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Snow Falls in the Sahara Desert

Snow Sahara desert
Snow falls very rarely in the North African Sahara desert. Credit: Public Domain

Snow in the Sahara Desert might sound impossible, but it’s true! The exceptionally rare weather event, which has only happened in the North African desert a few times in the past 40 years, took place earlier this month near the town of Ain Sefra in Algeria.

Ain Sefra is situated in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria. While the Sahara is known for having a range of temperatures throughout the year, snow and ice are not a common occurrence.

The region typically has a high of 98 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 14 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. The world’s largest desert has only experienced such weather four times before in 1979, 2017, 2018, and 2021.

Snow in Sahara result of climate change?

Scientists have had difficulty connecting snowfall in the Sahara with the climate crisis. Roman Vilfan, the head of Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, has told Russia’s news agency TASS that he believes there is a link:

“Such situations, including snowfalls in Sahara, a long cold spell in North America, very warm weather in the European part of Russia and sustained rains which sparked flooding in Western European countries, have been occurring more frequently,” he said.

“The high recurrence of these extreme (weather) conditions stems from global warming. It is not just my standpoint, but an opinion shared by members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Unusual weather across the world’s different climates

As the climate crisis advances, unusual weather events and patterns have become increasingly normal across different regions known for their typically stable or uniform climate conditions. Rainfall has become increasingly normal in the arctic, a region that had previously almost never experienced rain.

A scientific study published last month predicts that this rainfall will be normal in the Arctic for the next four to five decades.

Rain will be so normal that it will actually be more frequent than snowfall by 2060-2070. This environmental shift is the product of warmer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere due to climate change.

Michelle McCrystall, a climate researcher at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, who led the study told CNN that the study’s climate modeling found that the shift would occur up to 20 years earlier than previous models had predicted.

“With the new set of models, this actually has been pushed forward to about between 2060 and 2070, so there’s quite a jump there by 20 years with this early transition,” McCrystall said.

The shift will also be led by a massive amount of sea ice melt-off. This loss of ice, combined with warmer air creates accelerated evaporation, changing the Arctic’s atmosphere significantly. This could have dire consequences for the rest of the planet: regular rainfall in the Arctic could upset Greenland’s ice sheet mass balance, which would dramatically increase global sea levels.

“Things that happen in the Arctic don’t specifically stay in the Arctic,” McCrystall cautioned. “The fact that there could be an increase in emissions from permafrost thaw or an increase in global sea-level rise, it is a global problem, and it needs a global answer.”

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