89.1 WEMU

PHOTOS: The Sahara Desert, Painted White With Snow

Jan 9, 2018
Originally published on January 9, 2018 3:43 pm

For a few fleeting hours Sunday, people perched in the arid heights of northwest Algeria caught sight of something rarely seen: the Sahara Desert, shrouded in white. Residents of Ain Sefra, a small town surrounded by the Atlas Mountains of Northern Africa, walked outside to find a dusting of snow underfoot — and more than a foot of it crowding the town's outer boundaries.

While it's not unheard of — snow visited this landscape in December 2016, after all — the wintry weather is indeed rare for the region: As NPR's Maggie Penman pointed out at the time, the last major snowfall in Ain Sefra before that happened in 1979.

But, as Forbes noted, the unlikely winter wonderland was not alone in experiencing extreme weather this past week — and indeed, it came about because of odd patterns elsewhere:

"The east coast of the United States continues to face the brutally cold winter storm Grayson and Sydney, Australia swelters in the hottest temperatures seen in nearly 80 years at 116.6 degrees Farenheight.

"High pressures over Europe caused cold air to be pulled down into northern Africa and into the Sahara Desert. This mass of cold air rose 3,280 feet to the elevation of Ain Sefra, a town surrounded by the Atlas Mountains, and began to snow early Sunday morning."

Still, the scene Sunday was not to last.

By late afternoon, the dunes' blazing orange and red had reasserted themselves over the surrounding palette, as rising temperatures forced the snow to give way again to sand.

Luckily for some residents, that vanishing act was not too fast to sneak in a quick sledding session. And luckily for us, some local photographers managed to capture the moment forever for folks who happened not to catch it in person.

Here are some of those photographs.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.