Weather and Scientific Evidence Around Various Disasters – Paul Beers and Howard Altschule
Listen as, Paul Beers, CEO and Managing Member for GCI Consultants speaks Howard Altschule, CEO, Certified Consulting Meteorologist at Forensic Weather Consultants, CE Instructor. They will discuss various weather disasters and their scientific evidence.
About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.
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Paul: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. This is Paul Beers, CEO and managing member for GCI Consultants, and I will be your host today. I’m really excited to have, as our guest, Howard Altschule. And Howard’s the CEO and a certified consulting meteorologist from Forensic Weather Consultants, LLC. Howard, welcome.
Howard: Hey, thank you very much, Paul. I appreciate being on the podcast with you.
Paul: Yeah, it’s gonna be great. So we’ve got a really interesting topic today, which is all about weather and scientific evidence around various disasters. I know hurricanes are obviously on everybody’s mind, but there’s other types of things I think we might talk about as well. But Howard, before we do that, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself, and then we’ll go into the topic.
Howard: Sure. As you mentioned, I’m a certified consulting meteorologist and the CEO and owner of Forensic Weather Consultants. Forensic Weather Consultants is one of the leading weather expert firms in the country where we provide weather data, weather records, meteorological analyses for a specific incident location, written reports that adhere to the federal rules of evidence, affidavits, deposition, testimony, and trial testimony. It’s a lot to digest there, but pretty much we are the go-to people for weather records and finding out what the weather was in regards to some incident or accident insurance claim or lawsuit. We also do some side projects for private corporations or government agencies, but, you know, by and far, we’re expert witnesses in the field of meteorology.
I received my Bachelor of Science degree from the State University of New York in Albany back in 1995. And I obtained and was granted my certified consulting meteorologist designation, which is the highest designation a consulting meteorologist can get, several years ago at an American Meteorological Society Conference. My company, Forensic Weather Consultants, we have, including myself, five full-time meteorologists, and we’re all working on forensics all around the country. And with all the crazy weather, we’ve been very, very, very busy with many different types of cases, not only from building envelope issues, but to motor vehicle accidents, boat accidents, plane crashes, slip and falls, and everything in-between.
Paul: So, Howard, you’ve…I know the answer to this, but I don’t know that all our listeners do, have you testified as an expert in court before?
Howard: Yes, I’ve testified in court. Let’s see, I testified a few weeks ago in Western New York. And that was my, I believe, 96th trial. So testified live in trial 96 times with about 76 or 77 other deposition testimonies and other matters.
Paul: Wow, that’s a big number.
Howard: Yeah, it is.
Paul: I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m pretty happy to say I’ve testified a lot, but not that much. So, good for you.
Howard: Yeah, it’s very interesting for sure. And the testimonies range in everything from arbitrations to, of course, lawsuits and trials, for the most part, but I’ve also testified in homicide trials, three of those, including a double homicide case, as well as a U.S. Air Force court-martial hearing where I was the expert for the prosecution for the U.S. Air Force and then motor vehicle accident case. So really interesting history of testimony for me.
Paul: Wow. So what’s the difference between a certified consulting meteorologist and just a regular meteorologist, I guess I’d say?
Howard: Sure. Yeah. A certified consulting meteorologist means that you’ve gone through the entire certification process with the American Meteorological Society. And basically, you have to apply, you have to have a minimal number of years of experience, be referred by other meteorologists with letters of recommendation if you would. You then have to take a 25-essay written examination and then also provide a technical research paper explaining your methodology and basically showing the panel of other CCMs that you know what you’re talking about. And then if you pass all that, you’re invited to go and give an oral exam at the annual conference for the AMS where, you know, the whole board can pretty much grill you on all kinds of questions from the way back in college all the way…you know.
And a certified consulting meteorologist basically allows users like you, Paul Beers, and we worked on some cases together, and attorneys and adjusters and insurance carriers and anybody else who is considering hiring us, it gives you confidence that we know what we’re talking about, that we have the scientific and educational background to do a thorough and reliable job, and that we adhere to the best ethical standards possible. So really, anybody, TV person, or someone who has no experience in forensics could look up the weather at the local airport and then just use that, but that’s not the right way to do things. And, you know, we go way beyond that, as you know, and having the CCM tells people that, “Yeah, you know, Howard Altschule knows the right way to do this. And he’s very reliable and you can count on him.” It was something very hard to obtain, but, you know, well worth it, well worth it.
