CHAMPAIGN — Utility and local government officials are preparing for a possible history-making rainfall this weekend as the remnants of Tropical Storm Isaac rumble across central Illinois.
The National Weather Service in Lincoln reported Wednesday that the area including Champaign-Urbana and Danville has the "maximum potential" for rainfall, and that measurements could exceed 6 inches during the period between Friday night and Sunday.
A more precise projection by the weather service's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center included Champaign, Urbana and Danville in an area of central Illinois and western Indiana that could get more than 8 inches of rain.
That would be a Champaign-Urbana record, according to state climatologist Jim Angel of the Illinois State Water Survey. The local 24-hour record for rainfall is 5.32 inches on Aug. 12, 1993. The two-day record is Aug. 11-12, 1993, with 6.88 inches. The three-day record is 7.14 inches, from Aug. 10-12, 1993.
The weather service said the heaviest rainfall would occur Saturday and Sunday, particularly on Saturday afternoon when there might also be high gusts.
Those conditions could wreak havoc with the scheduled 11 a.m. Illinois-Western Michigan football game at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium.
UI officials are keeping a careful eye on the weather forecast, said Kent Brown, the university's assistant athletic director for media relations. The safety of fans and players is of the utmost importance, he said.
"You don't want anything to happen to anyone that is there," Brown said. "All precautions will be taken to make sure that's the case."
There's an evacuation plan in place, and safe areas have been identified for fans. They include the Great East and West Halls and the towers at Memorial Stadium, the nearby Activities and Recreation Center, the Assembly Hall and the UI's indoor practice facility.
If the stadium is evacuated, fans will be directed to those areas based on where they're sitting, Brown said.
Before the game starts, it's the UI's decision on delaying the game in the event of hazardous weather. Once the game starts, it's the field officials' call on whether to proceed.
Before Saturday's game, Brown said, event management staff will decide whether to continue with the streetfest scheduled for Saturday morning. They'll also decide whether to open the university's grassy lots for parking and tailgating.
"Some (lots) could be closed off and not used," Brown said. "Those are all decisions that could be made as we go along."
In Champaign, the city's public works crews already have been sweeping streets and clearing viaducts of debris, said Kris Koester, the city's administrative services supervisor. On Friday morning the department has scheduled a preparedness meeting to review plans.
"We are approaching it with a sense that if this does what they say, we may have people in here and out on the streets, trying to clear flooded areas as quickly as possible. We're playing it day by day," said Koester. "We'll make more decisions on Friday, regarding the outlook and whether we'll need to place people on standby."
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District already has contingency plans in place, said Assistant Director Tom Costello.
"We just have to have folks out monitoring what is happening on the streets," he said. "It's really not a whole lot different than a snowstorm. What do we do in a snowstorm? We have people out monitoring the street to make sure that we don't send vehicles where they can't go. That's probably what we'll be doing here too."
John Carlson, director of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, said he planned to closely monitor weather reports over the next few days.
"If a storm actually occurs or if the National Weather Service declares a watch or a warning, then we will activate the emergency operations center" in east Urbana, he said. "If it just turns out to be a normal rain, we'll just go about our business although we'll be on heightened availability."
The Ameren utility companies say they're prepared to ensure a timely response should the storm create service problems in Illinois and Missouri.
"The Illinois emergency operations center team is always actively monitoring weather conditions," said Richard Mark, president and CEO of Ameren Illinois. "As we learn more about how the remnants of Hurricane Isaac may impact our service territory, we will plan our response accordingly."
The last time remnants of a hurricane made their way into Ameren's service territory was Hurricane Ike in September 2008.
Customers are encouraged to create or update a storm kit in preparation of any future storm. Storm kit items could include: emergency telephone numbers, flashlights and fresh batteries, a battery-powered radio, a supply of bottled water, nonperishable foods that don't require heating, a hand-operated can opener, a first-aid kit and medications, an ice cooler for temporary food or medication storage, and blankets, bedding or sleeping bags.
More storm kit tips can be found on at http://www.ameren.com/outageresources/Pages/YourStormKit.aspx.
The most important safety rule, according to the utility, is to stay clear of downed power lines and call Ameren Illinois at 800-755-5000 or 911 in the event of downed power lines. The utility also warned customers to assume that all downed power lines are energized, and to stay clear of brush, shrubs and trees that may hide downed lines.