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Meteorologist Career Guide

What is a meteorologist?

A meteorologist (or atmospheric scientist) studies weather conditions and patterns to forecast weather changes. They use weather models and data created from computer programs to predict atmospheric pressure, precipitation, temperature, humidity, and wind speed and direction. While these scientists can’t predict the future, they can use the tools and programming they have to accurately depict the weather conditions over the next week or so. 

A key part of a meteorologist’s job is to accurately analyze and make interpretations from the data collected from those weather models. They should have a strong knowledge of atmospheric physics and chemistry to accurately predict weather changes based on the current conditions. These professionals should also have strong verbal communication skills since they may be asked to come on the radio or TV to present their forecasting for the next ten days for the area.

Qualifications and eligibility

Each state has different requirements for becoming a meteorologist, however, there will be common elements across all states. These core components include:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age 
  • You must earn a bachelor’s degree in meteorology or atmospheric science
  • You must maintain a good GPA rating
  • You must have a strong understanding of physics and calculus
  • You must work with others and be able to work under pressure well 
  • You may be required to earn your master’s degree or Ph.D. for certain positions

A meteorologist should be keeping up-to-date with new technological developments. It is important for them to update their programs and data to help forecast weather conditions more accurately. Their ability to analyze maps, satellite data, and radar information will help these scientists gather the information needed to predict temperature, winds, and humidity in a specific city or region.  

Work environment

Meteorologists can work in different locations and environments depending on their assignments. Here are some of the most common places you’ll find them working: 

  • Weather stations provide the instruments and equipment needed to measure atmospheric conditions. 
  • Weather forecast offices are where they analyze data and prepare weather maps. 
  • You’ll also find them in research labs studying climate change and weather patterns. 

Meteorologists will sometimes have to do fieldwork to study the current weather conditions outside. Some individuals may travel to collect data in the field and observe severe weather events such as tornadoes or hurricanes. This could be observed from the ground or in an aircraft and later on reported to the general public from radio and television stations.

Typical work hours

As you might have guessed by now, the typical hours for a meteorologist can vary. These professionals work 8 to 12-hour rotating shifts, so there can be coverage on any meteorological event. This requires taking night, weekend, and holiday shifts. 

If you’re working in a small research lab or weather station, you may work the traditional 9 to 5 since you are researching weather patterns rather than forecasting weather conditions. Meteorologists may also work longer hours during their travel studies to watch continuous and unusual atmospheric changes. 

Types of meteorologists

Meteorologist work can fall into six different categories, although they typically just specialize in one area. They may provide services in the following areas: 

Weather Forecasting & Warnings

This involves forecasting weather conditions and events based on atmospheric measurements and research. Thousands of meteorologists are found gathering atmospheric data in weather stations around the world to help create accurate forecasts for different areas. 

Atmospheric Research

Meteorologists in this field will study atmospheric conditions and patterns to answer questions about our atmosphere and how it impacts us. 

Information Services

Some media outlets, industrial complexes, and weather-sensitive businesses need meteorologists to provide information on raw meteorological data. They will create simple and colorful graphics to display the data to customers. 

Meteorological Technology Development

Meteorologists will help design, manufacture, and market new instrumentation for atmospheric reading. They will also look into new software to enhance technological readings. 

Forensic Services

When weather conditions impact legal cases, forensic meteorologists are called in to determine the timing and weather conditions of the event. 

Broadcast Meteorology

These meteorologists are responsible for gathering data, creating weather forecasts, and producing related graphics for television or radio stations.

Income potential

A meteorologist salary may fluctuate based on the state you live in, your education, and the number of years you’ve been in the field: 

  • The average annual income for a meteorologist is $103,719 and can range from $58,638 to $151,562. 
  • A meteorologist’s salary can vary greatly depending on the state you work in, so it is important to check your specific state’s average. For example, New York, California, Idaho, and New Hampshire offer the highest average salary at $98,000 – $105,000. Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina have the lowest salaries between $67,000 – $73,000.  

Keep in mind that a meteorologist may begin working on a part-time basis, so their wage is typically based on the number of hours they work. The average hourly wage in the United States is $50 and can range from anywhere between $39 – $62 an hour. Travel is occasionally required, so they may be paid overtime for the work they complete during their trip. Travel work can include long work hours to stay up-to-date on changing weather conditions. 

Some companies will hire freelance meteorologists to create infographics and other forecasting for them. The estimated annual earnings for this work is fluid and is largely dependent on the type of projects they take on. 

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job market to grow by 8% over the next ten years for meteorologists. Around 1,000 positions will be listed each year to help replace those leaving the field for another occupation or to retire. 

Career path

There are many different career opportunities in meteorology. As a certified meteorologist, you will gain valuable experience studying various atmospheric conditions throughout the world. This knowledge and research will help prepare you for more advanced roles dealing with atmospheric conditions and environmental changes. 

Below is a list of positions that are natural career paths for meteorologists:

  • GIS Technician
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Hydrologist 
  • Weather Reporter
  • Meteorology Professor
  • Aviation Forecaster
  • News Reporters
  • Air Pollution Scientist 
  • Research Scientist
  • Data Scientist
  • Geologist
  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
  • Climate Change Analysts
  • Geospatial Information Scientist
  • Climatologist
  • Oceanographer

Steps to become a meteorologist

1. Take the right courses in high school

Preparing to become a meteorologist begins in high school. There are certain classes you can take that will help you understand basic concepts that fundamentally apply to meteorology. Taking advanced math and science courses are great ways to help prepare you to take meteorology courses in high school. You may even have the option to take relevant AP courses that will transfer into college credit to jumpstart your degree.  