Paul: So, now, you refer to a forensic meteorologist or a forensic…my reference is forensic meteorology report. So talk about the forensic part, what does that mean?
Howard: Basically, you know, if we’re given an incident location that suffered water intrusion or roof damage or something along those lines, we go back and we get numerous types of weather data and weather records from a variety of weather stations, Doppler radar images, surface observations, NOAA reports, storm reports, hourly information, dual-pol radar, and we do an analysis for some time in the past regarding an incident that occurred in the past. But we do that analysis to figure out what the weather conditions were right at the incident location itself. So most people traditionally, adjusters and engineers just use, you know, a NOAA storm report some miles away, or an airport wind observation, which often is very, very different from what occurred at an incident location. So we go back and we get all this data and tell our clients what happens some date and time in the past at a specific incident location. And that’s really what forensic meteorology is.
Paul: So if we take, for example…well, we’ll start, I guess, with a hurricane, what kind of data do you ultimately report? And why should someone do that as opposed to, as you say, looking it up at the local airport or whatnot?
Howard: A lot of times you have localized effects from different banding in hurricanes, different squalls, different downbursts. You can even have some tornadoes on the outer bands in the right front quadrant of a storm that may not get reported at the airport. And quite often, it’s not. Those type of tornadoes are typically, you know, short-lived and only last a few minutes and go over maybe a few miles. And it’s extremely rare that they go over an airport where it might report it. But even the outer bands where there’s a microburst or something like that that affects an incident location, we can track where those bands and where the eyewall and where the wind are over an incident location and based on not only airport wind observations but, you know, in the case, for instance, of Hurricane Irma, you know, we had hundreds of other wind observations from different types of weather stations that we were able to use to extrapolate and determine what was going on at a specific incident location.
Now, for that analysis, we’re also able to look at Doppler radar and see if, you know, any microbursts or downbursts occurred at that incident location that maybe would’ve caused a much higher wind gust, or a much higher windspeed, or a tornado to occur. So I’ll give you an example, and basically, let’s talk about, you know, where you might have a storm report from, you know, 5 miles away, where there was a downburst, or a very high wind event. Even during a hurricane, perhaps, you may not have the outer eyewall go over that property where that wind report was, but it might have gone over the incident location. So, you know, the winds can change speeds very, very drastically over short distances, and that’s what we’ll find out.
Now, in so many of the cases we work on, you know, we see a lot of reports from non-meteorologists that rely on an airport observation or a NOAA report a number of miles away, and many, many times, they miss what was actually occurring at the incident location itself. So we’re able to button all that up and give a site-specific report. There’s been, you know, lots and lots of, you know, issues with storm reports being, you know, not representative of what occurred at the incident location, hailstorms, for instance, where, you know, an $800,000 roof claim at a condo, for instance, was paid by an insurance carrier, and the plaintiff’s attorney hired us to try and get coverage for the rest of the buildings for wind damage. And when we pulled up Doppler radar, we found that that severe thunderstorm never came within 2 miles of the condominium development. So, to this date, the insurance carrier still doesn’t know they paid $800,000 for a hailstorm that never actually went over the property despite what that NOAA storm report said 2 miles away. That’s just the example of a needle in the haystack. We’ll find that out.
Paul: Sounds like they should have gotten a forensic meteorology reporter.
Howard: Yeah, for $1,000, $2,000 to save $800 grand. Yeah, I think that would’ve been money well spent for them. And that’s just one example. There’s so many others I could go into.
Paul: Well, that’s one of the things, you know, that I always do, and it’s one of the reasons that we obviously have worked together is, you know, I wanna know what the conditions are specifically at that site, not some airport 8 miles away and gives you obviously a much better basis for forming any conclusions or opinions or whatever.
