Snow in the Sahara Desert

Snow in a place where summertime temperatures are high – though wintertime temps can drop to freezing – and where precipitation from the skies is rare.

The Landsat 7 satellite acquired this image of snow in North Africa on December 19, 2016. The scene shows an area near the border of Morocco and Algeria, south of the city of Bouarfa and southwest of Ain Sefra. Image via NASA Earth Observatory.

NASA Earth Observatory wrote about a rare snow in the Sahara Desert, the world’s third-largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic. NASA pointed out it does snow in Africa at high elevations.

Kilimanjaro has long been crowned by a cap of snow and ice, though it has been shrinking. Skiiers travel for natural and manufactured snow in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, as well as a few spots in South Africa and Lesotho.

Nonetheless, snow on the edge of the Sahara Desert is rare. On December 19, 2016, snow fell on the Algerian town of Ain Sefra, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘gateway to the desert.’ The town of roughly 35,000 people sits between the Atlas Mountains and the northern edge of the Sahara.

The last recorded snowfall in Ain Sefra occurred in February 1979.

The snow fell in a region where summertime temperatures average 99°Fahrenheit (37° C), though wintertime temperatures have been known to get down into 30s F. (single digits C). Moisture in the Sahara is as rare as the cool temperatures, given that just a few centimeters (inches) of precipitation fall here in an entire year.

Read more about this image from NASA

Deborah Byrd