Snow in Tenerife. Credit: Wirestock Creators

Unusual heavy snowfalls in the Canary Islands

18 February 2016 12:00 UTC–22 February 00:00 UTC

Photo credit: Wirestock Creators

Snow in Tenerife. Credit: Wirestock Creators
Snow in Tenerife. Credit: Wirestock Creators

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.

Last Updated

10 October 2022

Published on

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.

 Met-10, 18 Feb, 12:00 UTC
Figure 1: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 18 February 12:00 UTC
 Met-10, 18 Feb, 12:00 UTC
Figure 2: Meteosat-10 Airmass RGB with temperature isolines at 500hPa geopotential height, 18 February 12:00 UTC. Credit: EUMeTrain.

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 Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 18 February 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 500hPa, is well marked in the Airmass RGB image (Figure 2).

 Met-10, 19 Feb, 12:00 UTC
Figure 3: Meteosat-10 WV6.2, 19 February 12:00 UTC
 Met-10, 19 Feb, 12:00 UTC
Figure 4: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 19 February 12:00 UTC

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.

 Metop-A AVHRR Natural Colour RGB, 21 Feb 11:13 UTC
Figure 5: Metop-A AVHRR Natural Colour RGB, 21 February 11:13 UTC

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).

The 1km resolution AVHRR image may be compared to the lower resolution SEVIRI image (12:00 UTC) or the higher resolution VIIRS image (14:20 UTC). View the VIIRS image on Google Earth

Photos of the snow in Tenerife

Marco Stangalini (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana ) took a number of photos of the snow-covered cars on the island and on Mount Teide.

Unusual, heavy snowfalls in the Canary Islands. Credit: Marco Stangalini
Figure 6: Photos of snow on Tenerife. Credit: Marco Stangalini

Further impacts — dust

 Met-10 Dust RGB, 21 Feb 12:00 UTC
Figure 7: Meteosat-10 Dust RGB, 21 February 12:00 UTC. Animated gif, Meteosat-10 Dust RGB, 20 February 06:00 UTC–22 February 00:00 UTC

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.


Additional content

Metop-B, AVHRR Natural Colour RGB image, 21 Feb 10:12 UTC
Dust cloud seen by Tim Peake on ISS (Twitter)