Seneca guns? Outer Banks gets an afternoon rattle

Partly sunny skies, light winds and temperatures were in the mid 40s at Jennette's Pier in Nags Head on Jan. 31, 2022. []

Did you feel and hear that big boom this afternoon? You weren’t alone.

That “rumble” that lasted about a second around 12:54 p.m. on Monday has been reported up and down the Outer Banks and on the mainland.

But what it was probably will remain a mystery that has confounded residents and visitors to these shores for generations.

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.

Coastal Review, 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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