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Introducing: Thor, UT’s Lightning Guard

Bianca Otranto/The Minaret


Ever notice a loud siren blaring while walking on campus?  Hearing the blast out of nowhere, one may not know what to think. New students on campus may construct many reasons in their heads as to why there is a siren going off – an ambulance, a derailed train, maybe even a bomb threat. Students from out of state may not be aware that this system, called THOR GUARD is warning them of a potential lighting strike. Sounding somewhat similar to a foghorn, THOR GUARD, is a computerized system that predicts the probability of a lightning strike within 8 to 20 minutes before the strike occurs.

Bianca Otranto, a freshman forensic science major, was alarmed the first time she hear the sirens.

“It was weird at first, but now I use the siren as a way to know when to get my umbrella out,” Otranto said. “Many students do not know about Thor. Many do not take cover when they hear Thor.”

A lot of students, especially freshmen, are aware of the siren but don’t know of its location or how they should react to it.

“I didn’t realize that there was a detector on the top corner of the library,” said Ali Medico, freshman business major.

Medico explained that one day when she was walking by with her friend, they jumped and screamed in response to hearing the sirens.

“Coming from another state that doesn’t have a lightning detection system, I didn’t understand what it meant or how the different numbers of the noise represented different things,” said Alysha Assaf, freshman education major. “It would have been helpful to know before arriving on campus.”

THOR GUARD is a rooftop system that consists of three units located throughout the campus. According to Cynthia Ezell, director of business services, the system can be found on the roofs of the Macdonald-Kelce Library, R.K. Bailey Arts Studio, and the Riverside building.

The UT website states that the system is 97 percent accurate within a two-mile radius.

When weather conditions are likely to produce lightning, a 15 second siren will sound and strobe lights will be set off. It is strongly recommended that all students and staff stop what they are doing and take cover until there is no longer a threat. Good places to take cover when hearing the lightning detection sirens can be inside a building or in a motor vehicle with the windows closed.

If in the midst of a lightning threat with no sufficient shelter, NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) advises that one steer clear of trees, hills, and bodies of water. While indoors during a thunderstorm, NOAA suggests staying off of corded phones and computers, as this would put one in contact with electricity. They also suggest avoiding showering during a lightning threat because electrical currents can travel through pipes. Once the lightning threat ceases, the strobe lights on THOR GUARD’s systems will shut off and there will be a five second continuous horn to let those on campus know the coast is clear.

According to the NOAA, there has been an average of 51 lightning related fatalities annually in the United States.  An article from News Channel 8 (WFLA), said that this year Florida is the top state for lighting deaths. So far in 2016, nine people have been killed by lightning in Florida alone. Although many feel that getting struck by lightning is just as likely as winning the lottery, being in Tampa Bay, this is not something to take a chance with.

To check the atmospheric conditions and possibility of lightning on campus at any time, THOR GUARD’s radar is posted on the university’s website under campus safety’s tab. There, you can also listen to samples of the system’s red alert and all clear sounds. A live sensor is also featured on the campus safety page. The sensor gives a lightning hazard level (from one to nine) that can be used to determine the chance of lightning on campus. A level one hazard means that there is a 10% chance of a lightning strike whereas, a level nine means there is a 90% chance of a lightning strike, according to UT’s website.  

Cara Adipietro can be reached at

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