Surface temperatures at the Equator average 31C by day and 23C at sunrise – but here are 10 surprising locations on, or near, the equator that not only receive snow – but some have ice all year round along with glaciers.
With such hot weather around the equator (the equator is the closest point on earth to the sun), the only way for snow and ice to exist is to go higher altitude. In fact, kilometres up. This is where you’ll find the incredible rare, isolated and lonely snowy and icy parts of the equator.
Here’s WeatherWatch.co.nz’s Top 10 places near (or on) the equator that have snow and ice, starting with one located further from the equator and ending with one smack bang on the equatorial line!
Hawaii. We’ll start with the one furthest from the equator. The Big Island of Hawai’i is home to incredible volcanic activity that starts far below the ocean’s surface. While the highest point of Hawai’i is 4207 metres above sea level (Moana Kea), the actual volcano measured from the seafloor to the summit puts it at a staggering 10,210 metres tall (higher than Mount Everest, which has it’s base starting above sea level). Moana Kea is the world’s tallest mountain when you measure from the underwater base to the peak – but Mt Everest has an overall higher summit/elevation. It can snow any time of the year on the summit of Moana Kea, down to about 3300 metres – but snow is most likely in October to April when the days are a little shorter due to the northern hemisphere winter.
Tanzania. The tallest mountain in all of Africa is the famous Mount Kilimanjaro, towering at 5895 metres above sea level. It’s also the highest single free standing mountain in the world. Kilimanjaro is located on the border of Kenya (Kenya has the equator running through it, located 200km north of Nairobi). Glaciers exist on Mt Kilimanjaro but they are famously melting and are forecast to be entirely melted between 2030 and 2050. The diminishing ice caps make it a highly studied mountain for Climate Change – and was one of the first well known locations to be used in the public discussion of Climate Change last century.
Philippines. Mount Pulag is the tallest peak in the Philippines at 2928 metres high. We associate Typhoons with the Philippines, along with tropical weather, but during the ‘winter’ months the mountain of Pulag gets frosts and sub-zero temperatures. There have been some impressive hailstorms in the Philippines too, but according to Wikipedia it hasn’t snowed in the Philippines in over 100 years – back in the late 1800s and this isn’t 100% known for sure. There’s a chance it was only hail (which occurred recently too – enough to build small ‘hailmen/snowmen’).
Kenya. Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa following Kilimanjaro) and at 5199 metres above sea level it’s an impressively tall mountain. Despite being in a country that literally lies on the Equator and the mountain being located very near that line there are glaciers on Mount Kenya that are sadly fast melting, due to climate change. There may be just 30 years left before all ice on Mount Kenya has melted. There are 11 glaciers on Mount Kenya as of 2021.
Uganda/Congo. The Rwenzori Mountains are taller than NZ’s Southern Alps with peaks reaching 5109 metres above sea level (Mount Stanley). It’s hard to contrast the tropical rainforest/jungles of the Congo with snow nearby – but with several peaks over 4700 metres snow and ice is to be expected. In 1906, 43 named glaciers existed over 6 mountains, which was about half the total glacier area in Africa. By 2005, less than half of these were still present, on only three mountains. You can read more here about the Rwenzori Mountains Again, this is right on the equator.
Papua New Guinea. Mount Wilhelm is an impressive volcanic mountain towering 4509 metres above sea level in tropical Papua New Guinea. Surrounded by some of the most dense tropical jungle on earth, the mountain incredibly gets snow on it from time to time each year.
Indonesia. Next to PNG is Indonesia and the same volcanic set up for large mountains and the even taller mountain Puncak Jaya (also known as Carstensz Pyramid) is a jagged looking mountain that has ice on it all year round. Despite its close location to the equator, and while Puncak Jaya’s peak is free of ice, there are several glaciers on its slopes – including one that recently vanished (Meren Glacier). There are several other nearby mountains/volcanos with similar elevations, which can also get snow and ice, but it’s the giant Puncak Jaya that is the highest peak of any island on planet earth.
Colombia. Talk about variety in climate! This nation has everything from beaches and tropical rain forests, to highland deserts, the Amazon jungle and mountainous ranges. The mountains are part of the Andes – the world’s longest mountain range. The glaciers in Colombia are located above 4,000 meters. Glaciers in Colombia began retreating in the 20th century due to the planet warming and are in danger of disappearing. Most of Colombia’s glaciers are located in the Andes mountains and 6 still remain. 50% have melted in the past 50 years.
Ecuador. The name literally means “The equator”. We’ve shown you many examples above of how it’s often a volcano that brings the chance of snow and ice to the equator due to their often stunning height. Ecuador has a 47 volcanos but there are two that especially stand out to us writing this piece:
Firstly Chimborazo, at a peak of 6263 metres (huge) it’s actually only the 39th highest peak in the Andes – but – the summit is actually the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s centre (this is because it’s located along the planet’s equatorial bulge). Chimborazo’s summit, however, is not higher than the summit of Mount Everest…but the summit of Chimbarazo is furthest from the earth’s centre). Snow and ice remains on this mountain all year round.
However, it’s the volcanic mountain of Cayambe in Ecuador that is most incredible and deserves the most attention for this story. When you look at Cayambe on Google Earth it’s remarkable this ‘little’ white dot is lined up perfectly with the equator. Cayambe, despite literally being on the equatorial line, has a permanent snow cap! Its south slope is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator itself, and is the only point on the Equator with snow cover. If this volcano had formed just a little further north or south then the equator would have no permanent snow and ice directly on it. The mountain is 5790 metres above sea level and the equator passes over it at 4690 metres. Cayambe has glaciers too, all smack bang on the equator itself.
Images / Google, Wikipedia, CNN
Story by head forecaster Philip Duncan, WeatherWatch.co.nz