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Taklimakan Desert sees third consecutive year of snowfall

In a surprising turn of events, the Taklimakan Desert, China's largest desert known as the Sea of Death, has experienced a third consecutive year of significant snowfall.

This follows previous winters in 2021 and 2022 when the desert also witnessed rare snowfall.

Spanning about 1,000 kilometers east to west and around 400 kilometers north to south in the Tarim Basin in southern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the desert has an annual average precipitation of no more than 100 millimeters but an evaporation amount up to 3,400mm, the China Meteorological Administration said.

However, the recent snowfall has left locals astounded, the administration said.

The autonomous region's meteorological service said a five-day period from Dec 11 to 15 brought snow and a cold wave across Xinjiang, with northern regions experiencing an exceptionally strong chill.

On Dec 14, Korla in Bayingolin Mongol autonomous prefecture recorded heavy snow, breaking the December precipitation records for the region.

Wu Xiulan, deputy chief forecaster of monitoring and evaluation desk at the Xinjiang Climate Center, said, "Under the influence of cold air and suitable moisture conditions, snowfall in the Taklimakan Desert is not uncommon. Historical meteorological records reveal that, although infrequent, significant snowfall in the desert has occurred not only in the past three winters but also in the broader historical context, such as during the severe ice and snow disaster in 2008."

The desert is not a stranger to extreme weather events, including rain, thunderstorms and hail, the administration said.

Wu said that with global climate change, the frequency of extreme weather events in the region has been on the rise.

The winter precipitation in southern Xinjiang has shown an increasing trend in recent years.

Data from 1991 to 2020 showed that winter precipitation in the Tarim Basin increased by 0.6mm compared with the period from 1981 to 2010, rising by 11.8 percent. This trend is not unique to southern Xinjiang, as the northern area has also experienced a 7.6 percent increase in winter precipitation during the same period.