There was a pleasant crunching underfoot this weekend in Sicily, but it wasn't from a newly fallen patina of snow. Rather, the ground was covered in a carpet of pitch-black pebbles, thanks to Mount Etna distributing the contents of her belly all over the region in tooth-chipping showers of rocky hail.
Europe's most active volcano made going outside a hurtful proposition on Saturday, unless you had an umbrella or helmet and chain mail. Rapid bombardments of falling stones clattered off the tops of buildings and cars, making streets look like a convoy of asphalt trucks had overturned. In Giardini-Naxos, a charming beach town just east of the volcano, pedestrians used umbrellas to get across town and used brooms to sweep away the rapidly accumulating gravel. Above, the skies were unusually absent of aircraft. Local airports cancelled flights due to fear of damage.
This eruption, the second for Etna this month after one on November 16, was accompanied by a bodacious show of lighting and lava spurting as high as half a mile into the air. Where did the rocks come from? AccuWeather has this explanation:
"They must be spewed high into the sky and then carried by the winds. Those type of rocks are rather light and full of air," said AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Mark Paquette.
Some rocks and ash can also fall from the sky much like rain, as they are sent into the atmosphere and can collect on clouds to be rained down with later precipitation.
The storm of volcanic stones was no doubt bad news for auto-body finishes, to judge from the below footage. On the plus side, anybody with a high pain tolerance could strip nude and get a nice exfoliation, expensive spa treatment be damned: