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Atmospheric and Space Scientists - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) offers the Certified Consulting Meteorologist professional certification for consulting meteorologists. Applicants must meet formal education requirements, pass an examination to demonstrate thorough meteorological knowledge, have a minimum of 5 years of experience or a combination of experience plus an advanced degree, and provide character references from fellow professionals. In addition, AMS also offers the Certified Broadcast Meteorologist designation for meteorologists in television and radio. Applicants must hold a bachelorís degree in atmospheric science or meteorology, complete an examination, and submit examples of their weather broadcasts for review. Both certifications also require periodic continuing education.

Experienced meteorologists may advance to supervisory or administrative jobs, or may handle more complex forecasting jobs. After several years of experience, some meteorologists establish their own weather consulting services.

Atmospheric scientists held about 9,400 jobs in 2008. This does not include individuals employed in college and university departments of meteorology or atmospheric science, physics, earth science, or geophysics; these individuals are classified as college or university faculty, rather than atmospheric scientists.

The Federal Government was the largest single employer of atmospheric scientists, accounting for about 34 percent of employment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employed most Federal meteorologists in National Weather Service stations throughout the Nation; the remainder of NOAA's meteorologists worked mainly in research and development or management. The U.S. Department of Defense employed several hundred civilian meteorologists. In addition to civilian meteorologists, hundreds of Armed Forces members are involved in forecasting and other meteorological work.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to increase faster than average. Applicants face keen competition; those with graduate degrees should enjoy better prospects than those with only a bachelorís degree.

Job Growth
Employment of atmospheric scientists is projected to grow 15 percent over the 2008-18 decade, faster than the average for all occupations. Most new jobs are expected to arise in private industry. As research leads to continuing improvements in weather forecasting, demand should grow for private weather consulting firms to provide more detailed information than has formerly been available, especially to climate-sensitive industries. Farmers, commodity investors, insurance companies, utilities, and transportation and construction firms can greatly benefit from additional weather information more closely targeted to their needs than the general information provided by the National Weather Service. Additionally, research on seasonal and other long-range forecasting is yielding positive results, which should spur demand for more atmospheric scientists to interpret these forecasts and advise climate-sensitive industries. However, because many customers for private weather services are in industries sensitive to fluctuations in the economy, the sales and growth of private weather services depend on the health of the economy.

There will continue to be demand for atmospheric scientists to analyze and monitor the dispersion of pollutants into the air to ensure compliance with Federal environmental regulations, but related employment increases are expected to be small. Efforts toward making and improving global weather observations also could have a positive impact on employment.

Atmospheric scientists will face keen competition, as the number of graduates from college and university atmospheric sciences programs is expected to exceed the number of openings in the field. Although overall opportunities will be limited, the best prospects will be in private industry. Few opportunities are expected in government as atmospheric scientists will only need to be hired to replace workers who retire or leave the field. Openings for academic researchers will be limited due to the small number of positions. Workers with graduate degrees should enjoy better prospects than those with only a bachelorís degree.

Median annual wages of atmospheric scientists in May 2008 were $81,290. The middle 50 percent earned between $55,140 and $101,340. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,990, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $127,100.

The average salary for meteorologists employed by the Federal Government was $93,661 in March 2009.

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