Operational Meteorology: A Viable Complement to a Traditional Meteorology Degree Program

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 4:30 PM
125AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Thomas A. Guinn, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL
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Operational Meteorology:  A Viable Complement to a Traditional Meteorology Degree Program

Thomas A. Guinn

 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Department of Applied Aviation Sciences

Daytona Beach, FL 32114

Undergraduate meteorology programs have been producing graduates at numbers that are outpacing the job market.  Knox (2008) estimated, based on 2006 data, there were only 285 entry level meteorology positions available in the U.S. on an annual basis (private sector plus civil and military government), while there were an estimated 567 annual meteorology bachelor degree recipients.  To combat this over supply, Knox identified, as a possible response, for meteorology programs to break from the civil service requirements and tailor majors to other modes of employment.  The B.S. in Operational Meteorology (OMET) program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona Beach attempts to do exactly that--provide a program for students with a passion for meteorology that opens opportunities in career fields where the proper use of weather information has a significant impact on operations.  Following the “Provider-User Relationship (PUR)” portion of the weather forecasting business process model proposed by Lanicci (2012), the OMET degree program seeks to produce expert “users” of weather information. These users are operational experts who not only understand weather products, but who can communicate the associated impacts on specified sectors (e.g., aviation, transportation, agriculture, emergency management).  Because ERAU is largely focused on the aviation and aerospace industry, the OMET program's primary niche is preparing graduates for aviation-related careers, such as airline dispatching, professional pilot, flight coordination and air traffic control, where the proper use and understanding of weather information promotes safe operations.  A second area of specialization is broadcast meteorology.  The OMET program also gives students the option of pursing broadcasting careers, although they would not be eligible for the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM) designation.  Other universities could potentially find similar niche areas within their areas of specialization. 

The OMET program is intended as a complement to, not a replacement for, existing traditional meteorology programs.   The goal is to reduce competition for scarce meteorology jobs by providing viable alternatives within careers that make significant use of meteorological information.  The OMET program is not designed to meet AMS guidelines for a degree in meteorology; however, it does meet the GS-1341 requirements for a Meteorological Technician.  In contrast, ERAU also offers a traditional meteorology program meeting American Meteorological Society (AMS) guidelines, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) guidelines and U.S. Government GS-1340 series (Meteorologist) requirements.  Again using the PUR terms of Lanicci's (2012) business process model, the graduates of the traditional meteorology would be considered expert “Providers” of meteorological information.  Figure 1 graphically illustrates the difference between the two programs.  The meteorologists comprise the core of expert producers of meteorological information.  Within the outer ring are operations critically dependent on weather information, which could include, for example, such broad operational areas as commercial aviation.  Between Operations and Meteorologists are sample careers that could potentially benefit from OMET graduates.  These are careers where the proper use and interpretation of weather products are critical to safe operations, but the user need not be a traditionally educated meteorologist.  Notice broadcast meteorology lies between Meteorologists and Operational Meteorologists.  Clearly CBMs would be in the center, while non-CBM meteorologists would lie more in the spectrum of expert users. The combination of traditional and operational meteorology programs also provides unique opportunities to exploit existing and develop new PUR relationships. 

 The OMET curriculum differs from the traditional program in two fundamental ways.  First, the degree is slightly less rigorous mathematically, and second, the program is significantly more interdisciplinary. For math and physical science courses, students are required to take two semesters of technical physics, one semester of technical chemistry, one semester of physical geography, and two semesters of math, including basic differentiation and integration.  Meteorological coursework includes courses in instrumentation, aviation meteorology, thermodynamics, atmospheric physics, basic dynamics, analysis and forecasting (four semesters), and a capstone course, all of which focus on operational applications.   Interdisciplinary aspects are introduced through the requirement for an approved minor combined with a capstone experience that integrates operations with meteorological support.   Currently, common minors include Aeronautical Science, Flight, Air Traffic Management, Communications, and Business Administration.  Students also have the opportunity to obtain their FAA Airline Dispatch Certification through proper selection of minor and open electives.   


Knox, J.A., 2008: Recent and Future Trends in U.S. Undergraduate Meteorology Enrollments, Degree Recipients, and Employment Opportunities.  .  Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 89, 873-883.

Lanicci, J.M., 2012: Using a Business Process Model as a Central Organizing Construct for an Undergraduate Weather Forecasting Course.  Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 93, 697-709.

Figure 1.  Graphical representation meteorology careers with relation to operations and operational meteorologists.