10 January 2018

Africa: Snow Falls in the Sahara Desert

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Flickr
The Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) on the Landsat 7 satellite acquired this natural-color image of snow in North Africa on December 19, 2016. This scene shows an area near the border of Morocco and Algeria, south of the city of Bouarfa and southwest of Ain Sefra.

Aïn Séfra a town in the edge of the Sahara desert received some snow fall last week, quite a rare occurrence in the Sahara.

Aïn Séfra a town in the edge of the Sahara desert received some snow fall last week, quite a rare occurrence in the Sahara. The snow covered the sand dunes- a beautiful sight to behold. The town is also known as the 'Gateway to the desert'.

The snow is reported to have been 40 cm deep. It however melted owing to rising high temperatures. The Independent reports that, in 1979, a snowstorm lasting half an hour stopped traffic. Two years ago, snow settled for around a day, and the town saw snowfall again last year and possibly many more times.

There are speculations as to how many times It has snowed in the Sahara because of the vastness of the area and the availability of a few monitoring facilities. Stefan Kröpelin, a geologist at the University of Cologne in Germany who has been researching the Saharan climate for years have been quoted in the New York Times saying the challenge in the Sahara is the humidity and not the temperatures.

"The Sahara is as large as the United States, and there are very few weather stations," he added. "So it's ridiculous to say that this is the first, second, third time it snowed, as nobody would know how many times it has snowed in the past unless they were there."

One local resident told the publication that this is the fifth time the desert is seeing snow.

According to Snopes, a fact checking website, Aïn Séfra has experienced snowfall in the past generating significant media coverage due to the seemingly counterintuitive nature of snow falling in a desert. This is attributed to the assumption that deserts refer to average temperatures when in fact it is lack of precipitation.

Snopes reports that about a year ago, a local Sekkouri Kamel, who lives in Aïn Séfra, posted a series of photographs to his Facebook account, some of which were subsequently shared by National Geographic.

In January 2012, the Algerian TV channel Central TV covered snowfall in the same town which it described as "an exceptional natural phenomenon in this Saharan region." The Denver Channel 9 NBC station also reported that 24-hour cold spell had brought snow and rain to the region.

Before the 2012 occurrence it is believed that the most recent significant Saharan in this region appears to have occurred in February 1979. The storm reportedly lasted about half an hour and stalled traffic.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic.


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