Atmospheric scientists study weather, climate, and other aspects of the atmosphere. They develop reports and forecasts from their analysis of weather and climate data.
Atmospheric scientists typically do the following:
Measure temperature, air pressure, and other properties of the atmosphere Develop and use computer models that analyze data about the atmosphere (also called meteorological data)
Produce weather maps and graphics
Report current weather conditions
Prepare long- and short-term weather forecasts using sophisticated computer and mathematical models, satellite and radar data
Issue warnings to protect life and property during 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, satellites, and sensors to monitor the weather and collect data. The data they collect and analyze are critical to understanding air pollution, drought, loss of the ozone layer, and other problems. Atmospheric scientists also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports.
Many atmospheric scientists work with scientists and professionals in other fields to help solve problems in areas such as commerce, energy, transportation, agriculture, and the environment. For example, some atmospheric scientists work on teams with other scientists and engineers to find the best locations for new wind farms, which are groups of wind turbines used to generate electricity. Others work closely with hydrologists to monitor the impact climate change has on water supplies and to manage water resources.
Most atmospheric scientists work indoors in weather stations, offices, or laboratories. Occasionally, they do fieldwork, which means working outdoors to examine the weather. Some atmospheric scientists may have to work extended hours during weather emergencies.
In the federal government, most atmospheric scientists worked 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. The U.S. Department of Defense employed several hundred atmospheric scientists in 2010. In addition, hundreds of members of the Armed Forces are involved in atmospheric science.
Atmospheric scientists involved in research often work in offices and laboratories, but they may travel frequently to collect data in the field and to observe weather events, such as tornadoes, up close. They watch actual weather conditions from the ground or from an aircraft.
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.
Broadcast meteorologists give their reports to the general public from television and radio studios. They may also broadcast from outdoor locations to tell audiences about current weather conditions.
Typical Requirements and/or Experience
Atmospheric scientists need a bachelors degree in meteorology or a closely related field for most positions. For research positions, atmospheric scientists usually need a masters degree at minimum, but preferably a Ph.D.
Atmospheric scientists typically need a bachelors degree, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field. There were about 100 undergraduate and graduate programs in atmospheric, oceanic, hydrologic, and related sciences in the United States in 2010, according to the American Meteorological Society. However, many schools also offer atmospheric science courses through other departments, such as physics and geosciences.
When considering colleges, prospective students should make certain that the colleges offer those courses required by the federal government and other employers as one of their hiring requirements. 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.
Students should also take courses in subjects that are relevant to their desired area of specialization. For example, those who wish to become broadcast meteorologists for radio or television stations should develop excellent speaking skills through courses in speech, journalism, and related fields.
Atmospheric scientists who work in research usually need a masters degree at minimum, and preferably a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences or a related field. Most graduate programs do not require prospective students to have a bachelors degree in atmospheric science; an undergraduate degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering provides 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.
Although it is not necessary, a masters degree in atmospheric science can greatly enhance employment opportunities, pay, and advancement potential for meteorologists in government and private industry. A masters degree in business administration (MBA) may be useful for meteorologists interested in working in private industry as consultants who help firms make important business decisions on the basis of their forecasts.
Married and unmarried men and women, with or without children are eligible. Persons who are widowed or divorced, also are eligible.
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Wages and Benefits
The median annual wage of atmospheric scientists was $87,780 in May 2010. 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 $45,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $132,130.
Opportunities for Advancement
Employment of atmospheric scientists is projected to grow by 11 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. New computer models have vastly improved the accuracy of forecasts and allow atmospheric scientists to tailor forecasts to specific purposes. This should increase the need for atmospheric scientists working in private industry as businesses demand more specialized weather information.
Outlook for the Future
Employment of atmospheric scientists is projected to increase by 11 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The best job prospects for atmospheric scientists will be in private industry.
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