What exactly is a meteorologist? And what is the educational path to a career in the field?
According to the American Meteorological Society, a meteorologist is a person with a specialized education “who uses scientific principles to explain, understand, observe, or forecast the earth’s atmospheric phenomena and/or how the atmosphere affects the earth and life on the planet.”
Where does the information comes from? From the society’s website:
Several times each day, weather observers record atmospheric measurements at nearly 10,000 surface weather stations around the world and several thousand ships at sea. They release weather balloons at more than 500 stations to make upper-air measurements. Radar, aircraft and satellites also are used to collect data on what is happening in the atmosphere.This information is transmitted to world weather centers in the United States, the UK, Russia, and Australia, where computers produce analyses of global weather. National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists in Washington, D.C., use these data as a starting point to produce guidance forecasts for the United States with sophisticated computer models. These guidance forecasts go to local offices where NWS meteorologists apply their skill and experience to fine-tune the predictions for their regions and specific towns and cities.
What specialized education? Again, from the society’s website:
This education usually includes a bachelor’s or higher degree from a college or university. Many meteorologists have degrees in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other fields. The broader term “atmospheric science” often is used to describe the combination of meteorology and other branches of physical science that are involved in studying the atmosphere.
Samenow says he has been interested in weather since he was 10 years old and was fascinated by big snow storms in his native Washington D.C. Before graduating from high school, he interned for a renowned meteorologist named Bob Ryan on NBC4. He earned a degree in environmental science at the University of Virginia, focusing in atmospheric science, and a master’s degree in atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000.
Samenow worked for 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the federal government, is a past chairman of the D.C. Chapter of the American Meteorological Society, and holds the National Weather Association Digital Seal of Approval. In 2004, he founded CapitalWeather.com, the weather blog that was absorbed by the Post eight years ago, and he became the head of what is now the Capital Weather Gang, a team of meteorologists who keep the Post audience well informed on every aspect of the weather.
I asked Samenow — who is engrossed at the moment in monitoring the massive snowstorm hitting part of the East Coast — how young people who are interested in pursuing meteorology as a profession should proceed in school. The answer: concentrate on math and science.
In high school, he said, students can take Earth Science, and high-level science and math courses. In college, students can find meteorological programs at a number of schools, or take math and science courses that will get them into a graduate program. Three semesters of calculus and differential equations, as well as calculus-based physics and chemistry are necessary, he said.
Other members of the Capital Weather Gang have had different routes into their jobs. For example, lead meteorologist Angela Fritz has a bachelor’s degree in meteorology from Valparaiso University, and a master’s degree in earth and atmospheric science from Georgia Institute of Technology. Dan Stillman, a lead meteorologist on the Gang as well, earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in meteorology from Texas A&M University.
You can see how other Gang members got to where they are now here.
Samenow said that finding jobs in the field isn’t easy, with openings often in far-flung places, so those interested in the field should expect to be creative about professional opportunities.
Technological improvements have provided meteorologists with better and more tools to analyze weather patterns and communicate with people about what they will be facing, but still, Samenow said, the work is 60 percent science and 40 percent art — though some artists are better than others. “The art comes from experience and having an intuitive sense of what is going to happen and paying attention,” he said. “People who pay attention to how the weather works from a young age are better equipped than people who are going through the motions and getting a degree.”
For the record, the Gang got Winter Storm Jonas right. The team said it was coming, and it did.