Howard: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think, you know, for instance, with the Irma cases we work on, as I mentioned, there’s hundreds of wind observations, you know, peak wind reports around the State of Florida. But on average, you know, we look at probably three, four, five, maybe six different hourly weather stations and extrapolate all this data and prepare hour-by-hour tables of not only windspeeds and wind gusts, but also the directions the winds were coming from at a specific loss location, which I think is very valuable for the work you do and what engineers do, for instance.
Paul: For sure. You mentioned hail, let’s talk about hail a little bit. So if there’s a report of a hail event, you know, wherever it occurs, what kind of information can you provide around a hailstorm?
Howard: Well, we can provide, you know, when the thunderstorm occurred, how strong it was, when exactly it was most intense at the actual, you know, loss location, or incident location, what the largest hail size was at that property, and also what were the windspeeds like, what were the wind gusts like? Did it cause the hail to fall from different angles and different directions? You know, what was the terminal velocity of the hail as it fell to the ground based on the size and the winds? We can, you know, give opinions in our reports and information in our reports that answer all those questions. And it’s very different than, say, a CoreLogic report that’s just an automated algorithm. You know, we see that a lot and we often have a very large difference of opinions with what, you know, some of those automated hail reports show. And even some other meteorologists, there’s, you know, some other CCMs out there, certified consulting meteorologists that, you know, miss some really crucial information that makes or breaks a case.
And, you know, we, we find those needles in haystack, and I think that’s why we get so many repeat clients and referrals because of the attention to detail that we go into to figure out exactly what was going on. You know, Paul, I like to say it’s like a detective, you know, at a homicide. You know, we piece together all the evidence and look for those little clues, except we apply those to, you know, weather and insurance claims and lawsuits. But, you know, we dig deep and examine everything to try and find, you know, those little clues that make or break a case that really tell the truth about what was going on. So, you know, that’s the value we bring.
Paul: Yeah, you mentioned the CoreLogic and the algorithm and whatnot, don’t they have a disclaimer in the fine print that says it could be a 20% variation from whatever they’re reporting?
Howard: Yeah, I know they say, you know, that they’re reporting…
Paul: Something like that.
Howard: Yeah, there’s a disclaimer that says, you know, cannot guarantee that their report is free of errors or emissions. That’s in the fine print at the end. And I recall seeing a CoreLogic wind report in the Rowlett, Texas tornado, for instance. And we were working on a claim, and I think the wind report at this property was like 44 miles per hour, the highest winds on that date. Meanwhile, you know, that actual house that we were researching was part of NOAA’s tornado survey, and they measured it at EF2 tornado strength, so very, very different from what the 44 mile per hour, you know, automated CoreLogic report showed. You know, sometimes they’re fairly accurate, but, you know, sometimes they’re way off. And all users should know that back in, you know, 2017 they upgraded their technology to version 2.0, which they sent a press release out and put on their website. And when they did that, it changed all the hail sizes, not all of them, but it changed most of the hail sizes and dates when those hail events occurred for the same exact incident location.
So if I ordered, you know, a report for your house, Paul, before they did that upgrade and it said golf ball sized hail, 1.75 inch on June 5th, 2016, the next day after that upgrade occurred, if I ordered the same report for the same date, it might show no hail at your house on that same June 2016 date. And we’ve had a lot where we’ve actually shown that it’s, you know, not reliable and, you know, our methodology is superior and accurate, and that’s just one of, you know, many issues with these automated products. Not all of them. I mean, we have an automated hail report too, but if the case is a large loss or in litigation or we get retained to work on a case, you know, that’s only a small reference point, our automated hail report. We look at the raw data, you know, just to ensure the accuracy of our opinions.
Paul: So I like to play golf. I think I just learned something that the diameter of a golf ball is 1.75 inches.
Howard: There you go. Exactly. Yeah, so we had to figure what was hail and what was a golf ball for those houses on the golf course, right?
Paul: I’ve been on a hurricane inspection before where I went into the condo and, you know, the glass was broken, and I was looking at it and I figured it out pretty quick when I found a golf ball lying on the carpet inside the window…
Howard: That’s right.
Paul: …what caused that wasn’t hail. It wasn’t hail.
