The National Weather Service Wakefield forecast office says a sonic boom, amplified by low cloud cover, is the most likely suspect behind a loud boom heard and felt across the Tidewater region on Monday evening.
Several similar booms were experienced along the Outer Banks Monday morning and afternoon, with no official explanation. The U.S. Navy says an F-18 jet was flying at the time, but did not say the flight broke the sound barrier.
There were no nearby earthquakes during the times the booms were felt, though there was a magnitude 2.3 temblor shortly before 3:30 a.m. about three miles west of Kernersville, North Carolina and two larger quakes along the Mid Atlantic Ridge in the ocean late Sunday and Monday morning. Those earthquakes, a magnitude 4.7 and magnitude 5.4, were too far away from land to be felt or heard, and didn’t occur during the times booms were heard here.
The U.S. Air Force declined to comment Monday on whether training was taking place at the Dare County Bombing Range.
The weather service said the most likely explanation, at least for a Monday evening boom that rocked Virginia Beach, Sandbridge and other Tidewaters areas, is a sonic boom, “perhaps ducted/augmented by a temperature inversion due to persistent low cloud cover yesterday. Double boom sound in spotter reports and video is consistent with this supersonic aircraft theory,” the NWS said.
Another explanation? Seneca guns, a 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.
“They have been occurring in several places around the eastern U.S. and in India for at least a century or two,” the U.S. Geological Survey 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.”