If you have a passion for working with the weather, along with strong mathematical and IT skills, a career as a meteorologist could be for you

As a meteorologist, you'll predict the weather and study the causes of particular weather conditions using information obtained from the land, sea and upper atmosphere.

You'll need to use computerised and mathematical models to make short and long-range forecasts concerning weather and climate patterns. A variety of organisations use meteorological forecasts, including:

  • the aviation industry
  • farmers
  • government services, e.g. for advice on climate change policy
  • health services
  • industry and retail businesses
  • insurance companies
  • public services
  • sailing organisations and offshore companies
  • the armed forces
  • the media
  • the shipping and sea fishing industries.

In addition to forecasting, you may also study the impact of weather on the environment and conduct research into weather patterns, climate change and models of weather prediction.

Responsibilities

Your work as a meteorologist will fall into the two main categories of forecasting and research.

In weather forecasting, you'll need to:

  • collect data from satellite images, radar, remote sensors and weather stations all over the world
  • measure factors such as air pressure, temperature and humidity at various atmospheric levels
  • analyse and present this information to customers in the form of weather briefings
  • code weather reports for transmission over international networks
  • apply physical and mathematical relationships and sophisticated computer models to make short and long-range weather forecasts
  • liaise with colleagues and clients from around the country and worldwide.

In research, you'll need to:

  • investigate subjects such as airflow in the lowest kilometre of the atmosphere, the physics of clouds and precipitation, or global climate change
  • develop and improve numerical and computer models to predict atmospheric processes and improve the accuracy of forecasts
  • monitor climate variability and change
  • research seasonal forecasting, ocean forecasting and climate prediction
  • monitor and investigate changes in the stratosphere (ten to 50km above the Earth), including the ozone layer
  • apply the results of research in order, for example, to give flood warnings or estimate the likely effects of global warming.

Salary

  • Salaries for trainee operational meteorologists start at around £20,000 and rise to £23,000 once you've successfully completed the training.
  • Experienced meteorologists can expect to earn salaries in the range of £25,000 to £35,000.
  • Managerial positions attract salaries from £38,000 rising to over £60,000.

You may receive additional benefits such as a pension or shift allowance. In the academic sector, your salary will usually be set on university postdoctoral research scales. Salaries in private organisations vary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Shift work is typical at the Met Office as forecasts need to be provided around the clock. It's likely you'll be required to work 12-hour shifts covering days and nights.

If you're working in research your usual hours will be 9am to 5pm, possibly with some overtime. It's unlikely that there'll be standard hours when working in the field.

What to expect

  • Most work is carried out in comfortable, spacious environments, but depending on the role you may be required to work in remote areas or on military operations, where conditions are often more basic. Instrument and measurement scientists often work in the field.
  • Many Met Office jobs are concentrated at their twin operations centres at Aberdeen and Exeter, but you may be required to move around the country to regional weather centres. Jobs with other organisations and in research may be based throughout the UK and overseas.
  • For forecasters working on television, a smart appearance is essential.
  • Travel within a typical working day is uncommon. Overnight absence from home and overseas work may be required, for example to attend conferences, depending on the post held.
  • Operational meteorologists working for the Mobile Met Unit (MMU) are attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF) and may be deployed around the world.

Qualifications

To become a meteorologist you must have a degree, although it doesn't need to be in meteorology. Other accepted subjects include:

  • computer science/software engineering
  • environmental sciences
  • mathematics
  • ocean science
  • physical geography
  • physics and physical sciences.

A list of degree courses in the UK, which have been accredited by the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS), is available at RMetS Courses. These courses meet the requirements of the Society's Chartered Meteorologist Accreditation Scheme.

The Met Office usually asks for a degree or equivalent in either meteorology, a physical science or mathematical subject, plus an ability in maths and physics at AS-level or higher (or equivalent). You'll also need to demonstrate your interest in the weather. Other employers will look for similar qualifications and qualities.