Howard: No, not hail. And if there is a claim of…So here’s the interesting thing. A lot of times when we get a claim, you know, we get retained by defense attorneys and insurance carriers also. A lot of times, you know, there’d be a claim for a date of loss when there was not even a thunderstorm anywhere nearby. And they, you know, the other side may be relying on a storm report from 5 miles away of golf ball sized hail. Well, anybody that knows the way thunderstorms are, you know, if you get a supercell thunderstorm, or one of those pop-up thunderstorms in Florida, for instance, you could get hail 5 miles away and it may not even rain at the incident location. So that’s always something that comes up frequently and always very interesting piece of information that, you know, our clients like to know, regardless of whether they’re, you know, on the policyholder side or on the insurance carrier side.
Paul: Yeah, well, I remember I had a tornado claim in Texas and it was a big building, and we went out and we looked at the building and they weren’t showing us a lot of damage. And I got, you know, a site-specific report and the tornado was like two blocks away, which doesn’t really work, does it?
Howard: No, it doesn’t. And I’ll use another South Florida example where, you know, an engineer was looking at the weather report from the airport, and it was a wind damage claim. And he said that a tornado affected the property on this date because here it is on the Weather Underground report from this airport. You know, I think it was Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, FLL. When we got retained, you know, we pulled the raw data from that weather station in addition to Doppler radar, and when we did our analysis, the control tower operator at Fort Lauderdale said waterspout 10 miles east, which means it was 10 miles east of the tower which placed it over the ocean. And when we looked at Doppler radar, we saw this line of showers and weak thunderstorms just sitting stationary and that’s what was producing that waterspout. So, somebody, some engineer interpreted that as…you know, it showed up as tornado on Weather Underground, so they assumed that this tornado also occurred 2 miles away from the airport, which it didn’t. It was over the ocean.
Paul: That’s why he’s an engineer, not a meteorologist probably.
Howard: Yeah, it was an engineer and the historical trend is, or has been, for engineers to rely on…you know, to look on weather data themselves, right? And they’re not meteorologists and they can’t do the site-specific weather analysis. So they just have to rely on the storm reports from, you know, a number of miles away or the airport. To their credit, many, many more engineers, whether they’re working for, you know, plaintiff’s attorneys or insurance carriers, you know, they’re requesting that we get retained to do a weather analysis so that they can use our findings in their reports, or they can use our findings in their calculation of windspeed and pressure and hail size at the property. And it’s what I like to call a well-oiled machine. And, you know, you and I gave a presentation up in Rhode Island a couple years ago, Paul, and we used some of these examples. And I’m happy to say that we’re being retained by many, many more engineering firms who want a more reliable weather data package that they can use so that if they go testify there won’t be any reliability or qualification issues with the court.
Paul: Yeah, no, I mean, also I’ll give you a plug here on that. That’s the only way to really have reliable and credible information. And if you don’t do that, you’re setting yourself up for a big problem if somebody else went and hired a forensic meteorologist and got the right answers and you were incorrect, so you can’t really take a chance on something like that. If you wanna provide accurate testimony and accurate opinions, then you need to have accurate data, obviously.
Howard: Absolutely. And if you don’t have the accurate data and you don’t rely on…you know, if you’re not qualified to give those opinions, a lot of times, or at least sometimes, you know, we’ve seen some engineers in Texas and Florida, unfortunately, get Daubert challenged out of a case successfully. And, you know, we’ve been on the other side of some of those, but it’s real interesting and it’s becoming a more common issue, which I think is why we’re getting called more often to do the weather. People are realizing it’s not a $10,000 invoice that we’re gonna be submitting for this. It’s very, very reasonable and it’s well worth it for them to retain us.
Paul: Yeah, and the big picture, it’s really inconsequential and, you know, the value you get out of it is exponential for what you have to pay for it.
Howard: Yeah, it really is, especially, you know, like bad faith claims. If there ends up being a bad faith lawsuit or something like that, you know, we have our insurance company clients, you know, they wanna avoid that. So, you know, they retain us to find out what was going on. And, you know, we tell it the way it is so they could decide whether they should settle a claim, you know, or defend it.
