China’s northernmost city set a new record with its lowest-ever temperature following a week-long cold spell, the country’s meteorological bureau confirmed.
Mohe, in China’s Heilongjiang province, saw temperatures of -53C on Sunday morning, the first day of the Lunar Year.
It breaks the city’s previous record of -52.3C, set in 1969, and is close to China’s national record of -58C, recorded in Genhe, Inner Mongolia, in 2009.
Twelve weather stations in Heilongjiang also reported temperatures close to or below their own low-temperature records this past weekend, the bureau said.
The extreme cold follows last year’s long heatwave and drought in China, which was broken by above-average rainfall that caused flooding in several areas.
Mohe, situated close to the Russian border, is also referred to as China’s “North Pole” and the temperature remains near or below freezing during January. The city also witnesses a longer winter, lasting almost eight months.
Temperatures in the city have been below -50C for the last three days, with many experts calling the spell unprecedented.
China’s meteorological authority has issued a “blue alert” for a cold wave, forecasting big temperature drops and gales across most of the central and eastern regions of the country.
Meanwhile, the world’s coldest city – Yakutsk, in neighbouring Russia – saw temperatures plunge to -62.7C, its coldest in more than two decades.
Experts say these extreme temperatures increase the chances of frostbite and hypothermia, creating life-threatening conditions; a temperature of -50C can cause frostbite in as little as five minutes.
While temperatures between 0C and -20C are not cause for alarm, anything at -20C or lower “can make you really start to worry about things like frostbite if you’re outdoors,” said Australian Antarctic Division deputy chief medical officer, Roland Watzl.
At -20C it takes around half an hour to develop frostbite and aspects of daily life, such as going for a walk, become increasingly difficult. However, when it comes to temperatures below -20C, the difference becomes “painful” and frostbite occurs in just 2-5 minutes, Dr Watzl said.
“You go from bitterly cold to painfully cold, almost immediately,” he said. “It’s painful to even be outside. Anything that is exposed to the wind becomes painful and frostbite develops in 2 to 5 minutes. Just breathing can be painful because you’re breathing really cold air straight into your lungs.”
The US National Weather Service says a wind chill of -45C could freeze skin in a matter of minutes.