For every Sam Champion who makes millions forecasting the weather on television, there are hundreds of others slaving away for middle-class wages. Many TV weathermen and women aren’t trained meteorologists. In fact, most members of the American Meteorological Society, or AMS, are not on television.
The Qualifications of a Meteorologist
First of all, the AMS defines a meteorologist as follows:
A person “… 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.”
A meteorologist will have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. The degree will focus heavily on mathematics, particularly calculus, physics, and atmospheric science. Many meteorologists also study engineering and climate science on a macro scale. In short, being a meteorologist is about far more than grabbing a pointer and showing the viewers where the front is.
There are also ethical concerns about calling someone a meteorologist when the person lacks the proper education and training. The AMS does consider, however, certain experience in the field of broadcasting and certain coursework to be sufficient for a television personality to earn either the AMS Radio or Television Seal of Approval or the designation of AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist. Once this title is awarded, the person is allowed to use the title of meteorologist in his or her work.
Communications Degree for Weather Forecasters
Because women have, for the most part, broken the glass ceiling when it comes to weather reporting, the more modern term for those who predict the weather on TV is “weathercaster.” Because most of them are broadcast personalities and not academic meteorologists, they are more likely to have a communications degree and to have studied elocution and public speaking.
In addition to a communications degree for weather forecasters, many institutions also provide specialized education and training for student who want to be true meteorologists but also want to go into broadcasting as a career. For example, the University of Oklahoma, which offers one of the largest meteorology programs in the country, provides students the opportunity to minor in broadcast meteorology as part of their overall study. Such a program will provide the perfect communications degree for weather forecasters.
Some students pursue a career in meteorology that applies to the legal world: forensic meteorology. Their expertise would be called upon, for example, in a case where the atmospheric pressure during a certain weather event were to be germane to the case. Some meteorologists who relish thrills become storm chasers and regularly inform the public about the seriousness of weather events like tornadoes and hailstorms.
The Bottom Line
Whether you want to sit by a vast touchscreen at the National Weather Service and analyze trends in climate change, pursue a communications degree for weather forecasters and become the next “KTXL Stormin’ Norman,” or channel your inner “Quincy” to assist law enforcement or the courts, the study of meteorology provides the way to achieve your goals.