Job opportunities are expected to be better in private industry
than in the Federal Government; opportunities in broadcasting,
however, are rare and highly competitive.
Atmospheric science is the study of the atmosphere—the blanket
of air covering the Earth. Atmospheric scientists,
commonly called meteorologists, study the atmosphere’s
physical characteristics, motions, and processes, and the
way in which these factors affect the rest of our environment.
The best known application of this knowledge is forecasting
the weather. In addition to predicting the weather, atmospheric
scientists attempt to identify and interpret climate trends,
understand past weather, and analyze today’s weather. Weather
information and meteorological research are also applied in
air-pollution control, agriculture, forestry, air and sea
transportation, defense, and the study of possible trends
in the Earth’s climate, such as global warming, droughts,
and ozone depletion.
Atmospheric scientists who forecast the weather, known professionally
as operational meteorologists, are the largest group
of specialists. They study information on air pressure, temperature,
humidity, and wind velocity; and they apply physical and mathematical
relationships to make short-range and long-range weather forecasts.
Their data come from weather satellites, radars, sensors,
and stations in many parts of the world. Meteorologists use
sophisticated computer models of the world’s atmosphere to
make long-term, short-term, and local-area forecasts. More
accurate instruments for measuring and observing weather conditions,
as well as high-speed computers to process and analyze weather
data, have revolutionized weather forecasting. Using satellite
data, climate theory, and sophisticated computer models of
the world’s atmosphere, meteorologists can more effectively
interpret the results of these models to make local-area weather
predictions. These forecasts inform not only the general public,
but also those who need accurate weather information for both
economic and safety reasons, such as the shipping, air transportation,
agriculture, fishing, forestry, and utilities industries.
The use of weather balloons, launched a few times a day to
measure wind, temperature, and humidity in the upper atmosphere,
is currently supplemented by sophisticated atmospheric monitoring
equipment that transmits data as frequently as every few minutes.
Doppler radar, for example, can detect airflow patterns in
violent storm systems—allowing forecasters to better predict
thunderstorms, flash floods, tornadoes, and other hazardous
winds, and to monitor the direction and intensity of storms.
Some atmospheric scientists work in research. Physical
meteorologists, for example, study the atmosphere’s chemical
and physical properties; the transmission of light, sound,
and radio waves; and the transfer of energy in the atmosphere.
They also study factors affecting the formation of clouds,
rain, and snow; the dispersal of air pollutants over urban
areas; and other weather phenomena, such as the mechanics
of severe storms. Synoptic meteorologists develop new
tools for weather forecasting using computers and sophisticated
mathematical models of atmospheric activity. Climatologists
study climactic variations spanning hundreds or even millions
of years. They also may collect, analyze, and interpret past
records of wind, rainfall, sunshine, and temperature in specific
areas or regions. Their studies are used to design buildings,
plan heating and cooling systems, and aid in effective land
use and agricultural production. Environmental problems, such
as pollution and shortages of fresh water, have widened the
scope of the meteorological profession. Environmental meteorologists
study these problems and may evaluate and report on air quality
for environmental impact statements. Other research meteorologists
examine the most effective ways to control or diminish air
Most weather stations operate around the clock, 7 days a
week. Jobs in such facilities usually involve night, weekend,
and holiday work, often with rotating shifts. During weather
emergencies, such as hurricanes, operational meteorologists
may work overtime. Operational meteorologists also are often
under pressure to meet forecast deadlines. Weather stations
are found everywhere—at airports, in or near cities, and in
isolated and remote areas. Some atmospheric scientists also
spend time observing weather conditions and collecting data
from aircraft. Weather forecasters who work for radio or television
stations broadcast their reports from station studios, and
may work evenings and weekends. Meteorologists in smaller
weather offices often work alone; in larger ones, they work
as part of a team. Meteorologists who are not involved in
forecasting tasks work regular hours, usually in offices.
Those who work for private consulting firms or for companies
analyzing and monitoring emissions to improve air quality
usually work with other scientists or engineers; fieldwork
and travel may be common for these workers.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A bachelor’s degree in meteorology or atmospheric science,
or in a closely related field with courses in meteorology,
usually is the minimum educational requirement for an entry-level
position as an atmospheric scientist.
The preferred educational requirement for entry-level meteorologists
in the Federal Government is a bachelor’s degree—not necessarily
in meteorology—with at least 24 semester hours of meteorology
courses, including 6 hours in the analysis and prediction
of weather systems, 6 hours of atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics,
3 hours of physical meteorology, and 2 hours of remote sensing
of the atmosphere or instrumentation. Other required courses
include 3 semester hours of ordinary differential equations,
6 hours of college physics, and at least 9 hours of courses
appropriate for a physical science major—such as statistics,
chemistry, physical oceanography, physical climatology, physical
hydrology, radiative transfer, aeronomy, advanced thermodynamics,
advanced electricity and magnetism, light and optics, and
computer science. Sometimes, a combination of education and
appropriate experience may be substituted for a degree.
Although positions in operational meteorology are available
for those with only a bachelor’s degree, obtaining a second
bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree enhances employment
opportunities, pay, and advancement potential. A master’s
degree usually is necessary for conducting applied research
and development, and a Ph.D. is required for most basic research
positions. Students planning on a career in research and development
do not necessarily need to major in atmospheric science or
meteorology as an undergraduate. In fact, a bachelor’s degree
in mathematics, physics, or engineering provides excellent
preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science.
Because atmospheric science is a small field, relatively
few colleges and universities offer degrees in meteorology
or atmospheric science, although many departments of physics,
earth science, geography, and geophysics offer atmospheric
science and related courses. In 2005, the American Meteorological
Society (AMS) approved approximately 100 undergraduate and
graduate atmospheric science programs. Many of these programs
combine the study of meteorology with another field, such
as agriculture, hydrology, oceanography, engineering, or physics.
