METEOROLOGIST JEFF HABY
The five primary employers of forecasters and meteorologists are NOAA, the military, TV/ radio
stations, education, and consulting meteorology businesses. The success of a forecaster in finding employment is
primarily dependent upon educational background, experience and professional accomplishments. The advantages and
disadvantages for each of these fields are given below. The advantages and disadvantages are most relevant to students
beginning full-time employment for the first time in meteorology and that have a strong meteorological education. See
link below for who is a meteorologist.
For a listing of many schools with meteorology or atmospheric science programs visit:
NOAA (National Weather Service)
ADVANTAGES to gaining NWS employment
1. Guaranteed substantial yearly pay raises in the first three years.
2. Compensation for holiday / night / Sunday shift work. Night shift differential is 10% and Sunday 25%.
Federal holidays are paid double time.
3. Decent benefits
4. Many offices nationwide, eventually you can live in desired part of country
5. Firings rare, good job security
6. Forecaster training programs available. On the job training first couple years.
7. Employees can become an expert in a certain area of meteorology they choose (computers, severe weather, etc.),
although this does vary to office needs.
DISADVANTAGES to gaining NWS employment
1. Meteorology degree from accredited school of meteorology required. No matter your experience, certain
educational background is required. Math through differential equations, physics and specific meteorology
courses are required (this is only a disadvantage to those without a meteorology degree)
2. High job security can promote laziness
3. Application procedures can become tedious. It can result in long waits. With computer technology, this
disadvantage has improved recently.
4. Job opportunities are currently limited due to NWS modernization
5. Background checks (make sure you fill out ALL paperwork for them correctly). This is only a disadvantage to
those with suspect background
6. Having to work within the "government rules" can be tedious at times. The government may not be as quick
to initiate modernization as compared to the private sector. Also, new government programs may be untested and
troubling to the employees
7. Constant software updates and "bugs" within computer software add stress to work environment. This
disadvantage has improved with modernization but bugs still crop up as they do with any computer system.
8. Some employees may feel modernization is reducing the important role the human has to the forecasting process
9. Rotating shifts can have dire health consequences. Seniority does not remove forecasters from shift duties.
ADVANTAGES to gaining military employment
1. Guaranteed substantial pay raises, high starting salary
2. Outstanding benefits and retirement plan
3. Travel opportunities
5. ROTC programs offer free tuition and other college benefits to students for employment
6. At early age, management and leadership responsibilities can be gained
7. Paid leave
8. High job security
9. If you are a military meteorologist with an enlisted background, you usually get alot of experience,
and hence produce overall good forecasts.
DISADVANTAGES to gaining military employment
1. Must endure military way of life
2. Without ROTC, Officer Candidate School is usually required to become an officer
3. 4 or more years commitment
4. Some aspects of individualism suppressed
5. Travel can also be a disadvantage
6. Background checks (fill out ALL paperwork correctly and never lie)
7. Need a college degree to become an officer and enjoy the spoils of a high salary and other benefits
8. Health before employment can be an issue. Health requirements to gain employment are required
ADVANTAGES to gaining TV/RADIO employment
1. Pay and job security increases with experience
2. Many employers nationwide; job openings
3. Meteorology degree not required for most employment
4. Employment opportunities grow rapidly with experience
5. Public exposure
6. Workload is usually not intense (but varies)
DISADVANTAGES to gaining TV/RADIO employment
1. Contracts. Contracts are made to benefit the employer. Try to do these things when negotiating a contract
to lean it more in your favor:
a) make it as short of a time as possible (3 year max)
b) make sure the salary increases each year of the contract
c) make sure there is a clothing allowance included
d) make sure moving expenses have been arranged
e) review contract very carefully and/or show it to a lawyer
f) try to have some ways of getting out of the contract (e.g. moving to a top 50 market, an out month)
