I had already earned my Broadcast Seal (now CBM - #334) in 1979 after a stint on the National Public Broadcasting show, "AM Weather." So, I knew the drill, which involved both written and oral testing. In 1993, I earned my CCM (#391). Then, as social media expanded, I obtained a National Weather Association's Digital Media Seal (#1410102D) in 2014.
Serendipity struck, when in 1995, the satellite part of NOAA (where I was working at the time) was in draw-down mode. Not having forward-looking plans in place, I raised my hand and managed to receive an early retirement.
After a year of teaching fifth-grade math and science at a private school (an enlightening experience, I might add), I was queried by a public defender in Washington, DC about serving as an expert witness in a "Fourth Amendment" case.
"Why would you need a meteorologist for a case involving unwarranted search and seizure?" I queried.
The attorney told me that the police had arrested a young man for drug possession and sale. I believe the amount involved was $20. However, the police had marked the weather as being "clear," on the arrest sheet and the attorney had recalled, from her personal experience, that the night was "shrouded in pea-soup fog."
She followed up with, "I need someone that has personality and can explain things easily to a jury. I can't afford to have an O.J. Simpson type of expert witness that puts everyone to sleep. You come highly recommended."
Hence, began my CCM career.
Since that time, with some 150 cases and several court appearances and numerous depositions behind me, I can say that being a CCM is beyond what I had thought it would be. As many of you reading this know, a CCM is actually a meteorological detective, looking for clues in a landscape where an attorney may have started out using airport observations 40 miles away from an incident site. It involves putting these clues together in a cohesive and comprehensive way and then being able to defend them before sometimes tough grilling by opposing counsel. It requires fending off the, thankfully uncommon, attorney who wants you to prove a certain scenario and asks you to find the evidence that he/she specifically wants you to find.
In my journey, I have had attorneys advise me how to dress for certain jury settings, prep for deposition and/or trial (being very cognizant of ensuring that my answers never change), and be sure to talk in terms that typical jurors can understand.
I recall one case in Miami-Dade County in which the District Attorney was questioning me during a six-hour deposition. He had asked me a certain question several times; then, he asked me yet again. I replied, "...you've asked me the same question six times already (yes, I had counted them), and I have answered them the same way each time. I am going to answer the same way for the seventh time..."
The District Attorney rose from the table and walked out of the room. He never returned. Five minutes later, all the remaining parties looked at each other and agreed that the deposition was over.
Perhaps the most unusual case I was involved in focused on strong winds that allegedly caused a boat to be blown off of a dry dock near the Chesapeake Bay. In going to trial, the judge allowed me to perform a tabletop demonstration of a microburst. Following my testimony, opposing counsel came forth and requested that his NEW meteorological expert needed to testify. The judge, being of a creative mind, decided that the new expert could testify, but that I could attend his testimony and then rebut it. That has been the only time I have seen another meteorologist testify at trial.
I know that most, if not all, ACM members have similar types of experiences and that they'll be sharing those in future ACM newsletters. Since we are a unique cadre of scientists, all of our stories should make for fascinating reading. I can't wait for the next installment.