Careers in Atmospheric Science - Meteorology

What is Meteorology?

Meteorology is the science of the atmosphere. It offers the opportunity of investigating the forces that shape weather and climate and how human activities can affect climate through the introduction of pollutants into the atmosphere.


In the United States the largest employer is the United States Government through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Students interested in meteorology should view the future with a fair degree of optimism. A university degree in meteorology, combined with appropriate courses in environmental sciences, computer science and/or chemistry, opens the door to a number of careers, some within the government, others in industry. The atmosphere plays a major role in transporting pollutants from one region of the globe to another, and, as such, is a key component of the environment. The need for professionals who understand how the atmosphere behaves can be expected to grow in the years to come, as societies around the world become more and more industrialized and eject more and more pollution into the atmosphere.

Choosing a Career in Meteorology

High School

The first step for a student in considering a career in meteorology or atmospheric sciences is to opt in favor of physical science courses and mathematics.

An interest in the physical sciences and mathematics are the essential elements for a career in meteorology. Courses in earth sciences can also provide a valuable insight into the atmospheric environment. It is very important to become familiar with the use of computers and their application to problem-solving, writing and communication. In the simplest of terms, high school students should take every mathematics, physics and computer course that is available. They should also develop basic skills in written and spoken English to communicate scientific knowledge.

University Undergraduate Studies

On entry into university, students are well-advised to continue their studies in physical sciences and mathematics, adding when possible, courses in other sciences. They should also develop basic skills in written and spoken English to communicate scientific knowledge.

Elective courses provide an opportunity to gain additional knowledge and insight in other science fields; they may well have a bearing on the level and degree of specialization upon graduation or selection of a graduate school. Introductory or advanced courses in physical geography, oceanography, hydrology and chemistry are all subjects for consideration in choosing electives.

The most direct path to a career in meteorology is an undergraduate degree in meteorology or atmospheric sciences. A number of universities in the United States and Canada offer such programs with options varying from broad-based degrees to those with a focused specialty in agricultural or forest meteorology, for example.

A suggested program might include:

dynamic meteorology, physical meteorology, general meteorology, synoptic meteorology, plus courses in climatology, micro-meteorology, hydro-meteorology and other related disciplines;

general physics, mechanics, electricity and magnetism, plus one or more courses in fluid mechanics, optics, or advanced mechanics;

calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, statistics, computer science and at least one in numerical analysis, matrix algebra or computer systems.

University Graduate Studies

A master's program can usually be completed in one to two years after the bachelor's degree. The requirement for admission to this program is usually a strong undergraduate degree in meteorology, physics, engineering, or related disciplines. Students without a previous background in atmospheric sciences normally have to complete a few more courses at the master's level than their colleagues with an undergraduate degree in meteorology, but can still complete the program in one or two years. Holders of master's degrees can work as operational meteorologists in government and in the private sector, or as research assistants. Students who wish to become researchers should complete a doctoral degree.

Courses at the graduate level will be considerably more advanced than at the undergraduate level; some but not all will be slanted toward the specialities and research interests of the professors on staff at a particular university. However, in most universities students will be encouraged to explore different options and take advantage of other courses as well, such as those in oceanography, geophysics, biology or ecology.

Meteorology - And Your Career (NAVY)

What is meteorology? Meteorology is the study of weather and weather forecasting. Military operations such as troop movements, airplane flights, missile launches, and ship movements rely on accurate weather information.

What do meteorologists do? Accurate weather forecasts can save lives and equipment in military operations. Meteorologists study weather conditions and prepare current and long range weather forecasts. You begin your career directing data collection and interpreting weather maps, observation data, and satellite information. As you gain leadership and forecasting skills, you will serve in positions of increasing responsibility. As a meteorologist, you also supervise enlisted weather observers. Weather observers collect information about weather and sea conditions for use by meteorologists. They make visual observations and take readings from weather equipment, radar scans, and satellite photographs.

Where do meteorologists work? Most meteorology officers work in weather stations or weather support units at military bases in the U.S. and overseas. Some work in global weather centers. Others work in command and control centers aboard ships at sea. Civilian meteorologists work for government agencies, radio and television stations, and airlines. They perform duties similar to those performed by military meteorologists.

What are the typical working conditions for meteorologists? Meteorologists usually work in weather stations or operations centers where weather information can be collected, analyzed, and plotted using computers. These stations and centers are either on land or aboard ships. They work outdoors when making visual weather observations.

