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Snow in the Sahara
January 21, 2018, 1:12 pm
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Residents of Aïn Séfra, an Algerian town on the edge of Sahara Desert, woke up last week to find the beautiful sight of snow capping the sand dunes in their neighborhood. What made the snowfall so remarkable is that the town, sometimes called the ‘Gateway to the Desert’, and where temperatures can often soar to above 40°C in summer, is now beginning to witness more frequent snowfalls.

The first recorded snowfall in recent memory was way back in 1979, but since then it has snowed more frequently. In January 2012, the Algerian TV channel Central TV covered snowfall in the same town which it described as "an exceptional natural phenomenon in this Saharan region.” It again snowed in the consequent winters of 2016 and 2017 and again this year. Two years ago, the snow settled for around a day, and the town saw snowfall again last year. A freak winter storm that hit the town on 20 January, 2017 left behind more than a meter of snow across the desert landscape. This was the largest snowfall in residents' memories and caused travel disruptions due to roads becoming iced, while children sledded and made snowmen on the sand dunes. 

There are speculations as to how many times It has snowed in the Sahara because of the vastness of the area and the availability of a few monitoring facilities. Stefan Kröpelin, a geologist at the University of Cologne in Germany who has been researching the Saharan climate for years said the challenge in the Sahara is the humidity and not the temperatures. The assumption is that deserts refer to average temperatures when in fact it is lack of precipitation.

He added, "The Sahara is as large as the United States, and there are very few weather stations," he added. "So it's ridiculous to say that this is the first, second, third time it snowed, as nobody would know how many times it has snowed in the past unless they were there." The Sahara is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic.

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