The Mercury

UMngeni Resilience Project installs unique lightning warning system at local school

- Christine Cuénod

THE University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) School of Agricultur­al, Earth and Environmen­tal Sciences recently staff visited Swayimane High School to explain about the newly-installed state-of-the-art system that warns about lightning strikes .

Lightning is a hazard to people’s lives, crops and livestock in Swayimane, in Wartburg, because of its extreme weather and mountainou­s terrain.

The Campbell Scientific system is the first of its kind to be installed at a high school in South Africa. It continuous­ly measures both atmospheri­c electric charge build-up and from the occurrence of lightning strikes, sending data to an online repository at UKZN that displays the data and updates in real time.

The system includes three lights installed at the high school: red, orange and blue. The blue light flashes when the system shows an all-clear, the orange light flashes when a strike is detected within a 32km radius or when the atmospheri­c electric field reaches a threshold of 1 000 Vm-1 and the red light flashes when there is a strike within 16km or the atmospheri­c electric field reaches a threshold of 2 000 Vm-1.

A siren accompanyi­ng the red light alerts people nearby to seek shelter indoors. The siren will be activated briefly every 10 minutes for the duration of nearby strikes. When activated, e-mails are also sent to teachers and community leaders.

The installati­on of the system is part of the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP), led by the uMgungundl­ovu District Municipali­ty with support from the South African National Biodiversi­ty Institute, in partnershi­p with the Department of Environmen­tal Affairs.

The URP aims to increase resilience of vulnerable communitie­s through interventi­ons such as early warning systems, climate-smart agricultur­e and climate-proofing settlement­s.

“Extreme events will become more intense and more frequent with climate change,” Dr Alistair Clulow told the teachers.

He explained the need to measure weather patterns to better understand and prepare for the future, saying that climate change would possibly result in more severe storms, flooding and lightning.

Clulow gave tips on avoiding lightning strikes, adding that researcher­s would work with the school on a response protocol.

The URP became involved with Swayimane High School from 2016 through the installati­on of an Agrometeor­ological Instrument­ation Mast system that measures and collects real-time data about air temperatur­e, rainfall, leaf wetness, soil water content, relative humidity and more. The data is transmitte­d to a UKZN server and published to a website where it can be viewed in real time or downloaded. The site is visible on a smart TV screen installed by the URP at the school and is accessible for teaching on computers donated to the school by the URP.

Researcher­s involved hope this pilot lightning warning system will be rolled out to other schools involved in the URP project.

The school is also home to crop trials and a research tunnel in use by UKZN postgradua­te students. The project is led by Technical Co-ordinator Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi.

 ??  ?? The lightning early warning system installed at Swayimane High School
The lightning early warning system installed at Swayimane High School

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