Meteorology: Underappreciated and Misunderstood

| February 23, 2014 | 1 Comment

Disclaimer: I am not a meteorologist. I speak on behalf of nobody but myself. In this post, I use “meteorology” as an umbrella term for many of the atmospheric sciences.

Here’s a quiz: What connects public health, agriculture, access to space, and urban forestry? Meteorology. What connects river forecasting, STEM education, air travel, and the burning of yak dung? Meteorology, the study of atmospheric processes, including weather. I am not a meteorologist. But early this month I attended the 94th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and learned a lot about this mysterious discipline.

1. Meteorology is very important

From the quiz above, I hope you got a sense of how involved meteorology is with other disciplines and industries. Weather and climate matter for just about everything we do as a human society. For one, our reliance on phones and internet is enabled by satellites in space that would not be there without guidance from meteorologists. Meteorologists help predict disease outbreaks, droughts, and food shortages. Without meteorologists, our airplanes would never make it to their destinations and heat wave fatalities would be much greater than they currently are. If you are not already convinced, think about the clothes you are wearing right now. Those choices were driven by climate, even if you are inside. You breathe air, and have snow days (or not) when there is a blizzard. Weather affects everyone, no matter what, all the time. And what else is there to talk about when all else fails?

2. Meteorology can be an effective tool for education

Because each and every one of us has experience with weather and climate, meteorology is something with which we all have a connection. When you learn about meteorology, patterns that you have probably noticed in your lifetime make sense. Why is it so cold in Rochester, New York, but not Rochester, Texas? What do all the frozen things do in summer (see below)? How come when it rains, it pours? Further, the practice of making meteorological measurements can be relatively easy, rewarding, and educational. At the AMS meeting, I learned about CoCoRaHS, a national volunteer-run program that uses data collected from people like you and me to make fine-scale maps of precipitation. Cool! All weather is local. When you measure 2 inches of rain in your backyard, of course it is always more than your neighbor, yet his grass is always greener! Engaging schoolchildren in programs such as CoCoRaHS is a great way to introduce kids to scientific observations that they can see happen in real time.

3. Meteorology is very difficult

If a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world, imagine just how challenging it is to predict the weather. You would need to monitor a lot of butterflies, or at least, a lot of caterpillars…  In reality, the uncertainties of predicting weather are so vast, it is amazing we can predict anything at all. Yet meteorologists often do. Until the AMS conference, I thought that weathermen and weatherwomen passively read their forecasts off of teleprompters. In fact, most broadcast meteorologists have degrees in the subject and many do the analysis and forecasting of the weather themselves. How cool is that?

So next time you meet a meteorologist, thank them for what they do!

feature image photo credit: RaGardner4 via photopin cc

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Category: featured, Science and Technology

About the Author ()

Evan is a Senior in the College of Arts and Sciences (2014). He is studying biology and anything else he can get his hands on. Evan is interested in urban ecology, environmental education, and food justice. In his spare time, Evan enjoys making music, checking his email, and running. Evan hails from Yorktown, New York.

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