(Last Updated On: October 31, 2018)

 

Snow and Sand Together : Isn’t it a Magical Sight?

 

The region of Ain Sefra in Algeria was treated to a magical sight when a beautiful mantle of snow blanketed the orange slopes of the Sahara Desert earlier this week. Nearly 40 centimetres (roughly 16 inches) of snowfall was recorded in the region as a freak storm hit the area around 5pm on Sunday evening.

Ain Sefra is a small town in northwest Algeria, and is popularly referred to as the “Gateway to the Sahara”. Ain Sefra often witnesses cold spells, situated as it is in the vicinity of a desert known for its extreme weather fluctuations. The region is located at an altitude of more than 3000 feet, and temperatures in the month of January normally range between 6 to 12 degrees Celsius.

 

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Snowfall is another matter altogether. Though the region sees cold temperatures, snow is still a rare phenomenon. This is only the 4th time in 37 years that Ain Sefra has seen its neighbourhood covered in a sparkling white sheet. Post December 1979, snow first fell lightly on Ain Sefra in December 2016, followed by a snow storm of greater intensity in January 2017. The snow fall that greeted the town earlier this week was the fourth time the town woke up to snowy sand dunes in the past years, and the first in 2018.

Though snowfall in the Sahara is a rare and unusual spectacle, it is not quite as surprising as it first appears. The Sahara Desert has very low levels of humidity which is why, despite its high altitude and low temperatures, it does not see too much snow fall.  However, conditions may build up which push up the humidity and change the air pressures in the region, thus leading to ideal conditions for snow.

 

   This is precisely what has happened this time round.

 

Europe, which is located in close vicinity to the Sahara Desert, has been witnessing extreme weather conditions in the past month, with snow storms hitting several parts of the continent with force. These weather conditions have led to high-pressure systems over Europe. Usually, the cold winds blowing in from North Atlantic would spread their chill over Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, but the high air pressure has diverted them further southwards towards the Sahara Desert.

 

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What may appear to be an isolated instance of freak weather conditions is not quite as isolated as it appears either. The weather conditions currently prevailing all over the Northern hemisphere are responsible for this kind of snow show, not only in the Sahara but also as far as North America. Often it so happens that the build up of warm in the south and cold air in the north gets extreme, and this leads to the entire normal pattern breaking down altogether. The snow in Ain Sefra was a spectacle perpetrated by the right amount of humidity and cold winds in the air.

Such weather conditions might lead to concerns about climate change and global warming but experts suggest that snow in the Sahara Desert is not a phenomenon one needs to worry about. The Sahara Desert is huge, and not all areas there have monitoring stations which can record weather conditions. Though we have only recorded snow fall 4 times in the past 37 years, the possibility that there have been other snow showers in the unmonitored regions of the Sahara Desert is not excluded from consideration.

 

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The falling snow converted the stark majesty of Ain Sefra into a sight full of graceful beauty, blessing the region with a lovely start to the new year.

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