Ice Sparkles On The Sahara For Only The Fourth Time In 42 Years


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

snow in sahara

 Ice and snow in the Sahara is a rare but not unheard of phenomenon. Image credit: derdour rachid/ 

The Sahara is famously hot, dry, and generally inhospitable. Yes, it does rain, and yes it is dotted with occasional green oases, but it's a very rare occasion to see it sparkling in the sunlight due to a smattering of frost.

In fact, this week this rare occurrence marks only the fourth time in the last 42 years it's happened. Luckily, local photographer Karim Bouchetata was there to catch it. 


The Sahara (meaning desert) is the largest hot desert in the world, stretching 8.6 million kilometers (3.3 million miles) across North Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, so seeing a smattering of white over the red is quite unusual. Africa does, of course, have snow. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is famously topped by a snowy cap, while in the Atlas Mountains just 72 kilometers (45 miles) from Marrakech, Oukaimeden has the unlikely honor of being Africa’s highest ski resort at 3,200 meters (10,500 feet).

Bouchetata, however, captured the ice on the dunes just outside the town of Ain Sefra in northwestern Algeria. Ain Sefra sits about 1,000 meters above sea level surrounded by the Atlas Mountains, near the Algeria-Moroccan border, and it has snowed there before.


In fact, this smattering of ice is nothing compared to the snowfall that occurred in December 2016 or January 2018, where as much as 40.6 centimeters (16 inches) were reported in some places. But seeing as the time before that was 1979, we're still chalking this up as exciting. 


Seeing the red dunes smattered with white may look like a scene from one of the polar regions of Mars, but strangely, it also goes the other way. In 2018, sand from the Sahara blew all the way to Europe and turned its snow orange. Sand, dust, and pollen particles are picked up by storms that swirl across northern Africa to Europe where they mix with the rain in the atmosphere, falling as orange-tinted snow thanks to the Sahara’s red sand. 


Unfortunately, this icy phenomenom doesn't usually last long, so we're lucky local photographers are there to catch this otherwordly sight and share it with the rest of us. 

  • tag
  • snow,

  • sahara,

  • desert