Paul: One of my favorite statements, “It is what it is.”
Howard: It is what it is. Exactly.
Paul: Yep, yeah. So we’ve talked a lot about wind. So, in a hurricane, wind’s not the only hazard, obviously, there’s storm surge and things like that. You get involved in that aspect of it as well?
Howard: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we’re involved in, you know, tons of cases down in the Florida Keys, we’ve done some in the Miami area, some Hurricane Michael work over by Mexico Beach, Florida, Pensacola, and we’re getting some more cases now from Hurricane Ida, and even some other ones earlier than that. I think we’re getting a Hurricane Sally case coming in today that we’re working on. But you’re right, not just winds, there’s tornadoes that are usually very common in tropical storms or hurricanes, especially in that what we call the right front quadrant or the northeast quadrant. A lot of people like to refer to it as the dirty side of a storm.
And we have, in addition to that, the storm surge, like you mentioned, and we go back and we’ll determine what the storm surge was, or the storm tide at the property. And then also determine what the storm tide levels were, how high was the water at the actual house or building hour by hour, and then compare that with what the windspeeds were hour by hour to see which came first, how strong were the winds before the storm tide, you know, reached the property. And, you know, we don’t just do weather, I mean, like I said, a needle in the haystack is what we, you know, strive to, you know, be perfect with. So we’ll often request, you know, surveys of a property to find out what the NAVD 88 levels are of the property and heights above sea level above NAVD 88 so that we can do those reliable calculations. And, you know, it’s worth its weight in gold. We’ve had some very, very happy clients when they found out what we can do and basically we proved their case.
Paul: So the classic argument in coastal hurricane-prone losses oftentimes is did the wind destroy the house, or was it the storm surge? Because it’s almost always two different insurance companies and, you know, so two different coverages. So are you able to dial it into that level of figuring out what’s going on?
Howard: Oh, absolutely. I know we have…you know, I’ll give a plug for our website, you know, www.weatherconsultants.com. We’ve got sample reports for all these types of cases on our website, including a wind and storm surge case. But yeah, we put together tables in our report that will show the highest sustained winds every hour, the highest wind gust or peak wind speed every hour. And then what the storm tide was, how high was the water every hour? So our clients, you know, can find out exactly side-by-side comparison, apples to apples about what was going on. And it’s really, it’s remarkable, the detail we can get in into by looking at, you know, buoy stations and seaman stations, National Ocean Service reports, high watermark reports from the U.S. Geological Survey, and we combine that with NOAA data.
And just to give you an idea on the accuracy, this is one of the, you know, proud moment I’ve had recently. We were working on a case in the Virgin Islands about a month-and-a-half ago, and we found an error in the National Hurricane Center’s post-tropical cyclone report that is edited and prepared. So we reached out to them, explained why we think there was an error, and they…the thing is that we look a lot of different types of weather data. We look at buoys, buoy observations, seaman station observations, National Ocean Service observations, buoy data, like I mentioned, U.S. Geological Survey, high watermark data. And then we get the survey…like I mentioned earlier to you. We get at the survey for each property if it’s available to see, you know, how high is the cement slab above NAVD 88?
And using that, we can figure out, you know, when the water reached that property. And our hurricane reports calculate hour by hour what the sustained winds were every hour, what the highest windspeeds or wind gusts were every hour, and then also what the storm tide level was every hour at the property. So now you have an apples-to-apples comparison of sustained winds, wind gusts, and what the storm surge or storm tide level was at each specific property. So now you can make, you know, important decisions about what came first. Did the wind come first, or the surge, or the water? Those are questions that we can answer, and we’re involved in a lot of cases where we do that, and our clients are usually thrilled with the attention to detail that we can find and give them with that information.
Paul: Yeah, that’s really cool. I actually didn’t realize that you could do that. So that makes a lot of sense.
Howard: Yeah, and that’s like that needle in the haystack that we were talking about. You know, we’d like to go above and beyond and, you know, find the little fine details that can make or break a case. So, you know, we contact our attorney clients and we say, “Hey, can we have a copy of the survey?” And sometimes they may not even have it, and they’ll go, you know, get it from the building department, give it to us, and then it’s extremely useful. So that’s just an example of what we do with the wind and, you know, versus water storm surge cases.