Here are some recommended courses you take in high school:

  • Calculus – Meteorology is a highly specialized mathematical field, so understanding calculus will help a student succeed academically later on in college. Calculus is specifically used in meteorology to predict the direction and intensity of certain storms such as hurricanes and tornadoes. 
  • Physics – Understanding physics is essential to create accurate forecast models. Physical processes such as radiation, clouds, and subgrid turbulent motions are all studied to accurately forecast weather conditions. 
  • Chemistry – Chemistry is deeply rooted in meteorology since it focuses on matter such as air and water, which is what certain weather conditions like fog, rain, and snow are made of. 
  • Earth Science – This course will introduce you to basic concepts surrounding the earth’s atmosphere. This will give you insight into the meteorology field. 
  • Computer Science – Taking a computer science course in high school will help prepare you to take harder programming classes during your undergraduate degree. Computer science has made it possible to solve certain equations of motion and speed of the atmosphere to provide a future prediction of future conditions. 

It is also important to take advantage of your English courses in high school to strengthen your writing skills for future research papers and lab reports. 

2. Earn your Bachelor’s degree

Every aspiring meteorologist must earn a bachelor’s degree in meteorology or atmospheric sciences. It may be possible to major in a related subject such as math or another science if you plan on getting a master’s degree in meteorology later on. Depending on what you want to specialize in, some individuals take classes that will be beneficial to their area. This might include classes like chemistry, computer science, or journalism. 

Some of the top colleges are:

3. Look for an internship

While studying for your undergraduate degree, it would be smart to look for different internship opportunities. Attending an internship will provide you with valuable work experience and the chance to make connections with leaders and companies in that field. Not only will landing an internship help you find a job later on, but it will give you insight on what it will be like working with atmospheric tools, studying weather conditions, and creating forecasts.  

The National Weather Service offers information about different internship and employment opportunities for students.

4. Determine a specialization or workplace

As you attend school, it is important to think about what specialization you would like to pursue as well as where you would like to work. Both of these decisions can affect which classes you take in school, so it is best to start looking into the different specialties out there. 

Here is a list of common specialties in the meteorology field: 

  • Operational Meteorologists
  • Forensic Meteorologists
  • Broadcast Meteorologists
  • Synoptic Meteorologists
  • Physical Meteorologists
  • Consulting Meteorologists
  • Research Meteorologists
  • Environmental Meteorologists
  • Archive Meteorologists

These professionals most commonly work for government agencies, but can also be employed by private companies, TV stations, and legal courtrooms.

5. Earn certifications if needed

Some specialties will require a meteorologist to earn certifications to work in that area of expertise. 

The American Meteorological Society offers certification programs for certain specialties and interests for meteorologists. Their professional certification programs provide students with a sense of confidence when they go out into the work field to properly explain complex weather and climate situations. 

Listed below are the three professional certification programs offered by The American Meteorological Society:

  • Certified Broadcast Meteorologist – This certification promotes a deeper scientific understanding of atmospheric conditions with respect to environmental issues. 
  • Certified Consulting Meteorologist – This certification proves a meteorologist has demonstrated technical competence, character, and experience to offer advice and consultation in meteorology. 
  • Certified AMS Teacher Program – This program recognizes meteorology teachers engaged in providing knowledge and research to aspiring meteorologists. 

6. Decide if you want to pursue a graduate degree

While there are positions available to those who earned bachelor’s degrees, more advanced positions will require a master’s degree or more. A Ph.D. is needed for those looking to go into research. Earning your master’s or Ph.D. will provide you with more research and fieldwork opportunities. 

Universities that offer the best meteorology and atmospheric sciences graduate programs: 

7. Be prepared for additional training

Once you graduate from school and land your dream job as a meteorologist, you should be prepared to complete additional training upon employment. Many government agency positions will place you in intern positions where you will work in different departments learning about forecasting and atmospheric systems. Once you’ve completed a certain number of on-the-job training, you will be assigned individual projects for you to handle.

8. Attend conferences

There are constantly new ideas and theories being tested in the meteorological world. It is ideal to attend local and national conferences to network, meet new people, and learn about new research going on. Certain organizations like The American Meteorological Society sponsor conferences to encourage meteorologists to present research and experiments.  

Tips for becoming a meteorologist

If you are interested in becoming a meteorologist, there are a few things you can do to get a jump start.

  • Decide on your specialty early on. This will lead you to take the right courses and find the right internships that will help prepare you for that specific role in meteorology.  
  • Develop strong technical skills to advance your knowledge of databases, scientific devices, hardware, and software for measuring weather conditions. 
  • Find associations so you have a pool of resources and advocates ready to assist you:
  • If you plan on going on TV, you must get your degree in Broadcast Meteorology. This will include the communication courses and green screen experience needed to become successful. 
  • Make time to market yourself. Find internships and attend conferences that will help you meet potential future colleagues and employers. 
  • Make sure you have a solid understanding of calculus, chemistry, and physics. You will be applying these subjects to your work every day. 
  • Determine if you would like to travel or not before applying for jobs. Some positions may require fieldwork to watch big meteorological events such as tornadoes and hurricanes. 

Meteorologist FAQs