All signs points to sonic boom in Charleston today, not earthquake

A pressure station recorded a sudden spike in barometric pressure at the time the boom was heard (the pressure wave of the boom). (CofC)

The rumbling and shaking heard across the Lowcountry early Tuesday afternoon may have come from a group of F-18s on a training run creating a sonic boom.

Captain Clay Groover from Marine Air Station Beaufort would not say how many F-18 Hornets were involved or what flight path they were following, but he did say the jets were in the air at the time people across the Lowcountry heard and felt the boom. Still, MCAS Beaufort officials could not confirm the boom was created by the jets.

The jets' flight path led them over open water about 15 miles offshore, officials said.

Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey and the College of Charleston were able to confirm that there had not been a Charleston-area earthquake. CofC officials speculated that the boom and rumbling was caused by a sonic boom. The earliest reports of the boom showed up on Twitter around 12:45 p.m. A seismometer operated by The Citadel also did not record a seismic event at the time of the boom, but did show several rumbles about an hour earlier that went unnoticed around the Lowcountry.

Geologists were able to say it was not a tectonic event in less than an hour.

"Reports of a loud noise along with houses shaking is indicative of a sonic boom generated by an aircraft of some kind. Sonic booms are pressure waves generated as the aircraft exceeds the speed of sound, they are perceived by the people on the ground differently under different atmospheric conditions," said Dr. Erin Beutel, an associate geology professor at the College of Charleston. "It can also take between 2-60 seconds after the plane passes through for the boom to be heard, and over the ocean, the pressure wave can travel further and be heard by more people than on land."

Meteorologists supported that theory on Twitter shortly after the event, pointing to weather radar picking up chaff right about the time the boom was heard and felt.

Charleston is not a stranger to mysterious booms. They're often attributed to sonic booms from passing jets or Seneca Guns.

Related story: Lowcountry reacts to (sonic) boom

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