A meteorologist could...
|Monitor a drought so states can make drought mitigation plans.||Chase a tornado and gather data to better understand how and why tornadoes form.|
|Track a hurricane to alert people about its path, which could save thousands of lives.||Develop the TV weather forecast to help people plan their daily activities.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||The atmosphere is a blanket of gases, surrounding Earth, that creates our weather. Meteorologists study the measurements and motion of the atmosphere, and changing events within it, so that they can predict the weather. This weather forecasting helps the general public and people who work in industries such as shipping, air transportation, agriculture, fishing, forestry, and water and power better plan for the weather, and reduce human and economic losses.|
|Key Requirements||Fascination with weather-related events, analytical skills, an ability to piece together the big picture from many small measurements, and the ability to communicate scientific results in plain language.|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, physics, computer science, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available, Earth science, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%)|
|Interview||Read an interview with Al Peterlin, a real TV meterologist.|
Training, Other Qualifications
A bachelor's degree in meteorology or atmospheric science, or in a closely related field with courses in meteorology, usually is the minimum educational requirement for an entry-level position as an atmospheric scientist. A master's degree is necessary for some positions, and a PhD degree is required for most basic research positions.
Education and Training
The most direct path to a career in meteorology is an undergraduate program that leads to a bachelor's degree in meteorology or atmospheric science. An alternate path to obtain a position as an entry-level meteorologist with the Federal Government is a bachelor's degree in a related field (such as physics, chemistry, engineering, or mathematics) and at least 24 semester hours in meteorologist/atmospheric sciences courses.
Students should also take courses in subjects that are most relevant to their desired area of specialization. For example, those who wish to become broadcast meteorologists for radio or television stations should develop excellent communication skills through courses in speech, journalism, and related fields. Students interested in air quality work should take courses in chemistry and supplement their technical training with coursework in policy or government affairs. Prospective meteorologists seeking opportunities at weather consulting firms should possess knowledge of business, statistics, and economics, as an increasing emphasis is being placed on long-range seasonal forecasting to assist businesses.
If you are interested in a career in research, a bachelor’s degree in physics, chemistry, engineering, or mathematics provides excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science. A master's or doctoral degree is very important if you plan to go into atmospheric research. If you are interested in the expanding field of global change research, you should take courses in subjects such as oceanography, geophysics, biology, and ecology, in addition to meteorology and basic physical sciences.
Meteorologists are curious about Earth's atmosphere, and why it behaves the way it does. They are intrigued by using the language of mathematics and basic scientific principles to describe atmospheric behavior. They like working in a field of science that has many important applications in human affairs. They enjoy working with sophisticated research tools like supercomputers and satellites.
Nature of the Work
Watch this Dragonfly video interview with a real, storm-chasing meteorologist, who has flown directly into the eyes of six hurricanes.
Atmospheric science is the study of the atmosphere, which is the blanket of air covering Earth. Atmospheric scientists, commonly called meteorologists, study the atmosphere's physical characteristics, motions, and processes, and the way these factors affect the rest of our environment. The best-known application of this knowledge is forecasting the weather. In addition to predicting the weather, atmospheric scientists attempt to identify and interpret climate trends, understand past weather, and analyze today's weather. Weather information and meteorological research are also applied in air-pollution control, agriculture, forestry, air and sea transportation, defense, and the study of possible trends in Earth's climate, such as global warming, droughts, and ozone depletion.
Atmospheric scientists who forecast the weather are known as operational meteorologists; they are the largest group of specialists. These scientists study Earth’s air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind velocity, and they apply physical and mathematical relationships to make short-range and long-range weather forecasts. Their data come from weather satellites, radars, sensors, and stations in many parts of the world. Meteorologists use sophisticated computer models of the world’s atmosphere to make long-term, short-term, and local-area forecasts. More-accurate instruments for measuring and observing weather conditions, as well as high-speed computers to process and analyze weather data, have revolutionized weather forecasting. Using satellite data, climate theory, and sophisticated computer models of the world's atmosphere, meteorologists can more effectively interpret the results of these models to make local-area weather predictions. These forecasts inform not only the general public, but also those who need accurate weather information for both economic and safety reasons, such as the shipping, air transportation, agriculture, fishing, forestry, and utilities industries.
The use of weather balloons—launched a few times a day to measure wind, temperature, and humidity in the upper atmosphere—is currently supplemented by sophisticated atmospheric satellite monitoring equipment that transmits data as frequently as every few minutes. Doppler radar, for example, can detect airflow patterns in violent storm systems, allowing forecasters to better predict thunderstorms, flash floods, tornadoes, and other hazardous winds, and to monitor the direction and intensity of storms.
