Bachelor of Science Program in Atmospheric Sciences

The Bachelor of Science Program in Atmospheric Sciences is designed to prepare students for work as professional meteorologists in a wide range of disciplines, including weather forecasting and analysis air pollution meteorology.

Official program requirements can be found in the undergraduate bulletin. To clarify any requirements, contact a math department advisor.

A Career in Atmospheric Science

Atmospheric scientists pursue a wide variety of activities, ranging from weather forecasting and analysis to air pollution meteorology to basic and applied research. Today, there are more than 11,000 people working in the field of Atmospheric Sciences in the United States alone. The intellectual excitement of the atmospheric sciences, the importance of the field to society and the availability of powerful observational, computational and theoretical tools to advance the science means that there has never been a better time to begin a career in this field.

Where do Atmospheric Scientists work?

With the advent of the Weather Channel, broadcast meteorology is omnipresent. However, many people are surprised to discover that this is only one of the many career opportunities in this field. In a recent survey by the American Meteorological Society, 7% of the respondents worked in broadcast meteorology, compared to 36% in the private sector, 33% in government and 24% in education. A brief description of these employment sectors follows.

Private Sector:

Consulting firms are the fastest growing employment sector in the atmospheric sciences. Meteorologists in this sector work in every aspect of the field, from radio to forecasting to air pollution meteorology to forensic meteorology to basic and applied research. Some graduates work in risk assessment for insurance firms, resource allocation for power companies and stock futures pricing for investment groups. Other graduates find related work in computer sciences and aviation. Private sector Atmospheric Scientists hold university degrees up to and including the doctoral level, although the majority end with a baccalaureate degree.

Federal Government:

Agencies such as NASA, NOAA and EPA employ many meteorologists, working in both operations (forecasting) and research (climate studies, severe weather analysis, development of forecast tools, air pollution control). The Department of Defense, principally the Air Force and Navy, also employ many meteorologists in forecasting positions. Excluding the military, degree-holders within this sector are about evenly split between BS, MS and PhD.

State Government:

State natural resource departments employ meteorologists in a range of activities related to air pollution monitoring and control. Most hold the BS or MS degree.


Atmospheric scientists teach and conduct research in colleges and universities, and are science educators in the K-12 schools. At the University level, most positions require a doctoral degree. In K-12 schools, a BS degree (often with teaching certification) is required.

Broadcast Meteorology:

This high profile work puts a face on forecasting. The typical career path for these individuals begins at a small market television station, with rapid advances to larger markets and commensurately higher salaries. Broadcasters holding the American Meteorological seal of approval typically have a BS degree in Atmospheric Sciences.

What do Atmospheric Scientists earn?

Salaries vary according to employment sector, educational level, experience and ability. According to surveys conducted by the American Meteorological Society, average salaries for private sector meteorologists with 3-5 years experience were $43,000. In the government and University sectors, employees in the early stages of their careers had average salaries of $42,100 and $50,000, respectively. These salaries grew with experience to average maximum values of $86,000 (private sector, excluding broadcasting), $90,000 (government), $97,000 (university) and $111,000 (broadcasting).

Atmospheric Sciences at UWM

Atmospheric Sciences at UWM is a division of Mathematical Sciences. The program prepares students for career pursuits by stressing breadth of knowledge in course studies in the various sub fields of atmospheric science and the development of quantitative thinking through a unique emphasis on the mathematical and computational aspects of the discipline. The program maintains strong ties with regional employers in both the private sector and the National Weather Service, where many of our recent graduates have been placed. Many undergraduates have gone on to pursue graduate studies at UWM and elsewhere. Because of the high faculty-to-student ratio, there is close contact between students and faculty. The program provides excellent research and teaching facilities, including a 32 processor Silicon Graphics supercomputer dedicated to realtime regional mesoscale modeling; two multiprocessor Sun workstations dedicated to global atmospheric circulation modeling and data assimilation; a newly revamped Sun workstation laboratory and weather maproom for scientific visualization, modeling and forecasting; and a wide variety of data, including a NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data archive, a realtime National Weather Service radar link and WATADS analysis system, and a unique archive of Russian radiosonde data. Because of the active faculty research agenda, undergraduate students are exposed to the latest research findings and have research opportunities early in their careers.

The major:

Students must take 34 preparatory credits (16 in Math 231-234, 10 in Physics 209/214 and 210/215, 3 in Comp Sci 151 and 5 in Chem 102) and 39 credits from the core (30 from atmospheric sciences and 9 in Math 320-322). To accommodate students with varying interests and to represent the breadth of the field, the atmospheric science major allows students to choose at least 9 elective credits from a set of courses covering specialties in atmospheric sciences (such as air pollution modeling and weather forecasting), numerical analysis, probability and statistics and applied mathematics (see full list on reverse).

