It's not your imagination or faulty memory -large public fireworks displays used to have bigger bursts that went higher in the sky. Over the past few decades, professional pyrotechs have been compelled to make the shells smaller, which correlates with lower altitude. Doug Taylor, the president of Zambelli Fireworks, explains.
“What’s happened is, the size shell that you can shoot in a particular location has decreased,” Taylor explains. Just as shell width correlates to height, so too does height correlate with regulation. Old regulations dictated that you needed 70 feet of area cleared for every inch of shell fired around a launch area. The new industry standard is 100 feet. So when you play that out, practically, a large 12-inch shell needs 1,200 feet (or nearly a quarter of a mile) cleared in every direction to be considered safe.
Taylor tells me that fireworks sites nationwide have been shrinking with both urbanization and suburban sprawl.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The shows make up for the decreased height with a more dense display.
“Rather than one 8-inch shell, I could probably put 12 3-inch shells up for the same price,” Taylor says. “We like that for several reasons. Larger shells are more dangerous because they have more explosive power in them. But the truth is, people in this country especially like density in their fireworks show.”
The drawback is that instead of watching them from your home, you are more likely to have to drive to the fireworks site. Read more about modern fireworks displays at FastCo Design. Link
(Image credit: Flickr use Jeff Golden)