How do I find a job in meteorology? The military services have about 6,000 weather observers and 1,500 meteorologists. On the average, they need about 500 new observers and 60 new meteorologists each year. After job training, they gain experience and serve in positions with increasing responsibility.

What high school courses are necessary to prepare for a career in meteorology? Because meteorology is a science, a good background in mathematics and the sciences is mandatory. Knowledge of physics and chemistry is helpful toward a career in the atmospheric sciences.

Do I need more education than high school for a career in meteorology? How much and what kind? There are three patterns of education that may be pursued for a career in meteorology. The first is to complete a program in meteorology or a related marine discipline to the level of bachelor of science; this requires about four years of college-level study. The second (and most common) pattern is to complete a bachelor of science level program in one of the basic sciences such as geology, chemistry, biology, physics, or engineering. After this training, it is often possible to go directly to work in weather-related jobs, using the basic scientific knowledge on weather-oriented problems. Alternatively, one can continue into meteorology at the graduate school level and work toward the master's or doctoral level. The time required for attaining advanced degrees varies widely, depending upon both the school and the student. The third pattern is that offered by a number of junior colleges and technical schools. These programs lead to an associate of arts degree in technology or science.

If I decide to go to college, what is the best college or university for an meteorology major? Many colleges and universities offer courses in oceanography and other marine sciences. A publication titled, Curricula in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Related Sciences lists the schools and the courses they offer. It is available in libraries or may be purchased from the American Meteorological Society, 45 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108 for $30.00 including shipping and handling. Other information may be obtained by writing directly to the institution or check out this World Wide Web site: Colleges with Programs in Meteorology.

What kinds of jobs are available to people with an education in meteorology? A meteorology degree or a degree in related marine science qualifies an individual to perform many weather-related jobs. There are good opportunities for overseas assignment to military bases and outposts throughout the world.

What college courses will be required if I major in meteorology? Although course requirements differ from one university to another, several courses are considered mandatory for a basic understanding of the atmospheric environment. Meteorology majors must complete courses in mathematics--emphasizing differential equations, chemistry, physics, , geology, naval engineering, environmental dynamics, as well as in naval meteorology applications.

When must I decide what kind of meteorology professional I want to be? Although most colleges require a declared major at the beginning of the third year, a student has the option to change fields throughout his/her college career. Because the marine sciences are interrelated, an meteorology major is equipped to enter almost any weather-related field.

How much does it cost to attend college? As with course requirements, college costs also vary greatly. Specific information should be obtained from the school itself.

Is financial aid available for those students who need help? How much? What kind? Financial aid, again, varies with the school. The institution itself is the primary source of this information. The American Meteorological Society has numerous programs.

What salaries do meteorologists earn? Salary scales in both the private sector and the government are similar and follow the criteria of education, experience, and competence. The Federal Government offers a GS-5 position the starting salary of $19,081 for bachelor of science level college graduates. Through a promotion system, meteorologists employed by the government may eventually attain a grade of GS-15 with a starting salary of $69,300. Additional adjustments increase the pay by geographic locality. Check the Civilian Pay Scale for more information.

Do employers offer on-the-job training? The Federal Government offers on-the-job training for its atmospheric science employees. This training consists primarily of additional classes in environmental science as well as training in management, budget, geology, and chemistry.

What does it take to become a really good meteorologist? Laboratory meteorologists must be able to forecast the weather accurately and to apply their experience to research, military exercises, and strategic planning. To advance, meteorologists must make consistently accurate forecasts and show excellent leadership skills. Most senior meteorologists have an advanced degree in areas such as math, geophysics, astrophysics, oceanography, meteorology, and computer science. Outstanding performance and advanced education are keys to advancement in meteorology.

For further information about employment in the Federal Government contact your local Office of Personnel Management, listed under U.S. Government in the telephone directory. The Federal Government is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Q: What types of jobs are available with the National Weather Service? What are the best kind of college courses to take for these jobs?

A: Most occupations in the NWS are either for people trained in meteorology, atmospheric sciences, climatology, hydrology, or related fields. Jobs available with the NWS are updated periodically on the NOAA Resource Development Center's page listing Job Opportunities Within NOAA. More information about careers in meteorology and recommended college course work is available from the American Meteorological Society.

The National Weather Association also provides information on careers in meteorology.

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