When people think of meteorologists, they likely think of two different career paths: broadcast meteorology or the National Weather Service.
While these two areas do provide careers for many meteorologists, there is still an abundance of specialities and focuses that a meteorologist can have that may or may not fit into these two categories.
Climatology, space weather, hydrology and more are all common focuses that many weather enthusiasts settle on. For those with a passion for fire weather and disaster response, becoming an incident meteorologist may be the right path.
Incident meteorologists, or IMETs, serve on the frontlines of environmental disasters such as wildfires, and they provide real-time weather forecasts to first responders. In wildfire disasters, weather conditions can greatly impact the spread of a fire with even the slightest bit of wind causing the flames to change direction. For those on the ground fighting these fires, knowing how a blaze will behave can be the difference between danger and safety.
IMETs are specially trained National Weather Service employees who can be deployed to locations all over the nation on an as-needed basis.
Because of this, IMETs must always be prepared, especially during wildfire season, to leave at a moment's notice.
According to the National Weather Service website, "available IMETs located closest to an incident are typically called first; however, IMETs nationwide can be called in if backups are needed. Deployment decisions are also based on IMET availability and previous IMET experience in that area."
Each deployment will typically last until either the fire has been contained or until the IMET has worked the site for two weeks. Around that time frame, if the fire is still uncontained, another IMET will be dispatched to the area to relieve the meteorologist working.
The grueling task of waking before sunrise and staying up long into the evening can be taxing for those who serve long stints at a disaster site.
The pressure of knowing that lives are in one's hands can be overwhelming, so it does take a certain type of individual to handle this stress. Luckily, IMETs do have thorough training prior to being deployed which can build confidence.
Oftentimes, individuals who have a passion for the environment will have interests that overlap with other career paths.
IMETs are a wonderful example of interdisciplinary interests that are applied in the field. Wildfire response involves individuals of all backgrounds: firefighters, foresters, emergency managers, meteorologists and more. For someone interested in becoming an IMET, it is not uncommon for them to share many of those listed backgrounds.
Maddie Est has worked as a broadcast meteorologist and marine meteorologist since graduating from the University of Missouri in 2021. She has worked with the Missouri Climate Center and conducted research on atmospheric blocking while at MU.