April 03, 2014

How to Encourage Young Meteorologists?

One of the most frequent questions I get is from parents or grandparents of kids showing a strong interest in meteorology:

How can I encourage their interest in weather and science?  And do so without breaking the bank.

No problem: buy them some weather instruments!

It turns out than many of the meteorological professionals I deal with (myself included) were weather nuts as children.   Nothing got us more excited than a powerful thunderstorm, snowstorm, windstorm, or hurricane. Even heavy rain was fun.  And a number of my colleagues can remember back to a particularly major weather event that inspired them to take up meteorology as a career.

Signs of a budding young meteorologist include watching the Weather Channel for several hours or viewing the weather segments on more than one local TV station.

But even for kids not destined to be a meteorologist, a hobby in meteorology can help then become better observers of the natural world, better in math and quantitative reasoning, and more appreciative of the cycles of nature.

So what are my recommendations?  

Start with getting a rain gauge, with plastic ones ranging from cheap wedge units (around $5-10) to professional quality cylindrical types (around $30).   No money?  You can make a serviceable rain gauge with a big can and a ruler.

Kids can measure  rainfall totals each day and record them in a log book (or spreadsheet if more computer oriented).  They can get monthly totals, find the highest and lowest daily amounts, and compare their totals to others in the area (and precipitation can vary a lot in short distance!).

Next up, an inexpensive digital thermometer.  Many of them are remote reading and even tell you the day's max and min temperature.  You can get something good for $10-20 dollars.

Lots of fun keep track of the day's highs and lows and trying to understand the weather conditions that produce the warmest and coolest days.  When during the day is temperature warmest and coldest?  Can you explain that?  And as with precipitation, kids can learn math at the same time, calculating averages for example, and learning to plot observations.  You may not believe it, but many folks come to college without knowing how to read graphs.  Weather kids know.

Some children are more visual and any young meteorologists needs to learn about clouds, so why not pick up a cloud chart for them?  Inexpensive ($10-15) and colorful, the charts are perfect for your young scientist's wall.  Sometimes you can get free ones from the local weather service office. They will rapidly learn the different cloud types...cirrus, cumulus, stratus, etc.

Have an older kids that wants to know more?  There are a lot of good choices, but you would not go wrong with Jack Williams Weather Book (see image)

Some of these items are available in your local discount store or Bartells/Rite Aid--like the digital thermometers.  Rain gauges are available in garden stores, hardware stores and Home Depot, and online (e.g., Amazon).  Cloud charts are easy to get online.

There is, of course, a HUGE amount of weather data available online at numerous web sites, but I think that is it is more educational and valuable for the younger meteorologist to start their career actually observing the weather and recording their observations.


  1. I'd also recommend the Weather Pop-up Book.

    The main thing I would recommend is that parents encourage kids to deeply engage with math, physics and computation. Lack of math ability hinders so many weather enthusiasts who can't make the leap into meteorology in college and beyond.

    I tell the kids I coach that math ability is not innate. Yes, some kids are taller than others, but everyone can jump higher with practice and conditioning. The same goes for skills like math.

  2. A great family activity to support this is to become CoCoRaHS observers. Your observations become a contribution to a larger community - and serve a useful purpose.

  3. http://www.amazon.com/Eric-Sloanes-Weather-Book-Sloane/dp/0486443574 is also an excellent, easy to understand reference

  4. http://www.amazon.com/Eric-Sloanes-Weather-Book-Sloane/dp/0486443574

  5. in relation to the previous commenter - a former spouse was a total math-phobe until she read Issac Asimov's book on math - she became a math major (until math got too abstract).
    I would also recommend CoCoRaHS - I see you have a picture of the 'official' gauge. It has gotten the son of a NOAA meteorologist interested in weather after many, many years of denial...

  6. Does anybody know between what times a "24-hour" rain record is made? Is there any standard? What is SEA-TAC?

  7. Tell them it is one of the few jobs where almost all the answers are statistical so are never wrong.

  8. My 14-year old is reading Cliff's weather book too... fascinating local weather knowledge there, and she saw me enjoy it when it came out but it was too much for her to comprehend a few years ago. (Some of it is really still too much for ME... I had to look stuff up online and really THINK, which I enjoyed a great deal). :-)

    We monitor the SchoolNet weather station at the elementary school 0.8 miles from us and compare to our readings (I have a ~$200 Davis home weather station set up). Five years of this and a few questions to Cliff, and we really do think statistically we have a slight lake-effect climate, being just uphill from Lake Sammamish at 210 ft MSL. It's been fascinating to hypothesize what that would mean for us and then to collect years of observations to see if we are on to something.

    Will my daughter go into meteorology? She's leaning towards astronomy, physics, or astrophysics, but a love of the weather is a satisfying hobby at the very least, and she has exercised math muscles that school would not have moved, so it's a very good interest to have.

    It goes without saying that we read this blog and many others as well...

  9. And hopefully when some of them graduate with meteorology degrees, the Commerce Dept. won't institute a hiring freeze for the NWS, much like they did when I graduated in 1996. Of course now, there seem to be many more options available. At the very least it is a fascinating hobby and can spark areas of learning and, potentially, inquiry into other career fields as well.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

More Rain for the Northwest is Good News for Wildfires

After a very pleasant dry spell, another rainy period is ahead for the western side of the region and the Cascades on Friday and Saturday.  ...