Ascending the meteorology career ladder: How to become a meteorologist
Few topics are as universally relatable as the weather. However, for some people, this isn't just a matter of casual conversation; many are thoroughly fascinated by the weather patterns that shape daily life and global phenomena.
If you count yourself among these enthusiasts, you may no longer be satisfied with reading the daily weather report in your newspaper or watching brief TV updates. The natural next step is to turn your passion into a career.
As a meteorologist, you can influence millions of lives while quenching your personal thirst for knowledge. Keep reading to learn what this career path involves and how the right degree can prepare you for your dream job.
What does a meteorologist do?
When you picture a 'typical' meteorologist, what comes to mind? Many immediately think of daily news reports in which broadcasters explain anticipated temperatures or precipitation trends. These broadcasters serve an important function, but the role of meteorologists is by no means limited to the media.
Meteorology is a dynamic field that encompasses a variety of atmospheric phenomena as they relate to daily weather forecasts and long-term climactic patterns. These developments are closely observed and analyzed by meteorologists, who draw on a wealth of data to forecast future weather events. They also delve into large-scale concerns like climate change and natural disasters.
Skills required to be a meteorologist
Meteorologists of all types must possess a wide range of skills. Some of these are analytical or technical, but soft skills are just as critical. Ideally, these will be developed at the undergraduate level, with ongoing practice ensuring that crucial skills and knowledge remain sharp. Essentials include:
- Technological skills: Meteorologists have long been at the forefront of technological change. This remains true, as the field relies on the most advanced devices and software to gather and record accurate data. Meteorologists must not only stay current but should also be willing to embrace new technologies as they become available.
- Communication: From research papers to business proposals, meteorologists must convey complex information while remaining succinct. Written communication is always essential, but verbal skills are often just as necessary — especially for broadcast meteorologists.
- Attention to detail: While meteorologists may examine wide-scale trends, they must also be able to home in on details that would mean little to those outside the field. This is critical not only while collecting and analyzing data but also when making direct visual observations.
- Data literacy: The ability to derive meaning from vast quantities of information is crucial in the field of atmospheric science. Effective meteorologists can make sense of a high volume of data, synthesizing it quickly and accurately to gain impactful takeaways.
- Adaptability: Rapidly evolving conditions and situations are to be expected in the volatile field of meteorology. Professionals may need to adjust their plans at a moment's notice, even after spending long hours carefully gathering data or crafting reports.
- Curiosity: An inquisitive nature is vital to success in atmospheric science. The best meteorologists are always asking, "why?" This curiosity drives an endless search for knowledge, even when significant obstacles arise.
Popular meteorology careers
As a vast — and continually growing — field, meteorology provides a far more comprehensive range of career opportunities than most people realize. Typically, these are divided into three main categories: broadcast, research, and operational meteorology. Beyond these three niches are several specialty areas that combine elements of multiple types.
With so many options available, the real struggle lies not in finding a desirable job in the meteorology field but in narrowing your options. To help, we've outlined a few of the most compelling careers in meteorology:
Primarily focused on short-term weather patterns, forecasters gather and analyze data about daily and weekly weather concerns. This data comes from various sources, such as Doppler radar or satellites. Skilled forecasters can synthesize this wealth of information to develop actionable insights for the public.
This brand of atmospheric science involves the in-depth interpretation of meteorological data. The term 'operational meteorology' is often used interchangeably with the familiar concept of the weather forecast. Even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration blends these two terms when referencing the vital role of 'operational forecasters.'
Weather forecasters are responsible for determining how the weather will behave in the near future, but they leave the actual task of reporting to broadcast professionals. Officially known as broadcast meteorologists, these on-screen or on-air personalities break down complex details about the weather so that ordinary people know what to expect.
Weather forecasters and broadcasters rely on a wealth of research to inform their predictions. This is primarily generated by meteorological researchers, who examine overarching climate developments and other major phenomena. These researchers focus on specific niches, such as sea level, urban air pollution, or climate equity. Government agencies or universities may employ research meteorologists, but private employment is also common, especially in the energy and biotech sectors.
Meteorology courses are increasingly popular at colleges of all types, where students are eager to learn not only about everyday weather events but also long-term ecological concerns. Professors work with a variety of students, including many who have little intention of entering the meteorology field. These students are still eager to understand atmospheric science, however. Many realize how extensively climate patterns could shape both their daily lives and work in other fields.
In addition to teaching general education courses, meteorology professionals often work closely with aspiring professionals who hope to make their mark in this quickly evolving field. Research is also a core component of this career path. Professors may work closely with ambitious meteorology students to produce findings they present at industry conferences or publish in peer-reviewed publications.
Committed to protecting and preserving natural resources, environmental scientists identify and analyze today's greatest threats to Mother Nature and the steps we can take to mitigate (or, preferably, prevent) such damage. These professionals advise today's most ambitious climate policies. They may also work with specific companies or industries to reduce or mitigate waste.
While weather forecasters and operational meteorologists primarily focus on day-to-day weather concerns, atmospheric scientists emphasize the big picture. They examine large-scale atmospheric conditions and determine how these might play into proposed or current human activities. Their insight is invaluable in fields such as agriculture, energy, and environmental resource management.
Often described as weather detectives, forensic meteorologists piece through complex data to reconstruct the conditions from specific times or places. Usually, their efforts are instrumental in establishing how weather conditions play into particular accidents. Their insight is often required in court but could also prove helpful in the private sector, where these meteorologists often work as consultants.
For example: in the aftermath of a devastating car crash, a forensic meteorologist may analyze satellite images and witness testimony to determine how the weather may have contributed to the crash. This data may reveal that the road conditions were too dangerous to deem the responsible driver negligent.
Many of the professionals highlighted above analyze satellite imagery, but somebody needs to produce those images. Therein lies the value of the meteorological technician, who installs, operates, and maintains complex satellite equipment. In addition to installing sensors on meteorological towers, these technicians may oversee subcontractors or direct other field operations.
Take your meteorology career to new heights with CMU
CMU provides the high-level preparation that tomorrow's meteorologists require. Our Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences offers excellent learning opportunities in meteorology and beyond. If you'd like to learn more about our Bachelor of Science in Meteorology, don't hesitate to contact us.