Snow in the Sahara Desert – Unbelievable But True!

11 01 2018

Dale C. S. Destin |


A few days ago, snow fell over parts of the Sahara Desert. To many this was unbelievable, especially in this era of fake news and alternative truth. However, it really snowed in the Sahara Desert, and not for the first time. Precipitation (rain, snow, hail, etc.) in deserts are rare but certainly not unheard of.

Algeria - dark green

Location of Algeria – dark green


Snow covered dumes in the Sahara Desert. Photo by Geoff

Snow in the Sahara Desert near the town of Ain Sefra, Algeria – 07 Jan 2018. Photo by Geoff Robinson 

It is understandable the disbelieve one would have about the news of snow taking place in the Sahara Desert. After all, it is “only” the hottest desert in the world – consisting of some of the hottest places on Earth. The mean temperature is around 29 °C (84 °F) but can reach as high as 50 °C (122 °F).

What is not well-known is the fact that very cold temperatures do occur in the Sahara Desert. Temperatures, particularly during winter can fall below freezing (below 0 °C or below 32 °F). So, temperatures do become conducive for snow in the Sahara, at times. However, temperature is not sufficient for snow – moisture is needed.

Contrary to popular belief, precipitation does take place in deserts, including the Sahara. Not a lot takes place but they do get precipitation. There is no universal definition for a desert but a good working one is an area receiving less than 250 mm (10 in) of rainfall annually.

In the case of the Sahara, the annual rainfall is less than 100 mm (3.9 in). It rains from December to March and in August. The rains in August are said to be characterized by thunderstorms, which can produce flash floods. And of course, snow falls at times during the winter months, as was the case a few days ago.

It snowed in the same location last year; however, before then it had not snowed in 2012 and 1979 -nearly 40 years ago.

Sahara snow event of 2012 as reported by Algerian TV channel, Central TV

Weird precipitation events are rare for deserts but they do occur:

In January 2013, a NASA satellite observed the Taklimakan Desert, in western China, covered with snow. The Taklimakan Desert temperature range from – 20 to 38 °C (68 °F to 100 °F) and the annual average rainfall is less than 40 mm (1.60 in).

In August 2011, Stephane Guisard of the European Southern Observatory photographed snow in the Atacama Desert. The annual average rainfall is around 1 mm (0.04 in).

A dusting of snow in the Atacama Desert

A dusting of snow in the Atacama Desert. Photograph was taken by Stéphane Guisard on 1 August 2011. 

In March 2015, Flash floods took place in the Atacama Desert – the driest desert in the world and one of the driest places on Earth. The annual average rainfall is around 1 mm (0.04 in). The floods caused two deaths and left 24 persons missing.

Precipitation may be rare for the deserts of the world but far from unprecedented. No only do they get light precipitation but also solid, on occasions.

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