On Friday, skiers across eastern Europe found themselves in a sepia-toned landscape right out of 2010-era Instagram. Alien snow, glowing with a dull orange tint, fell Friday and through the weekend in Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, and Moldova, reports the BBC. Looking at photos of the odd weather may have you rubbing your eyes, but the alien landscape didn’t come from a photo filter or a mass case of xanthopsia (the vision condition that doctors believe Vincent van Gogh had). No, the weather pattern that caused this odd weather phenomenon has a surprisingly sensible explanation, even if the end result was freakish.
Powerful storms in the Sahara Desert kicked sand up all the way up into the upper atmosphere, where it mixed with water vapor and fell to the ground with snow and rain over eastern Europe. The BBC reports that this bizarre weather pattern happens every five years or so, but that residents of the affected areas said this time was worse than usual, with skiers and snowboarders even reporting sand in their mouths.
That didn’t stop some adventurous souls from braving the sandy slopes, though. Here’s one skier’s video, taken near Sochi, Russia:
As you can see, the orange tint is not subtle. CNN reports that one social media user joked about it being like skiing on Mars since the orange coloration was so prominent.
The sandstorm traveled through the atmosphere, over Greece, and into eastern Europe before falling as precipitation. On Friday, the Athens Observatory reported that the concentrations of sand were the highest they’d been in 10 years.
The meteorological phenomenon was quite a sight to behold:
It’s not just up-close that you can see the orange snow, though. NASA’s Terra satellite captured the sand clouds as they departed Africa’s northern coast on Thursday.
Just like rain and snow can carry pollution down to Earth in the form of acid rain, they can also carry relatively harmless particles like sand that get mixed in with moisture in the clouds. And while this weather event may look creepy as heck, it’s still safe for anyone who comes into contact with it.