The images started appearing on Instagram on Friday, March 23. Shots of what otherwise looked like a perfectly regular weather event. Snow-covered hills and peaks. Outdoor adventurers on snowshoes and families outside playing in the snow. There was only one small issue — the snow wasn’t white.
Many of the photos came from a ski resort near Sochi, Russia, home of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. In them, skiers and snowboarders tear down the slopes on what looks suspiciously like orange snow. The images make it seem as though the snow was made from Kool-Aid. Or maybe the photo was taken through orange-tinted ski goggles. But what you’re seeing isn’t some crazy new filter or the result of the photographer going overboard with fill-in edits — the snow actually is orange.
How did this happen? Scientists believe the origins start in North Africa. Sand and dust drifted up into the atmosphere and were carried to areas such as the mountains near Sochi. When the region received snowfall last week, the sand and dust were brought down to the ground along with snow, adding a colorful hue to an otherwise normal winter storm. “There has been a lot of lifted sand or dust originating from North Africa and the Sahara, from sand storms which have formed in the desert,” Steven Keates of the Met Office told The Independent. “When it rains or snows, it drags down whatever is up there, if there is sand in the atmosphere.”
Skiers, and anyone else left in a panic over the weekend, can rest easy knowing that this incident isn’t the result of some unknown — even alien — intervention in our planet’s weather pattern. Similar occurrences have happened before, including in Siberia in 2007. If you’d like to check the orange snow out for yourself, better hop on a plane ASAP. It’s highly unlikely that the next big snowfall in Sochi will continue the pattern.