Snow and Skies Turn Orange in Eastern Europe

A rose-gold tinge has fallen over parts of Eastern Europe, turning wintry peaks in Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, and Moldova into beachy or unearthly scenes.

"We're skiing on Mars today," one social media user reported while skiing down slopes in Sochi.

But what caused this clementine-colored phenomenon? Has it happened before, and will it happen again? Those, and other questions, answered below.

Grassland birds of the Great Plains wade by the water's edge as a storm begins to take shape in the background.
Grassland birds of the Great Plains wade by the water's edge as a storm begins to take shape in the background.
Photograph by Randy Olson, Nat Geo Image Collection

Rose-Colored Ski Goggles

Starting Friday and continuing over the weekend, the region's snow was turned sepia-tinted by sand blowing up from storms in the Sahara. Counterclockwise winds from the low-pressure system over Europe pulled south to southwest winds up from the desert and into the atmosphere. There, the African dust mixed with snow and rain, and then descended from European skies onto snowy slopes. (Watch: "Rare Snow In the World's Hottest Desert")

"As the sand gets lifted to the upper levels of the atmosphere, it gets distributed elsewhere," Met Office meteorologist Steven Keates tells The Independent. "When it rains or snows, it drags down whatever is up there, if there is sand in the atmosphere."

The Guardian reports that pollen particles were also in the mix.

Surrounding Area

On Thursday, before the orange snow was reported, sand-loaded Saharan winds made their way across the Mediterranean Sea, engulfing the Greek island Crete in a dusty, rust-colored haze, limiting visibility and extending to Turkey. According to the Athens Observatory, which has seen high concentrations of African dust in the last 10 years, this episode is one of the largest transfers of desert sand to Greece from the Sahara.

In Eastern Europe, higher-than-usual concentrations of sand have been reported, and complaints have come in of people getting sand in their mouths. (Related: "Dramatic Photos Show How Sand Mining Threatens a Way of Life in Southeast Asia")

According to the BBC, this sand-spurred scenario happens about once every five years. In October, Storm Ophelia kicked up Saharan sand into U.K. skies, turning them red, while strong winds fanned wildfires in Portugal and Spain. In 2007, orange snow descended over parts of Siberia. The rotten-smelling, oily substance had high concentrations of iron, acids, and nitrates, likely from chemical pollution in nearby Kazakhstan. (Watch: "What Is Acid Rain?")

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