Snow in the Sahara Desert


Snow in the Sahara Desert

Up to 16 inches of snow has fallen on a town in the Sahara desert after a freak winter storm hit the area. This is the third time in 37 years that the town of Ain Sefra in Algeria has seen snow cover the red sand dunes of the desert. Ain Sefra is 1078 m above sea level, surrounded by the Atlas mountains. The highest temperatures can reach more than 500C. Despite its altitude, it is extremely rare to see snow in the town, and it is normally six to 12 degrees Celsius in January.

The first time snow was seen in Ain Sefra was on February 18, 1979 but the snow storm lasted just half an hour. The second was on December 19, 2017 and the third was on January 7, 2018. The flurry lasted for half an hour and the snow stayed on the ground for a day, piled up to 40 cm (16 inches). By 5:00 PM, the snow has melted. Children made snowmen and even sledged on the sand dunes.

The weather pattern came from North America and Eastern Canada, sweeping up over Canada, going across the Atlantic and Europe, and creating the conditions in the Sahara. Cold air was pulled down south in to 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 Sahara Desert covers most of Northern Africa and it has gone through shifts in temperature and moisture over the past few hundred thousand years. Another cause for this occurrence, a source mentioned, is the climate change – the global warming – although there are still some controversy of this possibility.

The global warming has caused the Arctic to melt. The warmer the ocean surface, the more energy that is available to intensify these storms and the more moisture there is in the atmosphere – moisture that is available to form precipitation. As the winds wrap around in a counter-clockwise manner, they bring all of that moisture northwest, where it is chilled and ultimately falls not as rain but snow, lots of snow.

But, a statement made by Rein Haarsma, a climate researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, cautioned against ascribing the white-capped dunes to changing temperatures because of pollution.

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.”

“It’s rare, but it’s not that rare,” said Mr. Haarsma said in an interview. “There is exceptional weather at all places, and this did not happen because of climate change.” The snow fell in the Sahara at altitudes of more than 3,000 feet, where temperatures are low anyway. But Mr. Haarsma said cold air blowing in from the North Atlantic was responsible.

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