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So I learned about mistpouffers the other day. When you hear (or read) the word “mistpouffer,” what do you think of?  I tend to think of a misty, foggy dawn or twilight.  It’s kind of breezy.  Every now and then, there’s a small gust of wind and a puff of mist engulfs you.  The whole thing is kind of damp and annoying.

Well, that’s not what a mistpouffer is.  At all.  It really doesn’t have anything to do with mist puffing at you.  A mistpouffer is a mysterious, loud, booming noise with an unknown cause.  They’re generally heard around the Finger Lakes of the US (like Seneca Lake) and other waterfront communities around the world.

Mistpouffers are said to sound a lot like loud thunder or cannon fire.  That last bit about artillery fire may be why the mistpouffers around Seneca Lake are called Seneca Guns.

Anyway, remember how I said that mistpouffers have an unknown cause?  So the thunder and/or cannon fire is probably not the cause of the Seneca Guns.  You could probably figure out if the cause of the noise was thunder.  All you would have to do was look for thunderclouds in the sky.  As for cannon fire, it’s pretty unlikely.  I rather doubt that the government would allow cannon fire around the lake.

So, what are possible causes for mistpouffers?  Theories include meteors exploding in the atmosphere, the explosive release of gas from a lakebed or whatever waterway, military aircraft flying nearby at supersonic speeds, nearby military artillery fire, earthquakes, resonance of…something.

Actually, the cause of mistpouffers aren’t that interesting to me.  I mean, they’re kind of interesting, but not as much as you would think.  Mostly because I think the cause is probably one or more of those theories mentioned above.  What I find more interesting is that Seneca Guns are almost always reported in communities near water.  (Obtw, if you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of using “Seneca Guns” and “mistpouffers” interchangeably now even though if you were accurate, “Seneca Guns” really should only refer to mistpouffers around Seneca Lake in NY.)  It’s said that sometimes you’ll hear mistpouffers farther inland, but a theory as to why they’re so rare, or at least rarely reported, is that it’s noisier inland.

What?  It’s not always noisier inland.  Who thought that was a valid theory?  Any land away from the waterfront is noisy?  Most of the noise that you would experience inland would be city noise.  If you’re in the middle of the Great Plains, it’s probably very quiet there.  Also, there are lots of cities by the water that would be really noisy and you don’t hear of them complaining of mistpouffers.  Maybe that theory I read was taken out of context.  Maybe the person who proposed theory meant inland communities are noisier than the waterfront communities.  But still, it doesn’t seem like a very good theory.

I personally believe that mistpouffers are more commonly reported in waterfront communities because…they’re close to the water.  Water carries sound really well.  Faster and better than air, actually.  It has to do with the density of water as compared to the density of air.  It’s easier for a sound wave to propagate through water than it is through air because the water molecules are packed more tightly together than the air molecules.  So a sound from far away, like thunder or cannon fire or a supersonic jet or gases being explosively released from the lakebed, can travel farther through the water to your ears in your waterfront community than it can through just air inland.  Especially if that air is in a city with lots of buildings thus creating places for the sound waves to bounce off and cancel other waves out.

So really, mistpouffers aren’t really that mysterious.  I mean, you may not always be able to find the source of the sound.  Especially if the military is doing super secret training missions with their supersonic jets.  They’re likely not going to tell you to expect a sonic boom.  So that booming noise you hear in your waterfront house will be a mistpouffer.  But still…it’s just a noise.  And you have all that water around you to blame for helping to propagate that noise to your ears.


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