Since early December, the number of people searching for “when hell freezes over” on Google has spiked dramatically. And, if one of the locations on Earth most associated with hot weather is any indicator, the phenomenon may have actually occurred, at least momentarily.
Pictures taken by an amateur photographer Monday show the dunes of the Sahara Desert covered with a dusting of snow. In the photos, the white contrasts with the crests of orange sand after just the second snowfall there in living memory. The last time snow visited that desert was way back in February 1979.
“Everyone was stunned to see snow falling in the desert; it is such a rare occurrence,” Karim Bouchetata, the photographer who lives in the desert town of Ain Sefra, Algeria, told the Daily Mail. “It looked amazing as the snow settled on the sand and made a great set of photos. The snow stayed for about a day and has now melted away.”
The Sahara Desert is one of the driest and hottest places on Earth and rests just a few hundred feet above sea level, surrounded by the Atlas Mountains. But the desert, which covers most of Northern Africa, hasn’t always been that way. Around 10,500 years ago, heavy monsoon rains transformed the desert from a state similar to how it is now into habitable land that allowed people to move away from the lush Nile Valley. Humans, seeking open land away from the dense banks of the Nile River, seized the opportunity to move out west to establish settlements and introduce domesticated livestock to the area. That lush period ended between 7,300 and 5,500 years ago, prompting people to move back to the Nile and the start of the civilization we now know as ancient Egypt.
The desert may see a return to greener pastures, too. Many Twitter users saw the snowy Sahara pictures as proof that global climate change isn’t taking place — much like when Republican Sen. James Inhofe famously threw a snowball on the Senate floor in 2015 to try and prove the same point about the weather, which isn’t how climate works. But the gradual changes in global climate may actually push rain back into the region. Find this Some evidence suggests that the outer areas of the Sahara are already starting to experience more rainfall, leading to greener landscapes developing.