orange snow
A skier poses on the orange-tinted slopes of Sochi, Russia. (Photo: @sinyaya_ptiza/Instagram)

Orange snow became visible this week on the mountains of Russia, making them look like the surface of Mars. If your mind immediately goes to some sort of secret nefarious chemical-related explanation, those are the times we're living in. But it turns out there's a relatively simple — if no less dramatic — reason behind it.

 

What causes orange snow?

Sand from the Sahara Desert in Northern Africa blew toward Eastern Europe, where it mixed with snow and rain to create the pigmented precipitation, meteorologist Steven Keates told the Independent. Skiers and snowboarders in Sochi, Russia, made their way down slopes blanketed by a dusty orange mist.

 

The red and orange snow was even visible from NASA's Terra satellite, reported CNN.

 

“There has been a lot of lifted sand or dust originating from North Africa and the Sahara, from sandstorms which have formed in the desert,” said Keates, adding that the phenomenon has happened before in other places. “When it rains or snows, it drags down whatever is up there, if there is sand in the atmosphere.”

 

The sandstorm made its way to Russia via Greece. The Athens Observatory said this was one of the largest transfers of sand from the Sahara ever.

Reddish and orange snow has also been seen in Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania.

"It is not unusual for Saharan dust to move into parts of Europe. It happens a few times a year,” said Martin Bowles of the UK's Met Office in "The New York Times." Indeed, here in the UK, we have occasional days (about once or twice a year) where our cars get a light covering of dust originating from the Sahara."

Last fall, the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia even turned the sky and sun red in some areas of Europe when tropical winds carried sand northward.