Paul: So, shifting gears here, last year, there was an event that I had never heard of in Iowa, and I’m gonna try not to mispronounce it, a derecho.
Howard: Yeah, derecho.
Paul: Derecho, close. And like I sort of know now, but I was saying to myself, “What in the heck was that?” I know it had 100-plus mile an hour winds. So what was that all about? I know you’ve worked on some cases there also.
Howard: Yeah, we’re doing a lot of cases in Iowa, and that derecho actually, you know, moved across the Northern Plains there across the Great Lakes down into the Midwest. And basically, a derecho is…you know, well, we have a couple things. We have a small thunderstorm that can produce a downburst or wind damage over maybe a 1 or 2-square-mile area, then you have, for instance, a bow echo, which is an arcing line of precipitation and wind that often has, you know, colder, stronger winds coming down from the upper atmosphere and, you know, crashing to the ground and then pushing that precipitation outward. You know, that can give you a larger area or a larger area of wind damage. And then you have a derecho, which is a much larger-scale wind event. It’s very widespread, it’s long lived. It usually lasts for, you know, over a number of states as a well-organized continuous system. And it just produces, you know, large areas of wind damage and destruction.
Usually, the wind damage swaths extends over 240 miles. So it just gives you an idea of how big an area these derechos can occur. And usually, you need a very unstable atmosphere with, you know, high temperatures, high dew points, very high what we call CAPE, which is convective available potential energy, and you need good dynamics to kick off those thunderstorms. And once you get the perfect ingredients and strong winds aloft, you get these thunderstorms that form. They form into a line, and then they just organize into a derecho and last for many, many hours of 12, 18 hours as they sweep across many states. And in Iowa, they got hit really, really hard, like you said, over 100 mile an hour winds.
So we’re involved in a lot of cases there, where, you know, certain structures were rated up to a certain windspeed. And even if they’re rated up to 125 miles per hour, you know, we find, in some of those instances, that the winds only gusted to 100 miles per hour. So now, you have a…you know, is it a product liability, defective product case, subrogation case? All those things come into play and, you know, knowing what those wind speeds were, even if it’s 100 miles an hour, you know, can be very important to our clients.
Paul: Yeah, 100 mile an hour is pretty good, pretty intense winds.
Howard: Oh, yeah. Yeah. But if you have windows that are rated in a high rise to 125 miles per hour, for instance, or a radio tower, or some sort of structure and it doesn’t get that high and it’s damaged, then that becomes an issue according to what our client say. You know, as you know, we’re not engineers and we don’t pretend to be engineers, or building consultants or experts, so we wouldn’t determine, you know, whether the damage, you know, was caused by those high winds. We would just give the opinions about what the windspeeds were, what the weather conditions were, what the wind gusts were, and then let some, you know, expert determine, you know, should the windows have been sustaining that kind of damage or not? But again, it’s a well-oiled machine like we talked about before. We provide the weather, you provide the building envelope, you know, information and the structural information and the attorneys put that all together, or the insurance carriers put that all together and have a nice case.
Paul: And the argument begins.
Howard: Yeah, exactly. And when you have these really reliable reports that we’ve been discussing, it’s really hard to rebut them. You know, it’s really hard to say no if you’re relying on, you know, solid evidence and, as we say, sound scientific principles in the field of science.
Paul: And that’s a million percent correct. You know, I always say, “Try to overwhelm the other side with the facts.” And, you know, if you’ve got the facts and you’ve got it right, then obviously, you know, that’s gonna present a clear picture and credible picture of what you’re trying to present.
Howard: Even if you’re called to be deposed and right from the get-go, you’re relying on solid data and solid methodology, you’ll be fine. And usually, the person deposing you is going to see that you know what you’re talking about and oftentimes, you know, some decisions are made about, you know, cases after those depositions. So it’s important to know what you’re talking about and have, you know, reliable foundation as they say.
Paul: And conversely, if you don’t have it, you can get burned.
