Mysterious Boom Reported in Lowcountry South Carolina; Officials Offer No Explanation For Sounds
Lowcountry residents reported hearing a loud boom Friday morning, which could be another of the legendary and mysterious booms reported as far back as the 1800s.
People in North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and West Ashley reported hearing the boom and feeling brief shaking just after 8:30 a.m.
Steve Jaumé, of the College of Charleston Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, said no earthquake activity has been recorded in the area and it was most likely a sonic boom from an aircraft offshore.
Officials at Joint Base Charleston said they heard the boom and agreed it was most likely an aircraft, but say it wasn’t one of theirs.
The Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Joint National Guard also say none of their planes could have created a sonic boom along the South Carolina coast this morning, so the big boom remains a mystery.
A similar boom was reported in January 2016, with no definite explanation ever given.
The Unites State Geological Survey posted information about unexplained booms along the East Coast. The USGS says, “Most ‘booms’ that people hear or experience are some type of cultural noise, such as some type of explosion, a large vehicle going by, or sometimes a sonic boom. But there have been many reports of booms that cannot be explained by man-made sources.
“No one knows for sure, but scientists speculate that these booms are probably small shallow earthquakes that are too small to be recorded, but large enough to be felt by people nearby.”
Mysterious booms that coincided with earthquakes were reported as far back as 1811-1812, before and during earthquakes in New Madrid, Missouri.
For several weeks after the Charleston earthquake in August 1886 there were many aftershocks that were reported to have been accompanied by “loud detonations” — described to be similar to the sound of a blast in a mine or quarry.
One of the oldest legends connected to unexplained booms is called the “Seneca guns.” The name originated in a short story that James Fennimore Cooper wrote during the 1800s that referred to booms heard at Lake Seneca and Lake Cayuga in New York.
The name has been applied to similar noises along the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Similar booms are called Barisol guns in coastal India, the USGS says.
Native American legend says that the booms are sounds made by the spirit of ancestors who are trying to scare away those who took their land.
The USHC says, “The thing that comes closest to matching all of the observations is sonic booms from military aircraft. Articles in the media have summarized reports of Seneca guns from coastal South Carolina, and another article reports on one loud boom that was heard in Myrtle Beach, SC on Dec. 14 of an unspecified year. The sound was so loud that it shook a window and the sofa that the person was sitting on, and she felt the shock from the sound. Thus, a loud enough boom can be felt.”
In the case of a few reports, the Navy and Air Force have blamed the sounds on sonic booms that happened during training exercises. But the USGS says the problem with sonic booms as an explanation is that it does not explain Seneca guns that occurred before supersonic jets.
“Earthquakes are also a possible cause,” the USGS says. “In southeastern North Carolina, earthquake lists show seven events between 1871 and 1968. Each event was reported by people who felt it or heard it. The problem with the earthquake explanation is that something that is felt or heard that strongly should have been recorded on nearby seismographs (these are the instruments that record ground shaking for seismologists to analyze). A seismologist in Virginia who has tried, has never been able to match any of the reported Seneca guns with his seismograph records, and he has tried lots of times over the years.
“There does not appear to be any agreement on what causes the Seneca guns. They have been occurring in several places around the eastern U.S. and in India for at least a century or two.”
In 2011, WECT reported that many people along the Carolina coast felt shaking and heard loud booms.
“I don’t think it’s ghosts, and I don’t think it’s aliens,” geophysicist Dr. David Hill, with the USGS in Menlo Park, California, said. “I think it’s likely to be small earthquakes.”
But other experts disagreed with Hill.
“There are earthquakes occurring all around the world that we are recording here in North Carolina,” said Dr. Johnathan Lees, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill geophysicist says. “If we had a local earthquake it would be impossible for us not to record that.”
Lees says of all the loud booms heard, recorded and studied, there has never been any direct relationship discovered between any seismic activity.
Lees thinks the sounds are something more secretive like military activity. There are a number of aircraft and submarine testing and bombing ranges off the coast stretching from Florida to New Jersey, with more than a dozen off the Carolina coastline.
Hill dismisses military planes as a source.
“We know that these things were reported long before people were flying around at the speed of sound,” Hill points out.
“The Earth is a complex place and there is a lot about it that we don’t understand,” the USCS said. “Perhaps someday we will understand what causes Seneca guns, but right now we don’t understand what makes them. However, they do not seem to pose a threat to anyone.”