Bachelor of Science in Atmospheric Sciences



Atmospheric Science encompasses a wide variety of topics such as weather forecasting, air pollution and air chemistry, climate change, cloud and precipitation physics, and boundary layer processes. The Department of Atmospheric Sciences provides a comprehensive and flexible curriculum in these and other areas.   Each student is required to take a collection of core courses that provides essential background in the field.   Then, for the remainder of their atmospheric studies, students are provided considerable latitude in putting together a program responsive to their needs and interests.

The department's undergraduate majors are prepared for a range of career options including weather forecasting, environmental meteorology, TV weathercasting, or further study at a graduate institution. With strong backgrounds in physics, mathematics and computer sciences, atmospheric sciences majors are also well equipped for a variety of alternative career paths. Students awarded a bachelor's degree by the Department are eligible for the rating of professional meteorologist given by the United States Civil Service Commission.

Because the Department also maintains a large graduate program, UW atmospheric sciences students can take advantage of a wide variety of opportunities to enhance their education.  For example, some graduate courses are available to advanced undergraduates and employment and students can gain first hand experience in research with one of the department's  research groups.  Undergraduate students are welcome at the Department's many seminars and colloquia and are encouraged to join in the annual forecast contest. Undergraduates can also work on independent research projects under the guidance of a faculty member.

The University of Washington is the only higher education institution in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska to award undergraduate degrees in atmospheric sciences and has the most comprehensive undergraduate meteorology program in the western U.S.   Major's classes generally range from 10-15 students and all are taught by department faculty.

The department has arranged a number of internships with outside organizations.  Internships with the Seattle National Weather Service Forecast Office and several of the local television stations have proven to be the most popular.  Such internships provide valuable real-life learning experiences outside of the classroom.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

About a third of our undergraduates typically participate in department research projects, learning about the research process while making important contributions.  In addition,  a number of undergraduates have taken part in field programs, in which atmospheric data is collected and analyzed in often exotic locations.  For example, several department majors were involved in the KWAJEX experiment which studied thunderstorms in the mid-Pacific:  some students took observations at Kwajalein Atoll, while others helped on the NOAA research ship  Ron Brown (see picture below).  Other students assisted  in the COAST field experiment in which they flew on research aircraft to study the interaction of Pacific fronts with coastal terrain.  More recently, a number of undergraduates flow on the NOAA P3 aircraft (the "Hurricane Hunter") during a study of precipitation processes over the Oregon Cascades.  In addition to helping with faculty research efforts, students can work on undergraduate research projects under the guidance of atmospheric sciences faculty.

UW undergraduate students and others took observations
on the NOAA research vessel Ron Brown in the tropical
Pacific during the KWAJEX field experiment.

More examples of undergraduate research


Internships provide a valuable opportunity to test a student's interest in potential meteorological career paths and to extend his or her knowledge with real-life experiences. The department has arranged internships with a number of outside organizations.  Internships with the Seattle and Portland National Weather Service Forecast Offices and with several of the local television stations have proven to be the most popular.  Students can be awarded academic credit for internship experiences, which sometimes provide a stipend.  Internships of propelled several students into successful careers in TV weathercasting and forecasting at the National Weather Service.

Scholarships and Employment

In addition to University scholarships, there are at least four departmental scholarships available each year, awarded for both academic excellence and financial need.  These scholarships are provided by the Bruce Caldwell Memorial Fund, contributed by the parents and friends of Bruce Caldwell--a graduate of the department-- and the Atmospheric Sciences Endowment  Fund, made possible by a generous, but anonymous donor.

There are also a number of employment possibilities in the department, ranging from assisting research projects to helping maintain the map room.

Department Facilities

The department receives a wide range of weather data and forecast model output through Internet links, including surface and upper air data, radar and satellite imagery, and forecast output from several major numerical weather prediction centers.  It  maintains interactive software for acquiring, displaying, and printing all forms of observations and model output, as well as instruments for taking local observations (see picture below).  Students can view and analyze weather data on the department workstations or computers, including those in the student computer laboratory.   The department maintains a map room on the sixth floor for viewing weather data in either print or  electronic forms.   The map room is used for some classes and is a frequent gathering place where students and faculty informally discuss the current weather situation.  The Department classrooms also possess internet links and the ability to project high-resolution graphical information.

