My journey as a forensic meteorologist

The past year has been incredibly busy, with work from returning clients and new clients joining the PAGCORE Solutions family. We also entered into strategic partnerships that have boosted our forensic meteorology activity, particularly for aviation-related cases. Meanwhile, I've been working toward my Professional Engineer licensure, having completed the Fundamentals of Engineering Civil Exam Prep Course over the summer, and will take the Fundamentals of Engineering Civil Exam in the spring of next year. Now that I have a little bit of a break in the action, I've found a little bit of time to write about what I do when I receive a forensic meteorology job.


Typical forensic meteorology clients


The vast majority of forensic meteorology jobs I've been working on are for clients who are in litigation or are contemplating litigation over injuries or losses stemming from an incident where weather was suspected to be a significant factor. Most of these clients have been law firms involved in the litigation, although a few insurance companies have requested forensic meteorology reports a part of their claims process. On one case, I may be writing a report for the plaintiff's side, and on the next case, I could be preparing a report for the defendant.


From report to testimony


How often does a forensic meteorologist get retained for deposition and expert witness testimony? Not very often, at least from my experiences.


Of the forensic meteorology reports that I've been involved in preparing since my first report in 2004, I've only attended court for testimony as an expert witness once. That case involved a feud between two neighbors. My client, the defendant, requested a certified surface observation for the nearest ASOS/AWOS reporting site, 12 miles away, to support his argument against the allegations being made against him by the plaintiff. After I provided my client with the certified data from NCEI, with a summary letter I prepared, I was summoned to court in Montezuma County, Colorado by the presiding judge in that case. I attended the proceedings via videoconferencing in anticipation of being called to testify. However, the judge ended up dismissing the case before I could give my testimony.


So far in all of my other cases, I haven't been retained for deposition or testimony as an expert witness for one of three reasons: 1) the weather conditions presented in my report don't support the argument my client is trying to present in their case; 2) the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of my reports leaves the opposing side no room to dispute the weather conditions present at the time and location of the incident that is subject of the litigation, or how they factored into the occurrence of that incident, or 3) both sides agreed on the weather conditions present and how they factored into the occurrence of the incident. Thus, I've seen the litigants in the cases for which I've prepared forensic meteorology reports end up settling rather than going into a lengthy and costly trial.


Call it as you see it


But this brings up a hugely important point related to ethical practices as a forensic meteorologist. Regardless of what argument about the weather that your client is trying to make, a forensic meteorologist's job is to obtain and analyze all of the relevant meteorological data and reconstruct the weather conditions present at the time and location of the incident. Most importantly, the analysis and report must be based in sound methodology that is accepted by the meteorology community, and contain no bias toward one side or the other in a given case. In other words, you have to "call it as you see it," and not worry about whether your analysis and report supports one side of the case or the other. If you try to spin your report or testimony to support your client's arguments by omitting key pieces of data or making inferences for which the meteorological data does not support, you will quickly find yourself in trouble!


Conclusion


Surely, your client may be unhappy with your findings if they don't support their argument. But by preparing a complete, accurate, and unbiased report along with complete, accurate, and unbiased expert witness testimony, you avoid the situation your report and testimony thrown out by the judge, which is something that will haunt you for the rest of your career.


We hear about the cases that forensic meteorologists are called upon to testify as expert witnesses, but it's also important to note that those cases represent a relatively small number of the total cases a forensic meteorologist will work on throughout their careers. The vast majority of a forensic meteorologist's cases will never make it to trial, for one reason or another. Nevertheless, the forensic meteorologist's expertise and due diligence in the reports provided to their clients are invaluable in resolving disputes between parties when weather is suspected to have played a part an an incident.



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