Rare snowfall in Sahara desert photographed from space

Date:18 January 2018 Tags:, ,

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite has captured unusual images of the snow-covered dunes on the edge of the Sahara Desert, in northwest Algeria.

The images were taken on 8 January after up to 40 centimetres of snow fell the previous day over a section of this desert. The Sahara is place of extreme temperatures, during the day it is one of the hottest places on Earth, while at night, especially in winter, temperatures plummet.

The Sahara is typically too dry for snow, Stefan Kröpelin, a geologist at the University of Cologne in Germany, told The New York Times. But on Sunday, cold air penetrating south combined with the right amount of humidity, says Kaplan.

“Most of the snow had melted by the end of the next day, but luckily, the Sentinel-2A satellite happened to be in the right place at the right time to record this rare event from space,” says ESA representative Kelsea Brennan-Wessels in the video.

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite photographed a rare snowfall in northwest Algeria at the Sahara Desert’s edge on 7 January, 2018.
Credit: Copernicus Sentinel/ESA CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Specifically, the satellite images show that snow fell on the lower Saharan Atlas mountain range. While temperatures in this area can drop significantly at night, snowfall is very unusual in the Sahara Desert because the air is so dry.

On 8 January, 2018, data from the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite caught this view of 10 to 30 centimeters of snow that accumulated on higher elevations of the Sahara Desert near the northern Algerian town Aïn Séfra.


The recent snowfall marks only the third time in 37 years that scientists have recorded powdered snow in this part of the desert, according to the ESA video. The previous storms that were recorded occurred in February 1979 and December 2016.

You can view more video on the ground from from the sand dunes covered in snow, taken by of Hamouda DZ photography, here.

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