China’s North Pole – where temperatures plunge to -53C and the air catches in your throat | World News
Mohe is called the North Pole of China for a reason. It is the northernmost city in the country and a very, very cold place.
It’s hard to describe what such low temperatures are like.
On Sunday it was -53C. new low for coldest temperature registered in the country since the beginning of modern monitoring.
The National Meteorological Center has confirmed that the previous record of -52.3°C set in 1969 has been broken.
It’s so cold here that air gets stuck in your throat, your lungs feel uncomfortable, and you almost feel like you need to clear your throat.
Around any part of the body where moisture lingers, there is a strange feeling of coldness.
You feel a kind of instant hardening around the eyelids and in the nostrils.
If your fingers are exposed, even if you’re just wearing thinner gloves, they will become completely numb in minutes – there is a very high risk of frostbite.
Batteries on our devices were draining abnormally quickly.
We had to make sure we only spent a short time outside and always had a warm car to run into.
But there are also funny moments. A cup of boiling water, thrown into the air, freezes almost instantly and falls to the ground as solidified pieces of ice.
This is one of the reasons why Chinese tourists flock here.
Mohe is located at the upper end of the thinner part of China that juts out straight into Russia—it is surrounded by Russia to the north, east, and west, and is often exposed to harsh southward air from Siberia.
It’s about 1500 miles north of Beijing, which is already considered quite far north.
It is a picturesque snowy place with about 85,000 inhabitants employed in various industries, from agriculture to tourism.
Some houses are modern and well equipped, while others are old-fashioned, heated by small coal burners.
Local heating companies in Mohe said boilers were running at full capacity to help people get through the winter, and Beijing News reported that the city’s coal consumption had increased by a third.
While extreme temperatures are not uncommon here, they are about 15-20°C cooler than average. This raises already familiar questions about the increase in the frequency of extreme weather events and what causes them.
Half tourist town, half frontier outpost
An hour’s drive north is the village of Beiji.
This is a strange place that you need to buy a ticket to enter, and it looks like a tourist town, like a border outpost.
Apart from the name, which literally translates as “north pole”, one of Beiji’s main attractions is the view of its neighbor.
A fence runs across a huge frozen river, and behind it you can see the rocky hills of Russia.
Getting to Mohe is not an easy task.
You get the feeling that you are going somewhere very dark and very distant as soon as you get on the sleeper train.
This is an old, shaky, characteristic thing. The sleeping bunks are all open into the hallway – six people stacked three by three in each small space.
Condensation forms a thick ice crust around the windows, hours before we reach our destination, outside the snow-covered scenery is majestic.
The tourists here are mixed with the more seasoned locals – we traveled during the Chinese Lunar New Year and it was packed.
This 15-hour train was the last leg of the journey. First we had to fly two hours north from Beijing and then take several other trains to get to this one. This gives you an idea of how far and far north Mohe is.
“You can’t fight the sky”
It often gets very, very cold here, so the locals are somewhat accustomed to it and expect it. They joke that tourists come here completely unprepared for what they find.
Mr. Xie owns a small convenience store and gift shop that literally overlooks the Russian border. Inside, among his items for sale, there is a small bed, a stove, and a wood-burning stove to keep warm.
We asked him what it was like at -53C.
He said, “There is smoke. No one is visible at a distance of a couple of meters. Before noon, the smoke – we call it smoke, but it’s actually a very thick fog – dissipated. Smoke appears whenever it gets cold.
“You cannot fight against heaven. All we can do is take all possible measures. As long as we’re not cold, everything’s fine.”
But don’t worry, we asked.
“It’s worrying, but there’s little we can do. Humans cannot defeat natural disasters. Countries cannot defeat natural disasters, let alone individuals. No method,” he said.
Cold spell from Siberia
This cooling is caused by an area of very cold, low-pressure air moving southward from Siberia. The land there is so far away from the warming effects of the sea and receives so little sunlight that the conditions are perfect for creating extra cold air.
Normally, circulation of this air is limited by local wind patterns, but a “weakness” in the system could lead to ice-cold air blowing through, as happened during The Beast from the East in the UK in 2018.
But even in Russian Siberia, they more often experience aggressive cold snaps.
The role of climate change
While you can’t directly link any single event to climate change without more research, it’s certainly true that extreme weather events are happening more frequently in this part of the world right now.
Research shows that climate change may be causing extreme cold spells.
For example, scientists believe that the warming of the seas in the Arctic regions north of Russia may have a destabilizing effect on the air in the stratosphere, an air mass at a height of 10 to 50 km above the earth’s surface.
This, they say, could cause excessive cooling in lower-lying areas.
Extreme weather in China
China’s weather has been a history of historic extremes over the past six to eight months.
The country suffered record heatwaves and droughts during the summer, which authorities described as the “worst” since records began in terms of duration, intensity and impact.
In fact, it was the hottest summer and fall in 60 years, with several cities breaking records. The average rainfall was 23%, the country experienced severe wildfires, damaged crops and reduced power supplies.
Sections of the Yangtze River have dried up, affecting industries ranging from hydropower to shipping.
China, although one of the world’s leading investors in clean energy, remains dependent on the vast coal mining industry and is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
While many Chinese are just getting started with their lives, others, especially those who have experienced these extreme weather events, say they have noticed the change and are worried about it.
It is a country of 1.4 billion people and an incredibly diverse topography and climate.
Big fluctuations in the weather are expected here, and that’s okay, but such historical extremes in such rapid succession, some say, are worrisome.