MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: How does Meteorology use Math?

Date: Fri Dec 16 10:13:04 2005
Posted By: Ken Harding, Science and Operations Officer
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 1134704665.Es


I use math at my meteorology job every day! Here are some examples:

1. Suppose the temperature at 6:00 AM is 20 degrees. I expect it to rise 3 
degrees an hour for 3 hours, and then rise 2 degrees and hour until 4:00 
PM, hold steady for 2 hours, and then drop 4 degrees the next hour. What 
is my temperature forecast for 7:00 PM? That is an algebra problem, and I 
do this every day!

2.  We launch a weather balloon filled with hydrogen twice a day to 
measure the winds, temperature and humidity up to nearly 100,000 feet. I 
know the balloon rises at 1000 feet per minute, and I can calculate the 
angle above the ground and the angle that relates to the north/south and 
east/west movement of the balloon. I also know it is the wind that is 
making the balloon move, so if I know the time, and angles, I can 
calculate what the winds had to be in order to make the balloon move 
there. That is a trigonometry problem, and we do that many times per day.

3.  A thunderstorm is really a 3-dimensional mass of cloud that moves 
through the atmosphere. One of my jobs is to predict where the 
thunderstorm will be and what area under this storm will experience severe 
weather. That is a calculus problem, and I do it hundreds of times per 

4.   We use computer programs to simulate the atmosphere. These programs 
take the current state of the atmosphere (which we can measure), and 
projects them forward in time using rate of change equations and physical 
laws. This math is called differential equations.

5.  After I measure the atmosphere, we calculate averages, differences 
from normal, and changes over time. This math is called statistics, as we 
use it every day. 

So as you can see, a lot of math is needed. Most college meteorology 
programs will require 2 to 3 years of college math, along with physics, 
chemistry, and computer programming. Math is really the language of 

Don't be put off because of the math. It is simply a tool scientists use 
to explain and explore physical basis for our science. Check out a few 
college meteorology programs and look at the math requirements. It seems 
overwhelming, but it actually is very useful. I find it pretty neat that I 
do math all day and get paid for it!

Here is an example listing of courses requires to get a degree in 

Iowa State University:

University of Georgia

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