If Hurricane Isaac stays on track, it could mean record-breaking rainfall for the area this weekend.
According to the National Hurricane Center's latest forecast, issued at 8 a.m. Wednesday, the remnants of Issac are expected to enter Illinois late Saturday or early Sunday.
Kirk Huettl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln, said current projections show 3 to 6 inches of rain for East Central Illinois. According to the Boneyard Network, the rainest day for Champaign-Urbana occurred Aug. 12, 1993, when 6.84 inches fell. Huettl cautioned that the storm could change direction and take its rainfall elsewhere.
That kind of rain could help Champaign-Urbana catch up with average rainfall, but it won't necessarily end the drought here or in drier areas.
Champaign-Urbana is about 4 inches behind in rain since June 1, and about 8 inches behind for the entire year, Huettl said. The area has been downgraded from extreme to severe drought, Huettl said, and that downgrade doesn't include Sunday's more than 2 inches of rain.
However, areas south are still very dry, Huettl said. For example, Jacksonville needs 20 inches of rain to catch up to the average.
"If we get those kind of widespread rains, it will put a dent in it but not totally eliminate" the drought, Huettl said.
But 6 inches of rain could still cause flooding locally, especially if it comes in a short amount of time, said John Collins, the operations manager for the city of Urbana.
Both his employees and city workers in Champaign are preparing for that rain.
Collins said his employees will be checking sewer lines later this week, especially in low-lying areas. They'll be making sure sewer lines are open, grates are clean and streets are clear of debris that could clog storm sewers.
"We have two street sweepers," he said. "We may have both of them out Thursday and Friday," especially in areas with many mature trees or that tend to collect trash.
If the rain is spread out, it shouldn't be a problem for the city's sewers, Collins said.
However, Urbana's sewers aren't equipped to deal with 6 inches in a short amount of time, he said.
"Do not drive through flooded streets," he said. Doing so and getting stuck will hamper emergency vehicles trying to get through, as well as his department's efforts to get storm drains flowing.
In Champaign, the city started running all three of its street sweepers Tuesday, said Kris Koester, administrative services supervisor for Champaign Public Works, and is focusing on the area between Bradley Avenue, Windsor Road, Mattis Avenue and Neil Street.
They're also hoping to minimize debris that could block storm drains and are cleaning the viaducts.
Outside of that area, the city is checking inlets where flooding has been a problem before, Koester said, and city engineers are checking pumps in drainage basins and in the Washington Street viaduct.
"As we move forward, we're putting crews on standby to clear storm drains if people report them clogged," Koester said. The city may also pump water out of drainage basins if it looks like they're going to flood, as well.
A weekend rainfall could either help or hurt local farmers, depending on how much the area receives and how much wind accompanies it, said Susie Harbaugh, the assistant manager at the Champaign County Farm Bureau.
"No one needs a 6-inch deluge," Harbaugh said. "I don't think you really want that, but we sure would be grateful for anything we could get in a helpful, gentle shower that would total 2 or 3 inches."
Rain now is not going to affect corn yield, Harbaugh said, but it could affect soybeans that aren't yet mature, she said.
If high winds come with the rain, though, Harbaugh said they could be devastating to corn stalks already under stress from a hard summer. Heavy winds could knock them over and make things difficult for harvest, she said.
However, rain could be good for restoring moisture to the soil as the weather cools down and farmers look to next year.
"Getting some rainfall will help bring the water table back up and help restore it," Harbaugh said.