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I want to learn more about 'the weather' - how do I go about it?

A big question, and it all depends on the area that interests you most and whether you want to extend a 'hobby' interest, or study as part of a career choice.

Many are interested in the 'weather' as an absorbing hobby, perhaps introduced to the subject via school / college (often part of the geography syllabus), or because of a sporting / recreational activity e.g. yachting, surfing or gliding. A good number of books have been written over the years and the first port of call I suggest is to go to your local lending library and see what is on the shelves. Don't be put off because a book has been written for 'sailors' or 'pilots'. These are often very well written by professional meteorologists who have a keen interest in the sport / activity involved, and will cover the elementary facts you need to know in a clear way, without the use of complex mathematics.

At some stage you will want to purchase one or more books that you can refer to at leisure. Some ideas are given in the books section of this site. Not all the books are currently in print, although as an addicted browser of second-hand bookshops, I have found it surprisingly easy to pick up good quality books relating to meteorology in this way. It is also worth asking about availability of titles from a good bookseller. In addition, the Internet now boasts several on-line book suppliers of both new and second-hand items.

If you are involved in sports / activities such as gliding, sailing, ballooning etc., the associations or clubs that you will probably belong to may offer courses, ad-hoc instruction etc. Contact them for details. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) in particular encourages its members to be aware of weather processes, availability and interpretation of forecasts etc: visit their web site at: http://www.rya.org.uk

Residential study courses (e.g. Field Study Courses, Met Office College courses), are available, which are an excellent way to get to grips with meteorology in a somewhat deeper way, as well as enjoying some congenial company and the benefit of an experienced instructor. Find out about these from 'activity' magazines, good travel agents, newspaper weekend supplements etc. For the Met Office College courses, visit their web site at: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk

The Met Office Education section is well worth a visit, not only for information on teaching / learning resources, but also for some current data which may be of interest .. use the main Met Office url above (and follow the link via 'Education')'), or find them direct at:- http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/education/index.html

The BBC Weather Centre (which is closely allied to the Met Office) also has a host of useful information - far too much to list here, but if you are starting out on your hobby / passion of meteorology, give this site a go:- http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/

Subscribe to one of the magazines listed in the periodicals section: 'Weather' or 'The Journal of Meteorology' will provide much of interest. Don't be put off if you are 'new' to the subject; there is much to appreciate about the daily changes in the atmosphere which surround us for which you don't need a degree in Maths! These magazines will also publicise new books coming on to the market, and 'Weather' in particular often carries articles that deal with elementary meteorology.

And of course the Internet itself is increasingly a help with self-education. Many of us are trying to work up information pages on basic meteorology ... There are a few articles here on this site, and this FAQ and its Glossary attempt to cover some topics that frequently appear in the newsgroup. Use a search engine to do a bit of hunting: many North American sites carry some elementary instruction.

Now, moving on to study of the subject on a professional level, then you need to decide in which area your interests lie. My job was part of what loosely can be regarded as 'operational meteorology', i.e. forecast (& allied advisory) services for the general public, aviation, maritime and commercial customers. But this is one small area of what we might regard as the atmospheric sciences discipline. The 'flavour of the moment' is of course the study of climatology, both in historical terms, ( trying to reconstruct the climate of centuries past to detect long-term trends ), and for the future - for example predicting how atmospheric gas composition will change due to industrial and other processes, and how these changes will affect the weather (and therefore us) in the decades and centuries to come. Atmospheric chemistry (for example the study of ozone in the high atmosphere) has an important part to play in the protection of human (and other) life on the planet from harmful solar radiation, as well as being important in understanding the heat budget of the atmosphere. Another specialism is the study of 'micro-climates' around mature woodlands, or in urban situations for example. Studies also increasingly cross formerly rigid disciplinary boundaries, such as into the realms of oceanography and vulcanology. And, under-pinning all, the modern 'weather' business would be nowhere without IT specialists - larger employers such as the Met Office, will give you basic training in meteorology, even though your work is more to do with complex coding of the web site.

Which line you intend to pursue will dictate the requirements in terms of preliminary study, basic qualifications etc. If you intend to go for the 'theoretical' meteorology side of things, with a view, for example to modelling the atmosphere in terms of the basic equations governing physics, then a solid grounding in mathematics and science is required, almost certainly to a degree standard. However, when dealing with practical (or applied) meteorology, then this standard need not be so rigorous. There are many avenues open now which approach the subject via the geography / environmental sciences route. A solid understanding of mathematics (and some physics) is desirable, but this can be 'bolted-on' at a later stage, rather than being a pre-requisite.

The field of opportunity is now so vast (and also changing quickly) that it would be best to investigate the requirements at an early stage: the Internet is an excellent source of such information. In particular, The Royal Meteorological Society see here) have some excellent advice on their web site ... to go directly to this page, go to http://www.royal-met-soc.org.uk/education.html

To find the latest information about University courses within the UK, and a host of other information about tertiary level education in the atmospheric sciences field, visit the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) site at http://www.ucas.co.uk/

Finally, a word of warning. If (as I did) you decide to go into 'front-line' forecasting, be prepared for some sleepless nights! Not only is shift-work required (& weekend working), but you must brace yourself to expect the disappointment of being woken at 4am to the sound of rain lashing against your window, when you confidently expected it to hold off until lunchtime at least: a thick skin, and a sense of humour are a requirement!