Meteorology is the science of the atmosphere. It takes its name from the Greek word meteoron-something that happens high in the sky. The ancient Greeks observed clouds, winds, and rain and tried to understand how they are connected to one another. The weather was important in their relatively simple society because it affected the farmers who raised their food and their seamen who sailed the oceans. Today, our complex society and our environment are affected even more seriously by events and changes in the atmosphere. We must address many complicated issues and answer many difficult questions about the behavior of the atmosphere and its effects on the people of our planet.
An Ancient Science
Aristotle is considered the father of meteorology. His book Meteorologica, written around 340 B.C., was the first major study of the atmosphere. Although some of Aristotle's ideas about rain, hailstorms, and other kinds of weather were accurate, many were not. Like other thinkers of his time, he believed that logic and reason alone could lead to truth. He did not think it was necessary to observe the details of the natural world in order to understand it.
Many centuries later, natural philosophers, as scientists were called in the early years of modern science, realized that speculation and logical arguments alone could not produce real understandings of nature. To understand things that happened in the world around them, it was necessary to measure, record, and analyze them. But for a very long time, the only features of the weather that could be measured were wind direction and rainfall. The thermometer was invented around A.D. 1600, and the barometer, which measures atmospheric pressure, came a few years later. Over the next 200 years, devices were developed for measuring wind speed, humidity, and other important qualities of the atmosphere. Scientists used these instruments to record the long-term trends that are known as climate. However, they still did not understand the day-to-day behavior of thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other weather phenomena.
By the mid-1800s, meteorologists began to realize that clouds, winds, and rain at a particular place are produced by large weather systems that grow and change as they move across the face of the earth. However, this knowledge was not very useful as long as weather information could travel no faster than the weather itself. Then the telegraph was invented, allowing weather reports to be sent out almost instantly. Future weather over much of the
United States and Europe was predicted by watching storms develop and assuming that they would move eastward. In the early 1900s, a group of Norwegian meteorologists began to study weather systems by applying basic laws of physics to the behavior of the atmosphere. Their approach, based on the movements of huge cold and warm air masses and the "fronts" where they meet, is the foundation of modern weather forecasting.
In the early 1940s, World War II brought great advances in meteorology. Large-scale military land, sea, and air campaigns were highly dependent on weather over vast regions from the
North Atlantic to the South Pacific. University meteorology departments grew rapidly as the military services sent cadets to be trained as weather officers. The military also supported scientific research on weather and climate. Wartime technological developments such as radar proved to be valuable meteorological observing systems.
Meteorologists have developed many more new tools and techniques for observing and studying the atmosphere since World War II. They probe the violent cores of thunderstorms with radar and high-performance aircraft, and they use satellites to observe hurricanes and other major weather systems. They develop numerical models-sets of equations that represent atmospheric processes-and run them on supercomputers to analyze and predict the behavior of the atmosphere on every scale from the formation of raindrops to the circulation of the atmosphere over the entire earth.
More than 2,000 years ago, Greek philosophers looked at the sky and tried to understand what was happening there. Today, the ancient science of meteorology has matured. It is at the cutting edge of research, seeking answers to basic questions about the world around us and working to develop applications that are critically important to our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.
When we hear the word "meteorologist," we often think of the person on the television screen who tells us about tomorrow's high and low temperatures and precipitation. Many radio and television weathercasters are professional meteorologists, but others are reporters who are passing on information provided by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. A meteorologist can be defined as a person with specialized education "who uses scientific principles to explain, understand, observe, or forecast the earth's atmospheric phenomena and/or how the atmosphere affects the earth and life on the planet." This education usually includes a bachelor's or higher degree from a college or university. Many meteorologists have degrees in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other fields. The broader term "atmospheric science" often is used to describe the combination of meteorology and other branches of physical science that are involved in studying the atmosphere.
Meteorologists do many things, some of which may surprise you. They work in atmospheric research, teaching, weather forecasting, and other kinds of applied meteorology.
Many research meteorologists are seeking answers to the questions that are scattered through this booklet. Here are some examples:
· Atmospheric scientists are working to assess the threat of global warming by collecting and analyzing past and present data on worldwide temperature trends. They use the biggest and fastest supercomputers that are available to simulate past changes in climate as well as basic atmospheric processes that are occurring today. They are trying to clear up many uncertainties about how changes in water vapor, clouds, and snow might feed back into the greenhouse effect and alter the warming trend. They also are studying interactions among the atmosphere and the oceans, the polar ice caps, and the earth's plants and animals. These studies are part of a growing field that is known as global change research or earth systems science.
· Several atmospheric research groups have studied microbursts with radar, instrumented aircraft, and other research tools.
· Meteorologists are collaborating with atmospheric chemists and computer modelers to study the sources, transport, and chemical changes in pollutants that are causing serious regional air quality problems in different regions.
Research meteorologists often work closely with scientists in basic physical disciplines such as chemistry, physics, and mathematics as well as with oceanographers, hydrologists, and researchers in other branches of environmental science. Mathematicians and computer scientists help meteorologists design computer models of atmospheric processes. Meteorologists and oceanographers work together to study many important ocean-atmosphere interactions. Research meteorologists work with biologists to try to understand how plants and animals interact with the atmosphere and with political scientists and economists to study the potential effects of global warming on our society and the world.
Forecasting has always been at the heart of meteorology, and many young people have been drawn to the profession by the challenge of forecasting a natural event and seeing that forecast affect the lives of thousands of people. Meteorologists who have worked in the field of forecasting for the last 30 years or so have seen exciting advances in their ability to predict the weather. Weather forecasting involves many people in many countries because the systems that bring us our weather are hundreds of miles in extent and move across huge regions of the earth's surface as they grow and change. National Weather Service forecasts help the general public and large special-interest groups such as the aviation and agriculture industries. Private forecasting organizations also serve these groups as well as clients with very specific needs for highly specialized forecasts. They take on tasks such as short-term, small-scale snow forecasts for city public works managers who need to know how many snowplows to put on the streets in various neighborhoods when a winter storm is on the way. Private forecasters work for commodities traders who are concerned about the effects of weather on crop production and prices. They forecast the weather for athletic events such as professional football games and golf tournaments. They keep gas and electric companies informed about impending hot spells or cold waves that will put heavy demands on generating plants and transmission systems. They provide local weather forecasts to many radio and television stations that do not employ their own meteorologists.
Meteorologists could provide a variety of services to industries and other organizations. Some are consulting meteorologists with their own companies and others worked for corporations. Meteorologists help planners and contractors locate and design airports, factories and many other kinds of construction projects. They provide climatological information for heating and air conditioning engineers. They testify as expert witnesses in court cases that involve the weather. Over the past 10 years or so, the fastest growing specialty of meteorology has been computer processing of weather information. Private companies have developed computerized information systems to provide specialized weather data and displays. They could produce many of the colorful graphics that you see on television screens and newspaper pages.
Atmospheric science education at the college and university level has grown tremendously in recent years in developing countries. In addition to classroom teaching, many university atmospheric scientists direct research that graduate students are performing to earn their degrees. Many institutions offer a major in meteorology or atmospheric science, while others provide atmospheric science courses to supplement related science and engineering fields or as part of a broader educational curricula. Some colleges and universities offer courses in global change and earth systems science. In high schools and lower grades, atmospheric science usually is taught as part of other natural science courses. Training in meteorology is good preparation for a career as a science teacher at any level.
Retrieved from American Meteorological Society's Website but edited some