Partner Series

One of the driest places on the planet got a wintry blast this week.

The Atacama Desert region in Chile was coated with its heaviest snow cover in nearly two decades, the BBC reported. An estimated 31.5 inches (80 centimeters) piled up in the normally arid region.

A cold front moved through the region this week, bringing colder than usual weather , even though it's the Southern Hemisphere winter, to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. The temperature in Santiago, Chile, plunged to 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit(minus 8.5 degrees Celsius) on July 6.

Authorities rescued 36 people that were stranded by the snow on a bus for hours, according to local news reports.

"We were desperate," one of the saved passengers told the BBC. "We had no food, nothing. It was a very isolated place."

The Atacama Desert is a 600-mile-long (966 kilometers) plateau in South America. It is one of the driest places on Earth, to the point of near sterility. This condition is due to a rain shadow a dry area on the leeward side of the Chilean Coast Range and a cold offshore current that helps cap any moisture from breaking through. Some weather stations in the area have never received rain.

But the cold polar wave was able to punch through the cap, bringing precipitation in the form of snow across the region.

So far, 10 people have died in Argentina from the extreme cold.