North Carolina: Booms Along the Beaches

Since well before there were super-sonic aircraft flying over the Atlantic, reports of “Seneca Guns” have been reported along North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

David P. Hill of the USGS documented North Carolina’s mystery-boom phenomenon in 2011 in an in-depth essay on mystery booms, their names, and various possible causes in different locales around the world:

“The residents of coastal North Carolina are occasionally treated to sequences of booming sounds of unknown origin. The sounds are often energetic enough to rattle windows and doors. A recent sequence occurred in early January 2011 during clear weather with no evidence of local thunder storms. Queries by a local reporter (Colin Hackman of the NBC affiliate WETC in Wilmington, North Carolina, personal communication 2011) seemed to eliminate common anthropogenic sources such as sonic booms or quarry blasts. So the commonly asked question, “What’s making these booming sounds?” remained (and remains) unanswered.”

In 1991, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported on the long-reported history of booms that emanate from the Outer Banks region:

SUNSET BEACH: Just what is that noise that residents along the coast have been hearing?

“Reverberations powerful enough to shake beach cottages are heard several times every autumn along the coast in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

“‘It moves the earth, I tell you,’ Minnie Hunt of Sunset Beach said. ‘Sometimes you get two or three in a row.’

“Residents who are now grandparents say their own grandparents remembered the rumbles, so they predate the sonic booms of jets breaking the sound barrier.

“The noises clearly emanate from the sea, she said…’It’s not a land phenomenon.’

“The sounds occur most often in the fall and spring, though they occasionally shiver across the beaches in other seasons. Sometimes they shake the coast more than once a day. Sometimes they happen a few days in a row. Sometimes they are weeks apart. They have been reported as far north as Carteret County, but are most frequent near Wilmington and southward.”

The phenomenon discussed in the Citizen Times article has been variously referred to as “Musical Sand” or “Desert Song.”

For more information on this, visit our page on anomalous sounds in nature.

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