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November 18, 1987 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-11-18

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This Job Really
Weathers Well
The forecast for meteorologists is mostly sunny

vision viewers may picture
Mention meteorology, and tele-
Willard Scott wearing
bunch of bananas on his bald
pate or a local airhead chirp-
ing about the rain. But meteorology
amounts to a lot more than happy talk.
Meteorologists-even a growing number of
TV weathercasters-are skilled profes-
sionals trained in physics, chemistry and
math. Their predictions guide businesses
from farms to baseball teams and can liter-
ally save lives in the path of a hurricane or
tornado. They play increasingly signifi-
cant roles in an age of acid rain and dimin-
ishing ozone. Interest in the weather isn't
new, but, judging by the attractions of USA
Today's technicolor maps and cable TV's
Weather Channel, the fascination with
forecasting seems to be rising. "One of the
primary reasons people watch the evening
news is because of weather," says Neil
Frank, the former head of the National
Hurricane Center, who has become a TV
weatherman in Houston.
The majority of America's 10,000 mete-
orologists serve as forecasters. Most work
for the government-for the National
Weather Service, the Air Force's Air
Weather Service or NASA. Others work for
private companies, preparing specialized
forecasts. Meteorologists may also narrow
their focus to specialties such as hydrology
(study of rivers and floods) or climatology
(study of the seasonal weather patterns in a
specific region). Research meteorologists,
usually funded by the government, hold
advanced degrees and investigate longer-
range issues, such as how acid rain affects
the atmosphere. Such issues, says Richard
E. Hallgren, director of the National
Weather Service, "are of great socioeco-
nomic importance to the world."
No showmen needed: Flamboyant weather-
men like Scott-who has been known to
deliver a forecast in full Carmen Miranda
regalia-may be disappearing. Weather
scientists tend to look down on performers
like Scott, who holds bachelor's degrees in
religion and philosophy but not meteorolo-
gy. And by now, more than 400 people hold
the American Meteorological Society's TV

W .., .

years. About one in eight of
today's National Weather Serv-
ice meteorologists are minor-
ities; there were almost none,
veterans say, in 1970. Both
government and corporate em-
ployers say they are working
hard to increase the totals.
About 60 schools, among
them Penn State (the largest),
Florida State, UCLA and the
universities of Oklahoma and
Arizona, offer courses leading
to a bachelor's degree in mete-
orology. Some also offer hands-
on training. For example, Penn
State's Campus Weather Serv-
ice broadcasts its own forecasts
statewide on the PBS show
BLACK STAR "Weather World." A bachelor's
degree in meteorology is not a prerequisite
for the career, however. The Air Force, for
example, will pay for recruits with science
backgrounds to go back to school for a year
of meteorology training; after about three
years of good work in the Air Weather Serv-
ice, the Air Force will often foot the bill for
meteorologists to get their master's or
Ph.D. "More and more, higher degrees are
stressed,"says Ray Biedinger, deputy mete-
orologist in charge at the National Weather
Service Forecast Office in Miami.
Very high tech: Meteorologists must now be
knowledgeable not just in the traditional
hard sciences but in computer science as
well. "Meteorology is physics and chemis-
try applied to the atmosphere. You use
math and computers as tools," explains,


seal of approval, which generally means
that they have an appropriate degree as
well as polished communications skills.
"The trend today is that stations want their
people to have a seal of approval," says
Evelyn Mazur of the AMS. The reason:
viewers seem interested in weather infor-
mation that is more detailed than the Na-
tional Weather Service forecasts. "People
just aren't satisfied with 'it's going to
be cloudy'," says Detroit TV weathercaster
Jerry Hodak.
Though the number of meteorologists
who are women or minorities is grow-
ing, the field remains overwhelmingly
white and male. One-sixth of the under-
graduate degrees in meteorology last year
went to women, a ratio unchanged in five




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