Rare Snow in the Sahara Yields Surreal Visuals

Turns out the sun, sand, and snow cohere to make quite the visual treat.

Snow fell in Ain Sefra, Algeria this week for just the fifth time in 42 years. The small desert city (whose name translates as “Yellow Spring”) sits at the foot of the Atlas Mountains at the northwest border of the Sahara.

snow in the sahara desert

Photo: Malcolm Kirk

 

Winter overnight temperatures in the city commonly approach freezing, but less typically break the barrier. Even rarer do those freezes coincide with precipitation. But as the mercury hit -2°C on January 17, the flakes started to fall on the “Gateway to the Sahara.”

Enchanting panoramas resulted.

ain sefra algeria snow - sahara desert

Photo: Trevlyn Lezama

 

Notably, the phenomenon has occurred more frequently in recent years. Observers recorded snow in Algeria in 1979, 2016, 2018, and 2021, according to SnowBrains.

This year, the area has received dustings throughout the month of January.

ain sefra algeria snow

A photo dated January 6, near Mekala, Algeria.

 

The Atlas Mountains cover 2,500km from Morocco in the west to Tunisia in the east. The range separates the Sahara from the Mediterranean, topping out at the snow-capped 4,167m Toubkal in Morocco. Historically, the Berbers are the range’s most prolific human inhabitants, dating back to around 3,000 BC.

Endangered Barbary leopards also roam the Atlas Mountains.

ain sefra algeria snow

Snow outside Ain Sefra, Algeria. Photo: Geoff Robinson

 

Ain Sefra perches low among the peaks at 1,000m above sea level. Its climate tends to be relatively temperate, but highly arid. Average January temperatures range from 12°C to 0°C, but the city averages just 169mm of precipitation each year.

Photo: Mustapha Chagos Hajji

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.


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