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Finger Lakes residents report loud booms: Was it thunder? Was it an earthquake?

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  • Staff Report 

What was that loud boom?

It was the most-frequently asked question on social media after a series of loud rumbles were reported across the central Finger Lakes on Sunday.

The reports streamed in as some non-severe thunderstorms were rumbling their way across the Finger Lakes. While the storms may not have reached severe-territory, the apparent noise that came with them was significant.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

Dozens reported hearing 3-5 booms that shook homes. Some even reported seeing a flash shortly before. While some speculated about the possibility of an earthquake – the USGS had not reported anything.

The National Weather Service office in Binghamton, which covers parts of Seneca and Ontario counties where the greatest number of reports came from, said they couldn’t confirm anything other than that thunderstorms were in the general area at the time of the reports.

If the noise is confirmed to be thunder there is likely a scientific answer: It’s called a temperature inversion.

During summertime thunderstorms the air at the surface (ground) is warmer than the air above it. During early-spring or late-fall thunderstorms, that can be flipped. The temperature inversion can trap the sound allowing it to be louder, longer, and in many cases amplified.

Here’s a visual breakdown of what’s happening when the warm layer is higher in the atmosphere, rather than at the ground-level from the Bureau of Meteorology: