Meteorologists, or atmospheric scientists, study weather conditions and forecast weather changes. By analyzing weather maps covering large geographic areas and related charts, like upper-air maps and soundings, they can predict the movement of fronts, precipitation, and pressure areas. They forecast such data as temperature, winds, precipitation, cloud cover, and flying conditions. To predict future weather patterns and to develop increased accuracy in weather study and forecasting, meteorologists conduct research on such subjects as atmospheric electricity, clouds, precipitation, hurricanes, and data collected from weather satellites. Other areas of research used to forecast weather may include ocean currents and temperature. There are about 7,400 atmospheric scientists employed in the United States.
Meteorologist Career History
Meteorology is an observational science: the study of the atmosphere, weather, and climate. The basic meteorological instruments were all invented hundreds of years ago. Galileo invented the thermometer in 1593 and Evangelista Torricelli invented the barometer in 1643. Simultaneous comparison and study of weather was impossible until the telegraph was invented. Observations of the upper atmosphere from balloons and airplanes started after World War I. Not until World War II, however, was great financial support given to the development of meteorology. During the war a very clear-cut relationship was established between the effectiveness of new weapons and the atmosphere.
More accurate instruments for measuring and observing weather conditions, new systems of communication, and the development of satellites, radar, and high-speed computers to process and analyze weather data have helped meteorologists and the general public to get a better understanding of the atmosphere.
Meteorologist Job Description
Although most people think of weather forecasting when they think of meteorology, meteorologists do many other kinds of work also. They research subjects ranging from radioactive fallout to the dynamics of hurricanes. They study the ozone levels in the stratosphere. Some teach in colleges and universities. A few meteorologists work in radio and televised weather forecasting programs. Networks usually hire their own staff of meteorologists.
Meteorologists generally specialize in one branch of this rapidly developing science; however, the lines of specialization are not clearly drawn and meteorologists often work in more than one area of specialization. The largest group of specialists are called operational meteorologists, the technical name for weather forecasters, who interpret current weather information, such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind velocity, reported by observers, weather satellites, weather radar, and remote sensors in many parts of the world. They use this data to make short- and long-range forecasts for given regions. Operational meteorologists also use Doppler radar, which detects rotational patterns in violent thunderstorms, in order to better predict tornadoes, thunderstorms, and flash floods, as well as their direction and intensity. Other specialists include climatologists, who study past records to discover weather patterns for a given region. The climatologist compiles, makes statistical analyses of, and interprets data on temperature, sunlight, rainfall, humidity, and wind for a particular area over a long period of time for use in weather forecasting, aviation, agriculture, commerce, and public health.
Dynamic meteorologists study the physical laws related to air currents. Physical meteorologists study the physical nature of the atmosphere including its chemical composition and electrical, acoustical, and optical properties. Environmental meteorologists study air pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, water shortages, and other environmental problems and write impact statements about their findings. Industrial meteorologists work in a variety of private industries, focusing their expertise on such problems as smoke control and air pollution. Synoptic meteorologists find new ways to forecast weather events by using mathematical models and computers. Flight meteorologists fly in aircraft to study hurricanes and other weather phenomena.
The tools used by meteorologists include weather balloons, instrumented aircraft, radar, satellites, and computers. Instrumented aircraft are high-performance airplanes used to observe many kinds of weather. Radar is used to detect rain and snow, as well as other weather. Doppler radar can measure wind speed and direction. It has become the best tool for predicting severe weather. Satellites use advanced remote sensing to measure temperature, wind, and other characteristics of the atmosphere at many levels. The entire surface of the earth can be observed with satellites.
The introduction of computers has changed research and forecasting of weather. The fastest computers are used in atmospheric research, as well as large-scale weather forecasting. Computers are used to produce simulations of upcoming weather.
Meteorologist Career Requirements
You can best prepare for a college major in meteorology by taking high school courses in mathematics, geography, computer science, physics, and chemistry. A good command of English is essential because you must be able to describe complex weather events and patterns in a clear and concise way.
Although some beginners in meteorological work have majored in subjects related to meteorology, the usual minimal requirement for work in this field is a bachelor’s degree in meteorology. For entry-level positions in the federal government, you must have a bachelor’s degree (not necessarily in meteorology) with at least 24 semester hours of meteorology courses, including six hours in the analysis and prediction of weather systems and two hours of remote sensing of the atmosphere or instrumentation. Other required courses include calculus, physics, and other physical science courses, such as statistics, computer science, chemistry, physical oceanography, and physical climatology. Advanced graduate training in meteorology and related areas is required for research and teaching positions, as well as for other high-level positions in meteorology. Doctorates are quite common among high-level personnel.
Because the armed forces require the services of so many meteorologists, they have programs to send recently commissioned, new college graduates to civilian universities for intensive work in meteorology.
Certification or Licensing
The American Meteorological Society provides certification for consulting meteorologists and awards a seal of approval to recognize competence in radio and television weather forecasting. To earn the certification, a meteorologist must be recommended by three associates, pass a written examination, and pass an oral examination before a national board of examiners.
To be a successful meteorologist, you must be able to work well under pressure in order to meet deadlines and plot severe weather systems. You must be able to communicate complex theories and events, orally and in writing. You must be able to absorb pertinent information quickly and pass it on to coworkers and the public in a clear, calm manner. Meteorologists who work in broadcasting must have especially good communication skills in order to deal with the pressure and deadlines of the newsroom.
Exploring Meteorologist Career
There are several ways that you can explore career possibilities in meteorology. Each year, for example, the federal government’s National Weather Service accepts a limited number of student volunteers, mostly college students but also a few high school students. Some universities offer credit for a college student’s volunteer work in connection with meteorology courses. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration can provide details about the volunteer program. The armed forces can also be a means of gaining experience in meteorology.
Arrange for an informational interview with a meteorologist who works at a local airport or college offering classes in meteorology. Your high school guidance counselor should be able to help you set up this meeting. You can also get additional information from organizations, such as those listed at the end of this article.
Atmospheric scientists hold about 7,400 jobs, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The largest employer of meteorologists is the federal government. Most of its 2,900 civilian meteorologists work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Weather Service stations across the country. The remainder of the meteorologists worked mainly in research and development or management. Additionally, several hundred civilian meteorologists work at the Department of Defense. Many opportunities are also available in the armed forces and in educational settings. There are hundreds of meteorologists teaching at institutions of higher education.
Other meteorologists work for private weather consulting firms, engineering service firms, commercial airlines, radio and television stations, computer and data processing services, and companies that design and manufacture meteorological instruments and aircraft and missiles.
You can enter the field of meteorology in a number of ways. For example, new graduates may find positions through placement offices at the colleges and universities where they have studied. National Weather Service volunteers may receive permanent positions as meteorologists upon completing their formal training. Members of the armed forces who have done work in meteorology often assume positions in meteorology when they return to civilian life. In fact, the armed forces give preference in the employment of civilian meteorologists to former military personnel with appropriate experience. Individuals interested in teaching and research careers generally assume these positions upon receiving their doctorates in meteorology or related subjects.
Other federal employers of meteorologists include the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Agriculture.
Meteorologists employed by the National Weather Service advance according to civil service regulations. After meeting certain experience and education requirements, they advance to classifications that carry more pay and, often, more responsibility. Opportunities available to meteorologists employed by airlines are more limited. A few of these workers, however, do advance to such positions as flight dispatcher and to administrative and supervisory positions. A few meteorologists go into business for themselves by establishing their own weather consulting services. Meteorologists who are employed in teaching and research in colleges and universities advance through academic promotions or by assuming administrative positions in the university setting.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median annual earnings of atmospheric scientists in 2004 were $71,450. Salaries ranged from less than $35,480 to more than $107,690. The average salary for meteorologists employed by the federal government was about $78,160 in 2004. Meteorologists employed by other professional and technical services earn significantly less, with a median salary of $44,010, while those working for scientific and development research companies earned median annual salaries similar to those paid by the federal government, $75,140. Other employers and the median salaries include: colleges and universities, $64,200; and management and technical consulting services, $72,610.
In broadcast meteorology, salaries vary greatly. According to a 2005 salary survey by the Radio-Television News Directors Association, television weathercasters earned salaries that ranged from $10,000 to $300,000, with an average of $61,100. The U.S. Department of Labor reports the median annual salary for meteorologists working in radio and television broadcasting in 2004 was $77,250.
Weather stations operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week. This means that some meteorologists, often on a rotating basis, work evenings and weekends. Although most of these weather stations are at airports located near cities, a number of weather stations are located in isolated and remote areas. One of the most remote meteorological posts is in the Antarctic. However, it provides some of the most interesting and relevant data in meteorology. In these places, the life of a meteorologist can be quiet and lonely. Operational meteorologists often work overtime during weather emergencies such as hurricanes. Meteorologists who work in college and university settings enjoy the same working conditions as other professors.
Meteorologist Career Outlook
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment for meteorologists should grow about as fast as the average through 2014. The National Weather Service (NWS) has hired all the meteorologists it needs to staff its recently upgraded weather forecasting stations.
The agency has no plans to build more weather stations or increase the number of meteorologists in existing stations for many years.
Opportunities for atmospheric scientists in private industry, however, are expected to be better than in the federal government through 2014. Private weather consulting firms are able to provide more detailed information than the NWS to weather-sensitive industries, such as farmers, commodity investors, radio and television stations, and utilities, transportation, and construction firms.