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Visibility and Astronomical Options for a Forensic Weather Report

Contributed by Patti Robertson, CompuWeather Forensic Order Specialist and Account Executive 

Often our clients handle cases where visibility at the time of the incident needs to be determined.   You may be aware that we can provide meteorological conditions that contribute to visibility, such as precipitation, cloud cover and fog, but did you know that we can provide astronomical information as well?

Most often, we are asked to include the time of sunrise, sunset and civil twilight in our visibility reports, along with an explanation of the term “civil twilight”.  However, in some motor vehicle accidents, for example, one of the parties may claim that the sun was in their eyes, so they couldn’t see the stop sign, or the pedestrian, etc.  In these cases, our meteorologists can determine the position and angle of the sun in the sky at the time of the accident, and for a period of time leading up to it.  When the accident happens at night, we are often asked to include lunar information, such as the time of moonrise/moonset and the phase and position of the moon. Astronomical data, when added to a site-specific weather analysis, provides a complete analysis of visibility at the place and time the loss occurred, and can be invaluable when reconstructing an accident.