Climatologist and Author: Dr. Randall Cerveny

Climatologist and Author: Dr. Randall Cerveny

Randall “Randy” Cerveny wrote Weather’s Greatest Mysteries Solved! and is a professor of Geographical Sciences at Arizona State University.


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Earth Science, Meteorology, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, World History

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Early Work

Randy Cerveny grew up in the U.S. state of Nebraska, where weather was a part of his day-to-day life. His family’s home was on a hill, where they would constantly watch the weather. Even local officials would go to the hill to watch for and monitor storms in order to issue warnings to the public.

While Randy was always fascinated by weather, he never thought he could do any work in that field. When he started college at the University of Nebraska, he first studied electrical engineering. However, he soon realized he did not like that type of work. He asked his brother, who was then an admissions counselor at the school, what department worked with weather and found out it was geography.

In Weather’s Greatest Mysteries Solved!, Randy says he first thought of geography as learning the names and capitals of places. “I quickly discovered that geography is, literally, the mother of most disciplines, the basis of everything from anthropology to zoology.”

One of Randy’s early jobs was working for the U.S. government on a project to transport missiles on trains to the western United States. There, the missiles would be stored in caves where they would be hidden from view, specifically from the Soviet Union. His work included assessing potential weather issues that might affect the railways and storage locations.

Most Exciting Part of Your Work
Randy enjoys learning and discovering new aspects of geography and weather. Climatologists and meteorologists, people who study weather, “are studying things no one else has looked at,” he says. “The field is incredibly new and constantly changing. For example, just recently, three new types of lightning were discovered.”

Most Demanding Part of Your Work
“The newness and changing nature of the field, which are the most fun aspects of this work, are also the most challenging. There are often not definitive answers, or answers change when new information is discovered. That can be frustrating to people who want absolutes.”

How Do You Define Geography?
“The study of everything on this planet and how it interacts with us. Sometimes it even goes below the surface of the Earth and above our atmosphere.

“The critical thing is that what is learned in one location is applicable to a wide variety of places. For example, what we learn about the deserts of Arizona may be valid for parts of Africa or India.”

Randy began working at Arizona State University in 1986. In recognition of his contributions to undergraduate education, he was awarded the title President’s Professor in 2005. Subjects he teaches include physical geography, climate change, and meteorology.

Randy’s first book, Freaks of the Storm: From Flying Cows to Stealing Thunder: The World's Strangest True Weather Stories, was published in 2006. Also that year, the United NationsWorld Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology agreed to create an archive for verifying, certifying, and storing world weather extremes. Randy is responsible for researching and verifying global weather records for the commission. Weather’s Greatest Mysteries Solved! was published in 2009.

Randy is working on increasing the number of weather stations throughout Arizona. He also wants to see more stations in the U.S. that record data in the upper atmosphere. More data means better forecasts, Randy says, which will help people prepare for natural disasters or even just a typical storm.

So, You Want to be a ... Climatologist
Randy says coursework must be in math and physics. “And the sooner, the better—even at the junior high school level,” he says. “You need to understand the science of weather and have knowledge of the principles. Studying cartography is also important.” Cartography is the practice of making maps.

Finally, a climatologist needs good writing skills. “While you need to have strong specialized knowledge and skills to forecast, you need to be able to share the information with people in a way that is not overly technical so they can easily understand.”

According to Randy, both meteorology, which looks at day-to-day weather, and climatology, which looks at long-term weather patterns, require the same core classes. Typically, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for a career in meteorology. Job examples include working for the National Weather Service as a forecaster or the U.S. military as a weather officer.

Climatologists need advanced degrees. Job examples include working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, or the National Hurricane Center.

In the private sector, you could work for an insurance company as a forensic meteorologist, who is like a storm detective and investigates causes of damage. Or you could be an energy trader, a job having to do with the financial markets, which Randy thinks would be the most stressful job because it involves millions of dollars.

Randy says very few schools offer degrees in climatology. Only the University of Delaware has a Ph.D. program in the field. He hopes this will change because he has seen interest in the field increase.

Get Involved
Randy says the more weather people can experience, the better. Traveling to different places offers the opportunity to do that. He says the most interesting place he has been is Antarctica. In the mid-1980s, he was a participant in the National Science Foundation Antarctic Research Program with the Polar Ice Coring Office. “Not many people get to go there,” he says.

He also suggests watching specials and films about weather, as well as reading magazines, such as Weatherwise, Science, and National Geographic.

Media Credits

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Kimberly Dumke
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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