So, you want to be a weatherman?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 19 2005 6:00 PM

So, You Want To Be a Weatherman?

Start working on your audition tape.

A career in broadcast meteorology? 
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A career in broadcast meteorology?

The Weather Man, a movie starring Nicolas Cage as a sad-sack meteorologist, opens next Friday. Cage's character makes television forecasting sound like a nice career: "My job's very easy—two hours a day, basically reading prompts. … I receive a large reward for pretty much zero effort and contribution." So, how do you become a TV weatherman?

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

You have to audition. To get a job as a broadcast meteorologist, you'll need to send in a weather résumé, along with a video that shows off your personal forecasting style. Some aspiring weathermen put several forecasts on the same tape to show they can handle all of the seasons.

It's tough to make a tape on your own, because you'll need to refer to fancy maps and graphics. In most cases, the first step is an internship at a television station. Meteorology interns spend a few months helping the broadcaster prepare her material; they compile information from the National Weather Service and use graphics software to make the maps that get shown on the air. In some cases, interns can use the studio to practice and record their own on-camera presentations.

There are no educational requirements for being a weatherman. In theory, anyone can send in a tape and become a TV weather guy. (Earlier this year, a Texas lawmaker tried to make it illegal to call yourself a "meteorologist" without proper training.) But broadcast meteorology is a competitive field, and many news directors consider only applicants who have done weather-related coursework. Weathermen typically have an undergraduate degree in meteorology, and some take communications courses on the side. Several universities offer specialized broadcast meteorology programs, where students take classes in weather science, voice and articulation, and performance. They may also get to use a practice studio to make audition tapes with real broadcast graphics.

Getting your first job in television meteorology can be tough. (Most meteorologists end up working for the federal government. Others work as consultants in the private sector or go into academia.) Entry-level positions could be part-time, either filling in for the regular broadcaster when she's on vacation or plugging undesirable weekend time slots. A weatherman who's just starting out might not get more than $15 an hour, or a yearly salary of around $20,000. (Seasoned weathermen in big cities with exciting and variable weather—Boston, for example—can make hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

Once you've got a bit of experience, you can apply for certification from the American Meteorological Society or the National Weather Association. In very competitive markets, a news director won't hire someone unless they have one—or both—of these "seals." To get AMS recognition, you need a passing grade on a 100-question exam and at least a bachelor's degree in meteorology. You also have to submit tapes of three consecutive weathercasts, which get judged on "technical competence, informational value, explanatory value, and communication skills."

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Explainer thanks Jeff Haby of Mississippi State University and Jason Shafer of Lyndon State College.