While skies were lit over many communities from fireworks shot to celebrate New Years Eve as 2022 rolled in, an unexpected flash and boom rocked portions of Pennsylvania the next day. The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania believes the flash and explosion spotted over the state was likely an exploding meteor.
At 11:26 am yesterday, New Year’s Day, a loud boom and shaking impacting portions of western Pennsylvania. Allegheny County officials said that their 9-1-1 system received many reports of a “loud boom, shaking in the South Hills”. However, there was no seismic activity reported by USGS and the region was free of any thunder and lightning.
The National Weather Service proposed their own theory after reviewing GOES weather satellite data. In addition to capturing cloud imagery and other valuable weather data, the GOES-16 weather satellite, also known as GOES-East, provides a GLM Total Optical Energy product. That product detected a flash in the sky that was not associated with lightning.
On Twitter, the Pittsburgh National Weather Service wrote, “The loud explosion heard over SW PA earlier may have been a meteor explosion…No confirmation, but this is the most likely explanation at this time.”
Several residents also Tweeted video/audio from their security systems at the moment of the incident which captured the loud exploding “boom” noise from the sky overhead.
This probable meteor explosion event was likely an “airburst”. An airburst is the detonation of an explosive device such as an anti-personnel artillery shell or a nuclear weapon in the air instead of on contact with the ground or target. However, a meteor can create the same situation when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and explodes. Depending how close to the ground they occur and/or how big the meteor originally is, some airbursts can create significant damage to the ground and knock over trees, blow out windows, or even do some structural damage.