Meteorologists predict the weather and study the causes of particular weather conditions using information obtained from the land, sea and upper atmosphere.
They 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:
- aviation industry;
- the shipping and sea fishing industries and sailing organisations and offshore companies;
- the armed forces;
- government services, e.g. for advice on climate change policy;
- public services;
- the media;
- industry and retail businesses;
- insurance companies;
- health services.
In addition to forecasting, meteorologists study the impact of weather on the environment and conduct research into weather patterns, climate change and models of weather prediction.
A meteorologist's work falls into the two main categories of forecasting and research.
In weather forecasting, common tasks include:
- collecting data from satellite images, radar, remote sensors and weather stations all over the world;
- measuring factors such as air pressure, temperature and humidity at various atmospheric levels;
- analysing and presenting this information to customers in the form of weather briefings;
- coding weather reports for transmission over international networks;
- applying physical and mathematical relationships and sophisticated computer models to make short and long-range weather forecasts;
- liaising with colleagues and clients from around the country and worldwide.
In research, work includes:
- investigating subjects such as airflow in the lowest kilometre of the atmosphere, the physics of clouds and precipitation, or global climate change;
- developing and improving numerical and computer models to predict atmospheric processes and improve the accuracy of forecasts;
- monitoring climate variability and change;
- researching seasonal forecasting, ocean forecasting and climate prediction;
- monitoring and investigating changes in the stratosphere (ten to 50km above the Earth), including the ozone layer;
- applying the results of research in order, for example, to give flood warnings or estimate the likely effects of global warming.
- Salaries for trainee operational meteorologists at the Met Office start at £19,380 and rise to £22,950 once you have 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.
Additional benefits may be provided including a pension and shift allowances. Salaries for meteorologists in the academic sector are usually on university postdoctoral research scales. Salaries for meteorologists in other organisations vary.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Met Office forecasters work shifts because forecasts need to be provided around the clock. Typical shift working involves 12-hour shifts covering days and nights. Usual working hours are 37 per week.
Researchers typically work 9am to 5pm, possibly with some extra hours. Meteorologists working in the field are unlikely to have standard hours.
What to expect
- Many meteorologists work in comfortable, spacious environments, but some work in remote areas, such as the Antarctic, 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.
To become a meteorologist you must have a degree although it doesn't need to be in meteorology. Other acceptable subjects include:
- computer science/software engineering;
- environmental sciences;
- 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 meteorology, a physical science or mathematical subject, plus an ability in mathematics and physics at AS-level or higher (or equivalent). You will also need to demonstrate an 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.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- 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.
Relevant work experience or project work will also increase your chances. The Met Office runs a summer placement scheme in areas including science and forecasting, which lasts for 12 weeks. 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 is 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.
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.
Meteorologists are also employed by research centres, such as the:
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) - in its meteorological, oceanographic and hydrological institutes, e.g. the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and British Antarctic Survey (BAS);
- Walker Institute for Climate System Research
Other employers of meteorologists include:
- government departments, such as the Environment Agency (EA);
- universities - a list of those offering degrees in meteorology, which typically have active research departments, may be found on the MetLink website;
- 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 Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS);
- the insurance industry;
- media organisations.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Earthworks Jobs
- Jobs.ac.uk - for academic and research posts.
- Met Office Careers
- Nature Jobs
- New Scientist Jobs
- RMetS Job Vacancies
- World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
- Websites of research centres and environmental consultancies.
- Websites of private sector weather providers.
Make sure you research organisations thoroughly and consider sending a speculative application where appropriate.
Some employers, including the Met Office and various private weather forecasting companies, expect their employees 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.
Meteorologists working for other employers may attend short training courses at the Met Office, in areas such as broadcasting, forecasting for particular transport sectors, or climate change.
A variety of free online meteorological courses are available at MetEd.
The Royal Meteorological Society (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. Further details are available at RMetS Chartered Meteorologist.
If you work in academic research, you will 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.
Meteorologists are employed by a number of organisations including the Met Office, armed forces, private weather forecasting companies and research establishments. Each of these has defined career paths and movement between employers is possible.
The Met Office encourages its staff to manage their own careers and to apply for posts within the organisation to broaden their experience and widen their skills and knowledge base. It is 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 entrants to forecasting positions 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.
Membership of relevant professional bodies, such as the RMetS, can help career development.