Chat with Chief Stone: Severe weather

The University of Illinois Police Department is here to keep you safe, and it provides a number of different services that can help you while you are on campus. This month, we’re speaking with Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Craig Stone about some severe weather we might expect heading into the spring and summer season and how you can keep yourself safe.

What kind of severe weather might we experience during the spring and summer in Illinois?

In Illinois, severe thunderstorms are very common. In many cases, these storms will not pose a serious safety risk. Some of these storms, however, are accompanied by very strong winds, lightning and tornadoes. These storms have some life-threatening potential if they are strong enough, and you will need to know what to do to protect yourself. Flooding is also a risk, although most of the flooding we see in the Champaign-Urbana area is more of an inconvenience than a safety threat.

How will we know if one of these storms is imminent?

Our county (and most others in the Midwest) is equipped with tornado sirens. You typically hear these being tested on the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. In addition to the sirens, messages about tornado warnings are sent on television, radio and there are also a lot of weather apps you can download for your phone that will send a notification if there is a severe weather warning in our area. If the storm poses a risk to the immediate campus area, we will notify you via Illini-Alert. You can sign up to receive Illini-Alert emergency text messages at

What should I do if there’s a tornado warning?

If you hear sirens or receive a notification, you need to get indoors immediately. Once indoors, you should get to the lowest floor in your building and find an interior space away from doors and windows. The basement is the best option. However, if you live in a building or apartment without a basement, then bathrooms or an interior hallway usually provide the best protection. If you are driving on the highway when you receive the notification, do not stop under a bridge or overpass – these structures actually increase your risk of injury. You should find a building in which to take shelter, or if you can’t find a building, get as low as you can.

What should I do if there is flooding?

Generally, it’s a good idea to stay off the roads in case of flooding. Throughout Champaign, there are a lot of underpasses that go under the railroad which runs just to the west of the campus area. Do not use these underpasses if they are flooded. Never drive through standing water, because it is impossible to tell how deep it is. It only takes a couple inches of water for your vehicle to get washed off the road or immobilized.

What’s the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?

Generally, a tornado watch means that conditions exist that could produce a tornado, and you should be ready to act if a warning is issued. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted and you should act immediately. The same goes for thunderstorm watches and warnings.

Visit the National Weather Service website for more information about severe weather, watches and warnings.