It’s Wednesday practice at the South African Open Championship and there’s a storm on the horizon at Glendower Golf Club, which means evacuation vehicles need to be on standby.
Everyone is waiting on the word of weather specialist Evert Scholtz, who’s staring intently at his laptop’s forecasting program. Any lightning strike within 20 kilometres of the course could force a suspension in play.
“It’s dissipating,” he says. “It looks like we’ll be okay.”
The staff in the tournament office show visible relief. Play will continue for today.
Ekurhuleni in the summer is thunderstorm territory. The hot, still days cause vertical lift in the air that leads to the formation of cumulo nimbus clouds, or as the aviation crews call them, charlie bravos. These high, billowing clouds deliver thunderstorms that have the power to put a golf tournament on hold.
Throughout each day Scholtz monitors the probability of storms through a weather model that includes data on humidity, surface and upper-level winds, temperature changes and atmospheric pressure. It’s a solid way of predicting the likelihood and timing of storm formation.
Once the clouds roll in it becomes a different scenario. A radar map on his computer overlayed by two concentric rings and the Thor Guard lightning protection unit become the weather man’s best assets. The two sets of equipment will enable him to predict the level of danger faced by those out on the course.
“Once the storms start developing you stop worrying about models,” said Scholtz. “Your eyes stay on the radar and lightning detector.
“I use the two devices in conjunction. When the detector goes from all clear to caution it’s time to send out the drivers. The outside ring on my radar indicates a 15-mile radius around the course, and when the lightning strikes start to show on that line we should be ready to clear the course. Once the detector heads to red alert then we blow the hooters and suspend play.”
Dangerous weather is a permanent consideration at Glendower, where a hailstorm ravaged the BMG Classic three years ago. The forecast for this week in Ekurhuleni is showing storms on Friday, but the professionals will be able compete while Scholtz keeps watch for them.