Weather

How Do I Become a Meteorologist?

All of us can become weather-wise. Regardless of your area of work, the weather can be an avocation even if it isn't a vocation. You're already there, just by reading and using this. Besides, you don't need a college degree to look outside, look up, figure out what the weather will do next, and even tell people about it. Actually some of the highest paid television weather personalities have no degree in meteorology at all. But that's changing, and if you want to pursue meteorology as an occupation, an education is absolutely essential.

Because meteorology is a broad field that touches on nearly every area of science, a general background in math, science, and technology is included in every meteorological curriculum. In some respects, meteorology has become applied mathematics, so a solid background in math is essential. Young people who plan careers in meteorology should take as many math courses as possible, starting in middle school.

Computer skills are just as important. These skills go far beyond computer games and include the operation and programming of computers.

Communication skills are also important, especially for those dealing directly with the public. For broadcasters, communication skills are more important than anything else.

Although television viewers may be somewhat impressed with degrees and credentials, survey after survey has shown that they really just want to be given the forecast. If a weather-caster doesn't communicate well, the audience will reach for the remote. Good delivery is really a talent. It can't be learned, but it can be polished, and very early, a person will learn if that talent is at hand.

Weather-Wise

The National Weather Service has a program called SKYWARN for trained volunteer severe weather spotters. These volunteers are on the lookout for severe storms.

Although many schools offer nondegree programs in basic meteorology, the majority of practicing meteorologists hold at least an undergraduate degree in meteorology. The program includes basic courses in physics, chemistry, biology, calculus, and computer science. The typical degree program is as vigorous as any engineering program. Most meteorology undergraduates who wish to receive high grades will need to sacrifice some of their social life. But if you use your time wisely and approach the curriculum maturely, there will still be time for a rounded college experience. Because the job market is always competitive, the best opportunities will be waiting for those who perform well during those four short years.

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A study tip: If you plan to go into meteorology, you'll have to do all your math homework and then some. Do every problem. If the odd-numbered problems are assigned, do the even-numbered ones, too.

Those who pursue research and teaching will go beyond a four-year degree and seek a masters or doctorate. Some who take the research route may hold an undergraduate degree in one of the sciences or mathematics—but not meteorology. In some cases, a degree in math, physics, or chemistry followed by a Master's and doctorate in meteorology are be the best track for researchers. Some of the top graduate schools in meteorology encourage students to receive undergraduate degrees in math or physics rather than meteorology. But for those who love the weather, waiting until graduate school for meteorology courses may be too long. It was for me.

So for all who want to grow up and be called a "meteorologist," the message is math, science, math, science …. Study hard, make some sacrifices, and the rewards will most assuredly be there. In more than 25 years of college teaching, I have never failed to place a student who had a B average or better. Which brings us to the next subject.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather © 2002 by Mel Goldstein, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.