Is Australia the driest continent on Earth?

Surprisingly, no. Australia is not the driest continent on Earth. While much of Australia is very dry, the driest continent is a desert you might not even think of as a desert.

It’s Antarctica. Deserts, you may remember, are not necessarily a place of great heat, but are instead characterized by a lack of rainfall.

Although Antarctica has a lot of frozen moisture on the ground, it’s not because the continent gets a lot of snow each year. It’s because the little snow it gets rarely melts. On the average, the frozen continent gets less precipitation in a year than most places in North America— about four inches of snow per year.

So Antarctica’s the driest continent overall. However, the single driest location on Earth is not in any of the famous deserts you’d think of— not the Gobi Desert, the Sahara, or the Mojave Desert.

It’s the Atacama Desert in Chile, which gets less than .1 millimeters (.004 inches) of rain per year, on average. Some years it sees no rainfall at all.

In contrast, Mawsynram, Assam, in India is perhaps the wettest place on Earth, seeing an average of 11,873 millimeters —or 467.4 inches— of rain every year, more than an inch of rain on an average day.

In comparison, Cleveland, Ohio, gets 36.6 inches of rain in an average year.