2. Firings common (ratings driven job!)
3. Work schedule (late evenings, weekends, early mornings)
4. Work required on some holidays
5. Difficult to gain employment without experience
6. If someone goes on vacation, YOU will be picked to fill in. Because of this, vacation time can be a misnomer.
ADVANTAGES to gaining education employment
1. No shift work, little weekend work required
2. Good employment prospects for secondary education
3. Large amount of vacation time
DISADVANTAGES to gaining education employment
1. Little "on the job" forecasting
2. At least a Masters degree required for best jobs
3. Pay may not rise substantially with experience with those with less than a Masters degree
CONSULTING METEOROLOGY BUSINESSES
ADVANTAGES to gaining consulting employment
1. Large amount of forecast experience in a short amount of time
2. Can have good benefits, but generally not as good as NWS or the military
3. Firings are rare, although some employees may "wash out" and quit due to not being properly prepared for
the responsibilities given
DISADVANTAGES to gaining consulting employment
1. Pay raises are small and not always guaranteed; starting salaries for non-experienced forecasters are very low
2. Often overtime is required and shift-work; workload is often large (especially when several areas of inclement
weather are occurring at the same time)
3. Stressful duties (short-term deadline driven job)
4. Advancement opportunities can be limited
5. Consulting companies generally have small spending budgets compared to government run employment (but varies)
ANALYSIS OF EACH OF THE FIVE MAIN FIELDS EMPLOYING METEROLOGISTS
Let's look at each of these employers in more detail starting with the National Weather Service. In past decades,
most students with meteorology degrees gained the first employment through the NWS. This has not been the case since 1995
due to government downsizing and budget cuts. Jobs with the NWS are currently very competitive. High GPA's
(3.0 or greater), a Master's degree, and experience add greatly to gaining employment. Working for the NWS has numerous
benefits. The first of these is salary. Yearly pay raises are guaranteed and the medical and retirement benefits are
good. The approximate pay structure per year follows below:
|intern 1st year
||$28K + holiday pay and shift differential|
||$35K + holiday pay and shift differential|
||$42K + holiday pay and shift differential|
||$50K + holiday pay and shift differential|
||$60K + holiday pay and shift differential|
||$70K + holiday pay and shift differential|
*Note: A 1st year employee may start out higher than a GS 5. Journeyman and lead forecaster GS rating depends
on the region of the country one is working.
Once employed by the NWS a structure is in place to increase forecasting skill. Some responsibilities during
the intern year include balloon launches, forecast observation, observation exams, forecast research and data
collection. Although forecast responsibilities are limited the first year, education through forecast modules
and observer exams along with on the job training gradually increases forecast knowledge.
Like almost every other job in forecasting; shift work, holiday work, and weekend work is required and shifts
change throughout the year. The government compensates for this shift work and holiday work by adding holiday pay
and Sunday pay to the base salary.
The NWS has about 55 offices nationwide and a few abroad. For specific information on the NWS and their operations,
visit their website at:
For job openings in NOAA (including Meteorologist positions) visit:
The military has the most benefits out of the five employers mentioned if you have a college degree in a field
deemed advantageous to the military. These benefits occur before employment and after. Numerous colleges have
ROTC programs that recruit meteorology students. These programs will often pay for books, tuition, plus add a
couple hundred dollars of spending money per semester. Starting salaries are above $25,000 per year and increase
year to year. The primary employer of military meteorologists is the Air Force and Navy. Aviation weather relies deeply
on accurate weather forecasts.
For more information on military jobs visit the following websites:
Employment can be attained after graduation without the benefit of ROTC but the adjustment into military life is
often more difficult. Officer Candidate School is required for these graduates. If the adjustment into military
life is successful, the military is a premier employer to forecast for. Military retirement plans
TV and radio stations employ over 2,000 meteorologists and weathercasters nationwide. A meteorologist as defined
by the AMS is a person who has a meteorology degree. A person is also a meteorologist as defined by the AMS if
they have completed sufficient coursework in meteorology and have at least three years of full-time meteorology
experience. Pay in TV/Radio is highly dependent on experience and public acceptance. The salaries between
beginners and experienced broadcasters varies dramatically, from less than $20,000 per year to well over $100,000.
