Snow hit the Sahara Desert, transforming sand dunes into ski hills that many locals quickly took advantage of before the heat returned.

The Sahara Desert is not normally a place you’d associate with snow, and for good reason. It’s dry. It’s hot. There is sand everywhere. So when the town of Ain Sefra, (nicknamed the ‘gateway to the desert’) found itself under 16 inches of the icy white stuff in January, it got people’s attention. For a few fleeting hours, sand dunes became giant snow drifts and daily routines came to a skidding halt as locals did their best to deal with a weather phenomena that has only occurred in region three times in the past 37 years.

The Sahara, being a place known for its extremes when it comes to weather, usually has a searing spotlight put on how hot it can get. After all, it is the hottest desert on the planet (the polar opposite of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys, the coldest). In December, when the sun goes down and darkness falls, the Sahara can have temperatures that hover just above the freezing mark. The usual severe lack of moisture in the air prevents snow from making an appearance.

Although rare, this is the second year in a row the Sahara has seen snow. Both times, the accumulation was enough that NASA satellite imagery was able to capture the spectacle. Is this a trend we’re likely to see more of? Across the planet, weather extremes are being reported more frequently.

The eastern United States has been bombarded with large amounts of snow and dangerous freezing temperatures this winter season while Australia has had to deal with scorching heat. Will there be more Sahara snow in the future? We might have to wait until this time next year to find out.

Story by Jay Moon