Nope, that’s not just really white sand.
Residents of Ain Sefra, an Algerian town on the northwest edge of the Sahara desert, witnessed a stunning sight on Sunday: snow blanketing the sandy hills of one of Earth’s most arid regions.
Nearly 16 inches of snow fell in Ain Sefra but melted quickly, Algerian outlets reported, marking the fourth time in 37 years that snowfall has been measured in the Sahara. The precipitation was a result of high air pressure over Europe pulling cold air into northern Africa.
Snow isn’t particularly common in Ain Sefra. In December 2016, snow was reported in the town for the first time since 1979.
“It is so rare that it’s a whole year since it last happened,” joked Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science and the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.
The U.S. Geological Survey noted at the time that snow is not uncommon at Africa’s higher elevations, but said it “seldom falls” at the edge of the desert.
“Though [Ain Sefra’s] winter temperatures are known to drop into the 30s, snow is as rare as the cool temperatures given that just a few centimeters of precipitation fall there annually,” the agency said.
It’s nearly impossible to put a firm number on how many times snow has fallen in the Sahara, Stefan Kröpelin, a University of Cologne geologist who has been researching the desert’s climate for years, told The New York Times on Tuesday.
“The Sahara is as large as the United States, and there are very few weather stations,” he said. “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.”