The Department maintains a full suite of meteorological      The Department map room is place where
sensors on its roof.                                                                             students and faculty gather to view the
                                                                                                                 latest weather information and forecasts.

Extensive computer resources are available for student use.  The department maintains a large network of UNIX workstations for both general use and research projects.  In addition, several PCs are also available.  These computers are linked to each other and outside facilities over a high-bandwidth Internet connection..  The department also possesses massive computer resources for real-time high resolution regional forecasting and long-term climate simulations.

The Undergraduate Computer Laboratory has twelve
SUN workstations and several PCs .

The department maintains an instrument's laboratory with a wide range of observing and data collection systems.   Used extensively in the undergraduate instrument's class, this facility acquaints students with a wide range of instrumentation and modern methods for interfacing observing systems with computers.   Students in atmospheric sciences also have access to a machine shop, several electronic labs, and an extensive weather data archive.

This Convair 580 aircraft has been used for field programs by the department's
cloud and aerosol physics group.  Undergraduates have participated
in the group's research program.

Seminars and Meetings Open to Undergraduates

Learning possibilities for department undergraduates don't end in the classroom.   Each week there are 6-12 seminars or talks on a variety of topics, and undergraduates are welcome to attend all.  Some opportunities include:

  • Department Seminars and Colloquia.  Each week there is a department colloquium, generally on a topic of general interest.  Prior to the colloquium refreshments are served and students and faculty gather in an informal setting.  I n addition, there are a number of weekly seminars with a more specialized focus:  dynamics, clouds physics, among          others.

  • Weekly weather discussion.  Every Tuesday at 12:30 PM a member of the department gives a weather discussion on current conditions or on a topic of their choice.

  • Northwest Weather Workshop.  Each year the UW cosponsors a gathering of approximately 150 regional meteorologists on the latest advances in Northwest meteorology and weather forecasting.  The first day of the meeting generally has a theme, such as aviation or hydrometeorology.

  • Student AMS Chapter.  Undergraduate students in the department regularly meet as a student chapter of the American Meteorological Society

  • Puget Sound AMS Chapter.  Monthly meetings, including a talk and refreshments, of the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Meteorological Society are popular with undergraduates.

  • Closely Related Departments and Programs

    The UW is well-known for strong science departments and atmospheric sciences majors can take advantage of a wide range of courses in closely related fields.  For example, there are extensive offerings in oceanography, geophysics, chemistry, and applied mathematics, to name only a few.  For those students with interest in Climate and Global Change, the Program on the Environment, Program on Climate Change, and Astrobiology Program offers a number of exciting undergraduates courses.  

    Employment After Graduation

    Many of our students have gone on to successful careers in atmospheric sciences and other fields.  Dozens have been employed with the National Weather Service or private weather forecasting firms.  Others have gone to graduate school in atmospheric sciences, secured positions in local air qualilty/environmental consulting firms, or became weather officers or pilots in military service. A number of our students have gone on to to successful careers in TV weathercasting, using their internship experiences as an invaluable base. Other students have used the strong computer backgrounds they developed at the UW to secure positions in the software and computer industries.

    More information on careers in the atmospheric sciences can be found at the American Meteorological Web Site:  A Career Guide to the Atmospheric Sciences.

    For Further Information

    For addition information, a student should contact either Kathryn Stout, Academic Counselor ((206) 543-6471, email:, or Cliff Mass, Faculty Adviser (206)  685-0910 or email:  Students are also welcome to stop by the Atmospheric Sciences counseling office located in 408B Atmospheric Sciences Building.

    Kathryn Stout, Academic Counselor         Professor Cliff Mass, Undergraduate Advisor

    The Atmospheric Sciences Academic Program

    The Atmospheric Sciences major has been designed to provide students with considerable flexibility in designing a program consistent with their interests and needs. With the assistance of the undergraduate advisor and faculty, the student chooses courses to create a tailored program reflecting his/her interests and career goals.  For those students wishing to explore the atmospheric sciences in less depth, a minor program is also available.

