No, it didn’t snow in Kenya yesterday

July 5th, 2017 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

There is much internet buzzing about “snow” in Kenya yesterday, and its connection to climate change.

Here’s what the event looked like on a road near Nyahururu, Kenya, which is on a plateau around 7,800 ft. elevation, and is positioned right on the equator:

Small hail covering the ground near Nyahururu, Kenya, on July 4, 2017.

If you click to get the full-size photo, you will notice that the ditch is running with water, and there is fog just above the ice. This means there was heavy rain with the event, and that the air is relatively warm and humid, and the ice on the ground is cooling the air to below the dewpoint, causing the fog.

This was a hailstorm, not “snow”.

Here’s what the area looked like from the MODIS instrument on a NASA satellite:

MODIS satellite imagery of central Kenya on July 4, 2017 showing thunderstorm clouds. Three successive satellite passes showed the storms growing at this time and moving eastward (to the right).

Those are thunderstorm clouds, not snow-producing clouds. Mountain hikers are familiar with summer storms producing small hail.

The GFS weather forecast model fields for yesterday showed that there was no cold air mass intrusion from high latitudes. The air mass temperature was near normal. At this latitude, you would have to go up to around 18,000 ft altitude to experience actual “snow”, which sometimes falls on the summit of Mt. Kenya (~17,000 ft.), and frequently on Kilimanjaro (~19,000 ft.)


14 Responses to “No, it didn’t snow in Kenya yesterday”

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  1. Ric Werme says:

    Sigh, I’ve seen so many stories like this that I’ve concluded people living in places where it hardly ever snows should never be believed when they claim “it snowed.” It’s almost always thanks to a Tstrm with hail.

    If you can’t pack it and throw it at your sister without serious repercussions, it’s not snow….

  2. Michael van der Riet says:

    I live in Africa and as far back as I remember (born in 1951) we have had massive hailstorms. And the only thing resembling an SUV back then was a Land Rover.

  3. jimc says:

    I live in SE Arizona at 3600ft (just slightly above the edge of the desert, 3200ft). We have our monsoons in summer and early fall. There is often (once or twice a year) hail mixed in.

  4. JDAM says:

    California ski resorts Squaw Valley and Mammoth Mountain were still open over the 4th of July weekend. Thanks to the massive winter snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
    https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/california-ski-resorts-remain-open-for-july-4th-and-beyond-thanks-to-bountiful-winter/7000206

  5. Jim says:

    I live in kenya and its confusing.we have never seen snow and we wouldn’t give the diffrence between snow and hails unless youve been to abroad or climate enthuasist.thanks for your info

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      Jim…”…we wouldnt give the diffrence between snow and hails”

      You can feel the difference. Snow flakes tend to float down but hail comes crashing down. Makes a lot of noise.

      I was working in the Tar Sands projects in the early 2000 decade, living in camp. When some guys came back from Edmonton after a few days off they complained of baseball-sized hail(cricket ball to you) denting the metal awnings over their windows and leaving dents in their cars. Snow flakes don’t do that.

  6. Rhee says:

    A similar event occurred in South Central Los Angeles about 7-8 years ago, a significant hailstorm left lawns and streets in South LA, Watts, Compton, etc covered in thin white icing. It lasted only a couple hours.

    I also recall a very strange hail event in Colorado Springs about 20 years ago; during a summer evening a storm cloud suddenly dropped all its hailstones at once. The cloud was just above the main road passing University of CO Colorado Springs; the mass of hail was over 6 feet deep and covered about a city block length. It trapped (encased) several cars passing through the road at the moment. CSFD brought front-end loaders to dig out the cars and carry off the hail.

  7. lewis says:

    About 30 years ago I was driving north on I-75 near Lexington, Ky when I ran up on a fog bank. There was about 2 inches of hail on the ground, about 1/4 to 1/2 mile diameter in area.

    Most curious.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      lewis…”About 30 years ago I was driving north on I-75 near Lexington, Ky when I ran up on a fog bank”.

      The tendency is for people to slow down or stop in the fog, then you know what happens when the next driver comes along. Of course, it’s hard or impossible to maintain speed in 2″ of hail but if you don’t you could be dead. To compound matters, people who got into the fog bank before you likely slowed down and/or stopped.

      It’s a no-win situation and the best thing you can do is get as far off the road as you can and get away from your vehicle.

      I got into a similar situation on a freeway where the wind had blown powder snow into a fog higher than my vehicle. I could barely see the front of my car and could not get off the road due to snow banks. There were idiots actually passing me in the other lane going at regular speed.

      Fortunately the fog condition broke within a couple of miles so I could make out the road again.

  8. Gordon Robertson says:

    “…you would have to go up to around 18,000 ft altitude to experience actual snow, which sometimes falls on the summit of Mt. Kenya (~17,000 ft.)”

    It’s well worth the read to get a hold of the book by adventurer Bill Tilman titled ‘The Seven Mountain-Travel Book’.

    Tilman moved to Kenya after World War I and climbed Mt. Kenya (both peaks) and Kilimanjaro in 1930 with Eric Shipton. Here is a wiki article on his exploits:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Tilman

    When he decided to leave Africa and return to England, he rode a bicycle from Kenya to the west coast of Africa to catch a boat. Slept outdoors with lions roaming around.

    His best adventure for me was breaking through the hitherto impenetrable gorge leading into the Nanda Devi Sanctuary with Shipton. Tilman returned the following year and became the first to climb Nanda Devi (25,643 feet).

    Ironically, another mountaineer, Willie Unsoeld, who climbed the West Ridge of Everest circa 1963 with partner Tom Hornbein, in a dramatic traverse over the peak and down the Hillary route, named his daughter Nanda Devi. She wanted to see the mountain and climb it and she died near the peak. Tragic.

  9. jjs says:

    I climbed mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro; a few years apart. Snow on both while I was there. Kenya was much tougher than Kilimanjaro. But, while climbing Kili we had big snow and several people died while we were heading up.

    Beautiful country Kenya and Tanzania. Kwahiri and Jambo to all.

    • Nimi says:

      Thank you for the compliment concerning my country and I can only imagine just what an outstanding adventure it was climbing mountains👍

    • Nimi says:

      Thank you for the compliment concerning my country and I can only imagine just what an outstanding adventure it was climbing those mountains👍

  10. Nimi says:

    I’m a Knyan living in Paris and have been to the mountains several times here in Europe therefore I know what snow looks like(which I had never seen before coming here so I totally understood you Jim…), hence I was rather perplexed by the whole thing which has led me to this article, interesting one.

    @JJS: Jambo to you from a Kenyan, and it’s “Kwaheri” not “Kwahiri”☺, nice memory though!😊

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