Sicily has a roughly triangular shape, earning it the name Trinacria. To the east, it is separated from the Italian mainland by the Strait of Messina, about 3 km (1.9 mi) wide in the north, and about 16 km (9.9 mi) wide in the southern part. The northern and southern coasts are each about 280 km (170 mi) long measured as a straight line, while the eastern coast measures around 180 km (110 mi); total coast length is estimated at 1,484 km (922 mi). The total area of the island is 25,711 km2 (9,927 sq mi), while the Autonomous Region of Sicily (which includes smaller surrounding islands) has an area of 27,708 km2 (10,698 sq mi).
The terrain of inland Sicily is mostly hilly and is intensively cultivated wherever possible. Along the northern coast, the mountain ranges of Madonie, 2,000 m (6,600 ft), Nebrodi, 1,800 m (5,900 ft), and Peloritani, 1,300 m (4,300 ft), are an extension of the mainland Apennines. The cone of Mount Etna dominates the eastern coast. In the southeast lie the lower Hyblaean Mountains, 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The mines of the Enna and Caltanissetta districts were part of a leading sulphur-producing area throughout the 19th century, but have declined since the 1950s.
Sicily and its surrounding small islands have some highly active volcanoes. Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and still casts black ash over the island with its ever-present eruptions. It currently stands 3,329 metres (10,922 ft) high, though this varies with summit eruptions; the mountain is 21 m (69 ft) lower now than it was in 1981. It is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Etna covers an area of 1,190 km2 (459 sq mi) with a basal circumference of 140 km (87 mi). This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, being about two and a half times the height of the next largest, Mount Vesuvius. In Greek mythology, the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under the mountain by Zeus, the god of the sky. Mount Etna is widely regarded as a cultural symbol and icon of Sicily.
Mount Etna rising over suburbs of Catania
The Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, to the northeast of mainland Sicily form a volcanic complex, and include Stromboli. The three volcanoes of Vulcano, Vulcanello and Lipari are also currently active, although the latter is usually dormant. Off the southern coast of Sicily, the underwater volcano of Ferdinandea, which is part of the larger Empedocles volcano, last erupted in 1831. It is located between the coast of Agrigento and the island of Pantelleria (which itself is a dormant volcano).
The autonomous region also includes several neighbouring islands: the Aegadian Islands, the Aeolian Islands, Pantelleria and Lampedusa.
The island is drained by several rivers, most of which flow through the central area and enter the sea at the south of the island. The Salso flows through parts of Enna and Caltanissetta before entering the Mediterranean Sea at the port of Licata. To the east, the Alcantara flows through the province of Messina and enters the sea at Giardini Naxos, and the Simeto, which flows into the Ionian Sea south of Catania. Other important rivers on the island are the Belice and Platani in the southwest.
Sicily has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild and wet winters and hot, dry summers with very changeable intermediate seasons. On the coasts, especially the south-western, the climate is affected by the African currents and summers can be scorching.
Sicily is seen as an island of warm winters but also, above all along the Tyrrhenian coast and in the inland areas, winters can be cold, with typical continental climate.
Snow falls in abundance above 900–1000 metres, but stronger cold waves can easily carry it in the hills and even in coastal cities, especially in the northern coast of island. The interior mountains, especially Nebrodi, Madonie and Etna, enjoy a fully mountain climate, with heavy snowfalls during winter. The summit of Mount Etna is usually snow capped from October to May.
On the other hand, especially in the summer it is not unusual that there is the sirocco, the wind from the Sahara. Rainfall is scarce, and water proves deficient in some provinces where water crisis can happen sometimes.
According to the Regional Agency for Waste and Water, on 10 August 1999, the weather station of Catenanuova (EN) recorded a maximum temperature of 48.5 °C (119 °F). The official European record – measured by minimum/maximum thermometers – is held by Athens, Greece, which reported a maximum of 48.0 °C (118 °F) in 1977. Total precipitation is highly variable, generally increasing with elevation. In general, the southern and southeast coast receives the least rainfall (less than 50 cm (20 in)), and the northern and northeastern highlands the most (over 100 cm (39 in)).