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Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$70,100 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Meteorologists, also called atmospheric scientists, study the earth's atmosphere, its physical characteristics and movements, and how these will affect the environment. Many meteorologists work for either the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the armed services. They analyze weather conditions and make forecasts. Meteorologists may also work for private firms, such as airlines, or government agencies that are concerned with weather or air pollution. Other meteorologists teach and conduct research at colleges and universities.

Synoptic meteorologists gather and interpret data in order to forecast weather. Often they are concerned with the weather in a specific geographic area. They use instruments to measure the temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed, rainfall, and air quality. Some meteorologists use photographs and data from satellites to predict the weather. Usually they feed their information into a computer. In return, they receive charts, maps, and diagrams that help them to predict the weather in their locale. Some meteorologists who are involved in forecasting are employed in metropolitan areas near large airports. Others run weather stations in remote areas throughout the world. A number of them work in planes and on ships.

Climatologists are meteorologists who are interested in long-term changes in the weather. Their goal is to predict slow changes in the climate that might affect food production or ocean temperatures. They may study fossils and tree rings to find out what the weather was like many hundreds of years ago. Some branches of meteorology deal with other aspects of the atmosphere. Physical meteorologists, for example, study the chemistry of the atmosphere or the way radio waves pass through it in different kinds of weather. Their research may lead to improved long-distance communication.

Education and Training Requirements

Armed services personnel may be trained on the job to gather and process data. To get a job outside the armed services, however, candidates need a bachelor's degree. Some colleges offer a degree program in meteorology. Students can also prepare by getting a degree in engineering and taking courses in meteorology. A master's or doctoral degree is usually required for teaching and research positions.

Meteorologists who work for the federal government must have a bachelor's degree with at least twenty-four semester hours of courses in meteorology, including weather analysis, forecasting, and dynamic meteorology, plus some other math and science courses. Some college students arrange to work for federal government agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in the summer or on a work–study basis. Such experience may make it easier for students to find jobs after graduation.

Getting the Job

College placement offices may be able to help students find jobs. To get a job with the federal government, arrange to take the necessary civil service test. It is also possible to apply directly to private companies.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Meteorologists who have experience can advance to some supervisory and administrative positions. A few meteorologists open their own consulting firms.

The employment of meteorologists is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. The National Weather Service, the largest single employer of meteorologists, has limited its employment opportunities due to its modernization of weather forecasting equipment. Other federal agencies do not anticipate an increase in employment either. Opportunities will be best in private industries, especially for those individuals with advanced degrees. There will be a continued demand for meteorologists to analyze and monitor air pollution.

Working Conditions

Some beginning meteorologists are assigned to weather stations in remote parts of the world. Meteorologists in very small stations may work alone. Work sites are generally safe and clean. Those meteorologists who do forecasting may work on rotating shifts. They generally work some holidays, weekends, and nights. Meteorologists generally work forty hours per week.

Where to Go for More Information

American Meteorological Society
45 Beacon St.
Boston, MA 02108-3693
(617) 227-2425

National Weather Association
1697 Capri Way
Charlottesville, VA 22911-3534
(434) 296-9966

National Weather Service Employees Organization
601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 900
Washington, DC 20004
(703) 293-9651

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on education, experience, and place of employment. Meteorologists earn a median salary of $70,100 per year. Those working for the federal government in managerial, supervisory, and nonsupervisory positions earned an average of $80,499 per year in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, insurance, and pensions.