Howard: You can get burned or thrown out of a case. And yeah, that wouldn’t be so good for your credibility.
Paul: Let’s put your expert hat on for a second here, and I know you’ve mentioned, you know, doing the site work and reports and depos. So what does a full-scale expert witness assignment typically look like for you as far as what you need to do and what are the things that happen along the way?
Howard: Well, we often get retained either by a public adjuster or an engineer or an attorney and, you know, they have a date of loss and they need to know what the hail size was on that date of loss at this property. And, you know, we start off by getting lots and lots of different types of weather data, surface observations, airport observations, Mesonet winds readings, then we get Doppler radar images, and incidentally, Paul, we plot each incident location that we’re retained on. We plot it on top of the Doppler radar images that are, you know, taken or processed every one to five minutes or so. And so we’re able to see exactly where the storms moved, if they went over the property, how strong they were.
And not only just, you know, looking at the normal radar, like what you see on TV during the weather, but we have many different radar products like base velocity, which shows us winds. We have differential reflectivity that shows us shapes and hail in a thunderstorm. We have correlation coefficient that those radar images are color coded, and, you know, they show us what’s up in the atmosphere. Is it all correlated together like rain and just rain, or if it shows us a different value within a certain threshold, it may be showing that there’s an area of hail or debris in a tornado that shows up on correlation coefficient. So all of this information and then looking at the structure of the thunderstorm, you know, from the ground up to 50,000 feet, using that with all the research we’ve learned and, you know, established papers and etc., as well as storm reports at the grounds, we’ll give an opinion about what the hail size was.
Now, there’s also a lot of research that shows the majority of storm reports, whether they’re hail or winds, don’t get reported to the national weather service, right? Not everybody, or i’d say the majority of people don’t go out, measure the hail, and then call the National Weather Service, or if they do, they wait for the storm to end so they don’t get, you know, clobbered on the head with hail. And by the time they get out there, it already started melting a lot of times. And that has implications because the hail still may have hit the roof at 1.75 inch. But by the time someone maybe got out and measured it, either it wasn’t reported to the National Weather Service or the closest report was, you know, 2 miles away, like that example I used earlier, or maybe it started melting and, you know, they estimated the hail size.
So we’ll go and do the research and then answer those questions about, “All right, how large was the hail at the property?” And it’s based on, you know, science and evidence and meteorology, and that’s crucial for those types of cases. Once we report back to you or our client with our findings, in addition to, you know, what the windspeeds were in that same thunderstorm, was the hail coming from different angles, a lot of times we’re asked to prepare what we call a federal rule 26 type report, which basically follows the guidelines of federal court. So our expert reports are in admissible format and everything’s relied upon and lined up the way it should be for use in those types of cases, and then those reports are usually given to engineers, or the other side, or exchanged to whatever party it may be. And that’s kind of the way we do these analyses for each case. And that could be applied to hurricane cases, wind cases, rainfall cases, flooding cases, you know, wildfires, all kinds of different things.
Paul: Have you ever been subjected to a Daubert challenge?
Howard: I have, a few times, I think three out of…get this, I think 3 times out of 7,000 cases that I’ve worked on, and never successful. You know, I found that a lot of the times, you know, unfortunately, it was an attorney’s last ditch effort to try and get me removed from the case because they knew their, you know, case was in trouble. And you know, when the judge denied the motion, the case is settled almost within a couple days for a very, very, very large sum.
Paul: Yeah. So Daubert is now the standard for experts in Florida on all cases, not just federal court. So Daubert challenges are flying all over the place now and…
Howard: Yeah, some engineers, unfortunately, you know, there’s some, you know, reputable ones that are well-known, they’ve gotten, you know, thrown out just recently on Daubert challenge. And I know that because, you know, we were involved in that case and, you know, there was an engineer playing meteorologist and they had their facts all messed up. One said a tornado affected a property, except the tornado was like 3 miles away from the house. And the tornado itself was only, you know, 100 yards wide. So it would have to be a 3-mile wide tornado for it to affect the house. And this was in the engineer’s own report talking about radar and all these things. So that, unfortunately, didn’t end up well for him.
