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Working as an Atmospheric Scientist

What Does an Atmospheric Scientist Do

Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate, and how those conditions affect human activity and the earth in general. They may develop forecasts, collect and compile data from the field, assist in the development of new data collection instruments, or advise clients on risks or opportunities caused by weather events and climate change.

Duties

Atmospheric scientists typically do the following:

  • Measure temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind speed, dew point, and other properties of the atmosphere
  • Use computer models that analyze data about the atmosphere (also called meteorological data)
  • Write computer programs to support their modeling efforts
  • Generate weather graphics for users
  • Report current weather conditions
  • Prepare long- and short-term weather forecasts by using computers, mathematical models, satellites, radar, and local station data
  • Plan, organize, and participate in outreach programs aimed at educating the public about weather
  • Issue warnings to protect life and property when threatened by severe weather, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flash floods
  • Produce forecasts for transportation activities, including aviation, boating and shipping, and road transportation

Atmospheric scientists use highly developed instruments and computer programs to do their jobs. For example, they use weather balloons, radar systems, and satellites to monitor the weather and collect data. The data they collect and analyze are critical to understanding air pollution, drought, changes in the ozone layer, long-term changes in the climate, and other issues. Atmospheric scientists also use graphics software to illustrate their forecasts and reports in order to advise their clients or the public.

Many atmospheric scientists work with other geoscientists or even social scientists to help solve problems in areas such as commerce, energy, transportation, agriculture, and the environment. For example, some atmospheric scientists work on teams with engineers and geologists to find the best locations for new wind farms, which are groups of wind turbines used to generate electricity. Others work closely with hydrologists and politicians to study the impact climate change may have on water supplies and to manage water resources.

The following are examples of types of atmospheric scientists:

Atmospheric chemists study atmospheric components, reactions, measurement techniques, and processes. They study climates and gases, chemical reactions that occur in clouds, and ultraviolet radiation.

Atmospheric physicists and dynamists study the physical movements and interactions that occur in the atmosphere. They may study how terrain affects weather and causes turbulence, how solar phenomena affect satellite communications and navigation, or they may study the causes and effects of lightning.

Broadcast meteorologists give forecasts to the general public through television, radio, and the Internet. They use graphics software to develop maps and charts that explain their forecasts. Not all weather broadcasters seen on television are meteorologists or atmospheric scientists. For more information on broadcasters who do not have specific training in meteorology, but present weather conditions and forecasts, see the profile on reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts.

Climatologists study historical weather patterns to interpret long-term weather patterns or shifts in climate by using primarily statistical methods. Global climate change is the main area of study for climatologists. Paleoclimatology is a specialization within this field. Climatologists who specialize in paleoclimatology may take samples from icebergs and other sources to gather data on the atmosphere that cover very long periods of time.

Climate scientists work on the theoretical foundations and the modeling of climate change. The nature of this work requires the use of complex mathematical models to try to forecast many months, and sometimes longer, into the future. Their studies can be used to design buildings, plan heating and cooling systems, and aid in efficient land use and agricultural production.

Forensic meteorologists use historical weather data to reconstruct the weather conditions for a specific location and time. They investigate what role weather played in unusual events such as traffic accidents and fires. Forensic meteorologists may be called as experts to testify in court.

Research meteorologists develop new methods of data collection, observation, and forecasting. They also conduct studies to improve basic understandings of climate, weather, and other aspects of the atmosphere. For example, some research meteorologists study severe weather patterns, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, to understand why cyclones form and to develop better ways of predicting them. Others focus on environmental problems, such as air pollution. Research meteorologists often work with scientists in other fields. For example, they may work with computer scientists to develop new forecasting software or with oceanographers to study interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. They may also work with engineers to develop new instruments so that they can collect the data they need.

Weather forecasters use computer and mathematical models to produce weather reports and short-term forecasts that can range from a few minutes to more than a week. They develop forecasts for the general public and for specific customers such as airports, farmers, utilities, insurance companies, and other businesses. For example, they may provide forecasts to power suppliers so that the suppliers can plan for events, such as heat waves, which would cause a change in electricity demand. They also issue advanced warnings for potentially severe weather such as blizzards and hurricanes. Some forecasters prepare long-range outlooks to predict whether temperatures and precipitation levels will be above or below average in a particular month or season. These workers become familiar with general weather patterns, atmospheric predictability, precipitation, and forecasting techniques.

Some people with an atmospheric science background may become professors or teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

How To Become an Atmospheric Scientist

Atmospheric scientists need a bachelor’s degree in meteorology or a closely related earth sciences field for most positions. For research positions, atmospheric scientists need a master’s degree at minimum, but usually will need a Ph.D.

Education

Atmospheric scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field that specifically studies atmospheric qualities and phenomena. Bachelor’s degrees in physics, chemistry, or geology are usually adequate, alternative preparation for those who wish to enter the atmospheric sciences. Many schools offer atmospheric science courses through other departments, such as physics and geosciences. Prospective meteorologists usually take courses outside of the typical atmospheric sciences field.

Course requirements, in addition to courses in meteorology and atmospheric science, usually include advanced courses in physics and mathematics. Classes in computer programming are important because many atmospheric scientists have to write and edit the computer software programs that produce forecasts. Coursework in communications is also becoming important as organizations are increasing their efforts to make their data accessible to the public and to educate their communities and the nation. And because of recent advancements in technology, a class in remote sensing of the environment, by radar or satellite, may be required.

Courses should be taken in subjects that are relevant to their desired area of specialization. For example, those who wish to become broadcast meteorologists for radio or television stations may take courses in speech, journalism, or related fields.

