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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, June 2018

Memphis Rocked by Mystery Booms & Shakes

by: Dr. Greg Little

I’ve lived in Memphis for 51 years. Memphis rests on the eastern banks of the Mississippi River with Arkansas on the west side of the river and the state of Mississippi bordering the city on the south. For nearly 30 years I lived on the shore of a Memphis lake bordering the Mississippi state line that was located less than 3 miles from an FBI munitions training center. During that time we experienced a couple moderately small earthquakes as Memphis is located on the New Madrid Fault line. During the earthquakes there was no discernable sound other than noises that came from the shaking structures. During those 30 years we also heard a handful of moderately loud “booms” that were easily and immediately identified as explosions coming from the FBI training facility. The explosions always occurred in the daytime. We never heard any nighttime booms and the lake was over a main flight path for Federal Express planes making runs to or from the west. Few people are aware that from midnight to about 4 am, the Memphis airport is the busiest in the world, because Memphis is the corporate headquarters of Fed Ex and its main sorting hub. Every night there are 150-200 cargo planes that takeoff and land. On some nights there are far more. UPS also has an airport hub in Memphis and a large Air National Guard facility is at the massive airport with numerous cargo planes and jets. Both fighter aircraft and B-52s routinely make stops. All of these plane details are mentioned because we have never heard nor heard of a report of sonic booms in the Memphis area.

About 5 years ago we moved to a dense subdivision on Mud Island, located in downtown Memphis. The island, which is now a 2.6-mile long peninsula about a third of a mile wide at its widest point, has the Mississippi River on its western side and the Wolf River on the east. The Wolf River was diverted some years ago creating a levee allowing road access on the north--and also making the island a peninsula. The densely populated island, made famous in the movie “The Firm,” has about 16,000 residents. Nearly a quarter of the population has advanced degrees with many island residents researchers at the famous St. Jude Research Hospital. They can make a short walk to work at St. Jude. The island is also home to many of the local news media, politicians, attorneys, pilots, and a host of medical professionals who work in the downtown area.

My wife and I began experiencing occasional unexplained house shaking and “booms” as soon as we moved to the island. It averaged perhaps once every few months. It wasn’t really irritating or annoying. But a few of the booms were loud and the house would sometimes shake. On occasion neighbors would inquire about it and discuss various possibilities. A few times my wife would tell me about booms and shakes that occurred when I hadn’t been home. About 12 months ago a massive boom occurred that shook our 2-story house rather severely. Initially we though it had been an earthquake. However, the USGS maintains its New Madrid Earthquake Zone monitoring station at the University of Memphis. They showed no activity whatsoever. Within the neighborhood a story was told and accepted about old grain silos located on the Memphis side of the Wolf River. Huge barges move up the Wolf River Harbor to collect cargo—grain and cotton for transport on the Mississippi River. Supposedly when grain was stuck in the top of silos, explosions were set off to release it. That excuse was generally accepted in the community until it was discovered that the old grain silos had been closed for years.

Renewed interest into the mystery booms came with a massive boom on May 9, 2018. It occurred on a Tuesday morning at 3:37 am. Both my wife and I slept through it, but most of our neighbors did not. A couple directly across the street from us, bordering the Wolf River, were suddenly awakened when their walls of glass began loudly vibrating and their dogs started barking. They heard a loud, resonating boom and their 2-story house shook violently. They believed that their home was caving into the Wolf River. Others in the neighborhood reported broken windows and some individuals were initially certain that a truck had run into the side of their homes. Suggestions that have been offered—and rejected— are sonic booms, earthquakes, trains, barges, the grain silos, military explosive training at a base located about 20 miles away, resonance from jet thrusters when planes are climbing, and exploding automobiles at a car recycling facility. All of these have been investigated and essentially eliminated as possibilities. My own inquiries revealed that the booms are not restricted to the island but are also felt and heard in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to us on the Memphis side of Mud Island. It is likely that the more vocal residents are found on the island and these people are more likely to file official complaints. While the idea of resonance from planes in high thrust is interesting, at least to myself as a licensed pilot, I find it unlikely for many reasons. In addition, the idea that the booms are coming from the military training facility located about 20 miles from Memphis in Arkansas is all but dead as an explanation. One reason is that there were no reports made from the many towns and communities between that facility and Memphis. And the military training facility was not active that night. The most likely explanation is that the booms and vibrations somehow stem from a combination of factors that include the massive Mississippi River and the confluence of the Wolf River, the island itself (which primarily consists of built up sand), and the presence of the New Madrid Fault line. These factors may interact in unknown ways underground.

This is the local TV news report on the event:

Here are a few comments (of nearly 200) from the Next Door Neighbor section for a Mud Island Subdivision:

Each comment below is from a different person, with names redacted.

My whole house just shook & woke me up. Anyone else feel it???? That was scary! 8 May · Island View - Mud Island in General

Their website doesn’t show anything Jessica. The guys at work (awake and near the island when it happened) said they didn’t think the ground shook, they thought it was a barge or train collision.

