- Are you on TV?!
- Do you work for The Weather Channel?
- Must be nice. It’s the only job you can be wrong (insert %) and still be employed
- What did you study in college to do that?
- Is it going to (insert weather) (insert time) ?
- Do you chase storms?
- (Lick finger and point it in the air)
…or my all-time favorite:
- That’s pretty cool, how do you like studying space?
I’m sure about every meteorologist can tell you that at least one of these are responses they have received when telling someone what they do for a living. For many of my friends and colleagues, the first response is a good one because they are actually on TV. Plenty of others are meteorologists, though, but what do they do?
I can tell you one thing, the life of a meteorologist for most, if not all, is not like this:
How did we become meteorologists?
We got a degree in meteorology of course. As lovely as it sounds to have most classes in front of a green screen and look at clouds, this is not what our classes were like. Our first two years paralleled those of an engineering student, taking 4 semesters of calculus, at least two semesters of physics, dynamics, and thermodynamics before turning more towards a weather focus. If you hated math, you were warned that a meteorology major was not right for you.
What do we do if we’re not on TV?
We wait for our big call from Jim Cantore at The Weather Channel, right? Wrong.
In the operational meteorological field (what I am in), this is some of what we do:
- Forecast for energy companies so they can put the right load amount in for electricity so your power doesn’t go out on a 103 degree day or on a -40 degree day.
- Change oil/natural gas prices in the stock market by forecasting a hurricane to hit the production areas in the Gulf of Mexico or a strong cold shot pushing into the U.S. from Canada
- Forecast for shipping companies, whether they are sending parcels through UPS or liquified natural gas
- Forecast for renewables like wind and solar
- Forecast for the water supply out west, because clean water is much more scarce in that region
- Forecast for agriculture companies, because Mars Chocolates needs to know how cocoa crops are going to do this year and farmers/traders need to know about corn planting/harvesting
- Forecast for aviation.
- Forecast for sporting events, ski lodges, and other recreation
- Forecast for much, if not all, of the world
Outside of television and operational meteorology (and not in my areas of expertise) there is research, climatology, policy, teaching, modeling, programming, etc. All of these work together as one in the weather enterprise. There’s a lot that meteorologists do to affect your everyday life than you think.
Do you work good hours?
Not usually. A 9-5 job in the meteorology field is not typical. My day starts at 2am when the deer and foxes on the sides of the road wake me up. This is a promotion from the 10pm (vampire) shift I used to work. Most operational meteorologists I know start before 7am if they’re not working overnights. Other operational meteorologists rotate shifts, a number of weeks on the midnight shift before switching to days for a number of weeks. TV meteorologists will wake up around 2am as well, or in the afternoon depending on the shift they work on. If you’re a professor or in research, you probably have a more normal schedule, but you’ve gone to school for 6+ years so you have truly earned it. On top of the abnormal hours, you usually work some weekends and holidays. Merry Christmas!
So you make a lot of money right since you work unusual hours?
Overall, most meteorologists don’t make very good money. In most jobs, working overnights gets you more money. In meteorology that is not usually the case. Also, despite what I have heard non-meteorologists say about meteorologists making 6 figures, most make well less than that. Most TV meteorologists probably make the least because of such a large field of people to choose from who want to be “famous.” What I’m trying to say is that we’re not riding in limos to work.
Why are we meteorologists then?
We’re meteorologists for many reasons, including:
- Everyone needs us
- We love what we do
- We love helping people like you in everyday life
- You may find it nerdy, but we find it fascinating
- Most jobs you cannot talk about outside of work. After all, who wants to hear about assets and liabilities.
- We’re a bunch of odd ducks riding in the same boat, and according to Gordon Bombay, “Ducks fly together.”
…and the number 1 reason for being a meteorologist:
- Global warming (the reason for everything)
So the next time you meet a meteorologist, don’t ask him/her if he/she knows Al Roker or is on TV, ask them about the quasi-geostrophic equation. Hopefully they don’t remember it. If they do, they’re a smart cookie. If they don’t, you’ll have a new knowledge of one of the coolest professions to continue the conversation. To all of the meteorologists I know and don’t know: Thank you for your hard work to help make this world run somewhat smoothly.