Ordnance training likely cause of booms that rattled northern Utah

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9 2013 12:35 p.m. MST

Looking over the Salt Lake Valley with the winter inversion blanketing the valley Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2013.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Training at the Utah Test and Training Range is likely the cause of the loud booms heard Tuesday night that prompted calls to emergency dispatchers, Hill Air Force Base officials say.

“Aircraft noises, explosions and other military operations conducted on the UTTR can sometimes be heard on the east side of the Great Salt Lake,” Hill spokesman George Jozens said. “If weather conditions are just right, sound will carry, ricochet and even be amplified and travels many miles."

B-52 Stratofortress bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana were dropping ordnance during training about 9 p.m., directly west of the southern part of the Great Salt Lake on the training range.

Emergency dispatchers received dozens of calls about the noises, with several people saying it felt like an earthquake.

"I thought it was an airplane that had gone overhead, but it was weird because it was quiet and then it was a rumbling, as opposed to just a really loud noise,” said North Salt Lake resident Mary Ann Parker.

“First we heard a bang, and the windows shook a little bit,” said Woods Cross resident Jake Keith.

University of Utah research seismologist Katherine Whidden confirmed it wasn't an earthquake. 

“We did record some signals on our infrasound network, which records low-frequency sound waves, which is below the threshold for human hearing,” Whidden said.

Experts say storms at the surface of the Earth's atmosphere can sometimes be felt all over the state, even through several states. And with the current inversion problem, that could cause some people to feel a rumble, while others would not.

“The inversion can affect these signals. It traps them, and they bounce around in the valley and more people would have noticed them,” Whidden said.

Although the B-52 is not capable of going supersonic and creating a sonic boom, it is very possible the sound of the bombs exploding on the Utah Test and Training Range carried to the east side of the Great Salt Lake, Jozens said.

The bombers were expected to continue their training missions Wednesday night.

Contributing: Shara Park

E-mail: vvo-duc@ksl.com

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