The Job and What's Involved

Meteorologists study and forecast the weather and climate by interpreting observations of the Earth's surface, oceans and upper atmosphere. They do this using specialist computer programmes and mathematical techniques.

Weather measurements come in from ground-based weather stations, weather ships, weather balloons, satellites, aircraft, radar stations and remote sensors all over the world. Some of this information is collected by automated systems, and some by expert observers. It all needs expert interpretation so it can be combined to form a single, global picture of our weather.

There are many specialist areas in meteorology, but the work can be broadly divided into the two main areas of forecasting and research. Television weather presenters are just the public face of all those involved in collecting, collating and interpreting data about the weather.

A forecaster's job involves:

  • Collecting data on air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind speed and direction.
  • Using computer models, and applying principles of physics and maths, to make short and long-term weather forecasts.
  • Supplying information to customers in the form of weather briefings, often represented on charts - these customers might be the military, civil aviation companies, event organisers or public broadcasters.
  • Coding weather reports for transmission over international networks.

Research meteorologists may be involved with:

  • Studying air flow, clouds and precipitation, and global climate change.
  • Developing new methods of measuring the weather and predicting atmospheric processes.
  • Studying causes, such as pollution or emissions, and their effects on weather patterns and global climate change.
  • Studying the links between climate and effects such as floods, rising sea levels, or the spread of airborne diseases.

Meteorologists liaise with colleagues from other centres, both in the UK and abroad, and with clients. They often work in a multidisciplinary team and may need to present their work to clients.

More junior staff are involved in observing, coding weather reports for transmission over the international networks, and providing general assistance to forecasters and research scientists.

Starting salaries for graduates may be around £18,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The Met Office is the largest employer of meteorologists in the UK and has more than 2,000 staff, many at its headquarters and operations centre in Exeter. It is an international centre of excellence for advice on the weather and the natural environment.

Around 900 forecasters and support staff work in 80 smaller offices in the UK and abroad. The Met Office operates a network of observation sites around the UK, but automated systems are increasingly being used in remote areas.

The Met Office's Hadley Centre employs around 100 people researching advanced climate modelling and monitoring, focusing on climate change.

Staff employed in the Mobile Met Unit are attached to the Royal Air Force and may be deployed across the world on military exercises and operations.

Other organisations employing smaller numbers of meteorologists include:

  • The Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) oceanographic and hydrological institutes.
  • The British Antarctic Survey.
  • Agricultural and fisheries institutes.
  • The utility companies that supply gas, electricity, oil and water.
  • Environmental consultancies.
  • Broadcasting companies.
  • Universities.

Education and Training

Most entrants into meteorology have degrees and postgraduate qualifications. The Met Office may prefer these to be in meteorology, maths or physics, or subjects with a strong element of these, such as computer science, physical chemistry, physical environmental science or oceanography.

The Royal Meteorological Society can give advice about suitable courses.

Entry to the Met Office is very competitive, and people generally need to gain a first or 2.1 degree, especially for research posts. Candidates for research posts sometimes need a relevant postgraduate qualification.

For a degree course, students need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. However, most universities require more than these minimum requirements so candidates should check specific entry qualifications.

Candidates should try to gain relevant work experience while they are at school or college, or through summer and industrial placement schemes at university. Contact the Met Office and other meteorological companies for further details.

A few junior positions are open to people without degrees, but competition is very strong. Applicants are likely to need at least A levels/H grades, an HNC/HND or equivalent qualifications in maths or a physical science.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most meteorologists in the UK start their careers in the Met Office, which has its own training college. Training includes forecasting, specialist information technology, media presentation, commercial training and management.

There are also NVQ's/SVQ's in Meteorological Observing at Level 3 and Meteorological Weather Forecasting at Level 4.

The Royal Meteorological Society is the professional body for meteorologists in the UK. It runs a chartered meteorologist programme for people with a high level of specialist knowledge and wide experience in the profession. This is the highest professional qualification available within meteorology and is equivalent to chartered status in other professions such as engineering, surveying or accountancy.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Meteorologists need:

  • To be good at physics and applied maths, including statistics.
  • Good powers of observation, attention to detail and accuracy.
  • To be good at problem solving and able to understand and evaluate complex data.
  • To be computer literate.
  • Good verbal and written communication skills.
  • To work well in a team.
  • To be willing to work in different, sometimes remote, locations.
  • To be willing to work outside normal office hours.

Your Long Term Prospects

Meteorologists may move between research, forecasting and teaching. They may also take up positions overseas.

Forecasters may find work elsewhere with organisations, such as the BBC, environmental consultancies or utility companies.

Get Further Information

British Antarctic Survey, High Cross,
Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET
Tel: 01223 221400

Institute of Physics (IoP),
76 Portland Place, London W1B 1NT
Tel: 020 7470 4800

Met Office, Fitzroy Road, Exeter EX1 3PB
Tel: 0870 900 0100

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC),
Polaris House, North Star Avenue,
Swindon SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411500

Royal Meteorological Society,
104 Oxford Road, Reading RG1 7LL
Tel: 0118 956 8500

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