Believe it or not, some of the world’s hottest regions have experienced winter blizzards, spring flurries, and even summer snowfalls. Here are 15 sunny places that are, surprisingly, no stranger to the white stuff.
1. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
WHEN: January 1949
HOW MUCH: More than half an inch of snow covered L.A.’s downtown weather station, and the San Fernando Valley received nearly a foot.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: L.A. has experienced a handful of snowfalls over the decades, but this one lasted for nearly three days. Today, it’s remembered as the greatest recorded winter storm in the city’s history—not exactly a hard distinction to earn, considering it’s only snowed six times in L.A. since 1949, and not once in the past 54 years.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Even though they had to temporarily trade in their shorts and T-shirts for parkas, Californians managed to find humor in the situation. People built sombrero-wearing snowmen, and one hardware store erected a sign that read, “Snow Plows for Rent—Hurry!” The city of Reno, Nevada, even mailed L.A. a snow shovel.
“’The Big Snow of 49,’ we will remark to our wide-eyed grandchildren, “ one local newspaper rhapsodized. “Now that was a snow that really was a snow.”
2. MUHAFAZAT AL WAFRAH, KUWAIT
WHEN: January 28, 2016
HOW MUCH: A light dusting of snow (if it was, in fact, snow) reportedly fell near a border post in Muhafazat al Wafrah, Kuwait.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Temperatures in Kuwait can dip as low as 36°F during the colder months, but to our knowledge, the tiny Gulf country has never experienced a white winter.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: "I asked my grandfather, he said there has never been snow before," one local man commented to a newspaper. "Everyone is surprised." However, the jury’s still out on whether Kuwait actually experienced its first official snowfall. People shared images and videos of the phenomenon on social media, but none were independently verified. Meanwhile, one meteorologist told an official state news wire service that the “snow” was really hail that had fallen onto wet grounds, forming a layer of ice.
3. MAUNA KEA, HAWAII
WHEN: June 14, 2016
HOW MUCH: A light dusting
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island that stands nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest peak in the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to its elevation, Mauna Kea has a sub-arctic climate zone. It’s no stranger to snow, blizzards, and ice during the winter, but it’s more unusual to see the volcano covered in frozen precipitation during warmer months. That being said, Mauna Kea has experienced summer snow before—once in June 2011, and other incidents that have occurred in July, August, and late May.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Native Hawaiians (and weather experts) know that snow falls on the top of the summits of Hawaii’s three tallest volcanoes—Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Haleakala—several times a year. But others were a little confused, so a weather service explained the science behind the phenomenon in a social media post on June 15, 2016: “Snow on Mauna Kea in June? How common is that?” they wrote. “Although not common during the summer months, snow can fall and has fallen during the summer. Just last year, the summit saw snow on July 17th. The combination of cooler than normal upper air temperatures and thunderstorms bringing in moisture was what made snow possible yesterday.”
4. SOUTHERN FLORIDA
WHEN: The early morning of January 9, 1977
HOW MUCH: Miami’s beaches received trace amounts of white stuff, and even Homestead, Florida—a suburb that’s only 25 degrees, 28 minutes north of the equator—saw a few flurries. However, the phenomenon was short-lived, and the skies were clear by 9:30 a.m. The precipitation ended up being so slight that the freak occurrence wasn’t even officially recorded as a snow event.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The event marked the first time that steamy South Florida had ever seen snow. There hasn’t been a confirmed instance since—although one meteorologist says she received reports of flurries in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in January 2010. (These sightings weren’t officially confirmed by weather services.)
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Teachers allowed students to leave class and run in the snow, and a sanitation company in Pompano Beach playfully put "Free Snow Removal" signs on its garbage trucks. “Born and raised in Florida, I had never seen snow, and I will never forget that day as long as I live," one woman later reminisced to a local newspaper on the event’s 35th anniversary last year.
