Climate change skeptics mislead on Saudi Arabia snow images

Twitter users claim footage of snow falling on camels in Saudi Arabia shows the first such occurrence in 100 years, proving global warming is a "hoax." This is false; the video is from 2021, and experts say such weather has been reported numerous times in recent years and does not change the scientific consensus on climate change.

"Global Warming strikes again, first snow in Saudi Arabia in 100 years," says a February 25, 2023 tweet sharing a clip with some four million views.

The video shows a desert landscape at night with snow falling on camels.

Screenshot of a tweet taken March 1, 2023

Other Twitter users also shared the footage, claiming it proves global warming is a "hoax." Similar posts circulated in French and other languages.

But the footage is not new -- a reverse image search indicates Gulf Today, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, first published it in February 2021.

"A video grab shows camels enjoying the snowfall in Saudi Arabia," says a caption in the article, which notes the clip was taken in the Tabuk region.

Such weather is not as rare as the posts suggest: The Saudi Tourism Authority promotes camel rides over snow-covered mountains in the country's north.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in the United States, Fahad Nazer, addressed the video after it circulated online in 2021.

"There is no denying climate change but it's also not that rare for this region -- Tabuk -- in northwestern Saudi Arabia to experience snow," he said in a tweet on February 17, 2021. "Contrary to popular perception, not every region in the kingdom is warm year-round."

An Arab News story published January 10, 2023 shows another snowfall. Other articles show or describe snow in Saudi Arabia in 2013-2014, 2016-2017 and 2022.

"There have been snow events in Saudi Arabia in the past before 2021," said Omar Baddour, head of climate monitoring and policy for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

"During winter, the cold air intrusion from polar regions typically affects the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the vicinity. On some occasions, despite rare, it can further migrate southward to Saudi Arabia. If there is enough moisture in the air and the temperature drops well near or below zero at the surface, this can lead to snowfall, even in the desertic region."

Weather vs climate

Despite instances of snow and cold weather, climate trends show a general rise in temperatures in Saudi Arabia and its Tabuk region over the past several decades.

This screenshot of a World Bank database taken February 28, 2023 shows five-year temperature averages in Saudi Arabia

This screenshot of a World Bank database taken February 28, 2023 shows five-year temperature averages in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia

"This (snow incident) doesn't contradict what is expected from climate change," Baddour said. "Globally, extreme low temperatures are getting less frequent, yet they are still and will continue to be recorded."

He added: "On the climate change side, warmer oceans lead to more evaporation and, therefore, more moisture in the atmosphere. Therefore, climate change would play in favor of having these types of events more likely than not."

The WMO said January 12, 2023 that the previous eight years were the hottest since records began.

The average global temperature was about 1.15 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the United Nations agency. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA previously released similar figures for 2022.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its 2021 report: "It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land."

The IPCC's conclusion reflects a global scientific consensus on the issue.

According to a 2021 survey, 98.7 percent of 153 climate experts said Earth is getting warmer because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels.

AFP has debunked numerous false claims about human-influenced climate change here.