In late October 2014, media outlets in the northeast reported that residents in the community of Lower Township, New Jersey, had experienced what they believed to be a small earthquake. In some reports, the shaking had been accompanied by a loud “boom”, although the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that no earthquakes had been registered in the region at that time. (1) Some believed that sonic booms caused by Navy aircraft drills might account for the noises, and though a Navy exercise had in fact been underway around that time, it preceded reports of booms and shaking by several days. (2)
Only a few months earlier, similar reports of “mystery booms” in the northeast had appeared to correlate with seismic activity. In June 2014, the USGS had designated a small quake in the Hudson Highlands area near Garrison, in Putnam County, New York, as a category 5 earthquake. (3) Loud booms were reported in conjunction with this incident, and despite the noticeable tremors, the location of the quake did not coincide with any nearby fault lines such as the Ramapo Fault, according to seismologist Leonardo Seeber with the nearby Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. (4) It is worth noting that numerous other reports of “booms” and possible related phenomena exist for this region (5, 6), including reports dating as far back as 1996. (2)
During the second week of November 2015, reports of unexplained loud noises began to see increased media attention. On November 13, 2014 near the town of Salina, Kansas, residents described hearing a thunderous “crash.” Local news outlets queried the nearby Smoky Hill Bomb Range, but found that no routine tests or other known incidents seemed to coincide with the loud noises. (7)
Nearly 800 miles east of Salina, the Dayton, Ohio area began to experience the rattling of “mystery booms” on November 16, 2014. Communities in Montgomery and Warren Counties that included Centerville, Miamisburg, and Springboro reported multiple crashes that were likened to loud explosions, some with greater volume than others. (8) Area station WHIO News noted that, “a check with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base personnel showed that no aircraft were flying in the area that could have caused a sonic boom by breaking the sound barrier.” (8)
Reports of the loud “mystery booms” would continue throughout December 2014 and into the new year, and with the arrival of sub-zero temperatures in many parts of the US, “frost quakes”, also called cryoseisms, became a leading theory as to the cause of many of the sounds. Frost quakes occur when ground areas are saturated with water, typically prior to the first cold snap of the season, followed by a sudden drop below freezing temperatures. As ground water freezes, this can sometimes cause explosive tension to form, resulting in cryoseisms that may show visible cracking aboveground, accompanied by loud explosive sounds, and even shaking (for more information on frost quakes, visit this link).
Frost quakes remain a likely solution in many cases where mystery noises or booms are reported, particularly in colder regions further north. However, mystery booms are often reported in locations where temperatures have not dropped below freezing just as well. Throughout the latter weeks of March 2015, residents of Berkley, California reported strange booming noises on numerous occasions. (9) Several reports from the Bay Area of California also described a flash of light that accompanied the noises. (10) Numerous explanations have been offered for the so-called “Berkley boom”, ranging from meteors and sounds caused by small earthquakes, to an AC Transit hydrogen refueling station, and even homemade fireworks. (11) Maps documenting the areas where sounds have been reported near Berkeley show a wide distribution over the area, with descriptions indicating varying degrees of volume ranging from fairly localized “cracks” like fireworks, to window-rattling booms.
Strange booming noises are not exclusive to the United States. In fact, coinciding with reports in the northeastern U.S. toward the end of 2014, a number of similar “booms” were being reported in parts of the United Kingdom as well. (12) Among the more recent reports from elsewhere in the globe, Port Douglas, Australia became host to a rash of similar reports, and much like the descriptions given by residents of Berkley, California, some describe seeing a flash of light in the sky that accompanied the sound. (13)
Theories about their cause
Recent reports of mystery booms are most often referred to within the context of being meteorological or geological phenomena. With the variety of reports stemming from all over the world, along with the geographic and climatic conditions at these locations, it would seem likely that there are numerous phenomena that may contribute to reports falling under the more general classification of “mystery booms.” For more information about these possible causes, please visit our page which discusses possible causes of the “mystery boom” phenomenon.
- “Mysterious Vibration Rocks South Jersey Shore Town.” CBS Philadelphia, October 29, 2014. http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2014/10/29/mysterious-vibration-rocks-south-jersey-shore-town/
- “Navy’s supersonic aircraft put the ‘boom’ in the skies.” Shore News Today, October 31, 2014. http://www.shorenewstoday.com/region/cape_may_county/navy-s-supersonic-aircraft-put-the-boom-in-the-skies/article_a0a74431-8646-5468-9363-27ae9b5a0826.html
- “M2.5 – 2km ESE of Highland Falls, New York.” US Geological Service. earthquake.usgs.govhttp://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/ld60072806#general_summary
- Grauel, Thane. “Earthquake hits Hudson Highlands; rattled residents take to streets.” The Journal News, New York. http://www.lohud.com/story/news/2014/07/05/earthquake-detected-beneath-peekskill/12248053/
- “Mysterious ‘Boom’ Rattles Windows in Connecticut.” NBC Connecticut, April 19, 2013. http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Mysterious-Boom-Rattles-Windows-in-Connecticut-203874971.html
- “Mystery Booms Reported in March 2010”. Mystery Booms / Skyquakes. Blog site. March 11, 2010. http://mysterybooms.blogspot.com/2010/03/mystery-booms-reported-in-march-2010.html
- “Mystery boom rattles Salina.” KWCH 12, Kansas. November 13, 2014. http://www.kwch.com/news/local-news/Mystery-boom-rattles-Salina/29705508
- “Cause of loud boom a mystery.” WHIO.com. November 16, 2015. http://www.whio.com/news/news/local/cause-of-loud-booms-a-mystery/nh8YD/
- “Mysterious Booms Keep Some Berkeley Residents Up At Night.” CBS News, SF Bay Area. March 31, 2015. http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2015/03/31/mysterious-boom-keeps-some-berkeley-residents-up-at-night/
- Klimas, Liz. “Mysterious Booms Happening in Berkeley but No One Knows What’s Causing Them: ‘Scared the Hell Out of Me’.” The Blaze, April 1, 2015.http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/04/01/mysterious-loud-booms-and-flashes-leave-some-californians-puzzled-and-annoyed/
- Raguso, Emily. “The unsolved mystery of the Berkeley boom.” Berkleyside, March 31 2015. http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/03/31/the-unsolved-mystery-of-the-berkeley-boom/
- Robson, David. “Mystery booms: What’s the cause?” BBC News, December 2, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141202-mystery-booms-whats-the-cause
- “Big Bang: mysterious noise in Port Douglas shocks residents, stumps cops.” Newsport, Douglas Shire, Austraila. April 8, 2015. http://www.tourismportdouglas.com.au/Big-Bang-mysterious-noise-in-Port-Dougl.12480.0.html