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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Things that go ‘boom’ in the night: Unexplained sound heard around Spokane leaves residents and experts guessing

Many people in the Inland Northwest reported hearing a loud boom on Tuesday night.

Sometime after 10 o’clock Tuesday night, Corissa Bordner woke to a loud boom.

In Colbert, where she lives, it’s not uncommon to hear loud noises from the nearby railroad and, frequently, from neighbors shooting guns. She’s heard loud booms in the area before, but this one was different, she said.

“You could feel it.”

A second boom came about 10 minutes later that shook the windows of her house.

“The ones last night seemed really, really close, like it was in the backyard,” Bordner said Wednesday. “We hear gunshots a lot, and we heard the gunshots in between the two booms, but at 10 o’clock at night, that’s a little strange.”

Bordner wasn’t the only person who heard the noise. Hundreds of people reported hearing the noise on Spokane News, a Facebook page dedicated to scanner traffic and breaking news updates in the area. People from as far as 40 miles away from Colbert said they heard a loud boom at about the same time, too.

Was it aliens? Was it an explosive detonation? Was it a government conspiracy? Speculation ran rampant on social media as to the source of the noise.

As for the truth … Well, they say it’s out there.

The theories

Fairchild Air Force Base spokesman Tech Sgt. Travis Edwards said he was aware of a loud noise that was reported in the area but said it had nothing to do with base operations.

Some suggested online that the noise was from an aircraft breaking the sound barrier, but Edwards said there aren’t any aircraft at the base capable of doing so.

“KC-135 stratotankers are basically flying gas stations,” he said. “Although they do play a really important role in our global reach, they can’t break the sound barrier.”

At sea level, an aircraft has to be traveling over 750 mph to break the sound barrier and create a “sonic boom,” Edwards said. The KC-135 tankers can only travel at about 535 mph at 30,000 feet, he said.

Occasionally, aircraft from partner bases will land at Fairchild, but it’s unlikely for them to break the sound barrier anywhere locally, he said.

“When the aircraft is flying faster than the speed of sound, it creates a shock wave and that shock wave is very loud,” Edwards said. “Sonic booms don’t typically happen over land. Those types of maneuvers happen over the sea.”

The local explosive ordinance disposal team at Fairchild will occasionally detonate ordinance at the base, but the noise is often barely audible even on the base, Edwards said.

People from as far away as Davenport, Washington, reported hearing the boom to the National Weather Service, local meteorologist Daniel Butler said. Thunder is a possible explanation, but there were no significant weather events on Tuesday night, he said.

His money is on a sonic boom from a meteor breaking the sound barrier.

As an example, Butler cited the house-sized meteor that made international headlines in 2013 in Chelyabinsk, Russia, when it was spotted streaking across the sky at 11 miles per second.

The meteor exploded about 14 miles above the Earth’s surface and sent out a shock wave that blew out windows in a 200 square-mile radius.

Some suggested the noise was from an earthquake nearby, but no earthquakes were recorded by the United States Geological Survey in the Spokane area in the recent past.

Others have suggested that the boom was from an explosion or gunshots.

Only one person in the area reported a loud noise to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. The caller later said it was gunshots, sheriff’s office spokesman Cpl. Mark Gregory said.

Ryan Turner, who lives on Bigelow Gulch Road near Orchard Prairie with his wife, said the two were outside in their hot tub when they heard “two distinct gunshots.” A few minutes later, he heard a loud boom, followed by two more “muffled” booms. The noises seemed to emanate from north of their home.

Turner thought the noise could be from the nearby train tracks or rock quarry, but couldn’t pinpoint it exactly.

Bordner, in Colbert, thought it could have been someone shooting Tannerite, explosive targets that advertise as creating “a thunderous boom resembling an explosion” when they are hit.

“If they’re selling stuff to people that causes a boom like that, it’s a problem,” she said. “It sounded like someone shot a cannon in my backyard.”

Mysterious booms of history

San Diego, home to a massive military presence, was also subjected to mysterious booms in 2021 and 2022, not long after the U.S. Navy released footage of “unidentified aerial phenomena” captured by fighter pilots.

People have had similar experiences across the country, such as in Salt Lake City; Birmingham, Alabama; and Orlando, Florida; among other places.

The booms are not a recent phenomena.

Explorers Lewis and Clark also noted the “unaccountable artillery of the Rocky Mountains” while traveling through what is present-day Bozeman in 1805, according to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. The explorers heard of the mysterious noises from the Pawnee and Arikara tribes coming from the Black Hills in present-day South Dakota, but dismissed them. The strange noises were noted as settlers spread across the West.

“At length, walking in the plains the other day I heard this noise very distinctly. It was perfectly calm, clear, and not a cloud to be seen,” Merriweather Lewis wrote. “I am at a loss to account for this phenomenon.”