It wasn’t quite a “white Christmas,” but it was close.

Earlier this week, the world’s largest hot desert — the Sahara — was blanketed in more than a foot of ice cold snow. 

It was the third time in the past three years that the paradoxical snowstorm-in-the-Sahara has occurred, the Independent reports. And while the phenomenon is a beautiful one to behold — it’s also concerning for scientists and global citizens. 

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The snowfall was recorded near the Algerian town of Ain Sefra, and piled up to about 40 centimeters (16 inches) before melting completely away by 5:00 p.m., according to TSA Algeria.

"Essentially [the weather pattern] came from North America and eastern Canada," Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Global Citizen. "It’s sweeping up over Canada, going across the Atlantic and Europe to create the conditions in the Sahara." 

"Ultimately this links back to the cold air outbreaks that bring the extreme conditions that tend to be more unusual in recent memory," she added. 

Before December 2016, snow had only been recorded in the Sahara once, in 1979. It also snowed in January of 2017 — and that time the desert saw nearly a meter (40 inches) of snow. 

Scientists attributed the cold weather in the Sahara to a high pressure system in Europe pushing cold air into northern Africa, TeleSur reports. But the increasing prevalence of extreme, volatile weather could also point to another phenomenon: climate change. 

“Such situations, including snowfalls in Sahara, a long cold spell in North America, very warm weather in the European part of Russia and sustained rains which sparked flooding in Western European countries, have been occurring more frequently,” Roman Vilfand, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, told the Russian news agency TASS

“The high recurrence of these extreme conditions stems from global warming,” he said. “It is not just my standpoint, but an opinion shared by members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” 

Read More: 3 Reasons Climate Change Is Real, Even Though It's Cold

As Global Citizen has reported previously, climate change doesn’t only mean warmer temperatures, but also shifting global weather patterns brought on by melting ice in the Arctic. 

Despite colder temperatures in the eastern United States, much of the rest of the world has actually seen unseasonably high temperatures this winter, according to the Climate Reality Project

“[T]he unusual weather we’re seeing this winter is in no way evidence against climate change,” Dr. Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, wrote about the so-called “Bomb Cyclone” that hit the US northeast last week. “It is an example of precisely the sort of extreme winter weather we expect because of climate change.” 

With increasing climate change, scientists expect that "the winter is going to change more than the summer," Ekwurzel said, "so ironically we have to pay more attention to our winter weather forecasts than before." 

As for the Sahara, the desert may eventually revert to the “fertile grassland it once was,” according to geologist Trevor Nace, who wrote an article in Forbes

In the meantime, this rare weather event made for at least one thing: beautiful photos. Check them out, below. 


Defend the Planet

It Snowed in the Sahara Desert—For the Third Time in 3 Years

By Phineas Rueckert