Photos of a Volcanic Storm Over Mount Etna Look Like Something From Lord of the Rings

The eruption was so powerful that it created a thunderstorm over Sicily.

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Volcanic lightning over Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, during an eruption on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022.
Volcanic lightning over Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, during an eruption on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022.
Photo: Emilio Messina (AP)

A powerful eruption last week from Mount Etna on Sicily, Italy created a volcanic storm so powerful it lit up the sky with a dramatic lightning.

The eruption began late last Thursday and proceeded to shoot volcanic ash more than a kilometer above sea level, according to the Associated Press. Mount Etna is one of Europe’s most active volcanoes and erupts frequently. You would think that all this activity would scare locals, but despite it being one of most active and hazardous volcanoes on the continent, there are about a million people living on Mount Etna’s slopes, and it’s a popular tourist attraction.

A volcanic thunderstorm over Mount Etna on Sicily, Italy, during an eruption on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022.
A volcanic thunderstorm over Mount Etna on Sicily, Italy, during an eruption on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022.
Photo: Emilio Messina (AP)
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These “dirty thunderstorms” are thought to occur when friction between ash particles creates an electric charge that sets off lightning strikes around large ash plumes.

According to a 2019 Earther report, the volcano drives tourism to the area— whenever an eruption destroys the cable car to the volcano’s summit, it’s rebuilt. The wreckage of the old one is left in place for passers-by to see on their way up the mountain.

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An eruption at Mount Etna on Feb. 10, 2022.
An eruption at Mount Etna on Feb. 10, 2022.
Photo: Salvatore Allegra/Anadolu Agency (Getty Images)

The volcano also supports the local wine-making industry. The “microclimates” created by the volcano and the minerals in the soil benefit grapes. One winemaker even told Earther in 2019 that, because of the growing conditions, the risk of living near Mount Etna was outweighed by the benefits.

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Unlike Etna, a notable eruption in Tonga earlier this year was so powerful and destructive, scientists proposed a new “ultra” classification to better describe it. The eruption of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano killed three people, created tsunamis, and damaged an underwater fiber optic cable, cutting off Tonga’s phone and internet access.