The minor:

Students must complete a minimum of 18 credits in atmospheric sciences. Six of these credits must include Atm Sci 240 and 360, with the remaining 12 Atm Sci credits at the 300 level or above.

Combinations with other fields:

Professionals in the Atmospheric Sciences work extensively with computers and their careers can benefit significantly from advanced training in that field. Atmospheric Science can also be profitably combined with physics, chemistry, applied mathematics and statistics. A student can do this formally by majoring in Atmospheric Science and minoring in another field or by completing a double major.

The following coursework is required:

Required Atmospheric Science Courses

Atm Sci 240

Introduction to Meteorology: Quantitativge approach to understanding the atmosphere, thermodynamics, horizontal motion, general circularion, atmospheric observations, clouds, weather map analysis.

Atm Sci 330 Air Pollution Meteorology: Pollutant sources and sinks, fundamental pollutant chemistry, monitoring techniques, averaging boundary layers and turbulence, diffusion theories, diffusion models, regional and global-scale pollution problems. 3
Atm Sci 350 Atmospheric Thermodynamics: Radiant energy, sensible heat, and atmospheric thermodynamics; the gas laws; hydrostatic and psychrometric equations; dry and moist convection; clouds and their phyiscal and energy relations. 3
Atm Sci 351 Dynamic Meteorology I: The role of dynamics in atmospheric physics; equations of motion; symmetric circulation models; gravity waves; Rossby waves; quasi-geostrophy; introduction to the instability of atmospheric flows. 3
Atm Sci 352 Dynamic Meteorology II: Circulation, vorticity, potential vorticity; shallow water equations; Poincare, Kelvin, and Rossby waves; energy and enstrophy; quasi-geostrophy for a stratified atmosphere; barotropic and baroclinic instability. 3
Atm Sci 360 Synoptic Meteorology: Mid-latitude weather systems; kinematics; frontogenesis; long waves; extra-tropical cyclones - theory of formation and development. 4
Atm Sci 361 Advanced Synoptic Analysis: Advanced objective and subjective analytical techniques applied to the evolution and structure of synoptic systems. Experience in real time forecasting. 4
Atm Sci 464 Cloud Physics 3
Atm Sci 511 Seminar in Atmospheric Radiation and Remote Sensing: Basic laws of radiation, absorption and scattering, weather radar, retrieval of soundings, remote sensing and climate, weather satellites. 3

Elective Courses

Atm Sci 460 Mesoscale Circulations: Theory, analysis and forecasting of mesoscale flows, including convective systems, polar lows, terrain and surface forced flows, jet streams and hurricanes. 3
Atm Sci 465 Meteorological Instrumentation: An introduction to the measurement of basic meteorological parameters. General measurement fundamentals; physical fundamentals; measurement of temperature, pressure, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, and radiation. 3
Atm Sci 470 Tropical Meteorology 3
Atm Sci 480 General Circulation and Climate Dynamics: Zonally symmetric circulation; momentum, heat and water budgets; stationary waves; the El Nino-Southern Oscillation; global warming; interdecadal oceanic variability; simple climate models. 3
Atm Sci 500 Statistical Methods in Atmospheric Sciences 3
Atm Sci 505 Micrometeorology: Surface energy budget; radiation balance and heat transfer; boundary-layer profiles of wind, temperature, and moisture; radiation charts; weather satellites; radiation and climate. 3
Atm Sci 513 Turbulence and Boundary Layer Processes 3
Atm Sci 520 Advanced Dynamic Meteorology 3
Atm Sci 531 Numerical Weather Prediction: The application of numerical methods to weather analysis and forecasting. Study of operational forecast models. Design of research models. 3
Atm Sci 690 Topics in Atmospheric Sciences: Topics discussed range from year to year, but have included global warming, chaos theory, and daily weather discussion in the recent past. 1-3

Required Other Courses

Math 231, 232, 233, 234 Calculus 14-16
Chem 102 General Chemistry 5
Physics 209, 210, 214, 215 Physics I and II (Calculus Treatment) 10
CompSci 151 Introduction to Scientific Programming 3
Math 320 Introduction to Differential Equations 3
Math 321 Vector Analysis 3
Math 322 Introduction to Partial Differential Equations 3

Atmospheric sciences students are urged to take Math 231/232 and Physics 209/214 during their freshman years, as these courses are prerequisites for all core courses. Students are urged to engage in their math requirements as early in their college careers as possible, as this will ease their burden greatly during their senior year.