Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate.
What they do
Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate, and examine how those conditions affect human activity and the earth in general. They may develop forecasts, collect and compile data from the field, assist in the development of new data collection instruments, or advise clients on risks or opportunities caused by weather events and climate change.
Atmospheric scientists typically do the following:
- Measure temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind speed, dew point, and other properties of the atmosphere
- Use computer models that analyze data about the atmosphere (also called meteorological data)
- Write computer programs to support their modeling efforts
- Conduct research to improve understanding of weather phenomena
- Generate weather graphics for users
- Report current weather conditions
- Prepare long- and short-term weather forecasts by using computers, mathematical models, satellites, radar, and local station data
- Plan, organize, and participate in outreach programs aimed at educating the public about weather
- Issue warnings to protect life and property when threatened by severe weather, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flash floods
Atmospheric scientists use highly developed instruments and computer programs to do their jobs. For example, they use weather balloons, radar systems, and satellites to monitor the weather and collect data. The data they collect and analyze are critical to understanding global warming and other issues. Atmospheric scientists also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports in order to advise their clients or the public.
Many atmospheric scientists work with other geoscientists or even social scientists to help solve problems in areas such as commerce, energy, transportation, agriculture, and the environment. For example, some atmospheric scientists work closely with hydrologists and government organizations to study the impact climate change may have on water supplies and to manage water resources.
The following are examples of types of atmospheric scientists:
Atmospheric chemists study atmospheric components, reactions, measurement techniques, and processes. They study climates and gases, chemical reactions that occur in clouds, and ultraviolet radiation.
Atmospheric physicists and dynamists study the physical movements and interactions that occur in the atmosphere. They may study how terrain affects weather and causes turbulence, how solar phenomena affect satellite communications and navigation, or they may study the causes and effects of lightning.
Broadcast meteorologists give forecasts to the general public through television, radio, and the Internet. They use graphics software to develop maps and charts that explain their forecasts. Not all weather broadcasters seen on television are meteorologists or atmospheric scientists; reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts present weather conditions and forecasts, but do not have specific training in meteorology.
Climatologists study historical weather patterns to interpret long-term weather patterns or shifts in climate by using primarily statistical methods. Global climate change is the main area of study for climatologists. Paleoclimatology is a specialization within this field. Climatologists who specialize in paleoclimatology may take samples from icebergs and other sources to gather data on the atmosphere that cover very long periods of time.
Climate scientists work on the theoretical foundations and the modeling of climate change. The nature of this work requires the use of complex mathematical models to try to forecast many months, and sometimes longer, into the future. Their studies can be used to design buildings, plan heating and cooling systems, and aid in efficient land use and agricultural production.
Forensic meteorologists use historical weather data to reconstruct the weather conditions for a specific location and time. They investigate what role weather played in unusual events such as traffic accidents and fires. Forensic meteorologists may be called as experts to testify in court.
Research meteorologists develop new methods of data collection, observation, and forecasting. They also conduct studies to improve basic understandings of climate, weather, and other aspects of the atmosphere. For example, some research meteorologists study severe weather patterns that produce hurricanes and tornadoes to understand why cyclones form and to develop better ways of predicting them. Others focus on environmental problems, such as air pollution. Research meteorologists often work with scientists in other fields. For example, they may work with computer scientists to develop new forecasting software or with oceanographers to study interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. They may also work with engineers to develop new instruments so that they can collect the data they need.
Weather forecasters use computer and mathematical models to produce weather reports and short-term forecasts that can range from a few minutes to more than a week. They develop forecasts for the general public and for specific customers such as airports, water transportation, shippers, farmers, utility companies, insurance companies, and other businesses. For example, they may provide forecasts to power suppliers so that the suppliers can plan for events, such as heat waves, that would cause a change in electricity demand. They also issue advanced warnings for potentially severe weather, such as blizzards and hurricanes. Some forecasters prepare long-range outlooks to predict whether temperatures and precipitation levels will be above or below average in a particular month or season. These workers become familiar with general weather patterns, atmospheric predictability, precipitation, and forecasting techniques.
Some people with an atmospheric science background may become professors or postsecondary teachers.
In the federal government, most atmospheric scientists work as weather forecasters with the National Weather Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in weather stations throughout the United States—at airports, in or near cities, and in isolated and remote areas. In smaller stations, they often work alone; in larger ones, they work as part of a team. In addition, hundreds of members of the Armed Forces are involved in atmospheric science.
