Scarce skills in Natural and Agricultural Sciences
Focus on a Weather Forecaster: Prof Liesl Dyson (Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology)
Q: What should you study at UP to become a weather forecaster?
A: BSc (Meteorology) and BSc (Hons) Meteorology. After you obtained your honours qualification you comply with the World Meteorological Organization’s requirement to be a class one meteorologist. That means you can work anywhere in the world.
Q: Why is meteorology important?
A: Weather and climate are fundamental in people's lives and in the long term they may even determine whether humankind survives or not. There is increasing concern that people's activities may irreversibly change weather and climate. Similar concerns exist about pollution. Meteorologists investigate these processes and guide the general public and decision-makers on what lies ahead.
Q: What does a weather forecaster’s job entail?
A: Weather forecasting is a lovely job if you like the weather. You spend your entire day looking at satellite and radar images, synoptic maps and numerical weather prediction products. You then create forecasts that are distributed to the general public, media, specialised users (like pilots) and others. An important aspect of being a weather forecaster is that you have to warn of any inclement weather like heavy rainfall, hail, strong winds, etc.
Q: Describe a typical day in the life of a weather forecaster.
A: Weather forecasters work shifts and the shifts differ from office to office. You may have to arrive at work at strange times and have to work when the rest of South Africa is sleeping. Irrespective of the shift, your main activity is to analyse the weather and then to generate products that are distributed to users. For instance, an aviation weather forecaster only prepares several products tailor-made for the aviation industry.
Q: What skills/qualities do a weather forecaster need to have?
A: You have to be able to deal with stress and be able to multi-task. The work of a weather forecaster can at times be very stressful. If the weather is bad, you have to forecast tricky weather but also have to answer many phone calls from concerned citizens and the media. You have to be able to communicate well, verbally and in writing.
Q: Why did you decide to become a meteorologist?
A: I loved clouds since I was a child. Later the wonder of clouds grew into a desire to understand why they are there, what makes them form, why do some produce rain and others not? I am still on a journey to find out all of this. I love my job.
Q: Who employs meteorologists and weather forecasters?
A: The main employer of meteorologists in South Africa is the South African Weather Service. Other research institutes like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, some universities, agricultural institutions, municipalities and industries employ meteorologists. Broadcast meteorology is also a growing field.
Q: Do you have any advice for prospective weather forecasters?
A: If you are still at school you should do Mathematics and Physical Science and achieve C-symbols in these subjects. You also need to have an APS score of 34. If you are completing a BSc qualification in a different field but you want to become a weather forecaster, you can complete a one-year bridging course and then do an honours degree in Meteorology.
Q: Are you currently involved in any interesting research?
A: My students and I do our research on weather forecasting problems. I am currently busy finalising a research article about 'Africanes'. 'Africanes' is a new concept and it is tropical cyclone-like with low-pressure systems that develop over southern Africa and is responsible for widespread, heavy rainfall and floods.
Please visit my staff web page for more details.