Atmospheric scientists who work in research must at least have a master’s degree, but will usually need a Ph.D. in atmospheric science or a related field. Most graduate programs do not require prospective students to have a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering is excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science. In addition to advanced meteorological coursework, graduate students take courses in other disciplines, such as oceanography and geophysics. 

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Atmospheric scientists must be able to focus for many hours, working with computer models and massive amounts of data to prepare analyses on their findings.

Communication skills. Atmospheric scientists need to be able to write and speak clearly so that their knowledge about the weather can be used effectively by communities and individuals.

Critical-thinking skills. Atmospheric scientists need to be able to analyze the results of their computer models and forecasts to determine the most likely outcome.

Math skills. Atmospheric scientists use calculus, statistics, and other advanced topics in mathematics to develop models used to forecast the weather. They also use mathematical calculations to study the relationship between properties of the atmosphere, such as how changes in air pressure may affect air temperature.

Training

Atmospheric scientists and meteorologists who find employment in the National Weather Service will need to take 200 hours of on-the-job training per year for the first 2 years of employment.

Advancement

Although it is not necessary for entry, a master’s degree in atmospheric science can greatly enhance employment opportunities, pay, and advancement potential for meteorologists in government and private industry. A master’s degree in business administration (MBA) may be useful for meteorologists interested in working in private industry as consultants who help firms make important business decisions on the basis of their forecasts.

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Average Salary$70,270
Job Growth Rate8%

Atmospheric Scientist Jobs

Average Salary for an Atmospheric Scientist

Atmospheric Scientists in America make an average salary of $70,270 per year or $34 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $111,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $44,000 per year.
Average Salary
$70,270

Best Paying Cities

Average Salary
Salary Range72k - 127k$96k$96,174
Salary Range71k - 123k$94k$93,989
Salary Range65k - 111k$85k$85,465
Salary Range64k - 110k$85k$84,511
Salary Range62k - 110k$83k$83,070
Salary Range62k - 107k$82k$82,071
$56k
$127k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Atmospheric Scientist
Atmospheric Scientist
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
09/17/2019
09/17/2019
$98,90009/17/2019
$98,900
Associate Atmospheric Scientist
Associate Atmospheric Scientist
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Brookhaven National Laboratory
04/23/2019
04/23/2019
$110,00004/23/2019
$110,000
Atmospheric Scientist
Atmospheric Scientist
Climacell Inc.
Climacell Inc.
03/14/2019
03/14/2019
$115,00003/14/2019
$115,000
Atmospheric and Space Scientists
Atmospheric and Space Scientists
Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC
Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC
02/28/2019
02/28/2019
$102,00002/28/2019
$102,000
Senior Atmospheric Scientist
Senior Atmospheric Scientist
Weatherflow, Inc.
Weatherflow, Inc.
11/02/2018
11/02/2018
$105,00011/02/2018
$105,000
See More Recent Salaries

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Atmospheric Scientist Demographics

Gender

male

59.4%

female

34.4%

unknown

6.3%

Ethnicity

White

66.1%

Asian

19.7%

Hispanic or Latino

7.2%

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

100.0%
See More Demographics

Atmospheric Scientist Education

Majors

Degrees

Doctorate

50.0%

Bachelors

18.8%

Masters

18.8%

Top Colleges for Atmospheric Scientists

1. University of Wisconsin - Madison

Madison, WI

Tuition and fees
$10,555
Enrollment
30,360

2. University of Maryland - College Park

College Park, MD

Tuition and fees
$10,595
Enrollment
30,184

3. North Carolina State University

Raleigh, NC

Tuition and fees
$9,101
Enrollment
23,708

4. University of Washington

Seattle, WA

Tuition and fees
$11,207
Enrollment
30,905

5. University of California - Davis

Davis, CA

Tuition and fees
$14,402
Enrollment
30,698

6. University of Georgia

Athens, GA

Tuition and fees
$11,830
Enrollment
29,474

7. Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN

Tuition and fees
$9,992
Enrollment
33,495

8. University of Delaware

Newark, DE

Tuition and fees
$13,680
Enrollment
19,060

9. Texas A&M University

College Station, TX

Tuition and fees
$11,870
Enrollment
53,194

10. Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA

Tuition and fees
$18,454
Enrollment
40,108
See More Education Info

Entry Level Jobs For Becoming An Atmospheric Scientist

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Top Skills For an Atmospheric Scientist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 57.0% of atmospheric scientists listed matlab on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and math skills are important as well.

Best States For an Atmospheric Scientist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as an atmospheric scientist. The best states for people in this position are Washington, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Atmospheric scientists make the most in Washington with an average salary of $97,114. Whereas in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, they would average $95,763 and $95,411, respectively. While atmospheric scientists would only make an average of $94,803 in New Hampshire, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Rhode Island

Total Atmospheric Scientist Jobs:
7
Highest 10% Earn:
$159,000
Location Quotient:
1.81
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Massachusetts

Total Atmospheric Scientist Jobs:
80
Highest 10% Earn:
$161,000
Location Quotient:
2.19
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Pennsylvania

Total Atmospheric Scientist Jobs:
77
Highest 10% Earn:
$144,000
Location Quotient:
1.59
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Atmospheric Scientist Employers

1. Mastech Digital
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$99,051
Atmospheric Scientists Hired: 
14+
2. Brookhaven National Laboratory
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$74,020
Atmospheric Scientists Hired: 
10+
3. Science Applications International ...
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$78,245
Atmospheric Scientists Hired: 
5+
4. Vaisala
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$69,641
Atmospheric Scientists Hired: 
4+
5. Science Systems and Applications
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$79,775
Atmospheric Scientists Hired: 
4+
6. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$75,845
Atmospheric Scientists Hired: 
3+

Recently Added Atmospheric Scientist Jobs

Updated October 2, 2020