Snow on the Sahara

Snow on the Sahara

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

In 1997 Indonesian pop star Anggun sang that she’d “pray the skies above for snow to fall on the Sahara.” This week, 21 years after Anggun’s pop hit, the Algerian town of Ain Sefra experienced snowfall of up to 40cm deep. Rising temperatures on the following day meant the rare white sprinkle melted away quickly, but it left quite an impression.

However unlikely snow in a hot desert seems, it is not unheard of in Ain Sefra which lies between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara’s northern edge. Snowfall in the Algerian town known as “The Gateway to the Desert” was also recorded in December 2016 and February 1979.

As Dr Mike Kaplan, professor in atmospheric science at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, explains “during the winter, we usually see cold air very far north, and warm air very far south. But sometimes the buildup of warm air in the south and cold air in the north gets so extreme that the pattern will break down.” This leads to the strange weather we have been seeing lately which included for example Jacksonville, Florida, having colder temperatures than Anchorage, Alaska.

Cover photo by NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens produced using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and topographic data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM).

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