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The coldest season on Mount Etna has always been January and February. In these two months, temperatures are usually lower than the average. Sometimes in exceptional cases the cold wave extends until March. With the progress of climate change, however, new phenomena come to change the habits of the territory of the great Sicilian volcano. The one we just experienced, in the second week of February 2023, is certainly an exceptional situation. A snowfall in a big way, unexpected, for which not everyone was prepared.

Snow on Mt Etna

Etna is a volcano more than 3,300 meters high. This results in snow and ice covering its summit in winter, despite the smoking craters and lava. The accumulation of snow on this mountain is important not only for preserving the ecosystem (the southernmost birches in Europe) but also for the water supplies to the population. In fact, the snow remains preserved for a long time, in the lava cavities or under the mantle of volcanic ash. And it melts slowly, infiltrating the groundwater and ensuring a natural reservoir for the summer. Furthermore, the snow on Etna means also tourism, and therefore work.

snow storm feb 23_2The exceptional snow storm

The one of February 2023 was an exceptional snow storm. The bad weather arrived together with a Mediterranean hurricane formed with the freezing polar air. Rain and wind hit the entire Etna area, but the water turned into snow on the volcano. It snowed for almost three consecutive days, in large quantities (defined by experts even as “quintals”). The result was a distortion of the entire environment.

The trees, pines and firs, structured to support the snow, could not withstand the weight of so much and bent or broke, invading the streets. The strong wind completed the damage. Meters and meters of snow have accumulated on the roads and around the shelters, even with considerable inconvenience – for example, tourists stranded inside.

For the first time, the civil protection has advised people not to go up to the mountain until further notice. It is important to avoid accidents and allow the roads to be cleaned and made safe. Bad news, because when the storm is over and the sun has returned, the spectacle of the white volcano would have attracted crowds of hikers.

The snow and the tourist season

This exceptional snowfall has allowed an important recovery of winter tourism on Etna. The sector, which has been in crisis for some years (due to drought and pandemic), suddenly found itself “blessed” by a lot of solid snow. The slopes of Etna Nord-Piano Provenzana – but also the slopes of the southern slope – are thus preparing to experience weeks of “invasions” by ski and snowboard enthusiasts. The ski season on Etna is often characterized by sunny days, which allow you to glide down the slopes with the view of the east coast in front of your eyes. An extraordinary and certainly singular show.

How to deal with the snow on Etna

A historic snowfall like this is an exception which, however, reinforces the idea of how much we need a constant snow education. In Sicily, the snow is not “common event”, so many people take it a little too lightly. Too many accidents in the mountain happen especially during the winter season. We will dedicate a specific article to how to organize a trek on Etna during the winter, even in the presence of snow. Because being prepared makes trips safe and relying on expert guides is always valid advice, in every season. (the photo above the title is a still image from the video by DARIO LO SCAVO)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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