Forensic Meteorology Is Not Just For Solving Murders

Meteorologists study the science of weather. Forensic meteorology is the applied science of weather, in particular it is the retrospective study of weather conditions at a specific point in the past. It is most frequently applied to figure out what the weather was doing at the time a crime was committed. Used in this way, it can sometimes help to catch a criminal. Forensic meteorologists examine atmospheric data, statements by eyewitnesses and historic data about the prevailing weather conditions at a specific time and place.

It may surprise fans of popular detective series\’ that their favorite television crime-stoppers are using the same methods that are employed in real life. It\’s not all glamorous murder cases. Sometimes these forensic weather professionals help insurance companies identify cases of fraud.

This branch of meteorology makes a fulfilling career opportunity for people who are fascinated by the science of weather but who do not necessarily see themselves in front of a television camera telling the public whether or not they will need an umbrella on a particular day. Consultants may find themselves offering expert testimony in court one day and putting together maps of lightning strikes the next.

Still not convinced weather is interesting? Consider this case of a lawsuit pressed by a farmer against a Presbyterian minister. The preacher had led a group of people in prayer to make it rain in a community that had been suffering from a drought. Hours later, a cloudburst dumped two inches of rain and wiped out a bridge in the process. Unfortunately, lightning struck the farmer\’s barn and burned it to the ground. The farmer unsuccessfully claimed $50,000 damages, but the case was thrown out because the people had prayed only for rain, not lightning. That was a gift from God.

The data that meteorologists gather is gathered hourly at local airports and summarized in reports called, \”Official Surface Weather Observations.\” These measurements include how deep were the snow and ice, what was the temperature, how high was the cloud cover and what percentage of the sky did it cover, how fast the wind was blowing and from what direction, and so on. Experts also gather information from private weather stations.

In the courtroom, weather experts need to be prepared to answer all sorts of questions about the weather before, during or even after a particular incident took place. They may be asked about wind speeds, or if snow melted and then refroze. They need to be prepared to answer questions about whether the plowing contractor met their specifications, or if a storm on a certain day was normal for the time of year or if it was a once in a century type of event.

Members of the public who are so inclined can make a substantive contribution to crime-solving by joining a network of volunteers and institutions that observe and document the weather 24 hours a day. This network is known as the Cooperative Observer Program. The data that these people gather is used to reinforce the official reports.

Meteorologists are not the only scientists who are qualified to achieve public notoriety. The fields of forensic engineering, astronomy, geology and other disciplines are all used in the quest for truth, justice and 15 minutes of fame.

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