Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere, which is the air that surrounds the earth. Meteorologists study the atmosphere's physical characteristics, motions, and processes, and the way the atmosphere affects the rest of our environment. The best known applications of this knowledge is in understanding and forecasting the weather. However, weather information and meteorological research also are applied in many other areas, such as air pollution control, fire prevention, agriculture, air and sea transportation, and the study of trends in the earth's climate.
Meteorologists who forecast the weather, known professionally as operational or synoptic meteorologists, are the largest group of specialists. They study weather information, such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind velocity, and apply physical and mathematical relationships to make short-range and long-range predictions. Their data come from weather satellites and observers in many parts of the world. Although some forecasters still prepare and analyze weather maps, most data now are plotted and analyzed by computers.
Some meteorologists engage in basic and applied research. For example, physical meteorologists study the chemical and physical properties of the atmosphere. They do research on the effect of the atmosphere on transmission of light, sound, and radio waves, and study factors affecting formation of clouds, rain, snow, and other weather phenomena. Other meteorologist, known as climatologists, study trends in climate and analyze past records of wind, rainfall, sunshine, and temperature to determine the general pattern of weather that makes up an area's climate. These studies are used to plan heating and cooling systems, design buildings, and aid in effective land utilization.
Jobs in weather stations, most of which operate around the clock 7 days a week, often involve night work and rotating shifts. Most stations are at airports or in or near cities; some are in isolated and remote areas. Meteorologists in smaller weather stations generally work alone; in larger ones, they work as part of a team.
Meteorologists held about 6,400 jobs in 1990. In addition, about 1,000 persons held meteorology faculty positions in colleges and universities.
The largest employer of civilian meteorologists is the National Weather Service, where about 1,800 work at stations in all parts of the United States and in a small number of foreign areas. The Department of defense employs over 200 civilian meteorologists. A few work for State and local governments and for nonprofit organizations.
In addition to government, private weather consulting firms and engineering service firms employ many meteorologists. Commercial airlines employ meteorologists to forecast weather along flight routes and to brief pilots on atmospheric conditions. Other meteorologists work for radio and television stations and companies that design and manufacture meteorological instruments and aircraft and missiles.
In addition to civilian meteorologists, thousands of members of the Armed Forces do forecasting and other meteorological work.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A bachelor's degree with a major in meteorology is the usual minimum requirement for beginning jobs in weather forecasting. However, employers prefer to hire those with an advanced degree, and an advanced degree is increasingly necessary for promotion.
For research and college teaching and for many top level positions in other meteorological activities, an advanced degree, preferably in meteorology, is essential. People with graduate degrees in other sciences also may qualify if they have advanced courses in meteorology, physics, mathematics, and chemistry.
Over 100 colleges and universities offer degrees in meteorology. In addition, some departments of physics, earth science, or geophysics also offer many atmospheric science and related courses. Before selecting a degree program in meteorology, students should investigate the particular emphasis of the program, since many meteorology programs are combined with the study of a related scientific or engineering field.
Beginning meteorologists often start in jobs involving routine data collection, computation, or analysis and are given more difficult assignments as they gain experience. Experienced meteorologists may advance to various supervisory or administrative jobs. A few meteorologists establish their own weather consulting services.
Employment of meteorologists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. The National Weather Service, which employs about half of all meteorologists, plans to increase its employment of meteorologists, mainly in its field offices, to improve short-term and local-area weather forecasts. Although some of these additional jobs will be filled internally through the upgrading of meterological technicians, there still should be many more openings in the National Weather Service in the next 5 to 10 years than there have been in the past.
Despite the projected faster-than-average growth, most of the job openings in this vary small occupation will arise from the need to replace those who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
The average salary for meteorologists employed by the Federal Government was $43,300 in 1990. In early 1990, meteorologists in the Federal Government with a bachelor's degree and no experience received starting salaries of $16,782 or $20,662 a year, depending on their college grades. Those with a master's degree could start at $20,662 or $25,276; those with the Ph.D. degree, at $30,583 or $36,654.
Workers in other occupations concerned with the physical environment include foresters and conservation scientists, geologists and geophysicists, and environmental engineers.
Sources of Additional Information
Information on career opportunities in meteorology is available from:
American Meteorological Society, 45 Beacon St., Boston, Mass. 02108.
For facts about job opportunities with the national Weather Services. Contact.
National Weather Service/Personnel, 1-RAS/DC23, Rockville, MD 20782.