A weather alert about possible flooding prompted a debate among viewers over whether a TV station meant areal or aerial.
Spring and summer bring an increased chance for stormy weather. Storms can mean downpours and, in some cases, flood risks. A South Carolina TV station recently tackled a question it received during severe weather coverage. It sent alert messages about possible flooding: But did it mean to warn of areal or aerial flooding?
It turns out both are real words. But while you’ve probably heard of one of them, the other might not be familiar.
WYFF-TV in Greenville, South Carolina, recently address viewer comments about a flood watch the National Weather Service declared. Like every other station in the world, WYFF uses “crawls” that automatically broadcast watches and warnings about severe weather. It is those crawls, along with graphics used during weathercasts, the station says, that caused the problem:
WYFF News 4 has been getting flooded (pun intended) with complaints from well-meaning viewers who believe they have spotted an error in the ticker.
The alert bar sometimes states that an “areal flood warning” is in effect for certain areas.
Having worked in television for 32 years and having received comments from “well-meaning viewers,” I can only imagine how rude some of them must be.
But should the flood warning be areal or aerial?
If you consult Merriam-Webster, you’ll find both words are perfectly valid.
When we hear the word, most probably assume it’s the latter. Aerial refers to something from the sky. In fact, when we see footage of flooding, some of that footage may well be aerial footage shot from a helicopter or a drone that is flying over the scene.
Those of us of a certain age remember when we had an aerial mounted on roof of our home so we could pull in over-the-air broadcasts. That, of course, was before the days of cable television, cord cutting and streaming television.
Areal, on the other hand, simply refers to an area or location. When the National Weather Service issues an advisory about possible areal flooding, they’re talking about flooding within that area.
It’s a word most of us don’t use because most of us never need to use it. When it comes to a weather alert, it can even seem a bit redundant. If you hear of an “areal flood watch” for Greenville County, you’d probably assume there’s a chance of flooding within Greenville County. While that’s true, the flood possibility is more likely only in certain areas within the county.
Still, if the watch covers only portions of that county, people who live in the county should likely prepare to encounter flooding during a flood watch, especially if the weather service isn’t going to get more specific than that.
The real question is, why can’t stations just remove the word?
It’s a perfectly valid question. There is a perfectly valid answer.
To get the information to the viewers as quickly as possible, stations use automated alert technology. When the National Weather Service issues an alert like this, station equipment immediately broadcasts it. No meteorologist has to press a button or even copyedit the message. It goes out as soon as it’s received.
The good thing about that is that you at home get the information about possible weather dangers as soon as it can possibly be sent out.
The bad thing, of course, is that when meteorologists use scientific terms like areal, you can get caught up in the unfamiliar word and miss the point of the alert.
Now that you know that areal is a real word and not a typo, I’ll hope you don’t miss the bigger point of an areal flood watch when you see one!