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Evaluating claims with weather experts.

RISK MANAGERS WHO manage or oversee claim departments may find that determining the validity of certain claims can be a difficult and time-consuming task. And when there's a great deal of money at stake, risk managers are increasingly employing the services of weather consultants to provide the expert testimony needed to validate or document claims associated with unusual weather conditions and determine the effects of adverse weather or the lack thereof- on their claims.

Evaluating whether or not a claim is due to weather conditions, particularly in locations that are far from where official weather data are gathered, requires information that the risk manager or property/casualty adjustor may not have ready access to or the ability to interpret. However, meteorological consultants can help locate and obtain difficult-to-find weather information, decipher complex weather records and provide an authoritative interpretation or expression of opinion regarding these records as they relate to a particular case.

In essence, the services of a qualified forensic meteorologist permit the loss investigation to proceed more efficiently by providing the risk manager or adjustor with more time to focus attention on other aspects of the case, thus saving time and reducing the costs of the investigation.

Weather Experts

WEATHER OFTEN PLAYS a significant role in causing many of the incidents that lead to claims. For example, weather occurrences such as heavy rains, snow or fog can result in accidents such as vehicular crashes and slips and falls that result in personal injury claims.

These weather occurrences, as well as more severe ones such as hurricanes, floods and tornados, can also result in claims arising from property damage, construction delays, crop damage, marine and admiralty cases and even products liability disputes. One products liability case involved a manufacturer of cigarette lighters that had been hit with a number of claims due to the lighters' allegedly flaring out and causing burns; the manufacturer, confident that its lighters were free from defects and that the accidents were due to the lighters' being used in high wind areas, hired weather consultants to prove their point. Weather consultants have also been hired to investigate lost cargoes, onboard mishaps and other accidents that occur in marine and admiralty cases that are alleged to have been caused by bad weather patterns.

Weather experts can also be called in to investigate claims arising from a wide assortment of environment-related cases. In one case, the family of a man who had died from a respiratory ailment sued a neighboring manufacturer, alleging that wind drafts brought asbestos fumes from the company's plant into the area of his home, thus leading to his death. The manufacturer, whose facilities did not actually emit asbestos into the atmosphere, hired a team of weather experts for their defense. Through dispersion analyses and a study of the area's wind conditions over a 30-year period, the weather consultants were able to prove the company did not emit asbestos and that the prevailing winds actually blew away from the man's house.

Weather and Claims

WHEN EXAMINING the effect of weather on a claim, risk managers often do not have the means or the time to gather and interpret the necessary data. For example, many adjustors will rely on past weather events that are recorded in local newspapers, and that may not be accurate or scientifically valid.

In many cases, the adjustors' offices subscribe to the four-page monthly climatological summaries that originate from local National Weather Service stations (NWS), which are usually located near major airports and are distributed by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina. These monthly publications provide brief summaries of weather conditions, but only for the area immediately surrounding the weather station.

However, in order to accurately pursue a loss investigation, the risk manager will need weather data that covers prevailing weather conditions for the area as close as possible to where the incident took place. In these situations, a company can call in weather consultants to interpolate the meteorological observations taken at several sites in the vicinity of where the incident took place, thus arriving at an accurate description of the weather at the time of the incident.

Interpreting Information

FREQUENTLY, THE RISK manager will need information that must be calculated or derived from commonly logged meteorological readings, such as temperature, wind velocity, and relative humidity. From these readings, a consulting meteorologist can provide information on the thickness and weight of accumulated ice, windchill temperature, the force of wind exerted on an object, and the degree of illumination (also known as ambient light) cast by the moon or sun under clear or cloudy sky conditions. In addition, these calculated variables can be derived for far-flung sites located between NWS observation sites through the use of interpolation methods. Such highly specialized weather information can be of vital significance to a claim investigation.

If a claim goes into litigation, weather consultants may be called in to verify an eyewitness account concerning the weather conditions that allegedly existed at the time of the incident. Through their expert analyses, meteorological consultants can, for example, provide testimony as to how a particular type of wind damage occurred, or whether a flooding incident was due to an unusually heavy rainfall or an ineffective drainage system; other examples include the use of a weather consultant's testimony to determine whether electronic equipment was damaged by power surges due to lightning, or if the presence of ice or snow contributed to the cause of an accident.

Besides providing the meteorological information needed to conduct a claims investigation, weather consultants can also be hired to analyze weather patterns to determine if they are likely to affect an outdoor event. For example, weather consultants are in increasing demand among film companies, which depend on accurate forecasts to ensure that weather conditions are favorable for the continuation of their projects.

Gathering Information

IN ORDER TO determine if and how meteorological factors contributed to the occurrence of a particular incident, weather consultants must carefully investigate a large body of information. For example, in addition to the NWS weather stations present in approximately 300 larger cities and airports in the United States, meteorological observations are recorded on an hourly or daily basis at thousands of other smaller cities and towns.

Add to this hundreds of NWS zone weather forecasts, watches, warnings, special weather statements, high altitude data, radar charts, satellite photographs, weather maps and various other forecasts that are issued several times each day, and it is easy to imagine the enormous quantity of generated data; in fact, this volume of weather information precludes the likelihood that the meteorological consultant will actually possess the specific records a risk manager or an adjustor might require, thus leading to the need for interpolation.

Obtaining Records

ALTHOUGH WEATHER records require expert analysis, any interested persons can obtain these records from any one of several archives, with the most familiar being the NCDC. Here, one can retrieve nearly any type of daily weather records, from the past week to several decades in the past. For those not familiar with obtaining records from the NCDC, it takes approximately four weeks to receive these records in the mail, although the processing and turnaround time can be decreased to two weeks for a rush order, although at an additional cost.

Requests for certified (ribbon and seal) meteorological data are ordinarily placed with the NCDC, but this service also carries an additional fee. Similar requests for certification of other products, such as weather warnings, watches, zone forecasts, and special weather statements, are the responsibility of the NWS-Aviation Services Branch, which is located in Silver Springs, Maryland.

Astronomical calculations, including the times of sunrise and sunset, positions of the sun and moon in the sky, and the duration of civil twilight, may be certified by the U.S. Naval Observatory, located in Washington, D.C. Finally, tidal information, including predicted and actual tides, as well as tidal currents, is available from the National Ocean Service, located in Rockville, Maryland.

However, since these records are often in meteorological code and require expert analysis, the risk manager who obtained them for a case would need to have them interpreted. Therefore, risk managers may find that they can achieve significant savings for their companies by retaining a meteorological consultant.

Peter Muldavin is vice president of sales and marketing at Flushing, NY-based Compu-Weather Inc.
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Author:Muldavin, Peter
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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