Fifth time in 42 years: Why snowfall has blanketed sand dunes of Sahara desert

In a ‘rare, but not unheard of’ situation, snow fell in the Saharan town of Ain Sefra in Algeria after temperatures plummeted to -2 degrees Celsius

FP Staff January 20, 2022 12:09:48 IST
Fifth time in 42 years: Why snowfall has blanketed sand dunes of Sahara desert

Snow has fallen on the sand in the Sahara Desert after temperatures dropped below freezing overnight, creating stunning landscapes. Image Courtesy: karim_bouchetat/Instagram

Snow in the Sahara!

Believe it or not, it’s true… A photographer has captured mesmerising pictures of snow blanketing sand dunes in the Sahara Desert in Africa where temperatures as high as 58 degrees Celsius have been recorded.

So, why is it snowing in the desert? We take a stab at the answer.

The images show snow and ice near the town of Ain Sefra in northwest Algeria. The area has experienced snow only a handful of times in the past 40 years.

Ain Sefra is located in the Atlas Mountains, 1,000 metres above sea level and is known as “the gateway to the desert”. It lies in the Naama province of Algeria in the northern part of the Sahara, close to the Moroccan border.

The dusting of snow is the fifth time in 42 years that the town has seen snow, with previous occurrences in 1979, 2016, 2018 and 2021.

Fifth time in 42 years Why snowfall has blanketed sand dunes of Sahara desert

The ice crystals formed stunning patterns in the desert sands. Image Courtesy: karim_bouchetat/Instagram

Ain Sefra sees average high temperatures of around 37 degrees Celsius in Summer and has seen record lows of -10.2 degrees Celsius in winter.

A UK weather official was quoted as telling The Independent that snow in the Sahara is "unusual but not unheard of."

Snow is very rare in the desert because there is not usually enough water in the air for it, even though it can get very cold at night.

Fifth time in 42 years Why snowfall has blanketed sand dunes of Sahara desert

Dunes - ideal for sliding - were also partially covered by the snow and ice. Image Courtesy:
karim_bouchetat/Instagram

According to a DailyMail report, high-pressure systems of cold air have moved overland to the deserts, causing lower temperatures.

Such anticyclones tend to reach Saudi Arabia by moving clockwise out from Central Asia, picking up moisture en route which cools to form snow.

The quantity of snowfall has varied greatly, ranging from a snowstorm that stopped traffic in 1979 to 40 cm falling in 2018.

In 2016, snow fell in the area that was led to children making snowmen and even sledded on the sand dunes.

Roman Vilfand, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, was previously quoted by the Russian state-controlled news agency TASS saying that the climate crisis could play a role in Saharan snowfall.

“Such situations, including snowfalls in Sahara, a long cold spell in North America, very warm weather in the European part of Russia and sustained rains which sparked flooding in Western European countries, have been occurring more frequently,” he was quoted as saying. “The high recurrence of these extreme [weather] conditions stems from global warming. It is not just my standpoint, but an opinion shared by members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

With inputs from agencies

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