Seneca guns:
As I sit here at my ease punching keys, from time to time this morning I heard a dull boom.  It could be thunder, but the sky is totally clear and the weather channel assures me there is no thunder storm for a very long way.  It could be sonic booms, but on October 15 I wrote about that possibility and although I could come up with an explanation that accounted for what I heard, it was a bit far fetched: supersonic drones exercising in an enormous swarm. 

Then I heard of the Seneca guns.  They were popularized in a story by James Fennimore Cooper, which described a booming noise over Lake Seneca.  It turns out to be a very widespread phenomenon and has been describe for much longer than there has been supersonic flight.  So there goes the sonic boom theory.  Wikipedia has an article under the name “mistpouffers,” a word with which neither I nor my spell checker is familiar.  “Seneca guns” apparently is the proper term in the American Southeast so I’ll go with that.  “Moodus noises,” is the term in Connecticut.  As I remember from a very long time ago there was a poltergeist in Moodus.  The internet doesn’t seem to have anything to say about them.  Elsewhere there are other names. 

I have toyed with the idea that the sounds are caused by thunderstorms at the antipode.  A lighting bolt sends out a powerful pulse of electromagnetic radiation that bounces off the ionosphere until is refocuses here and the resulting effect on any ionized air recapitulates the thunder afar off.  But to my ear the rolls of Seneca gun far exceed in duration any thunder and I live at one end of what used to be called “lighting alley.”  (Which corresponds pretty well with what should be called Florida’s tornado alley, but the name has been co opted by a much larger and more diffuse area involving pretty much the Mississippi valley.)  So my antipodal theory won’t wash.

Long ago, even before the Moodus poltergeist, I used to enjoy a publication called The Children’s Digest.  I understand it has merged with Jack and Jill.  One of the adventures recounted in the magazine was a trip across a vast desert.  At night they could hear booming sounds.  It was explained that the sound was caused by wind over the sand dunes.  The story purported to be true, and I suppose the wind-over-dune idea was the explanation by the experienced members of the caravan. 

It makes as much sense as any of the Seneca gun theories I know of.  If the dunes are at regular intervals and the wind is just right then there might be a wind velocity that corresponds with the time it takes for sound to go from one peak to the next or some harmonic.  That should produce a musical note instead of a boom, but maybe the energy released as the sound starts disrupts the air flow just a little. 

So we have sort of a nested theory here, my theory about what somebody else’s theory might have been.  But the people who were experienced might have made an observation.  The noise was never heard during a dead calm.  So there might just be evidence at the bottom of the theory.

Well if sand dunes, why not waves?  Air moving over water might build up a similar sound.  And the same evidence should be available.  The sound should never occur during a dead calm.  As chance would have it, there is indeed a breeze today.  So I shall try to stay alert to it.  If I ever hear the sound during a dead calm I shall calmly eat my theory and let you know.

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