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What Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists Do

Atmospheric scientists study weather, climate, and other aspects of the atmosphere. They develop reports and forecasts from their analysis of weather and climate data.


Atmospheric scientists typically do the following:

Atmospheric scientists use highly developed instruments and computer programs to do their jobs. For example, they use weather balloons, radar systems, satellites, and sensors to monitor the weather and collect data. The data they collect and analyze are critical to understanding air pollution, drought, loss of the ozone layer, and other problems. Atmospheric scientists also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports.

Many atmospheric scientists work with scientists and professionals in other fields to help solve problems in areas such as commerce, energy, transportation, agriculture, and the environment. For example, some atmospheric scientists work on teams with other scientists and engineers to find the best locations for new wind farms, which are groups of wind turbines used to generate electricity. Others work closely with hydrologists to monitor the impact climate change has on water supplies and to manage water resources.

The following are examples of types of atmospheric scientists:

Broadcast meteorologists give forecasts to the general public through television, radio, and the Internet. They use graphics software to develop maps and charts that explain their forecasts.

Climate scientists study historical weather patterns to interpret and forecast long-term weather patterns or shifts in climate, such as expected precipitation levels years or decades in the future. Their studies are used to design buildings, plan heating and cooling systems, and aid in efficient land use and agricultural production. Global climate change is one of the largest areas of study for climatologists. Some climate scientists work with specialists in other areas, such as economists or urban and regional planners, to help those experts assess the meaning of projected climate changes.

Forensic meteorologists use historical weather data to reconstruct the weather conditions for a specific location and time. They investigate what role weather played in unusual events such as traffic accidents and fires. Forensic meteorologists may be called as experts to testify in court.

Research meteorologists develop new methods of data collection, observation, and forecasting. They also conduct studies to improve basic understandings of climate, weather, and other aspects of the atmosphere. For example, some research meteorologists study severe weather patterns, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, to understand why cyclones form and to develop better ways of predicting them. Others focus on environmental problems, such as air pollution. Research meteorologists often work with scientists in other fields. For example, they may work with computer scientists to develop new forecasting software or with oceanographers to study interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere.

Weather forecasters use computer and mathematical models to produce weather reports and short-term forecasts that can range from a few minutes to more than a week. They develop forecasts for the general public and for specific customers such as airports, farmers, utilities, and other businesses. For example, they provide forecasts to power suppliers so that the suppliers can plan for events, such as heat waves, that would cause an increase in electricity demand. They also develop warnings for severe weather such as blizzards and hurricanes. Some forecasters prepare long-range outlooks, predicting whether temperatures and precipitation levels will be above or below average in a particular month or season.

Some people with an atmospheric science background may become professors or teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition