It’s true, my area of Nevada is seismically active, but it hasn’t always been that way. It all started in 2014, when I returned to the area after four years in college. One late September evening, while I was settling into bed, the house suddenly jumped and rattled. Cyclone, my dog, barked and ran to the back door.
At first I thought the noise came from the neighboring mother-in-law quarters, where my mother was sleeping. I worried that she’d fallen down again, like she did the time she broke her arm, but when I looked the lights weren’t on and there was no sign that Mom was up and about. I decided not to investigate further and went back to bed.
The next day I learned that there had been a small three-pointer the night before, and this was likely what shook the house. I wrote this off as a freak event and decided that we’d had our earthquake for this house. I was very wrong about this! This small tremor was the first of many to strike the area over the next several years.
In late 2016, Mom and I were coincidentally in a discussion about earthquakes and earthquake faults. We finished our conversation and I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Mom was standing at the sink and suddenly announced that she felt an earthquake. When I came out, every hanging object in the room was swinging and it was clear that something had happened.
This was the first of four earthquakes that night. The fourth one was shallow enough and intense enough to knock our power out. We later learned that these four quakes were much larger at their epicenter near the ghost town of Bodie, where damage was reported. It was the beginning of an era of large earthquakes that would rattle up and down the eastern Sierra front over the next few years. Seismic disturbances bounced up and down the mountains, rocking Carson City, then Ridgecrest, then some other place in between the two.
It was around this time that a strange phenomenon began. My property is situated within only a few miles from the White Mountains, an uplifted block related to the Sierra Nevada. I am so close to the mountains that when avalanches occasionally rumble down the canyons, I can hear and feel them from my house. This is actually what I thought the sound was at first.
One night, while I was getting ready for bed, I heard a loud rumble from the White Mountains, followed by a series of booms. I looked at the mountains the next day to see if I could see an avalanche scar in the fresh snow, but I couldn’t see anything. Checking the local earthquake reports turned up nothing, either.
The booms continued for the next several years, summer and winter, so they were obviously not avalanches. They could also not be associated with lightning, because they occurred on sunny days as equally as stormy ones.
By 2020, when the Covid lockdown occurred, the rumbles and booms were so frequent that I started tracking them, along with a woman who lived at the northern end of the valley and also heard the booms. We started investigating the various suspected causes of the phenomenon and systematically eliminating them.
Already eliminated were thunderstorms and snow avalanches. I thought about the previous phenomenon of sounds from the east bouncing off the mountains, but they occurred when there was no activity taking place at Hawthorne or Nellis. There was also no mining activity in either the White Mountains or the Silver Peak Mountains on the east side of the valley, so dynamite blasts were not a possibility.
So if all these things had been eliminated, what exactly was going on in the White Mountains? We began to notice that the rumbles and booms occurred more frequently just before the large earthquakes that had started to rock the area. One episode occurred just before a four pointer struck in March, 2020. Another episode erupted just before a five pointer struck in April.
The rumbles grew more frequent as the spring of 2020 progressed. They were at their worst as April moved into May, occurring almost nightly. We noticed that the sounds would migrate up and down the mountains, sounding near my property on the south end of the valley and then at the north end a few minutes later, or vice versa.
Early one May morning, I was awakened from a sound sleep by causes unknown. My bed began to tremble and at first I thought it was one of my dogs scratching herself, but then I saw that the dogs were still and looking around in confusion. I realized we were in the middle of an earthquake, and a large one at that.
The bed suddenly jumped and bucked. I leaped to my feet and immediately stumbled from the force of the temblor. I made it to the door, where I could hear the bell on my homemade earthquake detector ringing for the first time, signaling that this wasn’t just another one of the five pointers that had been rocking us for the last few months.
In fact, it was a 6.5 from a fault situated north of the valley near Mina, Nevada. Fortunately, there was no damage at the house, though I can’t say the same for local highways and the town of Tonopah. The governor declared a disaster and called in government funding to fix the damaged roads. It was just another of the mishaps that 2020 was famous for.
One thing was very noticeable after the earthquake. The water from my well tasted like chlorine and there was a smell of spent fireworks oozing from the ground around it for a few weeks. Also, the rumbles and booms in the White Mountains had ceased completely.
Was this a paranormal phenomenon? No, it was a perfectly scientific one. My fellow investigator and I assume that the tensions building in the Mina fault were causing pressure along the faults lining the White Mountains, leading to vibrations and rumbles within the mountain range. When the earthquake struck, the strain was relieved and the noises stopped.
If you want to see a video of this phenomenon in action, search YouTube for “strange sounds in Colorado before earthquake.” The same sort of booms are heard and recorded on the film, a sign of building pressure just before the major quake struck.
This was partially confirmed a year later, when a series of small earthquakes struck in the White Mountains near Deep Springs along an obvious small fault. These small earthquakes caused brief booms in the mountains just before they occurred.
Seismology and geology are fascinating subjects. They also provide an explanation for at least one of the strange sounds that have occurred in this area. But there is still one sound mystery remaining. Stay tuned next week for the final article in the Nevada mystery sounds series.