If you do a simple Google search, it can be overwhelming to find a reliable source from which to receive your weather forecasts. Many people on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets often pose themselves as meteorologists and offer analysis, opinions and forecasts when in reality they may not have the credentials to rightly do so. At best, this is unethical and misleading, at worst, it can result in people making poor decisions based upon misinformation.
It is for this reason that we at Shade Tree Meteorology recommend that you receive your weather watches and warnings directly from the National Weather Service. While the NWS does not have an app, many free weather apps will disseminate these statements routinely. One can also receive text alerts via various state government emergency messaging services (such as NY Alert here in New York). Lastly, weather watches and warnings can be received via television (the scrolling bar across the bottom of your screen), radio, and of course, NOAA Weather Radio.
Back to the question at hand, though: How do you know what credentials your meteorologist has? Many TV meteorologists have bios available to read online. You can look at where they went to school and determine if they have a degree in meteorology or atmospheric science. The American Meteorological Society, which is the largest professional society in the U.S., offers guidance on proper use of the term ‘meteorologist’.
According to the AMS, a meteorologist:
- has specialized education, bachelor’s or higher, with a major in meteorology or atmospheric science (the AMS also outlines what coursework qualifies an institution to offer such a degree here), OR
- has sufficient knowledge through coursework and/or professional experience to successfully fill professional positions typically held by meteorologists
- uses scientific principles to observe, understand, explain or forecast atmospheric phenomena
The AMS further notes that individuals who lack formal education in atmospheric sciences and disseminate weather information and forecasts prepared by others should be referred to as ‘weathercasters’.
While meteorologists are not legally required to hold professional certifications, say in the way that engineers are, the AMS offers two professional certifications to its meteorologist members: the CCM and the CBM. New in 2020, the AMS also offers the ‘Certified AMS Teacher’, or CAT certification, to K-12 educators who complete meet the eligibility requirements and complete two courses in the AMS Education Program.
The Certified Broadcast Meteorologist
In order to become a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, or CBM, meteorologists must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in meteorology. There is a closed book written qualifying exam, and upon passing, applicants must submit two sample weathercasts which they have done in their particular media market. Further, the AMS has an active ‘Station Scientist’ Committee, which works to equip broadcast meteorologists to cover the wide range of science topics which they may be asked to do as the resident scientist at their TV station. If you see the logo below a meteorologist when you watch your local news, you can be assured that they have met the rigorous criteria in order to obtain this professional certification.
The Certified Consulting Meteorologist
The Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM) program is the oldest professional certification which is offered by the AMS. Established in 1957, the purpose of the CCM was to allow clients, peers, and the public to be assured of a CCM holder’s high standards of scientific knowledge, technical experience, and character. Originally used primarily for forensic meteorologists as a professional credential presented in the courtroom, the CCM today covers a wide range of disciplines within meteorology. While only 6% of AMS members hold this certification (and an even smaller percentage hold both the CCM and the CBM), these meteorologists work in areas ranging from academics, government, military, and the private sector. Areas of expertise are equally as varied. You can refer to the AMS directory to find a CCM with any area of expertise, including: air pollution, agriculture, climate/climate change, forecasting, forensics, aviation, marine weather, urban planning, and many many others.
In order to obtain a CCM, a meteorologist must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in meteorology or atmospheric science and have at least 5 years of professional experience working in the field. There is a written exam which covers general meteorology, the candidate’s specialty and ethics. The candidate also needs to complete a ‘consulting report’ for a ‘client’ based upon a hypothetical scenario which the candidate may encounter during their work in their area of expertise. Upon passing these two criteria, the candidate then appears for an oral exam before the Board of Certified Consulting Meteorologists. While this may seem daunting initially, the rigor of the process ensures that the CCM seal attests to the very high standards of knowledge, experience and ethics of the holder.
Hopefully this overview has helped you determine whether your source of weather information is reliable and trustworthy. Since we all use weather information to make decisions ranging from minute (should I bring an umbrella today or make my child wear a hat to the bus stop?) to life-or-death (is it safe to remain out on my boat right now?), it makes sense to ensure that you are receiving that information from a reliable, knowledgeable source.