Singer Bob Dylan said, ``You don't need a
weatherman to know which way the wind blows,'' and in fact, you
don't even need a degree to call yourself a meteorologist.
will likely come as a surprise to most people -- including nearly 80
percent of respondents to my recent Weather User Survey who thought
that there are requirements to use the title. About 40 percent of
the 256 respondents thought a bachelor of science degree is
required, while 12 percent thought certification was needed from the
American Meteorological Society, 2 percent thought some kind of
license was needed, 2 percent said more than five years of
experience was needed and 24 percent thought that all of the above
In fact, there are no requirements by any government agency for
using the moniker ``meteorologist.'' This has prompted debate in
meteorological circles for decades. It is also somewhat surprising
in a society that requires a license or certification to be an
accountant, engineer, to cut hair or even do someone's nails.
But if someone wants to go on radio, television or the Internet
and call themselves a meteorologist, they can.
As far as broadcast meteorologists go, a case can be made that it
may be better to have good communication skills than a formal degree
-- if the facts are not conveyed effectively, the message gets lost.
Some of those who deliver the weather forecast over the airwaves
have a producer with meteorological training.
My opinion is that a minimum of a bachelor's degree in
meteorology or atmospheric science should be required.
Complete results from the Weather User Survey can be found at
Q Why are weather
forecasts from sites on the Internet, including the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration site, many times different?
Mike Wedel -
A The biggest problem
with Internet weather forecasts is that most of them rely on various
computer models of the atmosphere and are never looked at by a human
who might know the local microclimates. I personally like the
forecasts on the IPS Meteostar site because the program that
generates the forecasts looks at both the computer model output and
the local forecasts from the National Weather Service. I have a link
to getting a seven-day forecast from this site on my Web site at
Q Why is the ocean
temperature SOOOO cold along our coast?
Scott Archer -
A The cool water along
the northern and central California coast is a key component of our
summer climate. Technically known as ``upwelling,'' it's the result
of the interaction of atmospheric pressure, ocean currents and the
geography of California.
In brief, the persistent northwest winds along the coast this
time of year parallel the coast and interact with the top layers of
the ocean. Although the winds are pushing the ocean water toward the
south, the rotation of Earth causes the surface water to deflect
toward the west -- away from the coast. This curving motion, called
the Coriolis effect, affects ocean currents as well as winds. Its
effects are greatest in the uppermost layer of the ocean but can be
felt a couple hundred feet below the surface. As this surface water
is pushed offshore, colder waters from the ocean's depths replace
it. Along the west coast of North America, this phenomenon is
greatest between San Francisco and the Oregon state line.
Q You recently talked
about pressure readings taken at 18,000 feet. How many pressure data
points are gathered in the United States at this altitude? How many
times per day? And how are air pressure measurements obtained at
18,000 feet? If it is by radio telemetry balloons, that must get
very expensive because of the need for lots of data points, and
balloons are not recovered. I might guess that commercial jet
airliners report pressure readings, but they do not cruise at that
altitude. Curtis Panasuk -
A Vertical measurements
of the atmosphere are taken with instruments called radiosondes,
instruments sent aloft on weather balloons twice a day at noon and
midnight Greenwich Mean Time, which is 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific
There are about 900 stations worldwide, and 90 of these sites are
in the United States. The instruments and battery weigh about 24
ounces and cost about $75 each. Tiny, very low-power radio
transmitters send back temperature, humidity and pressure data from
the surface up to above 80,000 feet.
At this altitude, the balloon bursts and the instruments drift
slowly to the ground under a small parachute. In the United States,
about one-third of them are recovered, refurbished and relaunched.
The data that is gathered is used to construct a three-dimensional
picture of the atmosphere that is then used as a starting point for
computer forecast models.
Some aircraft weather data is also gathered to supplement the
radiosondes, but it is often available only along specific routes
and at specific altitudes.