    Entrance Requirements:

    There are no entrance requirements. A student may declare Atmospheric Sciences as a major upon application and admission to the university.

    Required Core Courses:

    The atmospheric science major is designed to provide flexibility in response to student interests and career goals. All students take a collection of core courses that provide essential material that all atmospheric scientists should master. A grade of at least 2.0 is required in the core courses, with an overall average of at least 2.5.

    CSE 142: Introduction to Programming
    MATH 124, 125, 126; (or 127,128,129 or 134,135,136); 324 Calculus
    AMATH 301: Introduction to MATLAB
    AMATH 351, 353 Differential Equations
    PHYS 121,122, 123 and labs 131,132, 133: Calculus-based Physics
    ATM S 301: Introduction to Atmospheric Sciences
    ATM S 321: Physical Climatology
    ATM S 340: Introduction to Thermodynamics and Cloud Processes
    ATM S 358: Fundamentals of Atmospheric Chemistry
    ATM S 370: Atmospheric Structure and Analysis
    ATM S 431: Atmospheric Physics
    ATM S 441: Atmospheric Motions

    In addition to the core courses, a student will select additional elective courses, a minimum of 19 credits of coursework at the 200 level or above. These credits should be chosen to provide a coherent, customized program that reflects the student's interests and career goals. Elective selections must be approved in advance by the department. A grade of at least 2.0 is required for all elective classes that are applied to graduation requirements.

    In order to provide guidance for elective selection, some groups of electives or "tracks" are given below. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive but to provide suggestions of possible course sequences.

    Suggested Track 1: Atmosphere and the Environment

    This track is intended for students interested in environmental applications of the atmospheric sciences, including air quality, atmospheric chemistry, human health, and hydrology. Students interested in a program including the social sciences should consider supplementing this track with classes associated with the Program on the Environment. Courses selected for this track are:

    CHEM 142 (5), CHEM 152 (5) General Chemistry

    plus a minimum of 3 courses from the following list:

    ATM S 451: Instruments and Observations (5)
    ATM S 458: Global Environmental Chemistry (4)
    CIVE 350: Environmental Engineering -Water and Air Quality (4)
    CIVE 476: Physical Hydrology (3)
    CIVE 480: Air Quality Modeling (3)
    CIVE 490/ENV H 461: Air Pollution Control (4)
    CIVE 493: Air Pollution Source Testing and Equipment Evaluation (3)
    CHEM E 468/CIVE 494/M E 468: Air Pollution Control Design (3)
    ENV H 311: Introduction to Environmental Health (3)
    ENV H 449: Respiratory Effects of Air Pollution (2)
    ENV H 472: Environmental Risk and Society (prereq: CHEM 162 or 203) (3)
    M E 424: Combustion Systems and Pollutant Formation (4)
    PHYS 341: Energy and Environment I (3)
    PHYS 342: Energy and Environment II (3)
    STAT 311: Basic Statistical Analysis (4)

    Suggested Track 2: Meteorology

    This track provides students with a strong background in dynamics, synoptic meteorology and weather forecasting, and provides the coursework required for entry into the National Weather Service and military forecasting careers. The elective courses selected for this track are:

    STAT 311: Basic Statistical Analysis (4)
    ATM S 442: Atmospheric Motions II (5)
    ATM S 451W: Instruments and Observations (5)
    ATM S 452: Weather Forecasting and Advanced Synoptic Meteorology (5)

    Other recommended courses for this option: General Studies 350 (Internship) or ATM S 492 (Research/Independent Study).

    Suggested Track 3: Atmosphere and Ocean

    For those interested in both atmospheric and oceanic studies.  Please see the undergraduate adviser for course selection.

    Suggested Track 4: Teacher Education Focus

    The University of Washington Teacher Education Program has set up a special program for earth sciences undergraduates who are interested in teaching careers.  A brochure about this program is available from Dr. Karen Schmitt (  After taking the core courses, the student interested in this focus should consult with the atmospheric sciences adviser to select further coursework.

    Honor's Program

    Programs and requirements for honors students will be arranged on an individual basis with the undergraduate adviser.