So You Want to be a Meteorologist?

Undoubtedly you came to this site because you have an interest in the weather or would like to learn more about climate change.  As a meteorologist who spent a great deal of time working for the National Weather Service, I can personally attest that a career in meteorology is rewarding and interesting.  However like most professions, it does have its drawbacks.  However I am not here to persuade you to become a meteorologist or to consider other career options.  I am here to dispense my advice on how to enter the field of meteorology.  Since I do not have first hand experience in several of the different career paths a meteorologist can take, I will focus this post to provide advice on entering the National Weather Service. 

Education

In order to become a meteorologist, you have to love math and science.  Not just love tornadoes and other destructive weather, but you need to love these two subjects in general.  You also need to be good in both subjects.  In college, the course work you will be required to take include: atmospheric dynamics, thermodynamics, climatology, and weather forecasting and instrumentation.  Many of these courses require students to derive complex equations using calculus. In addition, many universities require students to take computer programming courses since using technology constitutes a large part of meteorologists’ work.

Although students who obtain a B.S. degree can get hired at the National Weather Service, it is advisable to obtain a M.S. degree in atmospheric sciences.  If you have this degree while seeking a position in the National Weather Service, you have a little bit of an advantage.  Very few meteorologists in the National Weather Service have a PhD although certainly acquiring a PhD will open more career paths for you.  I attended Northern Illinois University for my B.S. degree.  However there are many other schools that offer degrees in this field.  You just need to find the one that is the best fit for you.

Background on the National Weather Service 

The National Weather Service is a federal government agency that has offices in 122 offices across the United States and its territories.  Each office consists of a Meteorologist-in-charge (MIC), Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM), Science Operations Officer (SOO), Information Technology Officer, a staff of meteorologists, meteorologist interns, and electronic technicians (the people who fix the equipment and radar).  Since the National Weather Service is a governmental agency, the pay is based on the GS (General Schedule) scale.  The GS level you would be employed at typically depends on what degree you possess.  Typically those who have a B.S. degree would start as a GS 7, M.S. degree at a GS 9, and PhD degree at a GS 11.

The good…

  • Your job allows you to immerse yourself in the weather.  As a meteorologist at one of the offices, you would be the person to actually predict what the weather will do.
  • Your typical work day varies.  One day it can be sunny outside the next day you may have to deal with tracking thunderstorms on radar.
  • You have an impact on people’s lives.  Think about how often people talk about the weather.   If you are the one who issues a forecast predicting rain, unusually warm or cold temperatures, people will talk about it.  This really comes into play when high impact weather occurs.  Once I predicted a blizzard to impact the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles.  The afternoon of the day when the snow started, I went to the grocery store and it was really busy with people preparing for the storm.
  • The pay and benefits are good.  When you first start in the National Weather Service, the pay is not great, but with time meteorologists earn a pretty decent salary.  The health insurance is good too.
  • You can decide how to take your career.  Are you someone who would enjoy reaching out to the public and teach them about storms?   Or would you prefer to research and/or write scripts to aid the office in their operations?  These are just a couple of examples of how you can structure your career in the National Weather Service.

The bad…

  • Shift work.  You will have to work odd hours, including working on weekends and holidays.  The mission of the National Weather Service is to protect the life and property of the public, making it necessary for offices to be staffed 24/7.  A lot of people find working overnight especially challenging.  This was certainly true in my case.  I found it increasingly difficult to work the overnight shift the older I got.
  • In order to advance in your career, you will have to move.  The National Weather Service has offices across the country.  While you have some control over where you move to (no one is going to suddenly uproot you and make you move across the country), if you are willing to move around, you will more likely advance your career quicker than those who cannot move or are unwilling to move.
  • Since the National Weather Service is an agency in the federal government, you can get caught up in furloughs enforced by the President and Congress when a new budget has not been passed.  (However I will say I have never been affected by any furloughs, but it bears mentioning since it is a possibility.)

I hope this give you a better glimpse into what a career in the National Weather Service can be like.  If you have any questions and/or comments, be sure to contact me.  Good luck!

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