A meteorologist offers 10 tips for kids interested in the weather
A colleague indirectly inspired this article. At a meeting this weekend at Lake Oconee, she asked me if I was going to contact a family friend whose son was passionate about the weather. As someone who has carried out a science project called “Can a Grade 6 student predict the weather?” such requests always resonate with me. I talk to students all the time. As I finished my email to the young man, I offered him some advice. Because people often approach me to say that their child is interested in the weather, I decided to expand this list to include 10 tips for children interested in the weather.
Before providing these 10 tips, allow me to issue a disclaimer. These recommendations come from my perspective only. It is neither definitive nor dismissive of other great advice out there. I base this advice on my experience as the director of the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia and someone who worked as a scientist at NASA, served as president of the American Meteorological Society, hosted a show on The Weather Channel, has written a children’s book on weather and has advised key US leaders on weather and climate. I am also a legitimate “Weather Geek” and cardholder. Here are these 10 tips:
Read all you can about the weather and climate. As a child, I discovered The Weather Book by Jack Williams, and it was so important to me. The American Meteorological Society updated and republished the book. However, there are several other awesome books. There are also some great online resources. Check out, for example, this amazing program from WeatherSTEM or the National Weather Service Jet Stream.
By the way, don’t underestimate a good read of an entire volume of an encyclopedia either. I cannot confirm or deny that the author of this article did this as a child (smile).
Obtain student membership in a professional society or organization. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the National Weather Association (NWA) offer memberships to students. These are the perfect opportunities to start engaging with a larger professional community and to gain access to publications, conferences, etc. really cool.
Join a local chapter of AMS or NWA. Although they are national organizations, these two professional organizations have local branches in many cities. See if your area has one and contact them.
Do your best in math and science classes now. I can’t tell you how many times a student walks into my office to major in atmospheric science or meteorology because they are fascinated by chasing storms, hurricanes or cloud formations. However, the conversation often takes an abrupt turn when I present all the required courses in Calculus, Differential Equations, Physics, Thermodynamics, Atmospheric Physics, Dynamics, Statistics, and more. Go ahead by doing your best in math and science classes now. I also challenge teachers to make science and math fun and not just chalkboards and equations.
Don’t forget about the other skills. Although I place a strong emphasis on math and physics, it is also important to develop good writing, speaking and coding skills, which means it is important to focus on the arts classes in the classroom. language, computer programming and other technical fields. By the way, Python is very popular among undergraduate and graduate students of atmospheric science, and I increasingly recommend taking GIS courses, which are often offered in geography departments.
Know what careers are available (it’s not just TV stuff). It’s always funny when I tell someone I’m a meteorologist. They immediately assume that I’m on TV or doing a weather forecast. The broadcast meteorologist is the most familiar weather-related profession to most people, but it is only a small fraction of the career options in meteorology. The vast majority of meteorologists are not on TV, and many don’t predict the weather either. This Bureau of Labor and Statistics website provides a wealth of information on jobs, trends, and prospects in atmospheric science. The aforementioned professional societies are also good resources.
Understanding the difference between weather and climate. Climate change is one of the greatest threats to society. It’s a crisis. Unfortunately, many people (including some meteorologists) don’t seem to understand the difference between weather and climate. A safe bet clue is when you hear someone deny consensus scientific evidence or say silly things like, “It’s cold or snowing today, so there is no global warming.” As many of us often say, “the weather is your mood and the climate is your personality.” The weather of a particular day or week does not define the spatial and long-term characteristics associated with the climate. By the way, my colleague Bob Henson wrote a wonderful book on climate change called “The Thinking Person’s Guide To Climate Change”.
Find ways to engage with weather professionals. Although I never wanted to be a meteorologist, I remember finding a way to meet Atlanta TV meteorologist Ken Cook. I also remember visiting the offices of the National Weather Service. You might be surprised how easy it is to contact these professionals, and they are generally very open to meeting curious students. There are even storm observer courses offered by the National Weather Service, but make sure you understand the age requirements.
Follow credible sources on social media. Social media is the Wild West when it comes to scientific information, especially weather and climate. There’s a lot of really, really, really, really bad weather information out there on social media, so make sure you’re following reliable, credible sources rather than people looking for clicks or making a name for themselves. Also, resist the urge to share sensational or questionable information.
My last tip is simple. Stay passionate, curious, and keep asking questions.