Spitting snow? Projectile hail? Is it raining cats and dogs? Being able to accurately forecast the weather, more often than not, gets a bad rap -- however, it is an essential tool we take for granted as we check our weather apps, listen to the news, or watch colors scroll across our screens depicting the most up-to-date radar simulation. Meteorology, the study of the atmosphere -- its patterns and variations --is a complex science that allows those skilled in the discipline the ability to analyze and interpret data, forecasting our weather.
Although meteorology includes the word meteor, this science has nothing to do with chunks of rock flying through space. The root of the word is derived from meteoros, Greek for 'up in the air'. Aristotle is often credited as being the father of meteorology for his work in Meteorologica, dating back to 340 B.C., in which he depicted studying phenomena in the sky. Today, modern meteorology incorporates the study of all things occurring in the atmosphere. In other words, meteorologists observe, explain, and forecast our weather.
The atmosphere -- the gaseous layer surrounding our planet, roughly 100 to 125 kilometers (65 - 75 miles) thick -- expands and contracts with varying levels of high or low pressure and is responsible for creating our weather. According to National Geographic, “Research meteorologists cover several subdisciplines of meteorology to include: climate modeling, remote sensing, air quality, atmospheric physics, and climate change.” If you are mathematically inclined, enjoy calculus, physics, chemistry, or computer modeling programs, you may be well-suited for a career in meteorology. The atmosphere is intrinsically linked to the rise and fall of the oceans, so it is no surprise that studying oceanography pairs well with meteorology.
Weather is a universal truth
Weather affects everyone! Even in space, light years away, NASA can detect solar flares and dust that reverberate and interact with Earth’s magnetic systems. Space weather is an example of how meteorology is an interdisciplinary subject, which includes hard sciences, cutting-edge technology with satellite imagery, field work, broadcasting and media, and much more. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) “gives guidance on the potential of remote-sensing techniques in meteorology, hydrology and related disciplines.” Once you start down this path, you’ll realize how very interconnected all of these fields are.
Meteorology is international
One example of the meteorologist’s important role in forecasting natural disasters and weather that can have serious implications for all--like hurricanes, tsunamis, and tornados -- is Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, this hurricane wreaked havoc on Houston, Texas in the United States. Meteorologists were able to forecast the storm with enough lead time so that people could be warned to evacuate and prepare for the worst. Predictive modeling and forecasting storms like this one demonstrates what a vital role meteorologists play in public health and safety.
Back in 2000, actor George Clooney played Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail, a ship doomed to get caught in the crosshairs of “The Perfect Storm” -- both the name of the book and movie, as well as the term for several systems colliding at once creating a mega, or “perfect”, storm. Studying and tracking the potential confluence of systems is to what some meteorologists devote a significant amount of time. The action-packed film briefly showcases what real-life meteorologists might do at places like the National Hurricane Center based in Miami, Florida.
Meteorology is interdisciplinary
As a meteorologist, you might be tasked with coming up with terms and phrases to describe never-before-seen or witnessed trends and weather events. Recent extreme weather has generated new terms to try and fully describe how extreme our weather has become. Imagine sitting around the room and coming up with such catchphrases as “bomb cyclone” or “polar vortex”? These terms are now ubiquitously used across all media platforms. Even those of us who try to make awkward small-talk conversations with co-workers about the weather, we now use these inventive terms to describe real-world weather phenomenon.
Accurate weather information is important
Communication with accurate information is key to disseminating meteorological information. It is the focus of the work that the organization Climate Matters does, stating, “Our team of scientists, data analysts and visual artists identifies and interprets data and produces easy-to-understand text and visual materials — including graphics, interactives and videos — to help journalists build stories that will engage and enlighten their audience.”
The future of meteorology rests in inventive and creative minds joining the field to analyze, track, observe, and explain data that models and forecasts our weather. Studying meteorology is a rewarding career path that connects you intimately with happenings in the atmosphere. Becoming a meteorologist means you will be at the forefront of weather forecasting. Not only will you do important research, but also clouds will never appear to be the same to you again!