Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurry, take up the study of hurricanes
A meteorologist's job is to analyse and predict natural phenomenon like winds,
cyclones and hurricanes, writes Usha Albuquerque

It is when cyclones strike with their ravaging trail of destruction, or when any other natural phenomenon disrupts our daily routine that we think of the weather man. Never has the importance of this science come home to us more forcefully than in the past couple of months with Mumbai under floods, Hurricane Katrina devastating parts of southern USA, and unseasonal heavy rains causing havoc in northern and western India.

So, for all those curious about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of such phenomena, meteorology is an appropriate career. Meteorology is an inter-disciplinary science which studies the phenomena of the atmosphere, and applies the knowledge for analysis, prediction and control of the natural conditions that affect our daily life. In fact, meteorological information is vital not only for daily weather forecasts and research, but also for business and industry,
transport and telecommunication, agriculture, and defence and so on.

Works avenues

The meteorologist studies weather conditions, forecasts the changes in weather, analyses weather maps, predicts the movements of the wind, rain, cloud cover, precipitation, airways and flying conditions, and other weather conditions, and provides this information for the benefit of all. Using earth satellites and computers, meteorologists track the physical movements and characteristics of the atmosphere and record observations conducted at many geographical locations, even from orbiting weather satellites. The work, therefore, involves the collection and analysis of data on the weather and research study on aspects of the atmosphere, winds, temperature, clouds, precipitation, hurricane and cyclone dynamics, electricity and so on.

With this information they are able to predict weather conditions, forecast changes, and provide the information required for the airline, shipping and marine industry, for farmers, government organisations such as the flood control boards and energy departments, radio and television reports, planners, space research and for other economic purposes.

Besides weather forecasting, meteorologists conduct research on a range of physical aspects of the atmosphere—-global warming, pollution, the fallout of radioactive material, ozone levels in the atmosphere and a range of other areas requiring the expertise of physicists, mathematicians, engineers, geographers, oceanographers, radiometrists, hydrologists and specialists from other areas of science.

Meteorological data is then utilised for several public purposes.

In the field of agriculture, weather forecasts are provided to farmers through weather bulletins, along with agrometeorological advice on what action farmers should take for enhancing crop yields.

In the area of aviation, information is also provided to pilots and to airports on actual and expected weather conditions, on surface winds, temperature, visibility, cloud formation and so on, for the planning and execution of all flights. All airports have meteorological offices for this purpose.

Similarly, the meteorological office issues weather warnings to ships at high seas and in ports. Bulletins are broadcast at regular intervals providing information about the prevailing weather conditions, particularly at times of disturbance. There are also cyclone warning centers for coastal areas, providing special information, and for the education of fishermen and those living in coastal areas through routine broadcasts on radio.

The Indian Meteorological Department provides regular weather forecasts to the public through the mass media, including newspapers, radio and television and daily reports. Various government

departments, including Revenue, Public Works, Irrigation, Power, Posts and Telegraphs etc, and several public sector undertakings are regularly warned against heavy rain and gales, and adverse weather conditions, for taking necessary precautionary measures against damage to public utilities.

Placement prospects

Most jobs for meteorologists are with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). They work in departments of meteorology to provide meteorological services to government, industry, radio and TV channels, and for issuing flood and storm warnings.

Meteorologists can work as weather forecasters with weather bureau and research centres, for agricultural planning, and space agencies.

Other sectors such as aviation, shipping, agriculture and some public sector organisations such as the railways employ trained meteorologists. Other jobs include those handling smoke control and air pollution, with weather consulting organisations, with firms designing and manufacturing meteorological instruments and aircraft.

The Armed Forces also require the services of meteorologists, for guiding Navy ships in adverse weather conditions, and in the Air Force, for briefing pilots.

Meteorologist can also go in for teaching and academics.

Research route

Research is another major area of work for meteorologists, with the IMD or with several of the research institutions in the country. Many meteorologists also work in areas of planning, for agriculture, irrigation and power generation.

Meteorologists can also specialise in particular fields such as weather forecasting. These are synoptic meteorologists and they interpret current weather information and make short and long-range forecasts for given regions and purposes.

Climatologists study weather patterns and interpret data on its different aspects for a particular region over a long period of time. There are also dynamic meteorologist who study the physical laws related to air currents, and physical meteorologists who study the physical nature of the atmosphere and its properties. Industrial meteorologists work in industry to study and control problems related to pollution emanating from industrial emissions, while aviation meteorologists specialise in all conditions affecting the operation of flights by aircraft of all kinds.

Training talk

Training for meteorology is offered at the postgraduate level to graduates of physics, maths, geophysics, applied maths and statistics. There are, however, limited institutions providing this training. These include Kurukshetra University, MS University of Baroda, Andhra University at Vishakapatnam, and Cochin University of Science and Technology at Cochin which offer M. Sc in Meteorology. They also offer M. Sc/ M. Tech in Atmospheric Science to engineering students. Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, offers an M.Sc in Agricultural Meteorology for students of B.Sc Agriculture, while the University of Pune offers M.Sc in Climatology and M.Tech in Atmospheric Physics. There is also a one-year diploma course in meteorology for science graduates offered by Punjabi University, Patiala, and Bharathiyar university, Coimbatore.


The IMD directly recruits graduates in Physics through the UPSC exam and offers on the job training at different levels. At the basic level, is the one -year training, while the inter-mediate and the advanced level training is for six months and one year, respectively.

Those selected by the IMD join as Senior Observers for posts in Chennai, Mumbai, Calcutta, Nagpur and New Delhi. Postgraduates can join as Professional Assistants after qualifying in the UPSC exam and interview. Meteorologist Grade 2 are also recruited through the UPSC exam. At this level, they undergo pre-service training in agricultural meteorology at Pune.

With the increase in the demand for information regarding atmospheric conditions, the work of the meteorologist is gaining in importance and relevance. But the work requires meticulous attention to detail, patience, powers of observation, analytical skills and the ability to work in a team.

Whether there is to be a cricket match or a wedding ceremony, time for sowing, or harvesting, for the airlines or the shipping industry, it is necessary to know what the weather conditions are likely to be. Meteorological data is necessary for launching satellites and space shuttles, setting up telecommunications networks, and for defence planning. In this scenario, the scope for meteorologists can only therefore increase.

— The writer is a noted career expert