5. PHOENIX, ARIZONA
WHEN: Two record-breaking instances: January 20, 1933, and January 21-22, 1937
HOW MUCH: 1 inch
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Believe it or not, Arizona isn’t dry as a desert year-round. Come winter, heavy snowfalls often blanket the state’s mountainous north central regions. But snow is almost unheard of in Phoenix—which is why it was so monumental when the metro area received an inch of the white stuff on two separate occasions in the 1930s. Today, these incidents remain in the books as the greatest amounts of snow ever recorded in the region. (Snow fell again in Phoenix in 1998, but only .22 inches of precipitation—and a trace amount of snow—was measured.)
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Local newspapers described the 1937 snowfall in dramatic terms: “Winter subjected Arizona to an unrelenting barrage of bitter cold yesterday, sending snow flurries [to] Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma,” one news outlet wrote—even though a subsequent paragraph revealed that only a few flakes fell during the late afternoon and evening, and melted before hitting the ground.
WHEN: March 31, 2016
HOW MUCH: : “A very fine snowfall” reportedly covered the hills above the municipality of St. Claude, northeast of the capital city of Basse-Terre, after the region experienced a cold front and accompanying precipitation.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Caribbean news outlets claimed it wasn’t an April Fool’s Day Joke: For the first time in recorded history, snow had actually fallen on the tropical French island of Guadeloupe. (We haven’t been able to find accounts by non-locals, so the jury’s still out on whether the alleged phenomenon was actually a prank.)
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: “This has never before been seen in Guadeloupe,” a French meteorologist said on TV. “This is an exceptional event that we will never forget.”
7. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
WHEN: June 28, 1836
HOW MUCH: Up to one inch
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Overnight rain turned into morning snow, and by 7 a.m. people reported measuring as much as one inch piling on top of rooftops and awnings (although it reportedly melted in an hour). Over the following decades, Sydney reportedly experienced several other snowfalls, but none were as dramatic—or as strange—as the 1836 incident.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Sydney officially become Australia’s first city in 1842. Before that, it was a colony of British settlers and former convicts. According to a local newspaper, the surprised European transplants “were reported to have made light of the unusual occurrence,” a reporter wrote. “Some of the ‘Old hands’ express a hope that their old acquaintances, Messrs. Frost and Snow do not intend emigrating to New South Wales.”
8. ROME, ITALY
WHEN: February 4, 2012
HOW MUCH: Parts of the city were covered in nearly a foot of snow, and even more fell the following day.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Can’t imagine white weather in the Mediterranean? Neither can its inhabitants. This was Rome’s heaviest snowfall since the mid-1980s—and the city was completely unprepared for the chaos it caused. Schools shut down, some commuters took as long as eight hours to arrive home from work, and some 33,000 homes were left without power the next day. Later that week, officials were forced to shut down the Colosseum after they discovered that frozen chunks of its walls were falling off, and the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were closed to tourists.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: One journalist told a Canadian news outlet that Rome’s mayor announced nobody should drive in the snow without snow chains, “which no one has in this city because it never snows,” she said. They did, however, have shovels: Civil protection authorities handed out around 2000 shovels in Rome’s central public squares, and asked locals to lend a hand and help dig the city out.
9. THE SAHARA DESERT
WHEN: February 18, 1979
HOW MUCH: It’s hard to pinpoint an official recorded depth, but the snowstorm reportedly lasted a half-hour and melted within a few hours.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Saharan mountain ranges (which include Chad’s Tibesti Mountains and Algeria’s Ahaggar Mountains) experience snow around every seven years—but this time around, it fell in the city of Ghardaïa, Algeria. The phenomenon marked the first time that snow was ever recorded in the desert’s low altitude areas.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: The snowstorm reportedly caused traffic delays, but we still don’t know if locals complained or used the weather as an excuse to skip work.
10. BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
WHEN: July 9, 2007
HOW MUCH: A front of Antarctic air drifted north, causing normally warm temperatures to dip and precipitation to fall. Newspapers didn’t name an official snow depth, but the soft, wet layer of white stuff covered Buenos Aires and portions of the western highlands.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: According to the national weather service, Buenos Aires hadn’t experienced a major snowstorm since June 22, 1918. (The occasion may have also felt particularly festive because it occurred on Argentina’s independence day holiday.)
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Children pelted each other with snowballs, motorists drove with tiny snowmen on their car hoods, and crowds gathered at the city’s famous Obelisk monument to enjoy the historic weather. "Despite all my years, this is the first time I've ever seen in snow in Buenos Aires," an 82-year-old woman told a newspaper.
11. BAGHDAD, IRAQ
WHEN: January 11, 2008
HOW MUCH: Flurries (they melted quickly)
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Snow is a regular occurrence in northern Iraq’s mountain regions. In Baghdad? Not so much. Locals reportedly couldn’t agree on when (and even whether) Baghdad had received snow before. Some people said it had never happened whereas others argued snow struck the region once, a little over 40 years prior. Others only remembered occasional rain or hailstorms.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Some people said they’d only seen snow in movies, so they were eager to capture the moment. “I rushed quickly to the balcony to see a very beautiful scene,” said one 19-year-old college student. “I tried to film it with my cell phone camera. This scene has really brought me joy. I called my other friends and the morning turned out to be a very happy one in my life.”
12. SOUTH TEXAS
WHEN: December 24-25, 2004
HOW MUCH: 12.5 inches in Victoria, Texas; 4.4 inches in Corpus Christi, Texas; and 1-3 inches across parts of the Houston metro area.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Forget about white Christmases—South Texas rarely ever gets snow, much less a measurable amount. This was the most snow that the region had seen since the late 1800s, so naturally, it set several historic records: Corpus Christi experienced its heaviest-ever recorded snowstorm, Victoria weathered its greatest 24-hour snowstorm, and the city of Brownsville received its first measurable amount of snow since February 1895.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Nobody believed forecasts calling for snow—so when the storm finally hit, locals had nothing to wear. One man remembers his children playing in the snow, plastic bags taped around their ankles to stay dry. Other people recall snowball fights and snowmen, and refer to the phenomenon as a Christmas miracle.
13. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
WHEN: February 14-15, 1895
HOW MUCH: More than 8 feet
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Big Easy is famous for its bayous and swamps, but it’s also experienced 17 measurable snowfalls since 1852 (including a 1-inch dusting in December 2008). The city’s greatest snowstorm on record is the 1895 blizzard, which reportedly also caused flurries to fall even further south, in Tampico, Mexico.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Here’s one local newspaper’s account of the wintry weather phenomenon: “For more than 12 hours past snow has fallen here steadily and tonight [evening of February 14] the Crescent City is wrapped in a mantle of white such as she never wore before … Street car service was entirely suspended this afternoon, and the hackmen reaped a harvest, charging unheard of prices for their vehicles.”
14. DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
WHEN: Weather stations have only officially recorded two instances of snow in Death Valley. The first occurred on January 9 and 11, 1949; the second, on January 4 and 5, 1974. (This isn’t counting four inches of snow that was spotted at an unofficial weather station at Cow Creek, the national park’s employee housing area, on January 12, 1949.)
HOW MUCH: A trace amount
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Death Valley is Earth’s hottest place, and North America’s driest. Its average rainfall is less than two inches per year, and temperatures often soar above 120°F (although it does get chillier during the winter months).
15. THE ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
WHEN: The snowfall began on July 3, 2011, and lasted for several days.
HOW MUCH: Thanks to a rare Antarctic cold front, parts of the arid region received nearly 32 inches of snow.
WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, thanks in part to the Andes Mountains and Chilean Coast Range, which naturally block moisture from the region. Parts of the 600-mile-long plateau have never even experienced a recorded rainfall.
WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Locals of nearby San Pedro de Atacama said the snowstorm was the largest the region had received in three decades. Roads to the city were temporarily blocked, and thousands of people were left without electricity, cell phone service, radio, and food.