Some atmospheric scientists work in research. Physical meteorologists, for example, study the atmosphere’s chemical and physical properties; the transmission of light, sound, and radio waves; and the transfer of energy in the atmosphere. They also study factors affecting the formation of clouds, rain, and snow; the dispersal of air pollutants over urban areas; and other weather phenomena, such as the mechanics of severe storms. Synoptic meteorologists develop new tools for weather forecasting, using computers and sophisticated mathematical models of atmospheric activity. Climatologists study climactic variations spanning hundreds or even millions of years. They also may collect, analyze, and interpret past records of wind, rainfall, sunshine, and temperature in specific areas or regions. Their studies are used to design buildings, plan heating and cooling systems, and aid in effective land use and agricultural production. Environmental problems, such as pollution and shortages of fresh water, have widened the scope of the meteorological profession. Environmental meteorologists study these problems and may evaluate and report on air quality for environmental impact statements. Other research meteorologists examine the most effective ways to control or diminish air pollution.
Weather stations are found everywhere—at airports, in or near cities, and in isolated and remote areas. Some atmospheric scientists also spend time observing weather conditions and collecting data from aircraft. Weather forecasters who work for radio or television stations broadcast their reports from station studios, and may work nights and weekends. Meteorologists in smaller weather offices often work alone; in larger ones, they work as part of a team. Those who work for private consulting firms or for companies analyzing and monitoring emissions to improve air quality usually work with other scientists or engineers; fieldwork and travel may be common for these workers.
Most weather stations operate around the clock, seven days a week. Jobs in such facilities usually involve night, weekend, and holiday work, often with rotating shifts. During weather emergencies, such as hurricanes, meteorologists may work overtime. Operational meteorologists also are often under pressure to meet forecast deadlines. Meteorologists who are not involved in forecasting tasks work regular hours, generally 40 hours per week, usually in offices.
On the Job
- Study and interpret data, reports, maps, photographs, and charts to predict long- and short-range weather conditions, using computer models and knowledge of climate theory, physics, and mathematics.
- Broadcast weather conditions, forecasts, and severe weather warnings to the public via television, radio, and the Internet, or provide this information to the news media.
- Gather data from sources, such as surface and upper air stations, satellites, weather bureaus, and radar, for use in meteorological reports and forecasts.
- Prepare forecasts and briefings to meet the needs of industry, business, government, and other groups.
- Apply meteorological knowledge to problems in areas including agriculture, pollution control, and water management, and to issues such as global warming or ozone depletion.
- Conduct basic or applied meteorological research into the processes and determinants of atmospheric phenomena, weather, and climate.
- Operate computer graphic equipment to produce weather reports and maps for analysis, distribution, or use in weather broadcasts.
- Measure wind, temperature, and humidity in the upper atmosphere, using weather balloons.
- Develop and use weather forecasting tools, such as mathematical and computer models.
- Direct forecasting services at weather stations, or at radio or television broadcasting facilities.
Companies That Hire Meterologists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Matter of Degrees: How Does the Tilt of Earth's Axis Affect the Seasons?
- Air Pollution
- Altitude and Elevation
- Do Hurricanes Cool the Ocean?
- Do Warmer Seas Make Stronger Hurricanes?
- Does Chemical Lightening Affect the Structure of Human Hair?
- Don't Get Burned! Measure the UV Index at Different Times of the Day
- Dry Spells, Wet Spells: How Common Are They?
- Foggy Forecasting: What Weather Factors Create Radiation Fog?
- Frequency Histograms
- How Do the Seasons Change in Each Hemisphere?
- How Does a Wind Meter Work?
- How Does Atmospheric Temperature Affect the Water Content of Snow?
- Hurricanes and Climate
- Is it Getting Hot in Here? Investigate the Greenhouse Effect
- Make a Hygrometer with Strands of Hair
Do you have a specific question about a career in Weather & Atmosphere that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
Information about careers in meteorology, and a listing of colleges and universities offering meteorology programs, are provided by the:
- American Meteorological Society: www.ametsoc.org
General information about meteorology and careers in atmospheric science can also be obtained from the:
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: www.noaa.gov
Information about obtaining a position as a meteorologist with the federal government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the federal government’s official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at www.usajobs.opm.gov. These numbers are not toll-free, and charges may result.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- TPT. (2006). Real Scientist: Howie Bluestein. DragonflyTV, Twin Cities Public Television. Retrieved August 10, 2009, from http://pbskids.org/dragonflytv/scientists/scientist12.html
- American Meterological Society. (1993). Challenges of Our Changing Atmosphere: Careers in Atmospheric Research and Applied Meteorology. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from http://www.ametsoc.org/pubs/careers.html
- Scholastic, Inc. (2009). Career as a Meteorologist: Al Peterlin. Retrived August 24, 2009, from http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4897