The residents of Sooke have been rattled for some time now by explosions that seem to go off like clockwork. Sooke PocketNews started following with closer interest after a letter written to the local print paper identified the source as Pacific Aerospace & Electronics in Sequim, Washington. A CBC interview shortly thereafter with High Energy (also in Washington) had us digging deeper.
Having contacted by both sources, Sooke PocketNews connected with Joe Munn, an Operations Manager with PA&E, and he has since become our PA&E contact on explosion day.
To get firsthand experience of what the residents here were experiencing, Munn took the trip up to Sooke, with sensors in tow, to get a reading of the impact of their explosions on Wednesday, April 15. Once here, he first met with the Mayor of Sooke, Maja Tait and then went out to experience the booms.
“There’s so much dialogue on earthquakes and tsunamis,” said Mayor Tait in the meeting with Joe Munn. Sooke has a very active Emergency Planning department, and the recently installed Tsunami signs have also caused a lot of, um, “heightened conversation” here in Sooke.
As Munn explained in his conversation with the Sooke mayor, what is felt here in Sooke comes from the air, not from the earth. Because the reverberations are airborne, weather has a great influence on what we feel. A cloudy skies mean we feel it more on land; clear skies and the impact on earthdwellers is reduced.
The day of Munn’s visit, the sky was clear.
“This is a good day,” he said, referencing a sunny day on a radar website that he uses to monitor weather systems. “When the blast crew is out there, I can see a rain cloud coming in. This was a bad to blast,” Munn said, referencing a radar photo from March 25. “A month and a half ago, we had a pretty good sized shot go off, and that was that day.”
The impact of that particular blast had the Sooke buzzing on Facebook on March 25. A group called “The Unexplained Rumblings of the Sooke Area” noted a heavy impact that day.
“Heard and felt at my office at Taylor Beach in Metchosin,” wrote one user, Douglas Gradecki. “Home in East Sooke called and as we were talking it hit in Metchosin. Looking on a map my work location in Metchosin is roughly 20% farther than our home in East Sooke,as the crow flies, from Joyce, WA – IF that is the origin today.”
Mona Wolfert wrote “Live on Church in the trailer park and the whole place shook and you could hear the rumble too. Sister down on Otter Point Rd just past Laronde felt and heard it too.”
And Rhiannon Kostecki noted, “I was on the phone with someone at Gordon beach when she heard and felt it. 15 seconds later I felt and heard it on West coast rd near Eustace.”
“If it’s raining with low cloud,” Munn explained in the meeting with Mayor Tait, “the sound will travel like crazy.”
“Today is a good day,” he said, referencing the day of his visit, April 15. The skies were a brilliant blue.
The time of day also makes a difference, noted Munn. Early mornings tend to be felt more, whereas later mornings and afternoons are felt less. As a result, PA&E try shoot in the later part of the morning.
“If it’s raining really bad, I’ll have them wait,” said Munn. “It costs more in labour, but it’s worth it.”
In addition to the weather is the size of the explosion. Sometimes it’s just one explosion, and other times it’s a series of explosions all lined up.
“If it gets to over 500 pounds, I’ll have them break it in two,” he said. They look at the weather, and if there is nothing but overcast skies in the forecast, they choose day that is less dismal. “That’s what we’ve been doing for the past four weeks,” he said, noting that the complaints have decreased over that period of time.
“Some days we can’t, we have to go straight to shoot if it’s really bad weather. We’re never going to make the noise go away,” Munn said, but they are working to reduce the impact.
Munn came with equipment designed to monitor both earth movement and air pressure movement generated from sound waves. They have this same equipment on their blast site, he said, and it never monitors any ground movement.
Interestingly, Earthquakes Canada also has not registered ground movement that corresponds with a blast from Pacific Aerospace.
“It’s a hard thing to sell to people, though,” recognized Munn, in part because very real movement is felt. Windows rattle, dogs bark, and napping kids wake up.
Shortly after meeting with Mayor, Munn headed out to monitor the day’s shots, accompanied by myself and guided by local photographer Deanna Brett.
When we arrived at the water’s edge we could see straight through to the blast site. Munn set up the monitoring equipment and got on the phone with his shooting crew to coordinate the observation from Sooke with the blast in Washington.
The sound of the blast was heard through the cell (on speaker phone).
We waited. After a few seconds, we could see the plume of smoke rising from hills on the American side of the Juan de Fuca Strait. We waited some more to hear the sound. After more than a minute had passed (one minute and 35 seconds), just as we were giving up on hearing anything because of the cloudless, clear blue sky, we heard and felt a small reverberation.
A glance at the monitoring equipment confirmed that there neither air nor earth movement had registered.
Interestingly, where Pacific Aerospace typically blasts a maximum of about 500 pounds, the blasts for April 15 exceeded their normal, measuring in at 750 pounds. This was done so that Munn’s two-day trip across the border for a five minute explosion would not be wasted. And a good thing, too! Anything less than that may not have even registered that day.
Feedback registered on our Facebook page is being noted by our southern neighbours. Note the time and the location, and the impact of the boom, and we can all monitor the relationship between the explosions and the weather.
Munn will continue to keep the people of Sooke informed of their explosion schedule. PA&E will monitor the weather, and divide up the explosions as best they can. And Sooke PocketNews will continue to keep our readership informed of when the blasts are scheduled.
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– Britt Santowski