More Loud Booms Heard Around Billings. What Are They?
Scrolling local Billings Community social media pages today (2/6), I came across yet another post about mysterious loud booms. This time, it happened on Sunday night (2/5) around 10 pm and was reportedly heard by many residents in Midtown Billings, all the way to Blue Creek, according to commenters.
I'm pretty familiar with loud sounds.
Living in Laurel, I'm no stranger to loud sounds. Sometimes (especially at night) when the trains in the trainyard are coupling, their slamming is so loud it feels like it shakes my house. We occasionally hear the refinery roaring during a flare-off, and Laurel loves our fireworks. Every once in a while (usually pre-hunting season) we'll hear the sounds of someone sighting in a rifle or target shooting in a rural area outside of town. All of these sounds are completely explainable. But what about the loud booms in Billings?
These loud booms around Billings seem to happen a lot. At least once a month I see reports posted on local Facebook pages. The common explanation is that maybe a transformer exploded. However, exploding transformers are fairly rare, according to experts. And in the YouTube example above, it doesn't really sound very loud. More like a "pop" than a huge bang.
Plus, if transformers were exploding all of the time, there would likely be reports of localized power outages in the "boom" area. I have yet to see any correlation between loud booms and power outages around town. Nor have I ever seen a statement or press release from Northwestern Energy about exploding transformers in Billings.
This seems to be the most plausible explanation for the mysterious booms. Some kids like to hold onto their 4th of July pyrotechnic stash, and randomly light off one or two "boomers" throughout the year. Or maybe they're homemade sparkler bombs? Those suckers are quite loud (and dangerous).
After fireworks, this would be my second guess to explain the "loud booms" heard around Billings. Although I feel like many Montanans can tell the difference between a firework and a gunshot. Yes, they're both loud... but they definitely have different kinds of bangs. Plus, I doubt if someone in Blue Creek could hear a gunshot from 13th and Ave D. That's nearly eight miles away! It would have to be a heck of a gunshot or an ultra-quiet evening for a gunshot sound to travel that far, IMO.
A sonic boom seems like a plausible explanation for the mysterious loud explosion sounds (especially considering the recent Chinese ballon-satellite-spy-thing), but sonic booms over domestic areas have been heavily frowned upon by the Federal Aviation Administration since the 1970s, mainly in response to the supersonic Concord aircraft. The FAA wrote,
In 1970, acting under this authority, the FAA proposed a regulation that would restrict operation of civil aircraft at speeds greater than Mach 1, unless authorized by the FAA. The regulation was finalized with minor changes on March 28, 1973 and codified at (now) 14 CFR 91.817 and Appendix B to Part 91.
Of course, Uncle Sam can surely do whatever he wants when it comes to military aircraft, so I suppose the booms could be caused by jets breaking the sound barrier over Billings. Not extremely likely... but possible.
What do you think about the booms? Have you heard/felt them in your neighborhood? Do you know anyone at the power company that could provide insight on exploding transformers? Or do you have a friend in the Air National Guard that could chime in on possible sonic booms? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at Michael@billingsmix.com