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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 27th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 42 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 42

Sonic boom rattles Central Coast residents on the eve of the rumored 'End of Days'

BY AMY ASMAN AND NICK POWELL

That wasn’t an earthquake that shook your windows on Dec. 20—it was sonic booms from military aircraft flying over the Central Coast.

According to a press release, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department received several reports of what appeared to be seismic activity in the county the morning of Dec. 20.

 “[The department] confirmed through various state and federal agencies that there has been no seismic activity in our area. It’s believed the activity was caused by sonic booms from military aircraft flying over this region of California,” officials said in the release. “The United States Geological Survey (USGS) confirms there was a sonic boom reported at 9:26 a.m. and again at 9:40 a.m. No damages have been reported.”

Officials at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc said they were fielding calls all morning about the incident, but they deal exclusively with rocket launches, not super-sonic jets.

The noises came from two military aircraft being tested on an authorized flight path some 50 miles off the coast by teams at Edwards Air Force Base, which is located in California’s southeastern desert. According to spokesperson John Haire, super-sonic tests are done routinely in that airspace, but cold, condensed air allowed the sonic boom to travel farther than normal. He said people should be prepared for more booms in the winter months.

“It’s not the end of the world; the Mayans weren’t right,” Haire said.

According to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) fact sheet, sonic booms are actually a constant noise produced by compacted air, or “overpressure.” People hear them as a single, staccato boom, but the thick sound wave hits everyone under the flight path. Two pounds per square foot of overpressure will rattle houses, but structures in good condition can handle up to 11 pounds of over pressure.

Responding to some people’s belief that the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012, via a natural disaster—as seemingly predicted by the Mayan calendar—USGS sent out information about monitoring natural disasters and staying safe should a disaster occur.

 “Others believe that instead of doomsday and destruction, the day will mark a new era for humanity and will be a time for celebration,” USGS officials said in an e-mail to the media. “Such beliefs aside, what we know with certainty is that Earth has a tremendous capacity to generate natural disasters on any day of any year.”

According to USGS, there’s no reliable short-term earthquake prediction method. Nor do scientists expect to develop a method in the foreseeable future.

However, probabilities can be calculated based on scientific data. For example, officials said, assessments of long-term earthquake rates in California reveal there is roughly a two-in-three chance that a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake will strike in the next 30 years in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Earthquakes this large are virtually certain in California as a whole, with a 99 percent probability in that same time frame.

To learn more about USGS earthquake forecasting and hazards, visit earthquake.usgs.gov/hazards/.