A dusting of snow in the Atacama Desert (Credit: Wikipedia, ESO/S. Guisard)
There’s something stunning about snow falling on a sea of red sand. Incredible photos capture the first snowfall in the Sahara Desert in almost 40 years, an area known for blisteringly hot temperatures and little to no precipitation.
The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert on the planet spanning an area comparable to the area of the United States. The desert (3,600,000 sq. mi) is the third largest desert in the world behind Antarctica and the Arctic. The extremely dry climate is a result of global atmospheric circulation. The desert sits in what is known as the horse latitudes where there is an almost permanent high pressure cap that suppresses precipitation and cloud formation.
Sinking of warm and dry air forms a high-pressure zone around the latitudes between 30 and 38 degrees in both the northern and southern hemisphere. In addition, evaporated water on the surface is never able to rise and adiabatically cool, the process which forms clouds, due to the constant flow of sinking warm air.
Satellite image of the Sahara Desert (Credit: Wikipedia)
Snow covered the small town of Ain Sefra in Algeria on December 19th and was thankfully captured by photographer Karim Bouchetata. Snow was last reportedly seen in Ain Sefra on February 18, 1979 during a 30-minute snow storm. Ain Sefra is situated where the Atlas Mountains meet the Sahara Desert, which gives the small town the nickname “The Gateway to the Desert” by locals.
On average the Sahara Desert receives less than 3.9 inches of rain a year, with many regions receiving less than 2 inches of rain per year. On top of that, temperatures have reached up to 117 °F with huge daily temperature swings. In fact, the largest one day temperature swing recorded in the Sahara Desert ranged from 100°F to 31°F.
“Everyone was stunned to see snow falling in the desert; it is such a rare occurrence,” Mr. Bouchetata told the Telegraph. “It looked amazing as the snow settled on the sand and made a great set of photos. The snow stayed for about a day and has now melted away.”
Trevor Nace is a geologist, Forbes contributor, and adventurer. Follow him on Twitter @trevornace