Forensic meteorology is the scientific study of weather, applied to the process of reconstructing weather events for a specific time and location. This is done by acquiring and analyzing data from local weather reports. Government websites, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are the best, most verifiable sources. However, weather data alone can never replace the confidence adjusters would get from an expert property evaluation when deciding how to best settle a claim. Here are three key reasons weather data shouldn’t be your only claims resource.
Forensic meteorology analyzes data from weather events like hurricanes to reconstruct conditions that may have impacted a property. Photo Credit: Earth Observatory
1. Many Sources for Weather Data Aren’t Totally Reliable
Weather data is likely to come from two main sources – weather stations and eyewitness reports. Weather stations measure things like precipitation automatically and continuously, providing objective data. However, not all weather stations are created equal. Some stations have more sensitive equipment than others, and they don’t necessarily have the same variety of equipment.
On the other hand, eyewitness reports are subjective; that is, subject to the witnesses’ personal experiences and perceptions. Reports may come in from trained weather spotters, first responders, or inexperienced members of the general public. They may provide details including approximate hails sizes, estimates on wind speeds, damage to trees and structures, or power outages.
These eyewitness reports are not likely to be perfectly reliable or based on professional experience – wind speed estimates particularly so. However, they can give a knowledgeable expert insight into the experience of locals near a property that may have been damaged in a storm. This data cannot replace an onsite inspection, and it cannot be considered more reliable than the physical evidence left behind after a storm, like hail damage collaterals. However, in the hands of an expert, this information can be useful corroboration to the evidence found during a property assessment.
A Donan engineer determined the dents in this downspout were collateral indicators of wind-driven debris impact during a hurricane.
2. Weather Data Can’t Tell Us What Happened at a Specific Property
NOAA collects wind and hail event data in two main places – the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and the Storm Events Database (SED). While the SPC’s primary mission is to provide weather forecasts based on meteorological data, information about recent storms is usually available within hours. The SED may not publish data about a weather event for three or more months after it occurred, and by that time, duplicate reports will have been scrubbed and inconsistencies accounted for. Furthermore, while the SPC’s preliminary data will only report hail of 1 inch in diameter or more, the SED may include reports of smaller-sized hail.
Weather data from the SPC and the SED is useful in looking back at a weather event in a general area – usually within 10 miles of a property – but these sources typically won’t pinpoint the hail or wind events that occurred at a particular loss location.
Weather data may include reports of downed trees and powerlines near a policyholder’s property.
3. Weather Data Can’t Confirm Structural Damage
There are many factors at play in investigating a claim for storm damage, and weather data has limitations. Weather data can’t, for instance, tell us the condition of a roof before a weather event. Just because damaging winds and hail were reported nearby doesn’t mean that they’re responsible for a roof’s poor conditions. Some or all reported damage could be the result of age-related deterioration, human-caused activities, or installation errors. A qualified roof inspector can provide the actual cause of loss and tell an adjuster if any damage likely pre-dated any recent storm.
Weather reports indicated that hail had fallen near this property, but a Donan engineer determined that these blemishes were caused by heat blisters that developed over the life of the shingle.
Structural damage is a complicated subject, and there are many causes of loss to consider before settling a claim. Possible perils may include weather events, but many losses can be mistaken for storm damage by the untrained eye. While data from weather events is a useful tool as a starting point for investigation or to corroborate an expert’s conclusions, it isn’t sufficient to determine a cause of loss by itself.
Donan’s licensed forensic engineers leverage the latest technology, the best sources of data, and decades of experience to provide scientific insight into a variety of property losses with perils including hail, wind, lightning, fire, flood, water, and more. Donan Forensic Engineering’s expertise spans from the top down – from the roof to the foundation. Adjusters can feel more confident in making crucial claims decisions after consulting with representatives from our nationwide team. Submit an assignment to take advantage of our quick cycle times, exceptional customer service, and consistent and thorough reports backed by the scientific method.