Sun-Sentinel - January 21, 2005

By Nick Sortal, Staff Writer

The Broward County parks system's most popular attractions will be getting lightning prediction systems.

Last week, the Broward County Commission agreed to spend $160,000 for the devices, which are made by a Sunrise company, called Thor Guard. The systems will warn park visitors that conditions are favorable for a lightning strike, and a horn will sound alerting people to clear the area. The systems could be in place as early as next month.

"We want them in before thunderstorm season," said Toni Peyton, the special projects coordinator for the Broward County Parks and Recreation Division. Weather forecasters say that time is May 1 through Oct. 20.

Last year, the first Thor Guard in a county-run park was installed as part of a makeover at Paradise Cove in C.B. Smith Park, 900 N. Flamingo Road, Pembroke Pines. This year, the devices will be added at the water parks in Topeekeegee-Yugnee Park, 3300 N. Park Road, Hollywood; Markham Park, 16001 W. State Road 84, Sunrise; and Quiet Waters Park, 401 S. Powerline Road, Deerfield Beach.

The ballfields in Brian Piccolo Park, 9501 Sheridan St., Cooper City; and Tradewinds Park, 3600 W. Sample Road, Coconut Creek, which are home to several softball and baseball leagues, also will be Thor Guard sites. The devices also will be installed at the driving range in C.B. Smith Park, and at the target range in Markham Park, which is just across State Road 84 from Weston.

Peyton said the target range was a special situation because a lightning strike around ammunition could be "potentially explosive."

The Thor Guards are being placed in Broward's most populated parks first, but eventually most county-run parks will have them, Peyton said. When the swimming pool opens in 2006 at the new regional park in western Miramar -- the pool is part of the second phase of construction -- a Thor Guard will be installed. A 109-acre park in Lauderhill where construction is scheduled to begin soon will get the devices as it is being built, Peyton said.

The county parks are catching up with municipal park systems in Weston, Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Davie, all of which have installed Thor Guards during the past five years. The county had planned to install the equipment last year, but the $160,000 needed wasn't available in the budget until the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, Parks and Recreation Director Bob Harbin said.

"It was just a matter of getting the money in place," he said. "We didn't have it in our checkbook."

Peyton said the county will teach parks workers about the Thor Guards, and signs will be placed explaining the procedure to parks visitors. City officials who have purchased Thor Guards say they like that the devices eliminate the need for workers to make a decision as to whether to clear the park or not.

"We'll have to educate everyone that it's a prediction device instead of a detection device," Peyton said. Before Thor Guards, parks workers often used hand-held detectors, and cleared the area once a lightning strike was recorded.

The Thor Guards measure the number of negative ions in the air and positive ions on the ground, the combination of which can cause a cloud-to-ground strike (i.e., "a bolt out of the blue"). The system's inventors bill Thor Guard as a "prediction" system, and acknowledge that there are times when the alarm sounds when no lightning strikes.

When the conditions of a strike are reduced and the coast is clear, the horn sounds again and activity can resume.

Also last week, county commissioners approved $170,000 to connect and automate the county's parks reservation system. In the past, visitors contacting a park could book pavilions and other amenities only at that park. As soon as the system is available, parks workers at one site will be able to access the county's entire reservations schedule.

Nick Sortal can be reached at nsortal@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7906
Copyright (c) 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Visit Sun-Sentinel.com

Error processing SSI file