Skyquakes. Mistpouffers. Seneca Guns. The mysterious booms in South Carolina have many names, but no one knows what causes them. And today the mystery is back in the spotlight after an unexplained boom rattled the Charleston area.
“My whole house just shook…. anyone else? Weird and heard loud boom on Folly Beach,” wrote one witness on Facebook.
“The whole restaurant here at Shem Creek just shook! Earthquake?!,” wrote other.
The boom and subsequent vibration startled Charleston-area residents around 12:26 pm. By 1:00, witnesses were searching for answers online. Though an earthquake was the most common theory, the USGS website shows no record of a quake. So what was it?
The most logical explanation is a sonic boom. After all, a nearby air station did confirm they had F-18 jets in flight at the time of the incident. However, while a sonic boom seems likely, people in the area have reported odd booms as far back as the mid-1800s, well before the invention of modern aircraft.
In 1850, James Fenimore Cooper wrote “The Lake Gun,” a short story named after the odd sounds that emanated from New York’s Seneca Lake. The mysterious sounds continue to this day and are now known as the Seneca Guns. Though the name originated in New York, Seneca Guns has become a catch-all term for the strange booms heard up and down America’s East Coast, including South Carolina.
In 2007, I had my own experience with the Seneca Guns. I was alone at my in-laws’ home in Beaufort, SC when a large boom rattled the entire house. I was convinced someone had driven into a support pillar in the garage, but found nothing when I went to investigate. The boom was so powerful it cracked a wall in the neighborhood guard house, and the security team accused my husband of dynamite fishing after finding him on the beach (he hadn’t been). We never did find an explanation for the boom, though a quick Google search turned up (and continues to turn up) countless reports of mysterious booms in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Theories about the source of the booms range from the fascinating to the mundane. Here are just a few outlined on the USGS website.
- Shallow earthquakes that are too small to be recorded
- Military aircraft and/or submarine activity
- Naval guns firing offshore
- Top secret military testing
- Tidal waves
- Landslides off the continental shelf
- Pockets of air released from the ground
- Methane gas released from the ocean floor
- New faults forming
- A meteorite exploding in the atmosphere
- Cold air slamming into warm air
- Indian ghosts (yes, really)
Though it’s clear South Carolina is booming, it’s not clear if scientists will ever agree on the cause. Has anyone else heard a mysterious boom? What do you think causes the sounds?