Inside the Coldest City in the World, Where It Snows 270 Days a Year

iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets
iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets

In much of the Northern Hemisphere right now, it’s getting colder and darker and the winter blues are setting in. But few places get it quite as bad as Norilsk, Russia, where residents won’t see a sunrise until mid-January. Worse yet, it's arguably the coldest city in the world.

One of two Siberian cities built in the continuous permafrost zone, during the winter, the city of more than 175,000 people can see cold snaps as brutally low as -78°F. Overall, Norilsk boasts a yearlong average temperature of just 14°F. (Some will argue that the Siberian city of Yakutsk is colder, but that depends on how you want to slice it: Yakutsk is indisputably chillier in the winter—an average temperature of -42°F in January!—but it has much hotter summers and so, when measured by its yearly average, is warmer overall.)

Then there's the snow. Norilsk “is covered with snow for about 270 days a year,” Vincze Miklós writes for io9, “and the inhabitants must deal with snowstorms one day out of every three.”

It's also incredibly isolated. Of all the cities in the world with populations of 100,000 people or more, Norilsk is the farthest north. Despite its relatively large size, no roads lead to it. The city, located 1800 miles from Moscow, sits 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and can only be reached by plane or boat. Surrounded by thousands of miles of untouched wilderness, Norilsk is so cut off from the rest of the world that residents often refer to the rest of Russia as “the mainland.”

The city, we should stress, is on the mainland.

Despite it all, Norilsk is a relatively buzzing place. The city has public transportation, bars, cafes, churches, art galleries, a large theater, and plenty of modern amenities. And new people keep moving in.

The reason? Money.

Norilsk sits on one of the world’s biggest nickel, platinum, and palladium deposits, making it, according to the New York Times, Russia's richest city.

For much of the 20th century, those precious metals were mined by more than 600,000 prisoners detained in a nearby gulag. Today, the gulag is gone, and the people who work for the mines are paid rather handsomely for their work. With palladium selling for over $1000 an ounce, the metals extracted and smelted in the area—largely by one company, Norilsk Nickel—account for a whopping 2 percent of Russia’s entire GDP.

But there is a price to pay to live in Norilsk, and it has nothing to do with the cold. Mining has also made the city one of the most polluted places on the planet. According to National Geographic, “The amount of sulfur dioxide in the air is so high that vegetation in an almost 20-mile radius has died, and residents are forbidden from gathering berries or mushrooms due to high toxicity.” (That's a big deal, given that mushroom-hunting is one of Russia’s most beloved national pastimes.) Recently, mining activity caused the nearby Daldykan river to turn blood red. According to the Times, “At one point, the company belched more sulfur dioxide a year than all of France.”

Most residents are aware of the possible health consequences but don’t raise much of a fuss. "Norilsk Nickel feels like it owns the whole territory here," a citizen tells Victoria Fiore in her short documentary My Deadly Beautiful City, "so [people] are afraid to speak out against it." Their livelihood, after all, depends on the mine's success.

And besides, many people in Norilsk—a significant number of whom are descended from the prison laborers who helped build everything in this city—feel deeply connected to the isolated landscape they call home.

"It's beautiful and eternal," one man tells Fiore. "This is where I like to be."

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

7 International Names for American Products

Maksym Kozlenko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Maksym Kozlenko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

While available around the world, American products aren't always called by their red-white-and-blue names. Companies have to adapt to various languages and cultures, and what works stateside doesn't always translate. Here are seven American goods with unfamiliar international names.

1. Hungry Jack's (Burger King in Australia)

A Hungry Jack's drive thru sign
A Hungry Jacks sign in Bathurst, New South Wales

In 1971, Jack Cowin bought the Australian franchise for Burger King from Pillsbury Company (which owned the chain at the time). But because the name was already registered in Australia, he used the name Hungry Jack—originally an American pancake mix—instead. In 1999, Burger King began opening restaurants under its own name in Australia, but they combined with Hungry Jack's in 2003.

2. Doritos Cool American (Doritos Cool Ranch in Europe)

Cool American Doritos on a shelf
Cool American Doritos in Iceland
Funky Tee, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Cool Ranch is one of the most popular Doritos flavors in the United States. However, in many parts of Europe, the flavor is known as Cool American because Europeans often call Ranch sauce "American" sauce. Very cool, indeed.

3. Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke in Europe)

Diet Coke is called "Coca-Cola Light" throughout Europe. The soft drink is exactly the same as its American counterpart, but the word light is associated more with lower-calorie items in Europe than diet.

4. TK Maxx (TJ Maxx in Ireland)

A TK Maxx in London
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for TK Maxx

The American department store TJ Maxx is known as TK Maxx in Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom as well as in Australia and parts of Europe. Its parent company, TJX Companies, re-named it so Irish and British customers wouldn't confuse the store with the established retailer TJ Hughes, which is quite popular in the UK.

5. Kraft Dinner (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in Canada)

Boxes of Kraft Dinner wrapped in plastic
Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Canada, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is known as Kraft Dinner or simply KD. Kraft introduced the product as Kraft Dinner in both Canada and the United States in 1937. However, in the late '50s, Kraft added the words macaroni & cheese to its packaging of Kraft Dinner when the term gained more prominence. It wasn't until the '70s that Kraft Canada started using bilingual labeling (French and English) on all of its packaging. As a result, Canadian Kraft products included the words Kraft Dinner in a bigger and bolder font on one side of the box with Díner Kraft on the other side. The words macaroni & cheese were in a smaller font, so Canadians adopted it as merely Kraft Dinner. (Americans can buy a box of the Canadian version for themselves on Amazon.)

6. Meister Proper (Mr. Clean in Germany)

Bottles of Meister Proper on store shelves
Alf van Beem, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
 

Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean is a global product, so its name has been translated into various languages, including Maestro Limpio in Mexico, Monsieur Propre in France, and Meister Proper in Germany. It’s the same product—with the same sailor mascot—as you can find in the United States.

7. Walkers Potato Crisps (Lay's Potato Chips in the UK)

Walkers potato chips on a shelf
Ben Babcock, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Founded in 1948, Walkers quickly became the United Kingdom’s leading potato crisps snack food company. However, Pepsi acquired Walkers and re-branded it with the Lay’s logo and products in 1989. The snack food is exactly the same, but PepsiCo decided to keep the Walkers name to ensure customer brand loyalty in the United Kingdom. Walkers also has more exotic flavors than its American counterpart, including American Cheeseburger, Lamb & Mint, and South African Sweet Chutney. Adventurous Americans can get some of them, including Prawn Cocktail, Tomato Ketchup, and Worcester Sauce as well as a variety of different meat flavors on Amazon.

A version of this article first ran in 2016.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER