What is a Meteorologist and What is that Logo?

September 27, 2015

We were having a discussion in the news studio the other day about the definition of a meteorologist and how it relates to the small logos (known as a “seal” in the business) we show near our names.  Just from the discussion it was obvious there are some misconceptions about both, so here are my thoughts:

Is your TV weather person a meteorologist? It depends on your definition!  THERE IS NO LEGAL DEFINITION OF A METEOROLOGIST like with lawyers or doctors…it’s not the same.  The traditional and first definition; a meteorologist is a person that goes through 4 years of college and gets a Bachelor of Science degree in Meteorology.  Or in my case it was called Atmospheric Science (at the UW).

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has a long two paragraph definition.  It includes the 4 year degree path but also gives a 2nd definition: …(individuals who have) gained sufficient knowledge through coursework and/or professional experience to successfully fill professional positions, such as military weather forecasters or positions typically held by degreed meteorologists.  These individuals can also be referred to as meteorologists.  This includes individuals who have obtained and maintain either the AMS Radio or Television Seal of Approval or the AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist designation.

This tells me anyone who has taken some sort of coursework and/or has regularly worked in the TV world can sure be called a meteorologist.  As a result, I no longer get into arguments about who is and who isn’t…generally.  That said, it’s pretty obvious who should not call themselves meteorologists.  Again, from the AMS definition:  …Individuals who have little formal education in the atmospheric sciences, and who disseminate weather information and forecasts prepared by others, are properly designated weathercasters.  If you’re just ripping & reading and have never taken a single class in meteorology, you shouldn’t be using the term.

Without naming names, which would be unprofessional (and obnoxious), I think there are 4 degreed meteorologists in Portland TV (full or part-time).  One of those is me.  Most of the rest of the broadcasters are in that 2nd category mentioned above.  Those that don’t have the degree are often great forecasters that love their jobs and no different from me.  They just didn’t get all the final math/physics that is required for the B.S. degree.   Most were also journalists first and then went into weather.  Management loves that because then you can be used for either weather OR reporting.  Many folks have gone through the Mississippi State Certificate of Broadcast Meteorology program, which is pretty in-depth from what I’ve seen.  As for the “weathercasters”, as far as I’m aware there are only 2-3 people (out of ~16) doing weather on Portland TV (regularly) that have no training of any sort in weather/meteorology.

So there you go…that’s the meteorology story.

What about those seals?   There are three you might see on Portland TV.

1. The old AMS Seal of Approval (not issued after 2008)


This was the standard for many years.  The AMS issued these from 1956 until around 2008.   I think there are one or two people at each station that have one of these.  You can search for your favorite weather person here:  http://www.ametsoc.org/memdir/seallist/get_listoftv.cfm

2. AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist


This was introduced in the late 2000s…because requirements for the old AMS seal were relatively loose.  You just had to send in a tape and show that you had some meteorology education.  As long as you seemed relatively competent, you passed.  That said, I flunked the first time in 1994 or so…hmmm.   I passed the 2nd time around 6 months later.  The new AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal more or less requires the full meteorology degree.  It also requires a test and continuing education/portfolio requirements that was not required in the old seal.  Only 2 of us in Portland have this seal.  You can search the list here:  I happened to be on the Board of Broadcast Meteorology when this was introduced.  They “strongly recommended” we get one so I was quick to jump on it.  In time, this seal will become more valuable since the other is no longer offered.  That’s making the HUGE assumption that local TV news will continue in its current form.  Seems very unlikely in our current online world.

3. NWA Seal


The National Weather Association also has a seal of approval program, similar to the AMS seal.  You take a test and submit tapes, similar to the AMS CBM program.  You can find a listing here.  I didn’t spend much time on the site, but I’m not aware that anyone in Portland has an NWA seal.  Maybe one.

A couple final thoughts:

  1. Having/not having a seal doesn’t mean you are/aren’t a meteorologist.  They are not directly related to each other.
  2. Bosses along the West Coast, where the weather is very mild much of the time, are not as concerned with a person’s credentials or professional seals.  We are more personality-driven.  It’s a much bigger issue in the severe weather parts of the country.  I know of some locations in the Midwest where you won’t get a TV job without a seal.

Hopefully I’ve cleared things up a bit.  If you have any other questions I can answer them below.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen