Top 5 Universities for Operational Forecasters in Meteorology

14   Nov ,  2011 | 16

I have seen plenty of universities that are biased towards research and development in meteorology.   In fact, some of the “top rated” universities in Meteorology (or Atmospheric Science) like Cornell and MIT are very much research oriented.   And that’s not a bad thing…but if you want to be an operational forecaster in meteorology…it would be nice to know which universities are top rated for operational forecasting.

And if you want to know what I mean by “Operational”, read my earlier post, “Can operational meteorologists make a six figure salary?”.  Also, my focus here is on the “undergraduate” B.S. programs, not the masters or PHD which are slated to be in another post.

I went on the look out for the top 5 operational forecasting schools in meteorology and judged them by the following factors:  How many operational forecasting courses do they offer?  Are there are a lot of private companies/operational forecasters in close vicinity to the school?  Do they offer broadcast meteorology courses?  And just the overall ranking and location of the school….and here’s what I found:

The Top 5 Universities for Operational Forecasters in Meteorology are:

#5  University of Miami—it’s pretty hard to complain about location here…you get to attend a meteorology school by the beach with warm weather…there’s not many  schools out there where you can brag about that!  But, I picked University of Miami in my top 5 because of the various courses they offer in general forecasting, hurricane forecasting, and oceanography.   Plus they tend to emphasize how important communication is in forecasting the weather.  (See why looks do matter in TV weather)

With hurricanes continuing to cost billions of dollars in damage in the US, private consultants continue to hire meteorologists who are excellent hurricane and severe weather forecasters.  Just being in Miami offers a wealth of experience right there!  And it doesn’t hurt that Miami is the headquarters of the National Hurricane center and has the most “lightning” than any other state.  Plus there are private employers down the road in Juno Beach, FL like “NextEra Energy” who’s subsidiary is Florida Power and Light…who has the largest presence of wind farms in the US.  (See why wind meteorologists are valuable).

#4:  University of Washington—I’d call this the feeder school to a meteorology job in renewable energy.  Many of University of Washington’s graduates are pouring into wind meteorology jobs that are spread across the Portland/Seattle areas…and parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.  I’ve mentioned a few of these companies in (Top 5 cities to hire Energy Meteorologists).

In addition, University of Washington offers a beautiful campus in Seattle, and after you’ve completed 4 years here…you’ll be an expert in forecasting Pacific jet streams, wind, and especially “Rain”!

#3: University of Oklahoma—it’s definitely been called one of the “top meteorology institutions in the country”.  OU I’d say is the severe weather university capital of the US.   The campus is even connected to  NOAA’s NWS Norman office….how cool is that!  You get to witness first hand some of the top severe weather forecasters in the country.   OU has a great variety of operational forecasting courses and many of the graduates move into the private sector and TV. (Read the top 10 steps on how to get a weather internship at a TV station”

If you’ve ever wanted to get into storm chasing…I’d say OU and Texas A&M can’t be beat!

#2: Texas A&M—I’d call Texas A&M one of the top feeders of grads to meteorology employment in Houston.  As you know from my previous post in “Top 5 Cities that hire Energy meteorologists”, Houston is #1.  Houston also hires aviation meteorologists, private weather consultants, TV meteorologists, and many more.  I’d say Houston has more meteorologists than any other large metropolitan city over 1 million people.

College Station, TX (where Texas A&M is located) is less than an hour and a half away from Houston.   What is great about A&M is its proximity to severe weather….mesoscale thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes!  A lot of A&M grads are known to be excellent storm chasers and severe weather experts.  It’s been consistently rated as a top school in meteorology and has an excellent set of forecasting courses.

And the winner is….

#1:  Penn State University

Penn State has the best operational meteorology school in the country…hands down!  Penn State offers a dynamic course schedule filled with lots of options for the Operational Forecaster in Meteorology.   You can even enter a core concentration within Atmospheric Science…and some of the operational concentrations include “Weather Forecasting and Communications”, “Weather Risk Management”, and “Environmental Meteorology”.

Some of the courses that stand out are as following, “Weather Communications 1”, “Map Analysis”, “Advanced Forecasting”, “Computer Methods of Meteorological Analysis and Forecasting”, to name a few.  They even have an online forecasting course you can do for some credit which may be ideal for TV broadcasters who don’t truly understanding meteorology and forecasting.

And guess what…the Penn State meteorology program feeds into a variety of companies.  AccuWeather employs many Penn State graduates including Penn State’s current students through internships.  Accuweather is located within close proximity to Penn State University.   And just for kicks…I looked at all the weather channel personalities and where they went to school…and a majority of them came from Penn State!  Penn State even has a beautifully designed weather center where students can practice on the green screen.  You can see a photo of it up top.  It’s the real deal! (Read about my experience on the “Green Screen”)

Is there anything that you’d like to add about your school above? Or do you feel that your school should be in the top 5?  Let me know by putting your comments below!


Posted by AJ on November 14, 2011

  • Weathersfuori

    Good work here- I’d have to agree with the top 5, though for those interested in TV AND a solid met education, FSU is right up there if not on top of PSU for that particular niche. Not a lot of weather industry around Tallahassee like other schools on your list, other than NWS and state climo office, but there are many small-medium size TV markets around there good for recent grads. And a lot of top dollar TV mets were FSU grads including Janice Huff of WNBC in New York, and Stephanie Abrams at TWC.

    • Anonymous

      Hi, thanks for the comment! Absolutely! I was actually going back and forth between Miami and FSU for the #5 spot for the very same reasons you’ve mentioned above…but chose Miami due to the proximity of more companies and government organizations in the area. How about FSU at #6?? :)

  • Matt

    Thanks for breaking this down for me AJ. I think it’s great you’ve singled out operational forecasting versus research. Nice job!

  • Suzanne

    I’m curious – do you think the problems at Penn State are going to have a negative affect on its meteorology program, as far as how employers may view a candidate with PSU on his resume in a few years? Or that some of the faculty may be thinking of finding other jobs to dissociate themselves from the place?

    • PSU2012

      Not at all. I graduated from the program this year and can tell you that none of the faculty, or students for that matter, think that way at all. I actually had several job offers before I even graduated, so that should tell you something about the program. They really do things right up there, and the student/teacher interaction is second to none! Employers don’t shy away from PSU Meteo grads, because they know and respect the name and are smart enough to realize that academics and athletics are two separate entities. (And, as I learned, many of them are Penn State grads also!)

      • Suzanne

        Thanks you PSU2012, for the perspective.

  • Sean H

    I’m going to be a senior in high school this fall and have been looking at meteorology colleges extensively. Living in Colorado, it is kind of a strange college wise. The colleges with certified undergraduate degrees are University of Northern Colorado and Metropolitan State College of Denver (?). Both of the major colleges only offer graduate, so I assume they are very research oriented. I’ve also been looking at University of Utah and Oklahoma University as possible better options despite being out-of-state, because I am leaning towards operational meteorology. Lately I’ve heard that basically all meteorology undergraduate degrees are the same, no matter where you go, but when I see lists come out like this, it makes me thing twice about that statement. Oh, and one more thing. I’d personally rather go to University of Utah over Oklahoma University, but I never see anyone talking about their program, which is discouraging. Is it a respected program? Any advice? Thank you!

    • Anonymous

      Hey Sean…thanks for reaching out. Yea since you want to be an operational meteorologist…those Colorado schools are a little tough since they do offer grad degrees only.

      Like you said, most other met schools are the same…but I’d say there are some that more “forecasting courses” that you can take as an elective.

      If you attend OU, that would be fantastic. I have not heard much of University of Utah…but I would go to their meteorology program websites (and others)…start looking at the alumni pages (or call the administrators) and try emailing the alumni of various universities. They will give you a good sense of what they liked, disliked, etc. And if they do not have alumni pages there…just go to good ole Linkedin and search profiles there.

      I hope that helps!


      • bc

        Hey AJ about the correspondance programs offered like MSU? DO YOU FEEL THE the on-line programs are great.There is a junior college in my area that offers wind energy technology (Western Texas College in Snyder,Texas) they have a 2 year program with some meteorology courses offered great school and program

  • Macstep1

    I’m 12…… and I love learning about the U.S., I know all the capitals of the U.S. states as well as the major cities. For instance, the major cities in Florida are Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Pensacola. Tallahassee is the largest city. I watch the Weather Channel like it is my favorite TV show. I might like going to Penn State

    • Macstep1

      I mean Tallahassee is the capital

    • freshAJ

      That’s fantastic Macstep1. Keep up the good work!


  • Megan

    My daughter is in high school and is a math and science whiz – and also very interested in communications/broadcasting. She has been considering a meteorology career. As a Florida State graduate myself, I’ve encouraged her to look at their program, but she is more interested in University of Miami. We are Florida residents and obviously there is a HUGE tuition difference between the private U of M and the public FSU. Is the Miami program that much better to warrant the increased tuition and subsequent debt she’ll graduate with? Thanks for your input.

    • freshAJ

      Hi Megan, thanks for your question. I know a lot of FSU grads in Meteorology…and they all tell me how much they loved the program. But to each it’s own. U of M is a great school too. But if it were up to me in your situation, I’d pick FSU given the lower tuition for you and excellent broadcast meteorology program.
      If she were to go into the private sector in meteorology…I do not think it would make much of a difference if she graduated from U of M vs FSU. Personally, I don’t think it warrants the huge increased tuition/extra debt.
      Also, if she wants to be an on-air meteorologist…it definitely does not matter these days. I definitely like the U of M program for hurricane/severe weather forecasting….given the NHC is in the vicinity. But overall, I’d say FSU is a fantastic school if your daughter is considering a meteorology career. Good luck with the decision!

  • Spencer

    I would just like to add that the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign is a very good school, especially if you live in Illinois. Their undergraduate atmospheric science program is excellent if anyone wants the opinion of a graduating senior.

  • Transcending

    Also, look into St Cloud State University in St Cloud, MN. We have an Emmy-winning college television station with meteorology students in every single news show. Most of us are minoring in Mass Communication also.