

 

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