Atmospheric scientists involved in professional, scientific, and technical services or research often work in offices and laboratories. Some may travel frequently to collect data in the field and to observe weather events, such as tornadoes, up close. They also observe actual weather conditions from the ground or from an aircraft.
Broadcast meteorologists present their reports to the general public from television and radio studios. They also may broadcast from outdoor locations to tell audiences about current weather conditions.
Atmospheric scientists who work in private industry may have to travel to meet with clients or to gather information in the field. For example, forensic meteorologists may need to collect information from the scene of an accident as part of their investigation.
How to become an Atmospheric Scientist (Meteorologist)
Atmospheric scientists need a bachelor’s degree in meteorology or a closely related earth sciences field for most positions. For research positions, atmospheric scientists need a master’s degree at minimum, but usually will need a Ph.D.
Atmospheric scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field that specifically studies atmospheric qualities and phenomena. Bachelor’s degrees in physics, chemistry, or geology are usually adequate, alternative preparation for those who wish to enter the atmospheric sciences. Prospective meteorologists usually take courses outside of the typical atmospheric sciences field.
Course requirements, in addition to courses in meteorology and atmospheric science, usually include advanced courses in physics and mathematics. Classes in computer programming are important because many atmospheric scientists have to write and edit the computer software programs that produce forecasts. Coursework in remote sensing of the environment, by radar or satellite, may be required.
Atmospheric scientists who work in research must at least have a master’s degree, but will usually need a Ph.D. in atmospheric science or a related field. Most graduate programs do not require prospective students to have a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering is excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science. In addition to advanced meteorological coursework, graduate students take courses in other disciplines, such as oceanography and geophysics.
The median annual wage for atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists was $95,380 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,700, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $147,160.
Employment of atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
New types of computer models have vastly improved the accuracy of forecasts and allowed atmospheric scientists to tailor forecasts to specific purposes. This should maintain, and perhaps increase, the need for atmospheric scientists working in private industry as businesses demand more specialized weather information.
Businesses increasingly rely on just-in-time delivery to avoid the expenses incurred by traditional inventory management methods. Severe weather can interrupt ground or air transportation and delay inventory delivery. Businesses have begun to maintain forecasting teams around the clock to advise delivery personnel, and this availability helps them stay on schedule. In addition, severe weather patterns have become widely recognizable, and industries have become increasingly concerned about their impact, which will create demand for work in atmospheric science.
Similar Job Titles
Broadcast Meteorologist, Forecaster, Forensic Meteorologist, General Forecaster, Hydrometeorological Technician, Meteorologist, Research Meteorologist, Space Weather Forecaster, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Weather Forecaster
Geospatial Information Scientist and Technologist, Geographic Information Systems Technician, Cartographer and Photogrammetrist, Geoscientist (except Hydrologists and Geographers), City and Regional Planning Aides
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Meteorological Society - The AMS advances the atmospheric and related sciences, technologies, applications, and services for the benefit of society.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic product. NOAA’s dedicated scientists use cutting-edge research and high-tech instrumentation to provide citizens, planners, emergency managers and other decision makers with reliable information they need when they need it.
- National Weather Association - The NWA is a member-led, non-profit, professional association supporting and promoting excellence in operational meteorology and related activities.
Magazines and Publications
- Journal of Operational Meteorology (NWA)
- AMS Publications online
- The Conversation
- Meteorologist Worldwide online News
- Earth Magazine
Even before breakfast, and certainly before leaving the house, most people consult the weather forecast. That essential item of news is provided by atmospheric and space scientists, who study the weather and climate, and examine how those conditions affect human activity and the earth. Atmospheric scientists collect data from the field using instruments such as weather balloons, radar systems, and satellite imagery. Many write their own computer programs to model or predict weather developments, and advise the public or their clients on risks caused by weather events and climate change. There are many types of atmospheric scientists… For example, weather forecasters use computer models to forecast short- and long-term conditions for airports, farmers, utility companies, and others. Climate scientists model climate change to help plan building design and adapt agricultural production to changing conditions. Atmospheric scientists generally work full time and may be called upon to work at odd hours, or overtime—keeping the public informed during severe weather or monitoring conditions around the clock at a field station. They may work in government weather stations, laboratories and offices, or television and radio stations. Atmospheric scientists need a bachelor’s degree in meteorology or a related earth science field for most positions. To lead research or teach at the college level usually requires a Ph.D. or master’s degree in the field.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org