NEW ORLEANS — There are three likely explanations for the loud, continuing boom heard around New Orleans Monday morning:
- Terrifying fish monsters from a horror movie were released from their ancient rock prison at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain by an earthquake from an unknown fault line.
- Somebody decided to make a sound effect to represent 2020 and spent thousands of dollars setting up hidden speakers to play it throughout the metro area. Or...
- That was an incredibly loud, incredibly long clap of thunder that shook structures and set off car alarms throughout New Orleans for more than 15 seconds without stopping.
Even though 1. and 2. are just as likely to be the culprit, WWL-TV meteorologist Payton Malone says he'd put money on the third one.
The lightning, which set off the loud boom around 9 a.m., happened right as New Orleans was experiencing a pretty large temperature inversion, Malone said.
How loud a clap of thunder is depends on a lot of different factors, and it can sound different based on the temperature, location, moisture, whether you're wearing noise-canceling headphones and countless other things.
The temperature inversion means that the air was warmer up in the air than the air closer to the ground.
The hot air above the city can act as a buffer for the sound of thunder, meaning it bounces off a cushion of hot air, rebounds off the stormcloud above, and hits that hot air again, over and over.
It's basically like if you throw a bouncy ball as hard as you can underneath your kitchen table: it's going to eventually stop, but it's going to bounce around a lot first and may end up someplace unexpected.
Malone said he saw the lightning about 10 seconds before the thunder started, meaning the lightning strike was likely about two miles away from the French Quarter (the easy way to tell is that the sound travels a mile every five seconds).
"This morning it was probably a bolt of lightning that was just above the surface," he said. "And the sound was able to spread out more as it traveled to the ground, all thanks to the temperature inversion."
And that's why we had the longest clap of thunder in recent memory. I mean...that's one explanation. But if you see scaly fish-men while walking along Lakeshore Drive, don't say we didn't warn you.