California Death Valley tourist couple


Top 5 extreme weather destinations

Published January 17th, 2014

If the polar vortex in North America over the past week has taught us anything (apart from delivering amazing pics and WTF stories), it’s that weather can be crazy and unpredictable. But you didn’t need to be a climate sceptic to be convinced of that.

While we in Australia were entertained by people throwing boiling water into the air to watch it freeze (note: don’t try this at home, kiddies, it’s a major fail), reports an escapee returned to jail because it was too cold (true story) and even that a polar bear had to be kept indoors at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo (poor Anana doesn’t have the fat insulation of a wild polar bear, apparently), the polar vortex caused chaos with ‘frost quakes’ in Canada, airport and school closures and temps colder than the North Pole.

Such extreme cold conditions are hard for us Aussies to fathom, especially in the heat of summer, but travelling to experience such polarising weather and intense climatic changes is nothing new – look at the storm chasers of the US. So, as a salute to the polar vortex, here’s a list of the top 5 extreme weather destinations in the world. Now, what do I pack for that…



For extreme heat: head to Death Valley, USA

While El Azizia in Libya has the dubious distinction of being the hottest place on the planet when it hit 57.8 degrees Celsius on September 13 in 1922, for consistently hot temps the aptly named Death Valley in California is Earth’s version of hell. Famous as the hottest, driest and lowest spot in North America, this parched desert shimmers in the heat with 5 months of relentless heat and scant, if any, annual rain. The hottest day on record here was July 15, 1972 where the ground temp at Furnace Creek was 93.8 degrees Celsius and the air temp a sweltering 53.3 degrees.



For extreme cold: head to Antarctica

The polar vortex ain’t got nothing on the South Pole. How about -89.2 degrees Celsius at the Russian Vostok Station in Antarctica? Yep, while our US friends may feel otherwise, the coldest place in the world is Antarctica with average winter temps of to -70 to -40 degrees Celsius and crazy extremes like blizzards of up to 322 kilometres per hour. During summer, when ocean ships can get through the ice and allow travellers to visit the Antarctic Peninsula, a good day is when the mercury hits zero. Make sure you pack your fleecy thermals, now.



For windy weather: head to Tornado Alley, USA

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” said Dorothy, and she was right. The landspout had deposited Judy Garland and her pooch in Oz/Hollywood, but that’s a story for another time. Twister fans and ‘professional’ storm chasers know the place to go for violently rotating columns of air is Tornado Alley, which centres around north Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. By far the most cyclonic of these areas is Oklahoma City, copping over 100 such spouts since records began.



For midnight sun and northern lights: head to Norway

“Let’s party ‘til the sun comes up” sang every boy band ever, but what if the sun never, ever goes down? Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun, Norway, where 24-hour sunshine is the norm for regions that lie north of the Arctic Circle around the summer solstice (June 21). In Svalbard, Norway, the most northern inhabited area of Europe, residents don’t get nightfall from mid-April to late August. On the flipside, winter brings polar night – neverending night – and the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights phenomenon to these remote northerly regions.



For monsoonal rains: head to India

India cops its annual drenching from June to September annually during the southwest summer monsoon season, known as Nairutya Maarut. The heat builds up over the Indian subcontinent over summer causing a low pressure area filled by winds from the Indian Ocean. These moisture-laden winds are then drawn to the Himalayas, which block the winds, forcing them to rise and rainfall to occur. Much rainfall. Four months of it, in fact, with the Indian state of Meghalaya (meaning ‘Home of the Clouds’) the major recipient with an average 11,872 millimetres of  annual precipitation.


Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.