Although an education in meteorology is not required in small markets to gain employment, this training will be
needed in the future for SEALS and employment prospects for larger markets. Training
in meteorology will be needed
for those who want to advance in salary and market size. For TV job information visit the following websites:
A great resume tape is important to gaining employment and seals. Resume tape advice is given
at the following link:
Disadvantages in broadcasting are more important to those with less experience. Once a broadcaster has become
established in a market, salary and job security both increase. One disadvantage that remains constant is the
work schedule. Family life must be able to work around early morning, late evening, or weekend shifts.
Some meteorologists turn to the education field. These jobs range from college professors to high school
and middle school teachers. Salaries are variable. Benefits include plenty of vacation time, research
opportunities, and little shift work. Disadvantages include the challenge of disciplining kids in high or
middle school and no actual forecast duties.
Lastly we have the consulting field. Forecast duties usually begin very shortly after employment. Those
with forecasting experience have a much smoother adjustment into the consulting lifestyle. The workload can
be very demanding, especially when "active" weather is occurring across the country. Deadlines must be met
in order to keep the trust of the company's clients. These deadlines can create large forecasting workloads
on some days. Forecasting must be fast and efficient with an acceptable degree of accuracy. Consulting meteorology
jobs can be described as "deadline driven".
The primary disadvantage of the consulting field is pay and slow advancement. Unlike the military and NWS,
which have yearly guaranteed pay raises, the consulting field looks to individual accomplishments for pay advancements.
Those employees that do not move into management, do not have a wealth of experience, or have average to below
average forecast credentials receive only small pay raises per year. A forecaster with no previous full-time
meteorology employment can expect a starting salary of between $25,000 and $30,000. Salaries will be higher in
management and senior level positions. The following is a list of two large employers of consulting meteorologists.
2. The Weather Channel
For a list of most U.S. consulting companies and meteorologistis, visit the following web site:
For job listings on NWA website, visit:
For the AMS online meteorology employment listing, visit the following website:
Many of the questions I get through the website deal with meteorology jobs, advancement in the
field of meteorology and advice for education. In the rest of this essay I will cover many of the different situations I
have been asked about as they relate to these issues.
If you are a student that has not finished high school and are interesting in a career in the meteorology then
it is important to take as many math courses as you can, physics, chemistry, and computer science. Most
students, that want to go into meteorology, that end up not going into meteorology is the result from being
weak in math. A great math education is very critical.
If you are a student that will be finishing high school or a person of military age and you can
not get into a meteorology program in
college or are not able to go to college yet, but you still want to go into meteorology, then a top
option is to go into the Air Force. In the Air Force you can get meteorology training and get hands-on
experience in weather observing and forecasting. The Air Force experience and benefits will allow you
to continue your education in a meteorology college program while in the Air Force or once your
Air Force career ends.
Most students become meteorologist by going through a college meteorology program. A meteorology
or atmospheric science degree will usually be calculus based thus the importance of having a solid
math background. The link below has a list with links to many of the meteorology programs that
are in the United States. When in college it is important to get an internship such as at a TV station,
meteorology employer, or National Weather Service. This makes it much easier to get a full-time meteorology job once
Many of the questions I get through the website are from those that are already in the field of
meteorology but want to advance. These questions most commonly come from those in the military or
in broadcast meteorology. Since the military and broadcast meteorology do not require a calculus
based meteorology degree, those in the military and broadcast meteorology often need further education
to advance within the military, broadcast meteorology, or to move on to jobs that do require the
calculus based meteorology education.
Suppose you are working in the field of meteorology in the military or broadcast meteorology and want the
calculus based meteorology education. You probably want this in order to get the AMS CBM, a higher
paying job, or to move into a different field of meteorology that requires this level of education. One option is
to get a meteorology degree. For many this is not an option since it would mean leaving a job.
Mississippi State University has a distance learning broadcast and operational meteorology program that
hundreds of students have completed. Since the MSU distance learning program is not calculus based, I often
get questions from current and former students that have completed this program
about how they can get employment with the
NWS or get the AMS CBM. The AMS CBM is a certification in broadcast meteorology offered by the
American Meteorology Society that requires completion of calculus based meteorology education.
