Advance with MUSC Health

Predicting Lightning: Why Athletic Trainers Need — and Are Securing — a Solution

Advance With MUSC Health
March 02, 2023
Lightning over the Ravenel Bridge at night.

Lightning is a constant worry and concern for an athletic trainer, and the uncertainty of lightning makes it a top concern for the safety of the athletes and the fans in the stands. Here, MUSC Health Sports Medicine Athletic Trainer Gianni R. Paglia ATC, SCAT talks about a solution to (and grant for) predicting lightning and keeping people safe. 

How We’ve Always Predicted Lightning (and Why It’s Flawed)

Over the years you have seen athletic trainers use the flash-to-bang method to determine how far out the radius is for a lightning strike. As research and technology advanced, the flash-to-bang method was phased out, and then the use of weather applications on the phone began to be utilized. 

As I conducted my research, I found many flaws with the use of weather applications. The problem arose that these applications are not accurate in every location. Cellular devices utilize one weather tower that is located central to the surrounding area and this tower can be one mile away or 10 miles away; this can ultimately affect the accuracy of the detection of lightning in the area where the athletes and fans are at potential risk. 

Secondly, the applications detect lightning after the strike; they do not predict the strike before it happens. This fact is concerning because who is to say the first strike isn't at the venue where the sport is being held? 

Lastly, every weather application has different data and displays the data differently. Everyone knows sometimes the athletic trainer may not be the head coach's favorite person due to lightning delays. Through personal experience, I've had coaches question my authority and decisions because their weather application displayed something different than what my weather application said. These problems always made me question, ‘Is there a better way of reading and interpreting the data of lightning?’. 

The Solution to Accurate Predicting Lightning

Through extensive research, I found an answer to all of the flaws I’ve listed. Thor Guard Inc. manufactures lightning prediction systems that can be seen on display across the country at colleges, professional venues and even military bases. More specifically, Thor Guards' newest system, the TG360, measures static electromagnetic waves in the air and factors in the probability of if and when a lightning strike is going to happen.

How It Works

The system utilizes flashing lights and train horn-like blasters to alarm the fans and athletes to seek cover. Within the controls of the system, you can change the prediction radius to your local guidelines and alter the amount of time the horn enacts before lighting is predicted to happen. 

Additionally, the newest system offers Thor Guard’s latest addition, the GENS (Guardian Emergency Notification System), which allows the local sheriff's department and other emergency-related departments to tap into the system and send out an alert to all parents and locals in the nearby area that could be affected. This system is designed for such situations as active shooters, bomb threats, and missing children. 

In collaboration with Lewisville’s athletic director, Warren Pemberton, MUSC Health Sports Medicine secured a $26,000 grant from the Lutz foundation to fund the TG360. This grant is awarded yearly and after discussions with my fellow colleagues in the Chester and Lancaster school district, they will apply for this grant in the coming years so they can also mitigate lightning and related injuries to athletes and fans. 

We anticipate having the TG360 installed at Lewisville High School prior to March 1st of 2023. I’m hopeful in the coming years that the Chester County school district will have one of these systems at every high school, middle school and elementary school.