Although the source of the loud boom that was felt and heard in and around Great Falls on Sunday afternoon has not yet been determined, we do know that is was not the result of an accidental detonation of a nuclear missile from Malmstrom Air Force Base.
Hundreds of people reported hearing the loud boom in all areas of Great Falls and even beyond; there has been speculation that it may have been a military jet breaking the sound barrier, a small earthquake, a meth lab explosion, or possibly even a "frost quake" (see below).
While those are all possible, we are confident in stating that the boom was not caused by a nuclear missile.
Someone used a website that lets people create their own "news articles" for humorous purposes in order to make a bogus article claiming that the boom was caused by an accidental detonation. The article is riddled with typos, poor grammar, and false statements, such as that Air Force personnel "…can be seen walking 56th St, 38th St, and 24th St with Geiger Counters, checking for radiation levels."
The bogus article concludes: "Be advised that it may be beneficial to secure your home and to be keen to the signs of radiation poisoning: nausea, confusion, rashes, violent outbursts, diarrhea, red hair, hang nails, etc."
The "fake news" website contains a disclaimer that states: "All people, locations, and events on this site are completely made up. We believe the world needs to lighten up and have more humor. That’s why we have a site devoted to satire and humor. This is all made up. Sit back, relax, and enjoy something funny that is not true… it’s made up. We made up the names, locations, actions… everything. We made it all up. We also added our opinion."
Despite that, some people have contacted KRTV asking if the bogus article is true. The answer is no.
We have asked the Great Falls Police Department about any incidents that may have caused the boom; they said they have not received any reports of such.
And for people who wondered if the sound heard at about 2:45 p.m. was the Chinese satellite re-entering Earth’s atmosphere — the Joint Force Space Component Command confirmed that Tiangong 1 re-entered the atmosphere over the southern Pacific Ocean at 6:16 p.m. (Montana time).
(UPDATE, 8:42 p.m.) We contacted Malmstrom Air Force Base about it – their reply: "Malmstrom AFB has no knowledge nor reports of any source of a loud boom noise occurring today."
(1st Report, 3:14 p.m.) Just after 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, KRTV began receiving numerous reports from people who heard a loud boom.
Some people said that they felt a small jolt at the same time.
- Andrew Haney: "Did anyone hear that explosion sound in river view?"
- Heather Friede Myre: "Felt it on the SE side as well."
- Tiffany Tesfay: "We just heard it on 38th st and 8th ave south"
- Derek Falkenhagen: "Heard it on gore hill"
- Christina Nichter: "Felt a jolt near Lewis and Clark elementary."
- Chelsey Pearce: "Heard and felt it in castle pines"
- Laura Mann-Feist: "Heard and felt something down town."
- Nicole Gilcher: "What was that boom a few minutes ago?"
- Darin Rindal: "I heard something as well"
- Keith Voyles: "Me also. I heard a smaller boom followed by a louder one. Maybe that satellite entering the atmosphere."
- Tawny Miller: "We heard/ mildly felt it over central gf too!"
- Stephanie Schmitt: "What was the boom sound about 3pm?"
We have checked the U.S. Geological Survey website, and there have not been any earthquakes reported in the area.
Some people have speculated that the boom could be related to the imminent crash of the Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1, which is due to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere within the next 12 hours — but as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, the space debris has not crashed into the earth, according to Space.com. Current models predict that it will land in the southern hemisphere.
One remote possibility is that the boom may have been related to a cryoseismic event. The website FrostQuake.org explains:
“Frost quakes,” also known as cryoseisms, are a natural phenomenon that occurs when extremely cold temperatures lead to sudden deep freezing of the ground, after it has been saturated with water. The Vermont Geological Survey defines a cryoseism as, “[a] major frost cracking of the top few feet of the ground, occurring during sub-zero cold snaps, which generates localized ground shaking and is often mistaken for an earthquake.” Expansion that results during the process of freezing can lead to the buildup of explosive stress, which may result in fractures within the earth.
Although the possibility is small, conditions favorable for a "frostquake" have been present in Montana over the last 48 hours. We are checking our sources to determine the likelihood.