By Kimberly Dumke
Friday, January 21, 2011
Randy grew up in Nebraska, where weather was a part of his day-to-day life. His family’s home was on a hill, where they would constantly watch the weather. Even local officials would go to the hill to watch for and monitor storms in order to issue warnings to the public.
While Randy was always fascinated by weather, he never thought he could do any work in that field. When he started college at the University of Nebraska, he first studied electrical engineering. However, he soon realized he did not like that type of work. He asked his brother, who was then an admissions counselor at the school, what department worked with weather and found out it was geography.
In Weather’s Greatest Mysteries Solved!, Randy says he first thought of geography as learning the names and capitals of places. “I quickly discovered that geography is, literally, the mother of most disciplines, the basis of everything from anthropology to zoology.”
One of Randy’s early jobs was working for the U.S. government on a project to transport missiles on trains to the western United States. There, the missiles would be stored in caves where they would be hidden from view, specifically from the Soviet Union. His work included assessing potential weather issues that might affect the railways and storage locations.
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
Randy enjoys learning and discovering new aspects of geography and weather. Climatologists and meteorologists, people who study weather, “are studying things no one else has looked at,” he says. “The field is incredibly new and constantly changing. For example, just recently, three new types of lightning were discovered.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
“The newness and changing nature of the field, which are the most fun aspects of this work, are also the most challenging. There are often not definitive answers, or answers change when new information is discovered. That can be frustrating to people who want absolutes.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“The study of everything on this planet and how it interacts with us. Sometimes it even goes below the surface of the Earth and above our atmosphere.
“The critical thing is that what is learned in one location is applicable to a wide variety of places. For example, what we learn about the deserts of Arizona may be valid for parts of Africa or India.”
Randy began working at Arizona State University in 1986. In recognition of his contributions to undergraduate education, he was awarded the title President’s Professor in 2005. Subjects he teaches include physical geography, climate change, and meteorology.
Randy’s first book, Freaks of the Storm: From Flying Cows to Stealing Thunder: The World's Strangest True Weather Stories, was published in 2006. Also that year, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology agreed to create an archive for verifying, certifying, and storing world weather extremes. Randy is responsible for researching and verifying global weather records for the commission. Weather’s Greatest Mysteries Solved! was published in 2009.
Randy is working on increasing the number of weather stations throughout Arizona. He also wants to see more stations in the U.S. that record data in the upper atmosphere. More data means better forecasts, Randy says, which will help people prepare for natural disasters or even just a typical storm.
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CLIMATOLOGIST
Randy says coursework must be on math and physics. “And the sooner, the better—even at the junior high school level,” he says. “You need to understand the science of weather and have knowledge of the principles. Studying cartography is also important.” Cartography is the practice of making maps.
Finally, a climatologist needs good writing skills. “While you need to have strong specialized knowledge and skills to forecast, you need to be able to share the information with people in a way that is not overly technical so they can easily understand.”
According to Randy, both meteorology, which looks at day-to-day weather, and climatology, which looks at long-term weather patterns, require the same core classes. Typically, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for a career in meteorology. Job examples include working for the National Weather Service as a forecaster or the U.S. military as a weather officer.
Climatologists need advanced degrees. Job examples include working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, or the National Hurricane Center.
In the private sector, you could work for an insurance company as a forensic meteorologist, who is like a storm detective and investigates causes of damage. Or you could be an energy trader, a job having to do with the financial markets, which Randy thinks would be the most stressful job because it involves millions of dollars.
Randy says very few schools offer degrees in climatology. Only the University of Delaware has a PhD program in the field. He hopes this will change because he has seen interest in the field increase.
Randy says the more weather people can experience, the better. Traveling to different places offers the opportunity to do that. He says the most interesting place he has been is Antarctica. In the mid-1980s, he was a participant in the National Science Foundation Antarctic Research Program with the Polar Ice Coring Office. “Not many people get to go there,” he says.
He also suggests watching specials and films about weather, as well as reading magazines, such as Weatherwise, Science, and National Geographic.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry absolute Noun
something that is complete, certain and reliable.
admissions counselor Noun
person who helps to recruit future college students.
to produce a change.
science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.
Encyclopedic Entry: anthropology assess Verb
to evaluate or determine the amount of.
layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.
Encyclopedic Entry: atmosphere capital Noun
city where a region's government is located.
Encyclopedic Entry: capital cartography Noun
art and science of making maps.
underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.
to confirm or guarantee.
climate change Noun
gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.
Encyclopedic Entry: climate change climatologist Noun
person who studies long-term patterns in weather.
homework and contribution required by a class.
data Plural Noun
(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.
complete and final.
area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.
Encyclopedic Entry: desert Earth Noun
our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.
Encyclopedic Entry: Earth electrical engineer Noun
person who analyzes, designs, and constructs systems to conduct electricity.
energy trader Noun
person who buys and sells units of electricity, usually for a public or private energy company.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Noun
U.S. government organization whose mission is to "protect human health and the environment."
to cause an interest in.
having to do with money.
to predict, especially the weather.
forensic meteorologist Noun
person who investigates how weather caused damage to property.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
Encyclopedic Entry: geography government Noun
system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.
land that rises above its surroundings and has a rounded summit, usually less than 300 meters (1,000 feet).
Encyclopedic Entry: hill ice core Noun
sample of ice taken to demonstrate changes in climate over many years.
insurance company Noun
business that, for a regular fee, provides economic compensation for lost or damaged property.
to distribute, give away, or sell.
sudden electrical discharge from clouds.
Encyclopedic Entry: lightning literally Adverb
exactly what is said, without exaggeration.
(mathematics) study of the relationship and measurements of quantities using numbers and symbols.
person who studies patterns and changes in Earth's atmosphere.
to observe and record behavior or data.
National Hurricane Center Noun
branch of the National Weather Service responsible for tracking and predicting tropical storms.
National Weather Service Noun
branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) whose mission is to provide "weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy."
natural disaster Noun
an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.
(doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.
physical geography Noun
study of the natural features and processes of the Earth.
study of the physical processes of the universe, especially the interaction of matter and energy.
private sector Noun
section of the economy that works for profit, such as corporations (not government or nonprofit organizations).
available to an entire community, not limited to paying members.
stretch of railroad between two points.
person who gathers and organizes facts to present to an authority or government body.
exact or precise.
space for keeping materials for use at a later time.
severe weather indicating a disturbed state of the atmosphere resulting from uplifted air.
to move material from one place to another.
undergraduate. college student who has not graduated, as oppossed to a graduate student pursuing a master's or doctoral degree.
United Nations Noun
international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.
U.S. Forest Service Noun
part of the Department of Agriculture responsible for national forests and national grasslands.
to prove as true.
state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.
Encyclopedic Entry: weather weather station Noun
area with tools and equipment for measuring changes in the atmosphere.
World Meteorological Organization Noun
United Nations agency that studies the Earth's atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate, and the distribution of water resources.
the study of animals.