Billings, Montana, 1708 (5:08 PM) MST 03 FEB 2023
A narrow column of smoke or cloud is seen in the sky above a home by a woman who is looking out her back window. After filming for over a minute, an unexplained boom can be heard in the video. The source is Dolly Moore, @MMtTreasures on Twitter.
Montana is of great interest at the moment due to the sighting of a Chinese weather balloon, widely believed to be a spy balloon, on 2 FEB. As of midday 3 FEB, the balloon was sighted over St. Louis, Missouri, nowhere near Montana. No other balloons were reported in the area, although a second may have been over Canada, but balloons are not supersonic.
Billings, Montana, is also roughly in the vicinity of Malmstrom AFB, approximately 150 miles away. Malmstrom is one of America’s Minuteman III nuclear missile bases, with silos scattered all over the region. Spoiler: if it was an ICBM we would all be dead right now.
It is likely a contrail, often erroneously called a “chemtrail,” an artificial cloud caused by water vapor in aircraft engine exhaust freezing into ice crystals in the super-cold temperatures of high altitude. It’s not a government program to spray chemicals, it’s the same phenomenon as your breath fogging on a cold morning.
Normally, contrails appear relatively straight and condensed into narrow lines in the sky but high-altitude winds gradually disperse them, blowing them into wider lines until they totally disappear. In this case, it appears the contrail is at least a few minutes old as it is slightly blown out and not straight. Varying winds at altitude would produce this effect.
It appears curved or arching into the sky because the earth is curved. When viewed in full with an unobstructed horizon the curving nature is more apparent as both ends can be seen. Partial views of contrails lead to the illusion that it is arcing up into the sky instead of crossing above it linearly. As a kid, I though the jets flying from LAX were actually rockets flying into space because of this optical illusion.
The reason it appears to be headed “down” in the beginning of the video is because the woman is panning the camera down towards her neighbor’s roof. The motion leads the viewer’s brain to think that the trail is going down or is in motion. Rather, the view doesn’t understand what they are looking at just as the women filming doesn’t understand either. She is expecting a missile or meteor, not an aircraft passing overhead.
The boom is either just a coincidence from something in the neighborhood or an Air Force jet. Only military aircraft can fly supersonic above land in the United States and supersonic flights (faster than the speed of sound) above Mach 1 which generate sonic booms are restricted to emergency intercepts or training above sparsely populated areas. Montana is sparely populated.
Also, it has to be noted that due to the Chinese weather balloon, there has been a lot of interest in the sky lately over Montana. The Air Force did appear to be hold exercises in that area yesterday and the Red Flag exercise is occurring through 10 FEB. Red Flag is a regular jet aircraft training exercise simulating war missions lead by the Air Force out of Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada, and many friendly nations participate. Reportedly, jets from Nellis were sent to intercept the Chinese balloon over Montana on Thursday, 2 FEB.
The smoke trail was not an ICBM. Test missiles are launched, unarmed, from Vandenberg SFB in California, a space launch and test facility. A launch, even a drill or test, from a live missile field could potentially spark a nuclear exchange as Russian and China would have no way of knowing whether or not it was the first shot of a live nuke. It certainly was not an accident. There are also no surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites in Montana that would shoot down the balloon that was a quarter continent away.
If it were a fireball, there would have probably been more, timely reports of it rather than the news being broken 45 minutes later. A fireball that would have created a smoke trail of that size would be similar in size and effect of the Chelyabinsk meteor that struck the eponymous city in Russia back in 2013. That meteor had the power of a nuclear weapon when it exploded, with approximately 500 KT, which is larger than the most powerful nuclear warhead currently fielded by the United States. The big flash, the huge boom, and the resulting damage-producing shockwave certainly would have been noticed by more than just a woman looking out her back window.
Either an Air Force jet on training or an intercept mission created the contrail and a sonic boom or the boom was coincidental and the contrail from a passing commercial jet.
If you enjoy my work, or want to learn more about nuclear war including how to survive, please explore my website and buy one of my books.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.