Severe Weather Safety

Severe weather can happen any time of year, any time of day.  Climatology records show that the majority of severe weather in Eastern North Carolina occurs between March and August.  Our area is also more likely to see severe weather occur between the hours of 2 pm and 10 pm.  ECU has experienced everything from thunderstorms, lightning, tornadoes, damaging high winds, and flash flooding.

Those who have spent a summer in the Greenville area understand that thunderstorms can pop-up in the afternoon or evening hours without much notice, often passing within an hour.  Although they are short-lived, they are still dangerous, especially with excessive cloud-to-ground lightning.  Occasionally we experience a severe thunderstorm, with damaging winds (in excess of 58 mph), hail (> 1 inch), and possible tornadoes.  It is important that ECU faculty, staff, and students need to become familiar with the Greenville climate and check weather forecasts frequently throughout the severe weather season.  The forecast and conditions can change often.

Difference Between a Watch and a Warning

Knowing the difference between these two terms can save lives. The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) are responsible for issuing many of the watches and warnings we receive regarding hazardous weather conditions. Below are the definitions of a generic watch and warning (for more information, visit


  • The potential exists / conditions are conducive
  • Issued hours in advance
  • Keep a weather eye on the horizon


  • The hazard is imminent or occurring
  • Issued minutes in advance
  • Take action now!

How The University Notifies Faculty, Staff, And Students

Once the University has decided to close, cancel or delay classes, the notification is sent through ECU Alert. This information can be found on the University home page, emergency hotline, campus email, and SMS text messages (users will only receive text if subscribed).

When the NWS issues a tornado warning for Greenville, ECU must be mentioned or within the warning polygon, ECU Police immediately send out an ECU Alert notification, to include all systems. When the NWS issues a severe thunderstorm warning for Greenville, ECU must be mentioned or within the warning polygon, ECU Police will send an ECU Alert notification if there are athletic or large outdoor events taking place. When the warnings expire, ECU Police will send an all clear message through the same ECU Alert systems so folks can return to normal operations.

Severe Weather Safety Tips

Thunderstorms and Lightning

Did You Know? Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the core of the storm. Consider postponing activities when thunderstorms are forecast.

  • When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!
    • Practice safe sheltering from lightning (see below)
    • Avoid contact with wired electrical equipment (wireless is OK)
    • Avoid contact with plumbing
    • Stay away from windows and doors
  • After a severe storm has passed, continue to monitor weather resources for emergency information or subsequent storms.

Preferably sturdy / permanent
Must be hard-topped
Crouch in low-lying area
Enclosed Structure
Enclosed Metal Vehicle
If Caught Away from Shelter

Tornadoes and High Wind

Did You Know? Pitt County alone has seen 16 tornadoes in the last 14 years, ranging from EF0 (65 – 85 mph wind gusts) to EF2 (111 – 135 mph wind gusts). In the last 3 years, Pitt County has seen winds of up to 75 mph during a severe thunderstorm.

  • Be alert to changing weather conditions, look and listen for approaching storms:
    • Dark (greenish) clouds, large hail, rotating clouds, loud roar (like a train), thunder
    • Be prepared to take shelter immediately
  • Postpone outdoor activities during thunderstorms and secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • After a severe storm has passed, continue to monitor weather resources for emergency information or subsequent storms.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and report them immediately.
  • Help people who may require special assistance and watch your animals closely.

Sturdy, Permanent Structure
  • Go to pre-designated area
    • Safe room, basement, lowest level
    • Center of interior room (closet, bathroom, hallway)
    • Away from corners, windows, doors
    • Get under sturdy table or desk
    • Protect your head and neck
  • Do not open windows

Manufactured Home / Office
  • Get out immediately
  • Go to pre-identified location

Outside with No Shelter
  • If accessible, immediately get into vehicle, buckle seat belt and try to drive to closest sturdy, permanent structure
    • If vehicle is hit by flying debris, pull off road and park
  • Take cover in a stationary vehicle
    • Buckle seat belt and cover your head and neck
  • Lie in an open area noticeably lower than level of roadway (ditch) and cover your head and neck
  • DO NOT get under an overpass or bridge
  • NEVER try to outrun a tornado in an urban or congested area
  • Watch out for flying debris

Flash Flooding and Driving Facts

Did You Know? Flash flooding is responsible for more fatalities than any other storm-related hazard, in fact more than 50% of all flood fatalities are vehicle-related.

Turn Around, Don’t Drown!

  • 6 inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling
  • A foot of water will float many vehicles
  • 2 feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles
  • Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road; depth of water is not always obvious and road beds may be washed out under flood waters
  • Do not drive around a barricade; they are there for your protection
  • Be especially cautious driving at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers