Wild Weather Jobs: Meteorology College Student and Air Force Recruit
In the summer of 2014, Britta Gjermo found herself at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and Camp Selby in the hot and humid state of Mississippi. She spent two weeks at each base. “I didn’t think it could be that humid without raining,” she jokes. The work didn’t make it any easier. She was there as part of a “mock deployment.” It was physically and mentally demanding.
The first two weeks “is a lot of yelling,” she explains. The second two weeks is more physically demanding. The goal of the experience was to test and build leadership skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work under pressure.
This might sound like the work of a fresh military recruit. But you would be only partially right. Gjermo is a college senior at the University of Wisconsin, Madison studying Atmospheric Sciences. She is also a student intern at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) and a writer for their Pyrocumulous blog—a blog about the weather caused by wildfires.
In a sense, Gjermo is living two lives. She is taking advanced classes in meteorology, helping to organize weather conferences, and blogging about the weather. But she is also training in the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), a program that trains college students to become United States Air Force officers. The Air Force is also paying her way through college. In return, Gjermo will serve at least four years in the Air Force after she graduates.
The Big Plan
And this is where those two worlds merge. Gjermo recently learned that she has been assigned to train as an Air Force weather officer when she graduates—her dream assignment.
A meteorologist might not be the first thing you think of when you think of officers in the Air Force. But imagine flying a high-tech, expensive, and dangerous jet without knowing the exact conditions at all the altitudes you will be flying. That would be very risky!
Instead, the Air Force employs a team of meteorologists who provide detailed briefings before every training mission or action in the field. That includes satellite measurements as well as in-field measurements, like profiles made from hot air balloons. That’s exactly the kind of information she is prepared to give.
After completing her training, Gjermo will be responsible for putting together weather briefings for training missions, and, if deployed, for actual military operations as well. “It’s definitely a possibility,” Gjermo says about getting deployed. She looks forward to the opportunity to live overseas.
How Did She Get This Far?
Science was always in the cards for Gjermo. Both her parents were engineers and, for a time, she thought she wanted to be an engineer as well. But she says something had always drawn her to weather.
“I don’t have some epic tail of a tornado coming down like two houses away,” she points out. Instead, her draw to weather had more to do with how it affected her daily life. As a Minnesotan, the severe weather changes each year fascinated her. And as a competitive skier, knowing the specific weather conditions the day of a race was crucial for picking the right wax and tuning her skis.
She excelled in science in high school and leaned toward engineering until about 11th grade. It was then that she realized that she could apply all those math and science skills to something more interesting to her—weather.
Inspired by her sister, who had already received an Air Force scholarship, she decided to apply for one as well. And she got it! After talking to other Air Force meteorologists she came to a conclusion: “This is what I want to do.”
And she can’t wait to start. “I think it will be an exciting adventure,” she says.