According to the National Weather Service Pittsburgh, the loud boom that shook houses in and around the region on Saturday morning was likely a meteor exploding.
But as of Sunday, another boom that was heard and felt in areas of Westmoreland and Indiana counties on Friday afternoon has not yet been officially explained.
Stan Gordon of Greensburg, an internationally renowned investigator of anomalies, including alleged UFOs and Bigfoot sightings, speculates that the first boom was also an exploding meteor.
“I’ve been receiving a lot of phone calls and people have been seeing information coming out on social media,” he told the Bulletin on Sunday. “A lot of people are talking about both cases, but we had a lot more reports from Saturday than we did from Friday.”
The first incident occurred around 1:30 p.m. Dec. 31. It was reportedly heard and felt from Latrobe, through the Derry area, into Blairsville, Homer City, Black Lick and all along the Chestnut Ridge into Indiana County.
“One couple was in the living room of their home on Route 982 in Derry Township outside of Latrobe when they heard not a rumble but one big boom,” Gordon said. “They actually got up and ran outside because they thought that a car might have hit their house. I got other reports from around Derry, and some people said that their pets were very shaken by the boom.”
Another person from near Blairsville in Indiana County said that it was such a loud noise that he looked up, thinking that it was a crack of thunder.
“He was walking his dog at the time and the dog was absolutely terrified. The dog was shaking,” Gordon said. “Another person in Loyalhanna Township said they heard the loud boom and they could feel the force of the sound hitting them. It was just intense.”
Catherine Pastor, who lives in Salem Township north of Crabtree, told the Bulletin that around 1:30 p.m. Friday she and a visiting friend heard a big boom that startled them.
“We got up and were going outside when there was this terrible bang,” she said. “It sounded like a cannon going off, or like a bomb.”
Gordon also received numerous reports about the second boom that happened around 11:30 a.m. Saturday. That incident received more attention and media coverage than the first one, with reports from Allegheny, Westmoreland and Washington counties. The noise was heard and felt in Pittsburgh, Mount Washington, Carnegie, East Huntingdon Township, Elizabeth Township, and the South Hills, to name just a few locations. There were even social media reports from Beaver County and West Virginia.
A woman from Greensburg who was out of town when it happened, posted on her Facebook page that her neighbor, a relative in Apollo and a friend who lives near North Greengate Road in Hempfield Township heard Saturday’s boom.
Gordon has been investigating the unexplained for 62 years. Loud booms that shake buildings are nothing new.
“In the 1960s, we called them skyquakes,” he said.
Explanations can be earthquakes, thunderstorms and other weather related phenomena, large meteors or fireworks. Sometimes there are no explanations.
Several agencies investigated Saturday morning’s boom. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that there was no seismic activity in the area at that time. That ruled out an earthquake.
The National Weather Service (NWS) reported that although there was rain in some areas and a lot of cloud cover in the region, there were no thunderstorm activities to account for the noise and shaking.
The GOES-16 weather satellite is stationed over the western hemisphere to deliver images and data on atmospheric conditions and solar activity. Its records showed that a flash not associated with lightning was seen above southwestern Pennsylvania at the time that the boom was heard on Saturday.
The NWS concluded that the loud noise and shaking sensation were caused by a meteor exploding.
“No confirmation, but this is the most likely explanation at this time,” they posted in a news update.
In addition, Gordon added, the American Meteor Society posted a reported sighting of a fireball over Belle Vernon at the same time that the boom shook the area.
“So the most likely source of the Saturday incident was a fireball meteor, which at times can produce a sonic boom,” he said. “An explanation for the Friday incident has yet to be determined, but it may very well be that both events were caused by meteors.”
Exploding meteors often create a spectacular burst of light in the sky, even in the daylight. But the heavy gray rain clouds that darkened the sky on both Friday afternoon and Saturday morning would have hidden that display.
“Right now there’s a pretty active meteor shower going on, and that’s probably connected,” Gordon said.
The annual Quandrantid meteor shower started on Dec. 26 and can be seen through Jan. 16. According to the International Meteor Organization, there’s conflicting information about the time of the six-hour peak. It either happened from last night until early this morning, or will be visible beginning shortly after 11:30 p.m. today.
If the skies are clear and the light pollution is low, the shower can be seen halfway up the northeastern sky between the Big Dipper and the constellation Bootes. Under ideal conditions, viewers might be able to spot from 60 to 200 meteors in an hour.
Even though the weekend booms are likely natural phenomena, Gordon is urging anyone who experienced the boom and shaking to get in touch with him so that he can track and record the locations.