Lightning prediction system takes burden off parents, coaches

A lightning prediction system now watches over the huge Bielenberg Sports Center in Woodbury. Bob Collins | MPR News

If you’ve ever had kids in youth sports, perhaps you’ve been in this position.

The sky is growing darker, there are thunderheads nearby, and maybe you even see some lightning off in the distance. And there’s your kid with a metal bat in his hands.

You want to say something to the coach, but none of the other parents is pointing out that, perhaps, it’s a bad idea to be in a wide-open field with thunderstorms approaching. So you sit quietly, hoping your luck holds.

This gizmo is going to take the burden off parents and coaches.

It’s one of several that the Woodbury has installed around its ginormous Bielenberg Sports Center, and also its Eagle Valley Golf Course. It’s going to tell people when it’s a bad idea to be outside.

“Even up to two weeks ago we had people commenting that there was lightning in the area and the refs at two (soccer) games stopped play while a third kept going,” Mike Richardson, Woodbury’s emergency services commander said this afternoon.

He says the city’s parks and recreation director asked the city to investigate systems in 2011 and the technology has rapidly changed in the last few years.

The system — called ThorGuard — doesn’t detect lightning, it predicts it.

Each “lightning prediction system” operates independently of other ones. Measuring the static electricity in the air, it will warn people whenever lightning is likely within 3 miles. When it is, a signal will trigger sirens scattered around the golf course, baseball, soccer and football fields.

When the storm has sufficiently passed, the system will trigger three short siren blasts to resume play.

The system cost about $55,000, according to city officials, with a FEMA grant paying for about 80 percent of it.

It went live at the city’s golf course last month. It’s nearly ready for action at Bielenberg.