Class of 2020 and meteorologist life, plus December doldrums?

Good evening.

I am sorry for the lack of updates in recent weeks, I have been very busy with school-related work and applications for meteorology programs, including all the required forms and discussions with schools of prospect. I will discuss further what it is like to be a meteorologist based on my own experience, and how it relates to the Class of 2020 (i.e. those in senior year of high school now).

As for the weather in the Northeast, we have been in a “December doldrums” pattern. Simply put, not much has been going on. It has been unusually warm for much of the Northeast, with highs in the 60s as far north as New England and 70s in the mid-Atlantic, which in many cases are near or above record highs. Snow is nearly impossible to find, even in the mountains of northern New England – you have to go well into Canada, north of the St. Lawrence Valley – to find any significant winter weather recently. It’s easy to see why looking at the upper-level pattern – the height anomalies over the eastern US are highly conducive to warm, relatively moist air pushing into the region from the south, while the polar vortex cannot even approach the region due to the lack of a pushing trough from the north (Penn State E-Wall). A few storms have formed over the NW Atlantic, but they have lacked any reinforcing cold air to produce snow. There is no immediate indication of a large scale change, so a White Christmas might just remain a dream this year.

500 mb height anomalies over the Northern Hemisphere (left image), from the Penn State E-Wall. The right image is a surface analysis but that means less in this situation.

500 mb height anomalies over the Northern Hemisphere (left image), from the Penn State E-Wall. The right image is a surface analysis but that means less in this situation.

For the Class of 2020

At this point, I am referring to high school seniors who have probably already applied to their ideal college destination (or their initial destination en route to their ideal school later). As someone who is preparing to (hopefully) enter a graduate meteorology program, I can completely relate to what you are preparing for. I will try to give you an ideal on what to expect, how to improve your chances of success and a dream career. Here are some recommendations for you:

1) Try to meet meteorologists in your area, if possible. That could be your local NWS office, an academic advisor, a third-party company or a local TV station. Just having your name circulating can be very valuable and can build up connections. The weather business – on all fronts – is like a giant family. If you are outside it, you will have a very hard time making any progress, even if you have a Ph.D. with honors. Also they can be a good mentor for you over the next few years.

2) Look at older students, including the Class of 2016 and other graduating classes, for inspiration. See how as many new graduates as possible are doing and track their progress, since that can give you a good idea on your chances to succeed. No one is guaranteed to make it in the business, but your odds are probably good if you know what you are doing.

3) Brace yourself for difficult courses. Older blog posts I wrote in August tells you how difficult it can be, and everyone in your field has to do it. Many get discouraged and drop out of math, leaving them in much worse position. Be prepared, ask for tutorial aids for Christmas, do whatever it takes. It will all be very rewarding in the end. If you have the money, look at tutoring or academic assistance, since you need to keep your GPA up as well.

4) Get active on social media, but not obsessive or crazy. I have had to learn the latter (not easy for me), making crazy forecasts or excessive hyping is not a good idea – you will be discredited by professionals (yes, really) and that will have a lasting impact. At the same time, you need to have your name (or pseudo-name if privacy is an issue) out there. However, do not call yourself a meteorologist until qualified for it (i.e. after you complete your degree).

5) Choose your path wisely. A certificate in meteorology is not adequate for most fields today – you need a full degree, at a minimum. Certificates focus on the bare minimum required for the title of meteorologist, if that. It is a very competitive field, and employers require much more education, especially among new graduates with no professional experience. Having a graduate degree is worth even more, but you aren’t there yet.

It’s Not Easy Afterward, Either

When it comes to life as a meteorologist, it isn’t a typical 9 to 5 job, more like a 24/7 job that works every hour of every day of the year, including holidays. The weather never takes a break and neither will you (or your co-workers), someone will always be watching. Unless you work in academia (and expect to need an advanced degree or two for that), expect to work odd hours and sleep odd hours, making family life a challenge. That means getting up before 4 am (even 2 am for morning TV), working overnight in some cases and different days of the week than you may expect. You will likely also have to work weekends and holidays – including Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially in broadcast or operational meteorology.

Those assume normal conditions – if severe weather strikes, your shifts can be very long. It is not uncommon to be at work for multiple days at a time with provisions and makeshift beds during extreme events like hurricanes or major winter storms. It can be very tough for you, but the love of the business and the desire to protect the public is what drives meteorologists. Lives and property are at stake, and first responders need the help of professionals. You will be that professional who provides the valuable information via computer models and forecasts.

Anyway, will the weather pattern change? Some models seem to think colder weather and winter is finally coming soon. However, long range models are notoriously unreliable and fickle. All I can say is enjoy the warm weather, and stay tuned.

Forecaster Craig Ceecee

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