Trainee Meteorologist

Career Prospects

When considering whether or not to seek a career as a meteorologist remember that the meteorologist training programme, despite taking a while to complete, is just the beginning of what's likely to be a long and satisfying professional career.

Of MetService's approximately 200 staff, about 70 are meteorologists. Most of MetService's meteorologists work as forecasters, but some are involved in computer modelling, marketing, consulting, development, management and instructing. You'd need some years of forecasting experience before we'd consider you for any of these latter positions.

MetService works hard to meet the needs of our three main customer groups: the aviation community, the marine community and the public (served largely by the media). Forecasters generally spend a few years dedicated to working in one particular area (that is, aviation, marine or public) before moving on to work in another area. Our 24 by 7 operation also requires shift leaders, and a few forecasters work in the very specialised area of severe weather.

In New Zealand, choosing a career as a professional meteorologist probably also means choosing a career with MetService. For this reason, MetService provides a career structure designed to support meteorologists for however long they stay with the Company. The majority of meteorologists at MetService stay for their entire career.

Because meteorologists tend to stay at MetService a long time, and work closely together at all hours of the day and night, they form a close community. The "family feeling" at MetService begins during meteorologist training and is an important part of the work environment.

How quickly your career as a meteorologist advances is largely up to you. Aside from the fixed developmental requirements you must meet, it's your achievements that'll get you places.


Forecasting involves:

  • Rigorous scientific thinking about the weather. There is a lot of weather data and computer guidance to consider.
  • Working to a schedule.
  • Communication with customers.

Understanding the current weather situation and figuring out what to forecast entails a lot of problem-solving. You can't spend all of today working out today's forecast, so you have to be quick about it. Forecasters really enjoy the challenge this offers.

Communicating your ideas clearly and meaningfully to customers implies that you need a good command of English.

Each forecasting shift has set duties and the forecaster working that shift is responsible for his/her own actions. MetService's forecast operation is highly computerised: forecasters use powerful workstations and purpose-built software.

Becoming a Meteorologist

MetService recruits and trains university graduates to work as meteorologists in the National Forecasting Centre. To be considered for meteorologist training, you must have a BSc, BSc(Hons) or MSc in mathematics or physics (or geophysics, provided your maths/physics background is strong; see the Job Description ) and have the legal right to work in New Zealand.

Meteorologist training courses are run approximately every other year, according to need. The next course is planned for 2017.

Why Mathematics, Physics or Geophysics?

The atmosphere is a thin film of fluid bound by gravity to the Earth. The Earth is a rotating sphere, heated more by the sun near the equator than near the poles. Circulations in the atmosphere transport excess heat away from the equatorial region. These circulations, some of which are weather systems, are well described using highly non-linear fluid-dynamical equations.

Most meteorologists employed by MetService don't spend their days solving equations; computers do that for us. But we do spend a lot of time thinking about how weather systems will affect our customers. For this, a sound understanding of the atmosphere as a fluid is required. So you'll get to use the scientific thinking you developed at university.

Personal Skills and Attributes

Having the right academic background is only the beginning.

Many people are drawn to meteorology because of weather-related interests: a number of meteorologists spend their non-work time surfing, gliding / flying, skiing, tramping, diving, fishing, etc. Some people just plain love the weather.

While a lot of what meteorologists do is technical, it also involves working closely with customers and colleagues. So you must be able to maintain excellent relationships, and communicate well, with others.

Because the National Forecasting Centre runs to a tight schedule, so must you. Meeting production deadlines is important, so you'll have to be good at process work and be able to cope with time pressure.

What the Formal Training Involves

Your first 41 weeks is spent undergoing formal training at MetService's Corporate Office in Kelburn, Wellington. This training is a mixture of meteorological theory and forecasting practice. It's technically about as hard as your 300-level year at university, but with a higher workload.

You'll be one of a group of up to twelve course members working cooperatively, guided by a team of skilled meteorological instructors. While we expect you to perform to your individual best, we do not wish you to compete with other course members. In this environment, the learning process proceeds rapidly.

Meteorologist training courses often include students from other countries, too. In the past ten years or so, MetService has trained meteorologists on behalf of the National Meteorological Services of Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Singapore.

An example of the timetable for a typical week of the 41-week meteorologist training programme is below. This is week 15, early May, in the second phase of the training course.

Week 15 First morning session Second morning session First afternoon session Second afternoon session
Monday Depressions: Isentropic Flow I GPHS 421 Session 5: Petterssen Development Equation Diagnosis Session 8 Aviation Weather Watch: Session 7
Tuesday Depressions: Isentropic Flow II GPHS 422 Session 7: Radiation Diagnosis Session 9 Thinking time
Wednesday Depressions: Conveyor Belts I GPHS 421 Session 6: Fronts and Frontogenesis Diagnosis Session 10 Aviation Weather Watch: Session 8
Thursday Depressions: Conveyor Belts II Jets & Ageostrophy Diagnosis Session 11 Thinking time
Friday Depressions: Fronts I Jets & Ageostrophy Quick Test 8 Diagnosis Session 12

Assessment via formal internal examination is minimal, and is mostly early in the course (there are, however, up to six university examinations). Most important is that you complete the course with the ability to rapidly develop competency in weather forecasting. For this reason, the course contains three one-week competency-based assessments.

If MetService offers you a position on the meteorologist training programme, it means we're prepared to make a substantial investment in you and we believe you will complete the programme successfully and grow into an excellent meteorologist. We do not recruit more people than we need.

MetService pays you a salary and your university fees while you're training. Since we invest a lot of time and money in helping you become a productive member of our Company we believe that, once you're trained, you owe us your loyalty.

Post-Graduate Diploma or Post-Graduate Certificate in Meteorology

Concurrently with the formal training at MetService, you'll study for one of the above qualifications offered by Victoria University of Wellington. The Post-Graduate Diploma in Meteorology consists of six 400-level meteorology papers and a three-month research project. The Post Graduate Certificate in Meteorology consists of four to six 400-level meteorology papers but no project. University lectures are "embedded" in MetService's formal meteorologist training programme, as the timetable above shows. Lecturers include academic staff from Victoria University of Wellington and subject matter experts from MetService.

GPHS 420 Introduction to Dynamical Meteorology First trimester
GPHS 421 Mid-Latitude Weather Systems First trimester
GPHS 422 Radiation and Thermodynamics for Meteorology First trimester
GPHS 423 Cloud Physics and Boundary Layer Meteorology Second trimester
GPHS 424 Satellite Meteorology Second trimester
GPHS 425 Numerical Weather Prediction Second trimester
GPHS 489 Project Third trimester

After Year One

If you complete all the course work and testing satisfactorily, your second year is spent effectively as an internship, working as a forecaster on shift.

Upon successful completion of your second year, MetService will confirm that you've met the requirements for graduate Meteorologists ( WMO Guidelines ).

Shift Work

Forecasting is done in a team environment, working rostered, rotating shifts. The life of a rotating shift worker is different from that of a day worker. Shift workers at MetService are paid extra for the night and weekend hours they work and have more time off and annual leave than day workers.

Most forecasters work shift sequences involving night shifts, early morning shifts and/or day shifts, and evening shifts. To be successful as a shift worker, you need to have good self-discipline.

Meteorologist training courses are run approximately every other year, according to need. The next course is planned for 2017.

For more information on gaining employment in the meteorological sector, visit the Kiwi Careers site.

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