Climate Change

Sahara Desert, the hottest in the world, received 16 inches snow last weekend

What explains the weather anomaly in the world's largest hot desert, which is also one of the driest places on earth?

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Friday 12 January 2018 | 07:15:06 AM

Sand dunes on the outskirts of small Algerian town of Ain Sefra were blanketed by more than 16 inches snow. Credit: PixabayFor the third time in the last 40 years, and second time in less than two years, the Sahara Desert has its encounter with snow. While the small Algerian town of Ain Sefra received a fleeting shower in December 2016 that created chaos across the area, the snowfall this North African town received this year (on January 7) is much deeper. While the town itself saw an inch or two, the sand dunes on its outskirts were blanketed by more than 16 inches (40cm) snow. Prior to that, snow had not been in this region since February 18, 1979.

This happened in that part of the Sahara Desert where summertime temperatures peak 37°C (99°F) and wintertime temperatures get down into the single digit. So, what explains the weather anomaly in the world's largest hot desert, which is also one of the driest places on earth?

According to meteorologists, the winter storm in Sahara is the result of high pressure over Europe causing cold air to be pulled down into northern Africa. This mass of cold air rose 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) above sea level, where the town of Ain Sefra is located. A spokesman for the Met Office told media, “Cold air was pulled down south into North Africa over the weekend as a result of high pressure over Europe. The high pressure meant the cold weather extended further south than normal.”

The rare snowfall reflects the trend of extreme weather events witnessed across the world in 2017. It also coincides with ‘bomb cyclone’, which has been hammering the East Coast of the US and Canada, dumping snow and ice in the least expected places such as Florida and Georgia.

While Africa is not a complete stranger to snow, it is extremely rare in Ain Sefra, despite its high altitude.  Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is one of the few places in the continent that has a snowy cap. Only Oukaimeden, a Moroccan ski resort in the Atlas Mountain, shares the privilege of witnessing snow every year. It is also Africa’s highest ski resort at 3,200 metres (10,500 feet).

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Related Story:

Humans may have transformed the Sahara from lush paradise to barren desert

IEP Resources:

Aridification of the Sahara desert caused by Tethys Sea shrinkage during the Late Miocene

Humans as agents in the termination of the African humid period

Phenomenon of green Sahara

Man of the desert

We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.