So you want to be a meteorologist
15 June 2021
Thinking about your first career, or a career change? Grace Legge, one of our National Production Operations Leaders, shares the inside story on a career in weather forecasting.
What does a meteorologist do?
We combine a lot of different sources of information to deliver forecast services for our customers. We analyse observations (readings) of the current weather and large amounts of weather model data. We build an understanding of the physical processes of the atmosphere that are driving the weather, and their development into the future.
With so much data available, our training and experience are important in deciding which is most useful to draw upon for a given situation.
When I say we deliver forecasts for our 'customers', this can mean industries like aviation or agriculture. It can mean emergency services, or the media, who we work closely with to get the message out. It also means the broader community, who look to weather information to plan each day.
A meteorologist's job is to take all available data and turn it into something our customers use to help them make decisions – about their safety, their livelihood or everyday life.
We predict the future evolution of the weather, so it's often not a definite space. We help people understand the nature and likelihood of the weather ahead that might affect them.
The next step after producing a forecast is communicating it. There are various channels we use. These include radio, TV, social media and the BOM Weather app and website. The aim is to make sure that everyone who needs the information, has access to it.
Image: Presenting a Severe Weather Update video. These are published on the Bureau's website and social media accounts, and made available to the media.
Day-to-day tasks for meteorologists vary, but for me it's working with my colleagues to develop the forecast policy for the country. That's like the 'master' forecast. All our staff around Australia work from it. To make the forecast policy I work with all our teams, meteorologists and hydrologists focused on different work areas. I pull all their expertise together to get the best knowledge into the forecast and out to the community.
I manage a team of 5 meteorologists on shift. Our team overall has around 25 meteorologists. Every role within the team is different. We all have individual tasks for the shift and work together to support each other and grow our skills.
Why did you want to be a meteorologist?
I studied atmospheric science in university as part of first-year earth science and I fell in love with weather. I used to really love physics but once we got to the quantum scale, I lost interest. Weather on the other hand, I loved. It's such an interesting field, with technology steadily increasing our understanding.
But the thing that meant the most to me was that weather matters to everybody. It affects everyone and it can have devastating consequences. As meteorologists we can help people mitigate and work towards managing these risks.
What surprised you about being a meteorologist?
There is a lot more to what we forecast in the Bureau than I realised and most people think. Everyday weather is important – but there's so much more to it than that.
We have a large team focused on the aviation sector. The team forecasts for hundreds of airports and aerodromes across the country as well as up to 60,000 ft for our airspace.
In severe weather we forecast for thunderstorms, damaging winds, heavy rainfall that can lead to flash flooding, bushfire risks and tropical cyclones. We even warn for tsunamis when there's an undersea earthquake.
Meteorologists sit with emergency services, briefing them ahead of bad weather days and giving detailed forecasts for ongoing bushfires. We also warn for heatwaves and forecast for marine areas.
There's so much that goes into forecasts and warnings, and so many different areas where you can expand your skills. For example, some meteorologists develop their communication skills and give briefings and interviews for the entire country. We also have researchers, many of whom have moved into the area from meteorology. They continue to improve our weather models and forecast processes.
Image: The Bureau's Weekly Weather Wrap is broadcast on ABC TV's Landline.
What are some career highlights so far?
Top of that list would be presenting at a World Meteorological Organization conference in the Solomon Islands in 2019. Meteorologists and emergency services staff from countries throughout the Pacific Islands came along. It was amazing to meet and learn from all these people.
I worked in Darwin for many years and loved my time up there. There's nothing quite like being under an active monsoon and seeing that amount of water flowing from the sky. I also was able to work in the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre there. This was an amazing experience – I really developed my interest in tropical cyclones while I was there.
So far I've managed to work in Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart. I also remotely forecast for New South Wales and Victoria during the summer bushfires of 2019–20. It's been great to work with so many people, in many places and learn from them all. Everyone is different and they bring that diversity with them to each team.
What do you hope to tick off in the years ahead?
For now, I'm focused on my role as National Production Operations Leader.
At some point I'd like to move back into severe weather forecasting or an 'embedded' role with emergency services or industry. That's where you work directly with a customer in their workplace, to focus on and understand their needs.
I've always wanted to forecast in Antarctica as that's an opportunity few people have. But I'll always wait to see what opportunities turn up.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about studying meteorology?
Make sure you study maths and physics first. It's really important that you have a good basis to build from. The Bureau's Graduate Meteorologist course supplies all the meteorology you need so it’s not necessary to have studied that.
Remember it's not just about what you study. Working well in a team, being good at communicating and focused on customer service are also critically important. So don't forget to have fun and explore other aspects of studying.
Apply for the Graduate Meteorology Program