An extreme weather event such as a sandstorm, blizzard or torrential rainfall can transform an environment in a matter of minutes, impairing the ability to see clearly and making it difficult to travel safely. Natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes can uproot trees, destroy buildings and claim lives.
Understanding the causes and effects of weather has many practical benefits, such as alerting people to looming threats so that they can gather supplies and take steps to protect people and preserve property. Knowledge about the science of Earth’s atmosphere is also helpful in simpler ways, such as scheduling outdoor events. Many people refer to their local weather forecast to decide how they should dress on any given day.
In all these ways, the science of meteorology – which focuses on the physics and chemistry of skies – contributes to society. Here is a guide for anyone interested in studying this subject and becoming a professional meteorologist.
What Meteorology Is and What Meteorologists Do
Meteorology is a branch of earth science that concentrates on airspace, winds and clouds. This academic discipline requires mathematical prowess, a technical mindset and an appreciation for nature, experts say.
“Almost every meteorologist I know became fascinated by the weather as a child,” says Tim Heller, a Houston-based broadcast meteorologist who has 35 years of on-air experience and is certified by the American Meteorological Society. “For me, it was a tornado that hit close to my home.”
Meteorologists monitor the skies, searching for meaningful data. They are experts on the solids, liquids and gases contained within the Earth’s atmosphere and can predict how those substances will interact with one another. They also know the mechanics of various weather events and understand the seasonal and geographic factors that influence precipitation levels and temperatures.
Steps to Take if You Want To Be a Meteorologist
The first thing an aspiring meteorologist should do is consider whether he or she enjoys math and science, says Joel N. Myers, the founder, CEO and chairman of the AccuWeather forecasting company.
Myers, who has bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University, notes that meteorology requires the use of statistics and calculus, is similar to engineering and involves computer use and data analysis. A potential meteorologist should focus on developing strong communication skills, especially if he or she wants to become a weather forecaster or a television weatherperson, Myers adds.
A bachelor’s degree in meteorology is the standard entry-level credential within this field. However, a graduate degree such as a master’s or Ph.D. degree may be necessary for certain positions, especially roles that involve teaching or research, according to experts. Undergraduate meteorology programs tend to complement courses that focus entirely on meteorology with general science classes in chemistry and physics.
The type of education and training someone needs is contingent on what kind of meteorology job he or she hopes to get, Myers says. “It depends what you want to do, how far you want to go, but at a minimum, a bachelor’s is required,” he explains.
Experts on meteorology agree that the following credentials are necessary for the meteorology profession:
— A college degree in meteorology
— A knack for and interest in science, technology, engineering and math or STEM
— Curiosity about the causes and effects of weather
Myers discovered his interest in meteorology at the age of 3 during his childhood in Philadelphia — he loved snow. His grandmother gave him a diary when he was 7 and he began to take daily notes on the weather. By the time he was 8 he knew he wanted to be a weather forecaster, and at the age of 11 he told his father he wanted to start a weather company.
Myers’ passion for meteorology was solidified as a teen when he accurately predicted a snowstorm that local weather forecasters had not anticipated. “We got 11 inches, and I said ‘Wow,’ Myers recalls, “I said, ‘There may be an opportunity here.'”
He encourages anyone interested in meteorology to begin tracking weather forecasts and watching how the weather unfolds, since much can be learned by observation.
Meteorology Careers and What it Takes to Be a Meteorologist
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary among atmospheric scientists in the U.S., including meteorologists, was $99,740 in 2020. The bureau predicts that the number of these types of jobs will be 6% higher in 2029 than they were in 2019, a job growth rate that is faster than average.
Curiosity and enthusiasm are necessary to do a meteorology job well, Heller says “Good meteorologists are fascinated by the workings of the atmosphere and passionate about sharing it with others. They get equally excited about the complicated formation of a tornado and the simple beauty of a double rainbow.”
Broadcast meteorologists often work irregular hours.
“That includes late nights, early mornings, weekends, and holidays,” Heller says. “When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, I was personally on-air 12-16 hours at a time over five days. And when I wasn’t on-air, I was updating social media, keeping the rest of the news team updated on the storm, or trying to grab a quick nap on an air mattress in the hallway.”
Myers says there is something thrilling about making a precise weather forecast that is later proven right — especially when other predictions were wrong.
He notes that the science of meteorology is advancing rapidly, so contemporary weather forecasts are usually much more accurate than decades ago. As a result, the public tends to take weather forecasts more seriously nowadays.
According to Myers, many meteorologists have done an exceptional job of teaching ordinary people about geography and probability.
Myths About Meteorology
One popular misconception about meteorology occupations is the idea that “the only job a meteorologist can get is one on TV or with the National Weather Service,” explains Heller, who mentors within his profession as a hired coach. “In fact, many private companies employ meteorologists to help with their business operations. The airlines, for example, have weather departments. So do some stock brokerage firms.”
It is also common for meteorologists to work as researchers and academics, Heller adds.
A frequent source of confusion surrounding meteorology is the assumption that every TV weatherperson is a meteorologist with a meteorology degree, which is not the case although meteorological training is beneficial for that role, experts say.
Another common mistake is to equate meteorologists with climatologists and to perceive those two jobs as the same, experts say. But there is an important distinction. Meteorologists typically focus on the short term and try to predict weather events in the near future, while climatologists concentrate on the long term and analyze alterations of regional or global climates.
Why Meteorology Is Hard and How it Is Changing
The difficulty of meteorology, Myers says, is that even with sophisticated technology, there are times when a meteorologist’s educated guess doesn’t pan out. Nevertheless, the struggle to figure out what might occur can be enjoyable and meaningful, he says, and the goal is to make forecasts that are as reliable as possible and to relay them in a way that is transparent and compelling.
“That’s what the fun of it is, but it’s a challenge every day,” Myers says. “And we get great satisfaction of treating each day like the Super Bowl, and we want to win.”
Before technological breakthroughs in recent decades, a common joke was that meteorology was the only occupation where someone could consistently be wrong and still have a job, Myers acknowledges.
Modern inventions help contemporary meteorologists stay on target more often than was feasible before, allowing them to make projections further into the future and permitting more details to be included in forecasts, he says. Some of the new technologies were developed by AccuWeather, such as the RealFeel Temperature Guide that provides information about how hot or cold a person might feel outdoors. In recent years, AccuWeather introduced a RealImpact Scale, which predicts the devastation that hurricanes will cause, and an Air Quality Index, which indicates when local air conditions may be hazardous to some health conditions..
Myers emphasizes that accuracy is high within meteorology today and suggests that the precision of weather forecasting has improved rapidly.
The famous statistician Nate Silver has praised modern weather forecasting techniques in his writings, including his book “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t.” Silver contends that the strategies meteorologists use to address data limitations and admit uncertainty should be embraced and emulated by forecasters in other areas, such as economics and politics. .
“Why are weather forecasters succeeding when other predictors fail?” Silver wrote in a New York Times Magazine article in 2012. “It’s because long ago they came to accept the imperfections in their knowledge.”
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