Siberia experiences freak warm weather in December.

Siberia. It is famous for being one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on earth.

At this time of year the harsh east Russian region is normally covered in a thick layer of snow with temperatures plummeting to as low as -40C. But in recent weeks many areas have seen daytime temperatures well above freezing and even more unusually long spells of heavy rain. What is going on in the land of the Cossacks?

A group of Tomsk locals made the most of the sunshine by stripping down to their swimming gear to pose for pictures.

In the city of Tomsk, where it normally averages around -15C at this time of year, the forecast next week predicts long spells of sunshine and relatively balmy temperatures of between -1C and -5C. By comparison, the average December day time temperature in London is only slightly higher at around 6C. While Siberia remains slightly colder than western Europe, most locals say they have never experienced a December so warm. Fyodor Olifirenko, 83, from Novosibirsk, the most northerly city in the world, told the Siberian Times: 'I do not remember such a warm December. But such weather - when it is constantly raining in the middle of December - I see this for the first time'.