Though physicist William R. Corliss passed away in July of 2011, his website for scientific research, Science Frontiers, remains online, thanks to the steadfast dedication of the site’s original webmaster. And, since Corliss spent years of his life cataloguing scientific mysteries of the natural world, there are a number of excellent resources that pertain to mystery booms and other anomalous sounds reported in nature.
One such report was detailed originally in the Arkansas Gazette, dated December 24, 1983:
“A series of mysterious loud booms reported by residents of Hope, De Queen, Fulton, Mela, Ola, Baresville, Little Rock and other Arkansas cities will remain mysterious, at least for a while. Authorities are baffled about their source.”The noises, which have been described as sounding like an explosion, a sonic boom, a book falling off a shelf and a hand pounding on a wooden door, apparently have been occurring since the beginning of the recent cold weather. Inquiries have produced a number of theories and guesses but no plausible explanations.” (1)
Corliss notes that, “No supersonic aircraft could be implicated, so the most popular view was that the extreme cold weather caused house timbers to crack.”
More recently, the phenomenon known as frost quakes or cryoseisms have been made the focus of the majority of the colder-weather “mystery boom” reports. The Vermont Geological Survey defines a cryoseism as, “[a] major frost cracking of the top few feet of the ground, occurring during sub-zero cold snaps, which generates localized ground shaking and is often mistaken for an earthquake.” (2) It should be noted that, on occasion, media outlets have reported this “timber cracking” as a frost quake or cryoseism; however, this is a misappropriation of the term, as cryoseism refers explicitly to the stress-related geological phenomenon resulting from sudden ground freezing.
Indeed, cryoseisms still might remain the most likely conclusion as to the cause of these noises (which seems particularly the case in the colder weather months). Corliss noted that, “The Arkansas episode echoes the famous 1977-1978 series of booms heard all along the eastern coast of North America. These detonations also occurred during cold weather and were blamed, by some, on the Concorde SST.”
For more information on the 1977-78 wave of “mystery booms” visit our history page.
- Anonymous; “Mysterious Booms Heard around State Baffle Authorities; Some Blame Ice Cold,” Arkansas Gazette, December 24, 1983. Plus other Arkansas papers of December and January. Cr. L. Farish
- John E. Ebel, Richard Bedell & Alfredo Urzua. “A Report on the Seismic Vulnerability of the State of Vermont”. Geology of Mineral Resources, Vermont Geological Survey. July 1995.
- Corliss, William. “Booms Startle Arkansas.” Science Frontiers. http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf032/sf032p18.htm