Entry with an HND/foundation degree only is rare. However, some organisations may accept you at this level if you also have relevant A-levels in maths and/or physics.

A postgraduate degree is required for research posts and, although not essential for other types of work, may increase your chances of appointment to meteorology positions generally.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • good problem-solving ability
  • mathematical and computing ability
  • attention to detail and accuracy
  • ability to write scientific reports
  • a team-orientated approach to work
  • the ability to interact with a range of people - especially important in the more commercial, customer-orientated environment of operational forecasting
  • enthusiasm and a genuine interest in meteorology and the environment.

Work experience

Relevant work experience or project work will increase your chances. The Met Office runs a summer placement scheme in areas including science and forecasting, which lasts for three months. Recent graduates and current students can apply for it. It also offers an industrial placement for 12 months for those studying a degree which has a significant numeracy, science or IT element.

As computer modelling is a major part of a meteorologist's work, it's helpful to gain some experience of this, either through relevant work experience or by completing a degree project with computer modelling as a strong component.

Employers

The largest employer of meteorologists in the UK is the Met Office. It incorporates the Met Office Hadley Centre, a world-renowned centre for advanced climate modelling and monitoring.

Most employees are based at the Met Office's headquarters in Exeter, or their twin operational centre in Aberdeen. But there are many smaller offices and remote centres across the country, as well as overseas locations including Africa, the South Atlantic and the Antarctic.

A subsidiary of the Met Office is the Mobile Met Unit (MMU), whose staff are attached to Royal Air Force (RAF) units and may be employed throughout the world on both military exercises and operations.

You can also find work in research centres, such as the:

Other employers include:

  • government departments, such as the Environment Agency (EA)
  • universities which offer degrees in meteorology and which typically have active research departments
  • the Royal Navy
  • agricultural and fisheries institutes
  • service industries, such as oil, gas and water suppliers
  • environmental consultancies - for a list see the ENDS Environmental Consultancy Directory
  • private sector weather service providers, see details of corporate members at RMetS
  • the insurance industry
  • media organisations.

Look for job vacancies at:

Make sure you research organisations thoroughly and consider sending a speculative application where appropriate.

Professional development

You may be expected to work towards a relevant QCF Level 5 qualification such as:

  • Award in Meteorological Briefing
  • Certificate in Meteorological Broadcasting
  • Diploma in Meteorological Forecasting.

Following this, ongoing training is actively encouraged and is considered to be a vital part of career development. Training might include short courses on programming, mathematical modelling, graphics and presentation skills.

The Met Office runs short training courses across the year which are open to anyone employed as a meteorologist. Areas covered include broadcasting, forecasting for particular transport sectors and climate change.

A variety of free online meteorological courses are available at MetEd.

RMetS organises professional meetings and provides a route to Chartered Meteorologist status (CMet) for those who have reached and continue to maintain a high level of knowledge and experience.

If you work in academic research, you'll be expected to have sufficient research skills and be able to make an immediate contribution. Part of your ongoing development will be to keep up to date with advances in the field by reading the appropriate literature, attending and presenting at conferences and networking with colleagues.

Career prospects

Your career path may be defined by the employer you work for but it's also possible to move between employers, such as from the Met Office to a private weather forecasting company.

If employed by the Met Office, you'll be encouraged to manage your own career and to apply for posts within the organisation to broaden your experience and widen your skills and knowledge base. It's possible to move between functions, such as research, forecasting, teaching, personnel and more commercial roles.

Most positions are located at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter and Aberdeen, but when you start out in forecasting positions, you must be willing to move around the country to regional weather centres in order to progress.

With experience, you may move on to a management position, such as project or team leader, or into a training role. There are also opportunities for collaborative work with other organisations throughout the world.

In forecasting roles, you may develop your career with organisations such as commercial forecasting services in the private sector, environmental consultancies, utility companies or television or radio broadcasters.