Paul: Well, probably deserved it if you’re putting incorrect information in. Yeah, I’ve had the Daubert thing myself and it’s actually a feather in your cap when you go through it successfully. It’s kind of like a, you know, validation that you did things right. I had a competitor recently bragging that his company had never been Daubert challenged thinking that was good and it’s really not. You know, you wanna be battle-tested and it’s just part of the process. Nothing to be ashamed of if you get Daubert challenged, not if you get kicked out, there’s some shame involved there I think.
Howard: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, there is. But yeah, to be Daubert challenged, yeah, like you said, it’s a feather in the cap, and it means that the judges agree that you did the right kind of job and the right kind of methodology and that a jury should be hearing what you have to say. That’s really what it comes down to. You know, the judges, they call it the gatekeeper. And as long as we, as experts, can explain what was going on and we’re qualified to explain what was going on, we used the right methodology and the right types of data, then we’re deemed qualified to tell a jury or the court what our opinions are, and then they can make a decision about whether if there’s coverage or not coverage, whatever they do in the jury box for civil cases.
Paul: Yeah, so, I mean, you’ve gotta basically dot all your Is and cross all your Ts. And if you’re working on a weather event, that’s the reason you would want to get obviously a site-specific meteorological report by somebody who’s qualified so that, you know, you do get that correct.
Howard: Yeah, it’s so important. You could have a $1.5 million hail claim just to fall apart. Even if there was hail, it would fall apart if you don’t have the right experts or the right information. And that $800,000 hail claim I spoke with you about earlier, that’s just one of many cases that we’ve had where, you know, we’ve proven that there wasn’t any hail. And it happens in the Southern Mississippi Valley as well, where there’ll be a date of loss for, you know, a government complex of buildings and the date of loss, there was no hail. So then in a case we’re working on then, they submitted a new date of loss, and we were asked to go research that, no hail. Then they did it again, different date of loss. There were showers and thunderstorms but, you know, quarter-sized hail, 0.25 inch. You know, according to the engineers, not enough to do damage to those government buildings. I don’t know where that case is now, but, you know, it just shows you the value. You know, we were told that we saved them, so far, $8 million.
Paul: Wow. Yeah, if you’re gonna have a hail claim, you probably need to have hail, right?
Howard: You need to have hail, yeah. And I can’t stress how important it is not to just rely on a storm report, you know, from NOAA, you know, 3 miles away, or the Severe Weather Database Inventory, which a lot of people get confused with. They see these hail algorithms and markers that say, you know, “1.75-inch hail, you know, 2 miles from the property,” and they don’t realize that that’s just an algorithm for what’s being measured aloft and it could have false alarms. It often does have false alarms. But they use that as evidence to show that there was hail, and a lot of times they’re dead wrong.
Paul: Yeah, really interesting. Well, Howard, thank you so much for coming on today. Really interesting to catch up and talk about how important it is to get good information around weather events.
Howard: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. And, you know, I guess in closing, every good expert should work for either, both sides, the plaintiffs and defense. And that’s what we do. We often get called by both sides of the same case. So I think that’s a feather in our cap as well, that’s something all professionals should hang their hat on and be happy about. So we’re happy to provide this service and just tell what the weather was, as I say.
Paul: So if somebody wants to get a hold of you or hire you or your company, how would they go about doing that?
Howard: Give us a call. Our office number is 518-862-1800. Again, 518-862-1800, or send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or just go to our webpage and it has all the information right there, or they could call you, Paul, and you could give them our information.
Paul: They could.
Howard: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. Yeah, we always enjoy working with you. You know, it’s nice to have different professionals working on the same case. You know, it always works out good and you’re always a great person to work with. So we appreciate…
Paul: Likewise, likewise.
Howard: We appreciate the work. Yeah, thank you.
Paul: Yeah, thanks again for coming on. And I’d also like to thank everyone for listening to our podcast today. And if you want more information about our company, GCI Consultants, you can find it on our website at www.gciconsultants.com, or you can give us a call at 877-740-9990. Thank you once again. I look forward to talking with everyone next time on “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. And this is Paul Beers saying so long.