Why Russia's Cold Snap Is So Deadly

An unusual early-winter cold snap has Russians freezing in sub-zero weather. (Image credit: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-554278p1.html">Kotenko Oleksandr</a> | <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com">shutterstock</a>)

If any nation on Earth is accustomed to dealing with a harsh winter, it would be Russia. But from the farthest reaches of Siberia to downtown Moscow, the Russian people are being pummeled by a winter so brutal it's shattering cold-weather records across the continent — and it's only December.

As temperatures plunge as low as –minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 50 degrees Celsius) in some areas, the Pravda news site reports that 45 people have died of causes related to the subfreezing weather; 21 people froze to death in just one day. Hundreds more have been hospitalized with frostbite and other conditions.

Subfreezing weather combined with heavy snowfall in some regions have crippled the nation's infrastructure, closing roads, scrambling airline flights and bursting pipes that carry water and heat into homes, schools and businesses, according to RT.com.

This winter is the coldest on record since 1938, reports RT.com. The freakish cold spell, which has already lasted five days, is expected to continue through the weekend.

Russians are being warned by physicians that alcohol offers no real relief from freezing temperatures. "The idea that alcohol warms people up from within in freezing weather is wrong," said Russian health official Dr. Gennady Onishchenko, as quoted in Pravda. "Alcohol only can only mislead people … [o]ne needs normal hearty food and warm clothing to be safe."

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Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at About.com and a producer with ABCNews.com. His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and TheWeek.com. Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.