Don't get zapped

Living here in Kansas, we have the opportunity to view spectacular thunderstorms, and we are well into our thunderstorm season. The dark, towering clouds shoot bolts of lightning that light up nighttime skies. It's great to watch from a distance. In fact, I must admit that on more than one evening I have taken in a lightning display while sitting in a lawn chair in my back yard--as long as the storms were well away from my perch.

Unfortunately, while they are interesting to watch, thunderstorms also carry tremendous destructive force in the form of high winds, hail, tornadoes and lightning. Those of you in Gulf States, along the Southeast Coast and in the Midwest know this all too well. Cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are most frequent in these areas, most of which receive about 10 flashes per square mile per year. Parts of Central Florida experience the highest lightning-flash density, some of which receive up to 30 flashes per square mile per year. That's the reason that more people are killed by lightning in Florida and Texas-particularly on golf courses-than in any other states. All the open ground combined with golfers carrying lightning rods (clubs) and the intricate web of irrigation signal wires and controllers laid out over the course probably don't help matters either.

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You don't have to be directly struck by lightning to be injured. Lightning can be conducted through the ground, metal pipes and electrical, telephone and irrigation-system signal lines. I know this from experience. I learned the hard way during one lightning event that fried my computer. Lightning struck a tree in my front lawn and traveled into the house through the phone line to my computer. I thought I was covered by simply unplugging the power cord, but I hadn't thought about the phone line.

Aside from computers, lightning damages between 90 and 120 golf-course-irrigation systems each year. An irrigation system's wiring and the system components, such as pumps, central controllers and satellites to which it connects, are particularly susceptible to electrical surges caused by lightning. You can't always be there to unplug everything with every storm, but there are ways that you can protect your system. Learn about techniques and products for "Protecting your irrigation system from lightning" beginning on page 14.

Whether you are checking your irrigation system wiring for lightning damage or troubleshooting some other wiring problem, you'll find that a multimeter is an indispensable tool. But with all the complexity inherent in the connections throughout most irrigation-wiring arrays, you better have a plan of attack before you begin troubleshooting. In this issue's "How To" department, you will find a step-by-step outline on how to use a multimeter in troubleshooting irrigation wiring. George Crosby, who teaches irrigation-system design, installation and maintenance at the State University of New York, leads you through the steps you'll need to take on page 20.

Have you ever turned on your irrigation system and found a clogged sprinkler head that was gurgling water like a drinking fountain rather than spurting it like it's supposed to? For those of you in areas where sandy soil is prevalent, I'm sure this is a frequent occurrence. Irrigation-system filtration is a solution to this problem. Find out what's available and how they work in "Equipment Options: Irrigation-filtration systems" on page 26.

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