Nomadic herders of the Mongolian steppe are at the mercy of these dramatic winters, and scientists are struggling to understand the lethal phenomenon.
For the second time this decade, extreme winter conditions on the Mongolian steppe caused extensive die-offs of sheep, goats, cattle, and camels, animals that traditional herding communities rely on for their survival.
Due to an ongoing drought, the nomads’ livestock faced a lack of adequate forage in the grasslands along the country’s northern border with Russia, and they went into this year’s winter season much thinner than usual. If a bad winter follows a lean summer, livestock can burn through their fat reserves faster, and herders must turn to their hay reserves months earlier than usual.
This past January, temperatures on the steppe plunged to -58 degrees Fahrenheit—more than 10 degrees below average—and 700,000 animals perished as a result.