Business as usual at the Gap, but atmospheric conditions cause artillery training booms to travel farther

3 min read1,449 views and 270 shares Posted October 30, 2020

The weather was ripe earlier this week for sounds to carry — further and louder — from artillery training at Fort Indiantown Gap.

“I thought it was thundering,” Natasha R. Nolt wrote on the National Guard training center’s Facebook page on Wednesday.

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“A few sounded like (they) landed around the corner last night,” wrote Luanne Reese.

A spokesman for the National Guard posted a note on their Facebook page early Wednesday afternoon to let nearby residents know the cause of the resounding noise.

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“If you’ve heard loud ‘booms’ coming from our direction these last couple days, yes, we are conducting artillery training,” the message stated. “If the noises seem unusually loud, it’s because certain atmospheric conditions, such as low clouds, can amplify the noises. The training is scheduled to conclude today.”

Brad Rhen, deputy public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, explained in an email that artillery live-fire training started on Sunday and concluded Wednesday.

“We have training at Fort Indiantown Gap throughout the year, but it isn’t always the type of training that results in loud noises like the ones we’ve heard in recent days,” Rhen said. “The frequency that that type of training occurs varies from month to month.”

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The last training event, involving mortar, was on Oct. 8 through 10, he said.

“We try to post the scheduled dates of training that could result in increased noise levels on Facebook every month as a courtesy to the public,” Rhen said. “Fort Indiantown Gap is one of the busiest National Guard training centers in the country, with service members from other branches of the military and other states coming here to train.”

Low clouds are primarily to blame for the noise traveling further and sounding louder, Rhen said.

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“Overcast and cloudy days aren’t particularly unusual, as I’m sure you’re aware,” he said. “I could personally hear the booms from my house in Lebanon, and I also saw some chatter on Facebook that other people could hear it too, some as far away as Myerstown. We did receive one email from a nearby resident who said normally the sounds are tolerable, but this recent training sounded louder than usual.”

John R. Scala, a certified consulting meteorologist and past president of the National Weather Association from North Cornwall Township, said he also heard the booms and confirmed the atmospheric effects on the sound.

“Sound waves are ducted or contained within a near surface layer of the atmosphere when a temperature inversion develops,” he explained in an email to LebTown. “Daily temperatures during late fall are characterized by cool mornings and warm days. The rapid cooling that occurs during the late afternoon (or already present in the early morning) produces a strong temperature inversion with the coolest temperatures at the ground and warmer temperatures above.

“This reversal of temperature traps pollutants (for example the smoke from a chimney fire) but also enhances sound travel. The sound waves generated by the artillery can travel much greater distances in the presence of an inversion and sound louder because they are confined to this shallow atmospheric layer.”

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Similarly, he said, “lions and elephants on the African Savannah roar or trumpet preferentially at dusk when the developing temperature inversion traps the sound and allows it to travel great distances. This is an effective tool for claiming territorial dominance.”

As for the surrounding community — at least, those residents who follow Fort Indiantown Gap on Facebook — they didn’t seem bothered by the noise, and many were enthusiastic about what the clamor represented.

“That’s the sound of freedom! Love it!!!” Chad Jeremy Kessler wrote Wednesday.

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“Hooah!!” enthused Abbie Shireman. “Practice hard and know you are all appreciated.”

“We enjoy it,” said Jay Arthur. “Makes me feel connected to my Army days.”

People also let the Gap know just how far the sound was traveling.

“I can hear ya loud and clear in Campbelltown,” said Rick Stahl.

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“Jonestown hears you LOUD AND CLEAR!!” wrote Rod Barshinger.

“Can always (hear) you in Hershey,” added Cindy Weiss Skinner. “Love listening to you.”

“Palmyra is shaking and rattling,” said Ross Purnell. “Keep up the good work!”

“Clear as day on route 25 in Valley View,” said Amanda Blyler, who added: “I texted my neighbor to see if someone was blasting for a house foundation or something and she didn’t even feel or hear it.”

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Other residents chimed in from Elizabethtown and Paxtonia.

Brad Haldeman, on the other hand, said he wished he could hear it in Lancaster — but that was a bit too far for the sound to carry.

Not everyone was quite so enthusiastic, although the complaints were few and far between.

“When will this be over?” asked Lisa Kevin Howard. “Our dog is petrified when she hears the boom and feels it in the house.”

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“It’s all fun and game till you live out here,” said David Billingham. “It’s no fun.”


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This article was updated to include comment from Scala.

Editor’s note: Thanks to LebTown reader Pat Krebs who gave us a heads up about a grammatical issue in the original headline. Thanks for the reminder on further vs. farther!\!

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