Unusual, heavy snowfalls in the Canary Islands
18 February 2016 12:00 UTC– 22 February 00:00 UTC
The snow started to fall on 18 February and continued to fall on 19 and 20 February. Snow covered all highlands from 900 metres above sea level, with traces of snow as low as 600 metres.
14 November 2020
18 February 2016
By Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT) and HansPeter Roesli (Switzerland)
Snowfall is usually very rare in the Canary Islands, however, there have been several snow events in recent years. For example, in January 2014, snow fell in the area of Las Mesas (Gran Canaria) and in the high areas of Tenerife, such as Mount Teide, where all access roads had to be closed due to dangerous conditions.
Usually, snow in the Canary Islands doesn't last long because the cold air that allows it to settle blows away quickly and the sun melts it away.
This causes its own problems as lots of locals get excited and drive up into the mountains to take advantage of this unusual event. Between traffic jams, cold conditions and slippery roads, the top of the islands can be chaotic. Lots of cars are left by the roadside, while others are stuck in queues for so long that it's all melted by the time people reach where the snowline was.
An extreme case of snowfall in the Canary Islands was observed in February 2016, when a deep trough and a corresponding cold front, reached the islands on 18 February, see Met-10 Natural Colour RGB, 18 Feb 12:00 UTC image (Figure 1). Heavy snow showers can be seen in the Natural Colour RGB image streaming down over Madeira towards the Canary Islands (the cyan cumulus clouds).
The narrow temperature trough, with temperatures of around -28 °C at 500 hPa, is well marked in the Airmass RGB image (Figure 2).
On 19 February, the upper level trough deepened slightly and moved further towards Morocco, with the typical signs of a cut-off process (slow movement, rotation and narrowing connection to trough in the north), see the water vapour image (Figure 3).
In the cold polar air over the relatively warm Atlantic Ocean, heavy showers developed that can be observed in the Natural Colour RGB (Figure 4), bringing more snow to the higher areas of the Canary Islands and Morocco.
The fresh snow wasn't seen in satellite images until 21 February, when the weather became more stable and the clouds started to clear.
The Metop-A AVHRR Natural Colour RGB image from 21 February at 11:13 UTC (Figure 5) gives a good view of the snow in Tenerife highlands, but the snow in Gran Canaria is difficult to see (mixed scenes, snow and clouds).
Photos of the snow in Tenerife
Marco Stangalini took a number of photos of the snow-covered cars on the island and on Mount Teide.
Further impacts — dust
It should be noted that, on 20 February, the cut-off low over Morocco triggered a major dust outbreak over Algeria.
The dust cloud quickly moved upwards to higher levels and moved north-westward and reached the Iberian Peninsula on 21 February, as can be seen on the Meteosat-10 Dust RGB imagery, Figure 7 and animated gif.
Metop-B, AVHRR Natural Colour RGB image, 21 Feb 10:12 UTC
Dust cloud seen by Tim Peake on ISS (Twitter)
Snow from the Canaries to Navarra as Spain continues in the grip of winter (Spanish News Today)
Photo: Suomi NPP satellite captures massive dust cloud being pulled over Spain, Portugal (Breaking News)
Other snow cases
Wintry conditions affect parts of Europe in late Spring
Wintry weather returned to parts of Central Europe in early May 2019, thanks to cold polar air plunging south.
Parts of the UK hit by snow storms
On 1 February 2019 a depression lay to the west of the Bay of Biscay, a trough and associated front stretched east over the south of England. A small low developed at the base of this trough, bringing snow to southern England.
US big freeze as seen from space
Features of the 'Big Freeze' which affected parts of North America in January 2019 could be seen in satellite imagery.
Snowy January in Finland
Numerous fronts brought snow into Finland during the second two weeks of January 2019.
Record cold and heavy snowfall in January 1985
January is statistically the coldest month for Europe and 1985 was one of the coldest on record.
Latest case studies
Large smoke plume from wildfires in Russia
By Mark Higgins (EUMETSAT), Sancha Lancaster (Pactum) and Ilaria Parodi (CGI)
Devastating floods in western Europe
Catastrophic floods hit Germany, Belgium and parts of West Europe mid July 2021.
Catastrophic tornado in the Czech Republic
Satellites' view on the catastrophic tornado case on 24 June 2021 in the Czech Republic.
Tracking the Gulf Stream with satellite data
Using satellite data from multiple satellite instruments to track the Gulf Stream in 2020 and 2021.