Why the Snow in Parts of Europe Was Orange


The photos are surreal, like a Martian ski slope or a toasted marshmallow sky.

But why did some people in Eastern Europe last week see the world in sepia tones? The answer lies hundreds of miles away.

The orange-brown filter applied briefly to that part of the world was caused by dense Saharan dust kicked into the air and swept north, experts said.

The process began when a polar jet stream made its way farther south than usual last week, bringing the strong winds and thunderstorms needed to whip up the dust, according to Tyler Roys, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.

“A trail of storms have been going through Italy, the Balkans, Ukraine and into western Russia, and finally this last storm that finally moved through, an area of lower pressure closer to the northern coast of Libya, helped pull the dust up,” he said in a phone interview.

The low-pressure system propelled the dust along before it finally made its way back to the ground over parts of Eastern Europe, said Martin Bowles, an expert with the Met Office, Britain’s meteorological service.

While Mr. Bowles said it wasn’t clear whether the dust blended with the snow in the air or on the ground, Mr. Roys said that both appeared to have been stirred together in the atmosphere.

“Very rarely do we see dust being pulled up into and mixing and falling with snow in the wintertime,” he said.

But while that particular combination with white snow may be uncommon, there’s nothing new about sandy dust making its way into the atmosphere.

“It is not unusual for Saharan dust to move into parts of Europe. It happens a few times a year,” Mr. Bowles wrote in an email. “Indeed, here in the U.K., we have occasional days (about once or twice a year) where our cars get a light covering of dust originating from the Sahara.”

In fact, last fall, the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia tinted the sky and sun red when it dragged tropical air and dust up from the Sahara, the BBC reported at the time.

Other parts of the world are well familiar with the phenomena, too. The police in Queensland, Australia, shared photos last month of a dust storm darkening the skies over the town of Charleville, for example.

And more Saharan dust is expected to enter the atmosphere over the coming week, Mr. Bowles said, though changing conditions over the Mediterranean make it unlikely that the dust will make its way north this time around.



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