Careers in Meteorology: Meteorologists Do More Than Just Gaze at the Sky

Article excerpt

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, is credited with many things scientific. One of them is his Meteorologica, the first major study of the atmosphere. Out of Aristotle's discourse came the term "meteorologist"--a person who studies the atmosphere.

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The field of meteorology has changed greatly since the days of the ancient, seafaring Greeks. Meteorology is a highly scientific and complex field that beckons skilled and talented professionals to observe naturally changing weather patterns and impart that information to society.

Quinton Williams, a physicist who chairs the department of Physics, Atmospheric Science and Geosciences at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., says when he asks students why they decided to major in meteorology, they often say something like "When I was a child I experienced a terrible storm or a tornado" or "I used to always go outside and wonder what makes the weather what it is."

Meteorology today is typically characterized by the understanding of sophisticated computer weather models, satellite imagery and real-time weather radar. Meteorology is a dynamic and innovative endeavor that provides career opportunities in government, military, the private sector and academia, along with media weather forecasting positions.

"The atmospheric sciences have progressed ... from a fledgling discipline to a global enterprise providing considerable benefits to individuals, businesses, and governments," stated a report from the National Research Council board, offering an outlook on the field in 1998 in advance of the new millennium.

"Through research and applications, the atmospheric sciences provide information that contributes to protection of life and property, agriculture, economic and industrial vitality, management of air quality, battlefield decisions, and national policies concerning energy and environment," the report continued.

For many of those who work as meteorologists, one thing that probably hasn't changed since Aristotle is the attraction to atmospheric-spawned events such as lightning and wind, moisture and rain, and ice and snow.

"I think the largest group of people that do go into meteorology really have that natural curiosity from a very early age. I think most meteorologists can really look back and say, 'I've always loved the weather. I've always been interested,'" said Elizabeth Mills, coordinator of the Online Weather Studies Diversity Project of the American Meteorological Society in Washington, a program seeking to increase the number of African Americans in the field.

While not ubiquitous, a number of avenues exist for students seeking to pursue meteorology careers. Among the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Jackson State is the only one to offer a bachelor's degree program in meteorology. Williams said Jackson State's program graduates about 1 in 4 African-American meteorologists in the nation.

About 50 percent of Jackson State meteorologists graduates since 2002 have gone to graduate school, while about 25 percent go on to start careers in broadcasting as television and radio weather forecasters and another 20 percent go to work for government agencies, such as the National Weather Service, part of the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration.

Job opportunities in meteorology are expected to be better in private industry than in the federal government in the future, while opportunities in broadcasting are highly competitive, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. Department of Labor.

An American Meteorological Society report showed that from the period 1997 through 1999, all U.S. colleges and universities conferred 816 bachelor's degrees, 502 master's degrees and 305 Ph.D.s in meteorology/atmospheric sciences. More than 100 universities, large and small, offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in atmospheric or related sciences in the United States and Canada, according to the AMS. …