Sonic boom?

Well if it's barges and trains colliding then we need better drivers in Memphis. if that is the cause for our houses shaking all the time.

I’m a Mud Islander and work at WREG News Channel 3. We are looking into this. Did anyone have security cameras rolling last night? It might have caught the boom or some movement. If so, please let me know. Might help us solve this once and for all! :-).

Sara, yes it’s on our cameras. This has happened a 3 or more times in the past. It violently shakes our house. The video sound doesn’t do it justice.

I felt it too and was going to complain about my neighbor downstairs... lol... yes, I agree it has happened several times before. It was a shake + boom sound... when we have an answer can somebody post what it is!? Thanks!!

Sara as most will concur we have been experiencing these booms/shakes off and on for a few years. You probably can access the various discussions on this topic. This is the first to my recollection in the middle of the night. I have been straightening pictures on the walls today, we have an ornamental metal scroll above our bed and it was shaking loudly - I thought it was coming off the wall. Hope WREG can come up with some answers.

Moved here in 2004 and I was warned about it then. Guy I knew joked about his neighbor calling the police once sure that someone had crashed into her house. Happens pretty much any time of the year and any time of the day. Usually it is just more of a dull thud like maybe some large books falling off a bookcase, but every now and then something a bit more violent. This morning was probably one of the stronger occurrences I can recall.

We’ve lived on the island since 2004. The boom/shake occurs periodically. No pattern that I’ve ever noticed and I work from home so I’m around most of the time. I agree that last night is the first overnight occurrence I remember. And it did seem stronger but maybe because it woke me (but not our dog, my husband, or our son!).

I woke up, it actually knocked a few things over here. It wasn’t a sonic boom. It wasn’t military explosives, scared my dogs . Someone in authority has to have an idea. I’m glad the TV channel is looking into it. I wish I’d thought to save my camera footage from last night

Are we only feeling it on the island? Or is it happening elsewhere in Memphis too?

I was sound asleep in the bed but my wife got home around 3:30 last night from work and heard it not long after she got inside. Scared the shit out of her. She thought she was crazy until this thread.

This was definitely different as I said earlier in the post. I have lived here since 2004 and have heard the loud thud, sonic boom or whatever since then. I always heard the grain and fertilizer company had to set off bombs in the silos. That's what I have always chalked it up to but those companies are closed now. Now last night, was extremely loud. I had just got home from work, walking my dog and it scared me so much I jumped. It really sounded like train cars colliding. That is my best guess. Glad to hear the news is looking into it.

We felt it in Harbortown & it broke an upstairs window in Island View rental house. What can do that?

Yes, it’s been happening on the island. We started a conversation about it on this app a few months ago- the concussion of the boom blew my door open and rattled all the windows. And then about a month ago there were some tremendous booms right downtown ( I was at Union and main when I heard them). There were many posts about it on this app-about it-remember? Anyway. People on the 24th floor of a high rise got rocked that time. And it honestly sounded like bombs going off. I have tried to follow up on everyone’s theories. I have called the coast guards who said that every now and then Trains hit each other- that was their best guess. I called the place in Arkansas- 10 miles away- that hosts (other countries) armies- or any one else who wants to blow stuff up- I never got a response from them. I called the place that loads rocks into barges to the north of us - they assured me it was not them. I called the Mayors office- they said they would look in to it- but never called me back. I have also driven by all of the construction sites that are allegedly “blowing buildings up”- and maybe it is them- but if it is, they need to stop. It’s quite a mystery- I do not know if they can solve it- but I hope someone does some serious investigation. It’s about time the media picked up on it! Whoever is causing this needs to stop.

I don’t notice any other sounds when these shockwaves/booms happen. There’s no barge noise, airplane noise, or train noise, all of which are typically easily heard in the nighttime silence on the island. That doesn’t mean it’s not coming from one of those things ...just something to note as an observation.

Air traffic controller at Memphis International here...sorry but the booms coming from the air traffic is quite a stretch. I live on the island and I've experienced the booms at least 4-5 times in the 9 months that I've lived here and they're at random times and aren't usually associated with times of increased air traffic. If you were to look at traffic flow during those times I'd be amazed if they were the conditions of Monday night each time it's happened. we rarely depart northbound unless we have to during a FedEx outbound because of the long taxi times. And if you think air traffic routes are going to change, good luck with that. We move 90+ departures or arrivals an hour during a push, there isn't a such thing as "alternate flight paths". You live near and airport that's what you're gonna have.

Tier 1 appears to be located around a bit under 20 miles from the island, with Marion and West Memphis in between. They would definitely have to be setting off MOABs and blowing out the windows of houses in Marion to have even a chance of us noticing anything going on. Unless they have some cool new toys that can send shockwaves on magical hyperbolic curves that hop right over Arkansas and come down right on us. Definitely Aliens.

Saturday, April 20, 2024