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The Real Poop

Looking for a job you can really sink your teeth into? It doesn't get any meteor than this.

Native American Zuni people traditionally believe that spring butterflies predict summer weather: A white butterfly indicates a moderate rainfall, a dark butterfly predicts stormy weather, and a yellow butterfly means plenty of sun. Meteorologists use slightly different methods.

In short, meteorology is the scientific study of the atmosphere. Do you remember your biology teacher going on and on about the Earth's atmosphere? No? Well, we'll refresh your memory. The atmosphere is a layer of gasses surrounding our planet, not originally produced by Taco Bell. Gravity keeps it from flying off into space. Different types of weather are produced by changes in the atmosphere. Therefore, meteorologists are able to predict the weather—within ranges—by analyzing the Earth’s atmosphere.

Some of the tools meteorologists use are barometers which measure air pressure, anemometers which measure wind speed, pyschrometers which measure humidity, and thermometers which measure…well, you know their shtick. Combining all of these methods of measurement, meteorologists can start to put together a picture of what the weather will be like on any given day, and use that information to extrapolate what it may be like for days or weeks in advance. And they don't even need to wear a rhinestone-studded turban or feel up a crystal ball.

Think you can do a better job than your local weatherman? You can't walk into your local television station with a weather stick and a sparkling personality and expect to be given your own segment. To become a meteorologist, you must earn a degree in Atmospheric Science. If you enjoy physics, math, chemistry, Earth science, and computer science, there is a good chance you'll love meteorology. There is also a good chance you love Dungeons & Dragons, but that's beside the point. While having a M.S. or PhD isn’t entirely necessary, it will open more professional doors. A PhD is required for many research positions. Plus it looks so much better on your business cards.

That's a lot of schooling to go through just so you can look up at the sky and try to figure out if it's going to rain. Actually, meteorologists use data that comes from computer readings, radars, weather satellites, weather balloons, sensors, and weather stations all over the world.

Ever hear your weatherman go on about the Doppler radar? The Doppler radar detects airflow patterns. This radar is used to warn people of flash floods, thunderstorms, and tornados. Noah would have been in serious trouble if he hadn't checked the Doppler radar shortly before construction started on that ark of his. (To be honest, the rumor is that he got an insider tip.) Meteorologists who forecast the weather are known as operational meteorologists. Most meteorologists fall into this group. Seems like there is a lot of work that goes into finding out if you'll get a snow day.

Where you forecast also depends on how boring or exciting your job is. If you work in some place like Los Angeles, where the residents look at a light mist as a raging thunderstorm, your job will be a total yawn. But if you work at a station in Kansas, you'll have snowstorms in the winter, rainstorms in the spring, and tornadoes whenever they decide to present themselves. Driving to work may be more of a pain, but you'll enjoy the variety and challenge of forecasting drastically different weather systems. Plus, you may get to save some poor witch from having a house land on her.

Weather forecasts do more than inform the general public. Forestry, shipping, air transportation, agriculture, and fishing industries count on meteorologists to provide an accurate assessment of the weather. For example, stormy weather is dangerous for air traffic. Air traffic controllers receive weather reports, which they use to route planes or delay takeoffs. So there's more at stake than merely informing people whether or not it's good surfing weather.

A PhD comes in handy (read: is absolutely essential) if you want to work in research. Physical meteorologists study both the chemical and physical properties of the atmosphere. These meteorologists study clouds, rain, snow, and severe weather formations. Those who want to help the environment can become Environmental meteorologists. Environmental meteorologists study air quality problems like pollution. They research the environmental impact of hazardous air particles, and then devise ways to reduce such hazards. As you might guess, there is plenty of opportunity here for fart jokes.

Meteorology is a more exciting and serious career path than you might surmise by watching Sunny McCloud joking it up on your local news station. Meteorologists are faced with stressful deadlines and long hours when weather is bad. Despite all of the innovations in weather forecasting technology, the atmosphere is not as predictable as we'd ideally like it to be. Those who work in operational meteorology must also get used to night shifts, working holidays and weekends stuck in the weather station office. Weather stations are manned with meteorologists 24/7. It's almost as if the weather never takes a day off.