Weather has an impact on many human activities, from trying to grab a taxi on a rainy day to shoveling snow off the sidewalk to hoping for rain on a drought-stricken farm. People who work in weather-related jobs might be researchers, forecasters and meteorologists, chemists, physicists, forensic meteorologists or climatologists.
The Science of Weather
The American Meteorological Society notes that meteorology and atmospheric science are essentially the same, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses both terms. An atmospheric scientist is someone who studies climate, weather and their effects on both human activity and the earth in general. These scientists collect data from tools such as weather balloons, radar systems, satellites and on-ground monitoring systems that capture temperature, humidity, wind speed and precipitation. The research is used to predict the weather, study long-term climate change, air pollution and the effects of weather such as droughts, blizzards and floods.
The most familiar weather-related job is probably that of the television or radio weather forecaster. Not all weather forecasters are meteorologists, however, or even have training in the field. Those who do have training develop the detailed reports a television broadcaster uses to let you know if you’ll need an umbrella tomorrow. Weather forecasters develop short- and long-term forecasts and often tailor their broadcasts to specific groups such as farmers, public utilities, airports and insurance companies.
Weather and Specialization
Atmospheric science has a number of specialties. Atmospheric chemists study climates, gases, chemical reactions in clouds, ultraviolet radiation and atmospheric components and reactions. Atmospheric physicists and dynamists are interested in the physical movements within the atmosphere, such as how terrain causes turbulence, how the sun affects communications and other interactions in the atmosphere. Climatologists are interested in long-term weather patterns and climate shifts or might specialize in paleoclimatology, gathering data on weather patterns that might be millions of years old. Forensic meteorologists are interested in past weather conditions for a specific place and time; they are often called to testify in court for weather-related crimes.
Research meteorologists, as the term implies, perform basic weather-related research. Some might specialize in severe weather patterns, while others focus on issues such as air pollution or the interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. Meteorological research requires a wide variety of tools that must be developed, tested and constructed by companies that specialize in meteorological technology. These organizations offer other weather-related careers in engineering, manufacturing or sales. Meteorological planners help organizations and municipalities develop, design and locate buildings and industries that might be affected by severe weather.
Preparation, Salary and Outlook
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement in atmospheric science. Most students choose a degree in meteorology or a related science field such as physics or geoscience as well as targeted electives. Someone aiming for a position as a weather broadcaster, for example, might take speech, journalism or related courses. Atmospheric scientists need extensive training in computer science, as so much of their work relies on computer modeling and statistical analysis. A master’s degree is typically required for research positions, and a Ph.D. is even more desirable, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary of atmospheric scientists was $88,140 in 2013, and the BLS projects an average growth rate of 10 percent from 2012 to 2022.
- American Meteorological Society: Career Center: All About Careers in the Atmospheric and Related Sciences
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013 19-2021 Atmospheric and Space Scientists
- Photo Credit Lisa F. Young/iStock/Getty Images
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