Updated: Aug 24
Meteorologist Daniel Schreiber, CCM, shares his thoughts on finding accurate weather data for first-party property claims, and mistakes to avoid.
Stop shopping for weather. Stop it.
Yes. Weather Shopping.
It’s what we all do when we want the weather to work out for us—whether it be something in the future, like a fishing trip or ball game, or for the past, like an insurance claim. We shop around till we find the favorable weather info that suits us best.
In my early years as a meteorologist, I worked with military pilots.
Pilots want to fly.
When they can’t fly due to bad weather, they aren’t happy.
Some pilots even shop around trying to find some good news weather-wise that allows them to fly, even when the majority of the weather source indicate otherwise. That’s dangerous, and I always discouraged it.
But the same can be said about the insurance industry.
When weather 'shopping' goes wrong
Here, historical weather info often makes or breaks a claim, often worth millions of dollars.
Naturally, the temptation is there—for both insurance carrier, and policyholder, representatives—to go weather shopping for whatever works best for a particular position. This is also dangerous.
I’ve worked over one hundred insurance claims and lawsuits just this year alone, some for carriers and their affiliates, and some for policyholders and their affiliates.
It is extremely common for me to consult on a case for the policyholder and must simply explain that the weather that was hoped for by the policyholder’s team did not occur.
This happens at least once to twice a week. Remember, I’m not an advocate for either side. I’m an unbiased scientist.
This may be a tough thing for some professionals to swallow: I very rarely ever come across an issue working for carriers when I tell them there was bad weather that supports the claim at hand. They may argue about the price, or the damage, but not the weather. I’m just the weatherman.
My experience is that carriers trust an actual meteorologist—especially one that tells the tough truth. Most of the issues I see with carriers, weather-speaking, is when they don’t use a meteorologist.
Ironically, that’s same issue that I see with the policyholder’s side. In fact, I notice more issues with policyholder representatives not accepting unfavorable weather advice than I do carrier representatives.
Interestingly, I’ve even witnessed some lawsuits that are setting precedent in various states with weather information that is clearly incorrect. The lawsuit probably would have never even been filed if both sides of the aisle had simply picked up the phone and dialed a certified meteorologist.
We’re talking multi-million-dollar claims, and incorrect weather that has gone unchecked by an actual professional meteorologist, on both sides.
My point: At the shopping mall, you can find all sorts of different types and brands of whatever you want. On the internet, you can find all sorts of different weather information in different styles and formats for whatever you want. You can shop all day long, and undoubtedly, you will find something that suits your position. And, chances are, the insurance company will do the same for theirs. So, what did you accomplish, really? Nothing. Carriers won’t trust your “weather report” anymore than you trust theirs.
The key: don’t confuse a “weather report” with “weather expertise”. There is a reason that the former is so cheap. It won’t be cheap after spending tens of thousands of dollars fighting a claim based on the wrong data that can’t even defend itself.
This is because these cheap, automated reports are largely built around weather algorithms—some which are outdated, untested, or otherwise contested (or “trade secret”, so who knows?)—and often do not indicate anything about the ground-truth weather.
Suggestions, on how to find better data
I could write a book about how inaccurate some of the most popular “weather reports” used by Public Adjusters are—but I won’t. It would be hideous. I’ve started to personally doubt the legal system from some the craziness I’ve seen in the courts based on trusting these reports. You would probably begin to doubt every claim you’ve submitted, and every lawsuit every filed. So, instead, let’s look optimistically to the future:
I recommend first to review data from the National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS), including the Storm Events Database (about a 3-4 month lag) and the NWS Storm Prediction Center Storm Reports (real-time, and historical). This is ground-truth data. The exact locations aren’t always perfect, but you get a good idea of storms dates and the wind/hail caliber, if they were observed.
It’s not perfect, but it is solid data from the authoritative meteorological source in the US.
And yes, you may have to speak with a meteorologist. It may cost a little bit. But you’ll get a solid answer from an educated professional—preferably one qualified as an expert witness, if need be.
Why? Public Adjusters are valuable to the industry because they understand how insurance policies work. The same is true about meteorologists—we’re the experts in the weather which may (or may not) have caused the peril resulting in the insurance claim.
If you’re looking for recommendations, I think that the company Hail Trace is one of the best affordable options. But ask to speak with a meteorologist, don’t just use their automated “algorithm” products—use the hand-analyzed stuff, and speak with them, if you can.
For a more robust, but also more expensive option (including expert witness services), I highly recommend finding a meteorologist with “PhD” or “CCM” after their name. Unfortunately, there are a few “meteorologists” out there that (in my opinion) shouldn’t be (like any profession). A list of Certified Consulting Meteorologists (CCM’s) can be found at www.certifiedmeteorologists.org.
In case you’re wondering—cheap, automated weather reports do have one advantage—they are an extremely affordable option to at least identifying potential dates in which storms occurred. My experience is that they miss a few (especially wind), and exaggerate most of what they do find, but for less than $50, what can you really expect?
So next time you find yourself shopping for weather…
About the author: Daniel Schreiber is American Meteorological Society Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM), one of only a very select few in the state of Texas and the Southern United States.
Attorneys, insurance professionals, and other consultants from the insurance, aviation, transportation, emergency management, and energy industries routinely work with Daniel, regarding weather consulting and forensic meteorology investigations.