In this post, we’re going to look at the coldest countries in the world. There are various different ways you can measure that and none are perfect. That’s largely because it’s virtually impossible to calculate the average yearly temperature for an entire country. That’s particularly true for some of the world’s coldest nations, some of which have vast areas of frozen winter wilderness where there are hardly any people let alone weather stations.
Trying to find data for the average temperature in every country is not an easy task. The most complete study we could find comes from the UEA’s Climatic Research Unit which calculated average temperatures for every country between 1961 and 1990. All the figures in this article come from this study.
There are obvious limitations to this in that three decades have passed since it concluded. While subsequent national border changes have been taken into consideration, global warming and climate change has taken place at different rates around the world. It’s possible that some positions may have slightly changed since as result, but the overall picture will be more or less the same.
The 10 Coldest Countries in the World – by Average Temperature
Home to some of the world’s coldest cities and a huge area of territory which freezes over for half of the year, it’s no great surprise that Canada ranks as the world’s coldest country. Snow can persist for the entire twelve months in some northern regions of Canada and away from the coasts, winter temperatures can drop below −40 °C with strong wind chills not helping matters.
Global warming has been particularly dramatic in the Arctic region though leading to an uncertain future for the parts of Northern Canada that essentially consist of ice and permafrost. It’s estimated that as a result of this, temperatures in Canada have risen by almost 2°C since the middle of the 20th Century.
Estimated Average Yearly Temperature in Canada: -5.35°C
In truth, it’s very close between Canada and Russia for the dubious honour of being the coldest country on Earth. The pair are well clear of the rest and it’s very difficult to get an accurate average temperature reading for either given these are also the world’s two largest countries in terms of size.
Russia’s average is dragged down by the huge province of Siberia which covers most of Northern Asia. While sparsely populated, Siberia covers around 77% of Russia’s land area. Even Novosibirsk, the largest Siberian city, sees average temperatures of around -20°C during the winter months and it gets much, much colder than that elsewhere.
Estimated Average Yearly Temperature in Russia: -5.1°C
The only other country with a sub-zero average temperature across the whole year is Mongolia. Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia is actually the world’s 18th largest country in its own right but there are only just over 3 million people who endure its extreme climate which usually sees quite hot summers but extremely cold winters.
Those freezing winters are largely the result of Siberian winds which blow in bitterly cold air from the north. That cold air gets trapped in Mongolia’s many river valleys and low basins contributing to winters which drag on and on before Spring finally brings some respite. It’s not all bad news though. Mongolia is also known as the ‘Land of the Eternal Blue Sky’ due to its tendency to be sunny most days.
Estimated Average Yearly Temperature in Mongolia: -0.7°C
Given Russia’s overall coldness is largely the result of the climate in the predominantly Asian region of Siberia, it’s probably more accurate to look upon Norway as the coldest country in Europe. There’s not much in it between the Scandinavian nations though with Sweden, Finland and Iceland also ranking in the global top ten with similar average temperatures of just above freezing.
It’s slightly different from the top three in that Norway is largely a coastal nation with the majority of its counties having a coastline. This, in theory, should warm things up but with a large part of Norway lying above the Arctic Circle, it’s just so far north that inevitably temperatures plummet during the winter months with record lows of -51°C registered in the village of Karasjok at the end of the 20th Century.
Estimated Average Yearly Temperature in Norway: 1.5°C
We head to Central Asia next and the landlocked nation of Kyrgyzstan, officially the Kyrgyz Republic. Part of the Soivet Union when this climate data was collected, Kyrgyzstan today shares borders with China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Despite being quite small, Kyrgyzstan has a surprisingly varied climate – largely the result of its mountain terrain. The Fergana Valley in the southwest of the country actually experiences seriously hot summers with daytime readings of 40°C not uncommon. However temperatures fall dramatically at night and nationwide throughout the winter months with the mountain peaks and valleys often recording lows of below -30°C.
Estimated Average Yearly Temperature in Kyrgyzstan: 1.55°C
The top ten coldest countries in the world are rounded off by Finland (1.7°C), Iceland (1.75°C), Tajikistan (2°C), Sweden (2.1°C) and Estonia (5.1°C). We have a separate post looking at the hottest countries in the world.
The Coldest Country in Every Continent
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As previously referenced, we’re classing Russia as Asia for this as that is where 77% of its territory lies, including most of the coldest regions. The coldest country in the Southern Hemisphere by average temperature is Chile but it only ranks 32nd globally with all those above it situated north of the equator. In Oceania, New Zealand is the coldest country while the small southern nation of Lesotho is the coldest country in Africa.
A few points to note:
- The same Climatic Research Unit that calculated this data (1961-1990), also concluded that average global temperatures are believed to have risen by approximately 0.5 degrees over the past 30 years and by around 0.7 degrees in the Northern Hemisphere where all of the top 10 countries are located. Therefore today’s average temperatures are most likely slightly higher.
- We are excluding Greenland from our findings as it is not an independent nation. Were it to be included, the Danish controlled territory would have easily ranked as the coldest with average temperatures of -16.05°C.
- The coldest place in the world is Antarctica where mean yearly temperatures drop below -50°C in some inland regions.
This article was published in March 2021.