Seneca guns again? Another boom rattles Outer Banks

Twilight in Kill Devil Hills. [Kari Pugh photo]

Another window-rattling boom was felt from Moyock to Kill Devil Hills late Thursday afternoon, again with no immediate explanation for what caused it.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported no nearby earthquakes and the National Weather Service said there were no atmospheric conditions that may have caused it. Calls are still out to the U.S. Navy and Air Force, but once again the boom seems to have been heard and felt across too broad an area to be explained as a sonic boom or ordnance disposal.

Demolitions operations at the Dare County Bombing Range at Stumpy Point on Monday did cause some earth-shaking booms, but those were isolated to Manteo and Nags Head.

If you’ve lived here, or even visited a time or two, you’ve probably heard of Seneca guns, an unexplained phenomena heard and felt for centuries along the shores of Lake Seneca and Lake Cayuga in New York State, as well as the tidewater area of Virginia, the Outer Banks and along the Carolina coast.

Some Seneca guns reports have been explained as sonic booms from military jets, though other theories — like the movement of tectonic plates — have been disproved.

The Coastal Review Online, the news service of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, examined the phenomena in a 2012 story, speaking with a scientist who theorized that temperature inversions may be to blame.

“Temperature inversions occur in coastal areas when upwelling of cold water decreases surface air temperature and the cold air mass stays under warmer ones. What’s more, North Carolina’s coast juts out into the Atlantic, essentially creating a microphone effect,” the review wrote.

The USGS says there’s no agreement on a cause for Seneca guns, with most cases never explained.

“They have been occurring in several places around the eastern U.S. and in India for at least a century or two,” the agency says on its website. “The Earth is a complex place and there is a lot about it that we don’t understand. 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.”

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