Meteorology was studied and taught as part of Chemistry, Natural Philosophy and Natural History at Edinburgh University throughout the nineteenth century and for the first half of the twentieth century. James Paton was appointed the first Lecturer in Meteorology within the Department of Natural Philosophy in 1944, where he had been a Lecturer since 1928. The first undergraduate couse in Meteorology of any British university was instituted the following year, followed by a short Honours level course in Atmospheric Physics. James Paton was the first Head of Department when the Department of Meteorology was created in 1964.
From 1965 to 1975 the Balfour Stewart Auroral Laboratory was based in Edinburgh with a geophysical unit of the British Anatarctic Survey from 1959 and the Department consisted of a staff of three. Dr Douglas McIntosh was appointed Head of Department in 1973, having become Deputy Chief Meteorological Officer for South-East Asia during the Second World War before joining the University in 1955. He was co-author with Alasdair Thom of Essentials of Meteorology, for many years a standard teaching text, and his research interest was the physics and dynamics of the upper atmosphere, a tradition now continued by Professor Robert Harwood. In 1977 the one-year taught MSc was added to the undergraduate courses and strong PhD tradition.
In 1976 the Department moved from Drummond Street to the top floors of the new James Clerk Maxwell Building at the King's Buildings Science campus on the south side of Edinburgh, from where there are spectacular views of Edinburgh and its weather, although research at the department is now concentrated on more global activities.
After the retirement of Douglas McIntosh in 1982, the position of Head of Department was held by the senior academic staff in three-yearly rotation. The last Head of Department was Professor Bob Harwood who relinquished the position on 1st August 2001, when the Department became the Institute for Meteorology.
From 1st August 2001 until 31st July 2002 the Institute was part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy within the University Faculty of Science and Engineering.
On 1st August 2002, the Institute for Meteorology became part of the new School of GeoSciences within the College of Science and Engineering in the reorganised University of Edinburgh.