Sunday, August 05, 2001

Sycamore implements lightning predictor

By Emily Biuso
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        His Mason home was destroyed by the 1974 tornado and his Sycamore High School athletic fields were damaged by the 1999 tornado.

        Perry Denehy does not take weather lightly.

        So it's not surprising that the head athletic trainer of Sycamore High School led the movement to be the first high school in the state to purchase a lightning prediction system.

        “We're very sensitive to what Mother Nature can do,” Mr. Denehy said.

        The $8,500 system was installed in May, so this fall will be the first sports season athletes, coaches and spectators should be able to know exactly when lightning will strike. School officials are hoping the system, with a fiercely loud alarm and flashing strobe light, will save lives by alerting people to move indoors before a storm strikes.

        The only other school in Ohio that has a prediction system is Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, said Joseph Porcello, a sales manager for Thor Guard, Inc., the only company that sells predictors. Hamilton County golf courses, parks and campgrounds also use the equipment, he said.

        While a lightning detector keeps track of lightning that has already struck, a predictor warns when lightning is about to occur. It works by measuring electric energy. If friction is created and a lightning bolt is about to strike in a three-mile radius of the system, it will sound an alert. Three short horn blasts indicate that the area is safe and lightning-free.

        Stickers with instructions on how to respond to the system adorn fence posts and dugouts at Sycamore High. Still, athletes and coaches are getting used to the wailing, funny-looking metal structure on the concession stand's roof.

        Steve Imhoff, a Sycamore math teacher who coaches a summer baseball league, was caught off guard when he first heard the alarm.

        One of his players had just hit his first home run when the siren blared, prompting those nearby to assume it was a celebratory horn. They moved indoors after realizing the weather caused the noise.

        Shortly after the alarm sounded, a storm moved in.

        “We've taken the guesswork out of it,” Mr. Denehy said.


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