How to Become a Meteorologist at Any Age

Tips to Get You On Track For a Weather Career

meteteorologist in-training
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Archive Photos/ Getty

If you or someone you know watches the Weather Channel for hours at a time, gets excited when weather watches and warnings are issued, or always knows what this and next week's weather will be, it may be a sign that a meteorologist in-the-making is in your midst. Here's my advice (from a meteorologist herself) on how to become a meteorologist -- regardless of your education level.

See also: What do meteorologists do?

ELEMENTARY, MIDDLE, and HIGH SCHOOLERS:

Find ways to focus on weather in the classroom

Meteorology isn't a part of core curriculum, however, most science classes do include lesson plans on weather and the atmosphere. Although there may not be many chances to include weather in daily learning, one way to express your individual interest is to make use of any "choose your own" show-and-tell, science project, or research assignments by focusing on a weather-related topic.

Be math-minded

Because meteorology is what's called a "physical science," a solid understanding of mathematics and physics is important in order for you to grasp the advanced concepts you'll learn later in your weather studies. Be sure to take courses like Calculus in high school -- you'll thank yourself later! (Don't be discouraged if these subjects aren't your favorites...not all meteorologists were members of the math club.)

UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS:

A Bachelor's degree (B.S.) is typically the minimum requirement needed to obtain an entry-level meteorologist position. Unsure if you'll need more training? One simple way to find out is to search the job boards of companies you'd like to work for, or do a Google search for job openings for a position you think you'd like to do, then tailor your skills to those listed in the position description.

Choosing a university

Less than 50 years ago, the number of North American schools offering degree programs in meteorology was under 50. Today, that number has nearly tripled. Those accepted as "top" schools for meteorology include:

  • Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA),
  • Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL),
  • and the University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK).

For a complete list of universities offering degree programs in the U.S. and Canada, click here.

Are internships a "must do"?

In a word, yes. Internships and co-op opportunities provide hands-on experience, give entry-level resumes a boost, and allow you to explore different disciplines within meteorology which will ultimately aid you in discovering which area (broadcasting, forecasting, climatology, government, private industry, etc.) best suits your personality and interests. By connecting you with a professional organization, a diversity of scientists, and perhaps even a mentor, an internship also helps build your professional network and network of references. What's more, if you do a stellar job as an intern you'll likely increase your chances of getting employed at that company after graduation.

Keep in mind that you won't be eligible for most internships until your Junior year.

Even so, don't make the mistake of waiting until the summer of your Senior year to get involved -- the number of programs accepting recent graduates are far and few between. What sorts of opportunities should you, an underclassmen, consider in the meantime? Possibly a summer job. Most weather internships are unpaid, so working in the summers prior can help ease that financial burden.

Looking for a 2016 internship opportunity? Check out this list of internships by state, courtesy of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

GRADUATE-LEVEL STUDENTS:

If your heart is set on a career in atmospheric research (including storm chasing), teaching in a university setting, or consulting work, you should be prepared to continue your education at the masters (M.S.) and/or doctorate (Ph.D.) levels.

Choosing a graduate degree program

While returning to your alma mater is one option, you'll also want to shop around for schools whose facilities and faculty support research that matches your interests.

PROFESSIONALS:

The above advice is helpful to individuals planning their academic career, but what options exist for individuals already in the workforce?

Certificate programs

Certificates of Meteorology are a great way to gain training in weather without the full commitment of entering into a degree program. Not to mention these are earned by completing a fraction of the coursework required of degree programs (10-20 semester hours vs. 120 or more). Some classes can even be completed online in a distance learning manner.

Well-known certificate programs offered in the U.S. include Penn State's Undergraduate Certificate in Weather Forecasting and the Broadcast and Operational Meteorology certificate programs offered by Mississippi State.  

Leisurely Meteorologists

Not interested in going back to school or participating in a certificate program, but still want to feed your inner weather geek? You could always become a citizen scientist.

Whatever your age, it's never too early or too late to grow your love and knowledge of weather!