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Clockwork Orange? Why Russian Ski Slopes Are Being Blanketed In The Strange Color

Orange snow in the mountains at the Rosa Khutor ski resort outside Sochi, Russia, on Friday.
Orange snow in the mountains at the Rosa Khutor ski resort outside Sochi, Russia, on Friday.

Skiers in Russia posted some bizarre photos on social media over the weekend: slopes covered in snow with an unmistakably orange tinge.

Meanwhile in Crete, the sky had a similar mandarin glow, as if scooped from the same pint of sherbet.

It turns out these two phenomena have the same cause: strong winds in North Africa that are stirring sand from the Sahara and blowing it northeast across the Mediterranean.

Satellite images from NASA show sand blowing from North Africa into Southern and Eastern Europe on Monday.
/ NASA
Satellite images from NASA show sand blowing from North Africa into Southern and Eastern Europe on Monday.

In Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the sand is mixing right into the snow or landing on top of it. The BBC reports people complaining of sand in their mouth.

Becky Mitchell, a meteorologist at the U.K.'s Met Office, tells NPR that the Saharan sand is so far afield, in part, because the jet stream has shifted farther south than it often is and because northern Africa is seeing a lot of thunderstorms at the moment.

While such happenings aren't common, Mitchell said they're also not especially rare. Indeed, the powerful storm Ophelia turned the skies over London a similar eerie shade of orange last year.

But ... orange snow?

"I've never seen any reports of orange snow here," Mitchell said.

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