How Often Does it Snow in the Sahara Desert?

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While snow is present in Africa at very high elevations, snow in the Sahara Desert is a very rare event.  The Sahara Desert is an extremely hot and arid region.  An area about 3,600,000 square miles (9,200,000 square kilometers), the desert is about the size of the United States and stretches across much of North Africa.  Winter is the season when any rainfall might fall in this area.  The air above the desert is so dry, that often rain doesn’t reach the ground or arrives in very small quantities (Galvin, 2010).  Locations at higher elevations receive more rain (Galvin, 2010).

There have been three recorded episodes of significant snowfall.  The first was recorded in 1979, the second in December of 2016, and the third most recently on January 7, 2018.  The Algerian twin of Ain Sefra is known as the “Gateway to the Desert”, located between the Atlas Mountains and the northern edge of the Sahara.  The 2016 snowfall was captured by Landsat 7 satellite on December 19, 2016.

Satellite image showing snow between the border of Morocco and Algeria near the town of Ain Sefra captured by Landsat 7. Image: NASA, December 19, 2016.

Satellite image showing snow between the border of Morocco and Algeria near the town of Ain Sefra captured by Landsat 7. Image: NASA, December 19, 2016.

The recent January 7 2018 snowfall was captured by local photographer Karim Bouchetata (who also captured imagery of the snowfall in 2016):

Unfortunately, in all cases of significant snowfall, the snow quickly melted and dissipated after a few hours, returning the desert to its sandy landscape.

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