Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists

Summary

atmospheric scientists including meteorologists image
Research meteorologists prepare to test hurricane resiliency of homes and warehouses in their lab.
Quick Facts: Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists
2014 Median Pay $87,980 per year
$42.30 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 11,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 9% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 1,100

What Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists Do

Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate, and how those conditions affect human activity and the earth in general.

Work Environment

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.

How to Become an Atmospheric Scientist

Atmospheric scientists need a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science or a closely related field for most positions. Those who work in research usually need a master’s degree or a Ph.D.

Pay

The median annual wage for atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists was $87,980 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of atmospheric scientists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. The best job prospects for atmospheric scientists will be in private industry.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists Do

Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists
Research meteorologists study atmospheric phenomena such as lightning.

Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate, and 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.

Duties

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
  • 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
  • Produce forecasts for transportation activities, including aviation, boating and shipping, and road transportation

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 air pollution, drought, changes in the ozone layer, long-term changes in the climate, 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 on teams with engineers and geologists to find the best locations for new wind farms, which are groups of wind turbines used to generate electricity. Others work closely with hydrologists and politicians 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. For more information on broadcasters who do not have specific training in meteorology, but present weather conditions and forecasts, see the profile on reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts.

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, such as 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, farmers, utilities, 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, which 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 teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment

Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists
Many atmospheric scientists work at weather stations located throughout the country.

Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists held about 11,800 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services 40%
Federal government 26
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 20
Television broadcasting 6

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. These scientists may also create small replicas of weather phenomena, in an off-site setting such as a warehouse, for study of the actual phenomena.

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.

Work Schedules

Most atmospheric scientists work full time. Weather conditions can change quickly, so weather forecasters need to continuously monitor conditions. Many, especially entry-level staff at field stations, work rotating shifts to cover all 24 hours in a day. For this reason, they work nights, weekends, and holidays to provide the most current weather information. In addition, they work extended hours during severe weather, such as hurricanes. Other atmospheric scientists have a standard workweek, although researchers may work nights and weekends on particular projects.

How to Become an Atmospheric Scientist

Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists
Atmospheric scientists issue warnings for severe weather.

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.

Education

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. Many schools offer atmospheric science courses through other departments, such as physics and geosciences. 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 communications is also becoming important as organizations are increasing their efforts to make their data accessible to the public and to educate their communities and the nation. And because of recent advancements in technology, a class in remote sensing of the environment, by radar or satellite, may be required.

Courses should be taken 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 may take courses in speech, journalism, or related fields.

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. 

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Atmospheric scientists must be able to focus for many hours, working with computer models and massive amounts of data to prepare analyses on their findings.

Communication skills. Atmospheric scientists need to be able to write and speak clearly so that their knowledge about the weather can be used effectively by communities and individuals.

Critical-thinking skills. Atmospheric scientists need to be able to analyze the results of their computer models and forecasts to determine the most likely outcome.

Math skills. Atmospheric scientists use calculus, statistics, and other advanced topics in mathematics to develop models used to forecast the weather. They also use mathematical calculations to study the relationship between properties of the atmosphere, such as how changes in air pressure may affect air temperature.

Training

Atmospheric scientists and meteorologists who find employment in the National Weather Service will need to take 200 hours of on-the-job training per year for the first 2 years of employment.

Advancement

Although it is not necessary for entry, a master’s degree in atmospheric science can greatly enhance employment opportunities, pay, and advancement potential for meteorologists in government and private industry. A master’s 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.

Pay

Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists

Median annual wages, May 2014

Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists

$87,980

Life, physical, and social science occupations

$61,450

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists was $87,980 in May 2014. 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 $50,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $128,670.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government $99,090
Television broadcasting 84,860
Professional, scientific, and technical services 82,610
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 71,900

Most atmospheric scientists work full time. Weather conditions can change quickly, so weather forecasters need to continuously monitor conditions. Many, especially entry-level staff at field stations, work rotating shifts to cover all 24 hours in a day, and they work on nights, weekends, and holidays to provide the most current weather information. In addition, they work extended hours during severe weather, such as hurricanes. Other atmospheric scientists have a standard workweek, although researchers may work nights and weekends on particular projects.

Job Outlook

Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists

9%

Life, physical, and social science occupations

7%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of atmospheric scientists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

New 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, helping them stay on schedule. In addition, severe weather patterns have become widely recognized, and industries have become increasingly concerned about their impact, which will create demand for work in atmospheric science.

As utility companies continue to adopt wind and solar power, they must depend more heavily on weather forecasting to arrange for buying and selling power. This should lead to increased reliance on atmospheric scientists to help utilities know when they can sell their excess power, and when they will need to buy.

Job Prospects

Prospective atmospheric scientists should expect continued competition because the number of graduates from meteorology programs is expected to exceed the number of job openings requiring only a bachelor’s degree. Workers with a graduate degree should have better prospects than those whose highest level of education is a bachelor’s degree. Prospective atmospheric scientists with knowledge of advanced mathematics also will have better job prospects because of the highly quantitative nature of much of this occupation’s work.

Competition may be strong for research positions at colleges and universities because of the limited number of positions available. Few opportunities are expected in federal government because atmospheric scientists will be hired only to replace workers who retire or leave for other reasons. Budget constraints are also expected to limit hiring by federal agencies such as the National Weather Service. The best job prospects for meteorologists are expected to be in private industry.

The National Weather Service and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) sponsor an online training program called COMET. The training, for both novice and fully trained atmospheric scientists, helps participants to stay current with the latest science and technology. Training is offered in a series of self-paced lessons, which are combined into courses. Certificates of completion are awarded for both lessons and courses. Completing such coursework may help prospective atmospheric scientists to have better job prospects.

Employment projections data for atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Atmospheric and space scientists

19-2021 11,800 12,900 9 1,100 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Chemists and materials scientists

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Bachelor's degree $74,720
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor's degree $77,550
Environmental engineers

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.

Bachelor's degree $83,360
Environmental scientists and specialists

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Bachelor's degree $66,250
Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Bachelor's degree $89,910
Hydrologists

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.

Bachelor's degree $78,370
Mathematicians

Mathematicians

Mathematicians conduct research to develop and understand mathematical principles. They also analyze data and apply mathematical techniques to help solve real-world problems.

Master's degree $103,720
Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.

Doctoral or professional degree $109,290
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $70,790

Contacts for More Information

For more information about atmospheric scientists, including a list of colleges and universities offering atmospheric science programs, visit

American Meteorological Society

National Weather Association

For a broad range of information concerning atmospheric scientists within the geosciences perspective, visit

American Geosciences Institute

For more information about atmospheric science careers in research, visit

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)

For more information about federal government education requirements for atmospheric science positions, visit

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

For more information about the COMET training program, visit

MetEd

To find job openings for atmospheric scientists in the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

For information about federal government atmospheric science careers in the National Weather Service and other agencies within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, visit

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

O*NET

Atmospheric and Space Scientists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/atmospheric-scientists-including-meteorologists.htm (visited February 06, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015