Are Skyquakes Real?

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iStock

by Alex Carter

In 2012 YouTube was inundated with videos of a very rare atmospheric phenomenon—the skyquake. Skyquakes are characterized by unexplained noises coming from the sky, often in remote areas with no obvious explanation as to the source of the sound. Skyquakes have been recorded all over the world, and in every case, the sky suddenly takes on a creepy hue and emits unsettling, unnatural noises.

The reason it’s easy to say that it was 2012 is because they were all uploaded to the same YouTube channel, skyquake2012, a channel that specialized in taking shaking, amateur phone footage and adding the creepy trumpet sound from Kevin Smith’s Red State movie. In other words, they were all hoaxes.

But the phenomenon itself is no hoax. A skyquake is a real event that has been documented for centuries.

It’s difficult to distinguish between fakes, videos of unexplained noises that are of human origin, and genuine skyquakes, but the real examples of this phenomenon are all described the same way by those who experience them: a loud boom that sounds like distant cannon fire. Weirdly, the genuine ones all occur near coastal areas.

No one has been able to fully explain why certain areas experience periodic skyquakes, but enough evidence exists to suggest these are real phenomena and that the residents of these areas aren't making up stories. The fact that there are words to describe the event in different languages lends further credibility. In Japan they are called uminari (海鳴り, "the rumbling of the sea"); in Dutch, "mistpoeffers"; and in parts of the U.S., "Seneca Guns."

Some skyquakes are said to have human origins, like when a military aircraft breaks the sound barrier—by the time the sonic boom is heard, the plane is no longer in sight. But that doesn’t explain any that were recorded before the invention of aircraft, which means there must be other explanations. One popular theory is that the sound is due to meteorites exploding in the upper atmosphere, although that raises the question as to why the bright flash accompanying the explosion isn’t more visible. Others suggest the noise may be due to thunder from storms over the horizon, which is plausible only if you don’t know what thunder sounds like.

The most likely explanation is that the Earth is passing gas. (Really!) The sound of gas escaping from underground vents would resemble a quiet volcano, or distant explosions, which would explain not only the sound, but why the sounds are pretty much only heard in coastal areas. Many of the vents weak enough to allow gas out would be underwater, and in many cases the gas may be due to decaying biomatter at the bottom of the lake. The gas could also be escaping from underwater caves that are collapsing.

All of this is to say, if you ever hear an unexplained explosion, rest assured that it was only the Earth. But for fun, you can still blame it on the dog.

How Waffle House Helps Measure the Severity of a Natural Disaster

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iStock

There are a lot of ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses and addresses the severity of a natural disaster. Meteorology can predict movement patterns, wind gusts, and precipitation. Resources are dispatched to areas hit hardest by torrential weather.

But when the agency needs an accurate, ground-level gauge for how a community is coping during a crisis, they turn to Waffle House.

Since 2004, FEMA has utilized what former administrator Craig Fugate called the “Waffle House Index.” Because the casual dining chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tracking to see if a location is closed or working with limited supplies can help inform the agency as to whether affected areas are ailing or taking steps toward normalcy.

“If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad,” Fugate told NPR in 2011. “We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow ... If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet.”

For FEMA, the ability to order a plate of smothered and covered hash browns is an important analytic. If a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then transportation has been interrupted. If the menu is limited, then it’s possible they have some utilities but not others. If its locations have locked their doors, inclement weather has taken over. The chain’s locations would normally stay open even in severe conditions to help first responders.

The company has opened a Waffle House Storm Center to gather data in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm expected to touch down in the Carolinas this week. But not all locations are taking a wait-and-see approach. One Waffle House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has already closed due to the looming threat, making it the first red dot on the Index.

[h/t CNN]

See What Hurricane Florence Looks Like From Space

NASA via Getty Images
NASA via Getty Images

As Hurricane Florence continues to creep its way toward the Carolinas, it’s repeatedly being described as both "the storm of the century” and "the storm of a lifetime” for parts of the coastlines of North and South Carolina. While that may sound like hyperbole to some, Alexander Gerst—an astronaut with the European Space Agency—took to Twitter to prove otherwise with a few amazing photos, and issued a warning to “Watch out, America!”

According to the National Weather Service, “Hurricane Florence will be approaching the Carolina shores as the day progresses on Thursday. Although the exact timing, location, and eventual track of Florence isn't known, local impacts will likely begin in the afternoon hours and only worsen with time throughout the evening and overnight period.”

On Tuesday, Wilmington, North Carolina's National Weather Service took the warning even one step further, writing: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew. I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm.”

Gerst’s photos certainly drive that point home.

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