For example, hydrometeorology is the blending of hydrology
(the science of Earth’s water) and meteorology, and is the
field concerned with the effect of precipitation on the hydrologic
cycle and the environment.
Prospective students should make certain that courses required
by the National Weather Service and other employers are offered
at the college they are considering. Computer science courses,
additional meteorology courses, a strong background in mathematics
and physics, and good communication skills are important to
Students should also take courses in subjects that are most
relevant to their desired area of specialization. For example,
those who wish to become broadcast meteorologists for radio
or television stations should develop excellent communication
skills through courses in speech, journalism, and related
fields. Students interested in air quality work should take
courses in chemistry and supplement their technical training
with coursework in policy or government affairs. Prospective
meteorologists seeking opportunities at weather consulting
firms should possess knowledge of business, statistics, and
economics, as an increasing emphasis is being placed on long-range
seasonal forecasting to assist businesses.
Beginning atmospheric scientists often do routine data collection,
computation, or analysis, and some basic forecasting. Entry-level
operational meteorologists in the Federal Government usually
are placed in intern positions for training and experience.
During this period, they learn about the Weather Service’s
forecasting equipment and procedures, and rotate to different
offices to learn about various weather systems. After completing
the training period, they are assigned to a permanent duty
station. Experienced meteorologists may advance to supervisory
or administrative jobs, or may handle more complex forecasting
jobs. After several years of experience, some meteorologists
establish their own weather consulting services.
AMS offers professional certification of consulting meteorologists,
administered by a Board of Certified Consulting Meteorologists.
Applicants must meet formal education requirements (but not
necessarily have a college degree), pass an examination to
demonstrate thorough meteorological knowledge, have a minimum
of 5 years of experience or a combination of experience plus
an advanced degree, and provide character references from
fellow professionals. In addition, AMS also offers professional
certification for broadcast meteorologists.
Atmospheric scientists held about 7,400 jobs in 2004. The
Federal Government was the largest single employer of civilian
meteorologists, accounting for about 2,900. The National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employed most Federal
meteorologists in National Weather Service stations throughout
the Nation; the remainder of NOAA’s meteorologists worked
mainly in research and development or management. The U.S.
Department of Defense employed several hundred civilian meteorologists.
Others worked for professional, scientific, and technical
services firms, including private weather consulting services;
radio and television broadcasting; air carriers; and State
Although several hundred people teach atmospheric science
and related courses in college and university departments
of meteorology or atmospheric science, physics, earth science,
or geophysics, these individuals are classified as college
or university faculty, rather than atmospheric scientists.
(See the statement on postsecondary teachers elsewhere in
In addition to civilian meteorologists, hundreds of Armed
Forces members are involved in forecasting and other meteorological
work. (See the statement on job opportunities in the Armed
Forces elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Employment of atmospheric scientists is projected to increase
about as fast as average for all occupations through 2014.
The National Weather Service has completed an extensive modernization
of its weather forecasting equipment and finished all hiring
of meteorologists needed to staff the upgraded stations, however.
The Service has no plans to increase the number of weather
stations or the number of meteorologists in existing stations.
Employment of meteorologists in other Federal agencies is
expected to remain stable.
In private industry, on the other hand, job opportunities
for atmospheric scientists are expected to be better than
in the Federal Government over the 2004–14 period. As research
leads to continuing improvements in weather forecasting, demand
should grow for private weather consulting firms to provide
more detailed information than has formerly been available,
especially to climate-sensitive industries. Farmers, commodity
investors, radio and television stations, and utilities, transportation,
and construction firms can greatly benefit from additional
weather information more closely targeted to their needs than
the general information provided by the National Weather Service.
Additionally, research on seasonal and other long-range forecasting
is yielding positive results, which should spur demand for
more atmospheric scientists to interpret these forecasts and
advise climate-sensitive industries. However, because many
customers for private weather services are in industries sensitive
to fluctuations in the economy, the sales and growth of private
weather services depend on the health of the economy.
There will continue to be demand for atmospheric scientists
to analyze and monitor the dispersion of pollutants into the
air to ensure compliance with Federal environmental regulations,
but related employment increases are expected to be small.
Efforts toward making and improving global weather observations
also could have a positive impact on employment. Opportunities
in broadcasting are rare and highly competitive, however,
making for very few job openings in this industry. Prospects
for academic positions may improve. While a competitive job
market will continue to exist for independent research positions
in universities and for college and university faculty, opportunities
are expected to be better than in the past as an increasing
number of faculty are expected to retire through the projection
Median annual earnings of atmospheric scientists in May 2004
were $70,100. The middle 50 percent earned between $48,880
and $86,610. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,590,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,020.
The average salary for meteorologists in nonsupervisory,
supervisory, and managerial positions employed by the Federal
Government was about $80,499 in 2005. Meteorologists in the
Federal Government with a bachelor’s degree and no experience
received a starting salary of $27,955 or $34,544, depending
on their college grades. Those with a master’s degree could
start at $42,090 or $54,393, and those with a Ph.D. could
begin at $70,280. Beginning salaries for all degree levels
are slightly higher in areas of the country where the prevailing
local pay level is higher.
Workers in other occupations concerned with the physical
environment include environmental scientists and geoscientists, physicists and astronomers, mathematicians, and civil,
chemical, and environmental engineers.
|Sources of Additional Information
Information about careers in meteorology and a listing of
colleges and universities offering meteorology programs is
provided by the American Meteorological Society on the Internet
Information on obtaining a position as a meteorologists with
the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel
Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government’s official
employment information system. This resource for locating
and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through
the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,