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The Job

Although most people think of weather forecasting when they think of meteorology, meteorologists do many other kinds of work also. They research subjects ranging from radioactive fallout to the dynamics of hurricanes. They study the ozone levels in the stratosphere. Some teach in colleges and universities. A few meteorologists create weather forecasts and report on weather events (such as hurricanes, blizzards, and tornadoes) for radio and television news broadcasts. Television and radio networks usually hire their own staff of meteorologists.

Meteorologists generally specialize in one branch of this rapidly developing science; however, the lines of specialization are not clearly drawn and meteorologists often work in more than one area of specialization. The largest group of specialists are called operational meteorologists, the technical name for weather forecasters, who interpret current weather information, such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind velocity, reported by observers, weather satellites, weather radar, and remote sensors in many parts of the world. They use this data to make short- and long-range forecasts for given regions. Operational meteorologists also use Doppler radar, which detects rotational patterns in violent thunderstorms, in order to better predict tornadoes, thunderstorms, and flash floods, as well as their direction and intensity. Other specialists include climatologists, who study past records to discover weather patterns for a given region. The climatologist compiles, makes statistical analyses of, and interprets data on temperature, sunlight, rainfall, humidity, and wind for a particular area over a long period of time for use in weather forecasting, aviation, agriculture, commerce, and public health.

Dynamic meteorologists study the physical laws related to air currents. Physical meteorologists study the physical nature of the atmosphere including its chemical composition and electrical, acoustical, and optical properties. Environmental meteorologists study air pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, water shortages, and other environmental problems and write impact statements about their findings. Industrial meteorologists work in a variety of private industries, focusing their expertise on such problems as smoke control and air pollution. Synoptic meteorologists find new ways to forecast weather events by using mathematical models and computers. Flight meteorologists fly in aircraft to study hurricanes and other weather phenomena.

Applied meteorologists apply meteorological research to practical applications. For example, they help ferry operators, oil and gas exploration companies, and cruise lines avoid dangerous weather conditions such as hurricanes.

Forensic meteorologists use their expertise to investigate, report, recreate, and provide testimony regarding past weather conditions. Their services are used by law firms, insurance companies, and government agencies to help settle lawsuits, criminal investigations, insurance claims, and environmental regulatory actions.

One new major area of study for meteorologists is called global change research or earth systems science. Nearly all the world’s major scientists are in agreement that the earth’s climate is undergoing major changes as a result of global warming. These changes will affect billions of people. Meteorologists are trying to understand the role that clouds, snow, and other atmospheric phenomena play in fueling or reducing global climate change. According to the American Meteorological Society, they are also “studying interactions among the atmosphere and oceans, the polar ice caps, and the earth’s plants and animals” to better understand short- and long-term climate changes.

The tools used by meteorologists include weather balloons, instrumented aircraft, radar, satellites, and computers. Instrumented aircraft are high-performance airplanes used to observe many kinds of weather. Radar is used to detect rain and snow, as well as other weather. Doppler radar can measure wind speed and direction. It has become the best tool for predicting severe weather. Satellites use advanced remote sensing to measure temperature, wind, and other characteristics of the atmosphere at many levels. The entire surface of the earth can be observed with satellites. The fastest computers are used in atmospheric research, as well as large-scale weather forecasting. Computers are also used to produce simulations of upcoming weather.

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