In addition to an on-campus meteorology degree program, Mississippi State University offers a
17 course online program that leads to a certificate in
broadcast meteorology (BMP)
or operational meteorology (OMP).
These courses include Intro. to Meteorology, Physical Geography, World Geography,
Climatology, Natural Hazards, Stats, Synoptic Meteorology, Applied Climatology, Satellite Meteorology,
Radar Meteorology, Water Resources, Physical Meteorology, Thermodynamic Meteorology, Weather Prediction 1,
Weather Prediction 2, Oceanography, and Severe Weather. This online program is a certificate program that can
lead to a degree in Geoscience by adding the other university requirements to the program. Think of these
17 courses as the courses in a "major". The link below has all the courses needed to complete the
MSU Geosciences degree. For students that already have a college degree or college credits from
another school, those credits that are the same as MSU can be transferred.
Now suppose a MSU student that has completed the BMP or OMP and has also obtained the Geoscience
degree wants to become eligible for federal meteorology employment such as the National Weather Service
or wants to apply for the
AMS CBM. This will require taking more courses. Mississippi State Geoscience graduates can become
eligible for federal employment by integrating into and/or supplementing the MSU Geoscience degree
requirements with differential calculus, integral calculus, differential equations, 2 calculus based
physics courses, and 2 courses in atmospheric dynamics. The two dynamics courses are offered through
Mississippi State distance learning.
Students can take the calculus sequence and physics courses at a local college.
The link below has the basic educational requirements in order to be classified as a meteorologist by the federal government:
The AMS CBM has additional requirements (listing of specific classes a student would need to have in order to have the equivalent to a
meteorology/atmospheric science degree). Refer to link below for that list:
Another option is to enroll in a meteorology graduate school. This will usually require the calculus and
physics courses above to even be eligible for enrollment. A benefit of a graduate degree is that it will make
you eligible to teach at a college or university. For example, a broadcast meteorologist with a Masters
degree can supplement their income by teaching college courses.
A common question I get is which people working in the field of meteorology are classified as meteorologists and
which are not. The clear cut case is a person with a calculus based meteorology degree. That person is
a meteorologist from day one of working in the field of meteorology. The other clear cut case is those
without completion of a meteorology education from an accredited college meteorology program or without military
meteorology training. The gray area that has been around for decades are those working in broadcast
meteorology and those that worked as military meteorologists but are now no longer in the military. For
weather broadcasters to be classified as a meteorologist, a common standard is to either
have the calculus based meteorology degree or to
have completed a non-calculus meteorology program, have a SEAL of approval (AMS or NWA) and have
3 years full-time working experience (or equivalent) working in a weather job that requires that you make your
own forecasts. There are many broadcast meteorologists that have completed the MSU BMP that are in this later
situation. Even though a weather broadcaster can have a meteorologist title, they will still not be
able to work as a federal meteorologist without the calculus courses and other courses given a couple of
paragraphs above. Those coming out of the military are also in a gray area. They may have significant
weather analysis and forecasting experience but may not have the calculus based meteorology education. Many
consulting meteorology companies (private sector meteorology employers) will hire these
forecasters due to their experience. Most federal
meteorology positions will not be available though to those coming out of the military
without the calculus based meteorology education unless the government has some sort of experience
equivalent for the specific meteorology position.
Another question I get is how to improve meteorology and weather forecasting education without going
back to school. Below are some resources I recommend:
1. Read books at the following link:
2. Have observation sessions with a meteorologist while they are at work, such as getting an Internship. Learn
about the tools they use to make weather forecasts.
3. Learn to interpret and forecast using the forecast models and MOS. See the following links:
4. Become a weather observer and have all the equipment to observe the weather such as high/low temperature,
air pressure, precipitation measurement and weather (cloud types, precipitation characteristics, etc.). Keep
a weather journal.
5. Read all the data supplied by the National Weather Service each day, especially the Area Forecast
Discussion. Look over weather data supplied over the Internet such as at the following link:
Click below for ultimate weather education website homepage: