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Why Orange Snow Fell Over Eastern Europe

It had to do with storms in North Africa

Orange snow dusted eastern Europe thanks to sands from Sahara (Magdalena Iordache / Alamy Stock Photo)
smithsonian.com

The orange snow was first seen falling from the sky throughout Eastern Europe in late March. Since then, the phenomenon has drawn comparisons to Martian-like landscapes across social media.

But, as Lydia Smith of The Independent reports, there’s a perfectly normal explanation for the orange-tinged snow: it's the result of sand storms in North Africa.

“There has been a lot of lifted sand or dust originating from North Africa and the Sahara, from sand storms which have formed in the desert,” Steven Keates of the Met Office, UK's national weather service, tells Smith. “As the sand gets lifted to the upper levels of the atmosphere, it gets distributed elsewhere.”

Where the particles of the sand are deposited depends on the direction of the wind, and when it rains or snows, it comes back down, leaving a hint of color behind.

The clouds of light brown dust were even picked up by NASA’s Terra satellite, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Brian Donegan.

Keates tells Smith that the phenomenon isn’t so strange. Last year, skies in the UK turned red, for instance, thanks to tropical air and dust traveling from the Sahara.

According to the BBC, this particular orange snow occurs once every five years, but this year's just appears to be a little more sandy than recent dustings; according to the outlet, people have even said they can taste and feel the sand in their mouths.

Saharan dust can travel far, Donegan writes. In the past, it’s traveled more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, making it all the way to the Texas Gulf Coast in 2016.

About Julissa Treviño

Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist based in Texas. She has written for Columbia Journalism Review, BBC Future, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, CityLab and Pacific Standard.

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