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MOOOOOONSHINE

On a rural stretch of highway in Tennessee, a pick-up truck ran into a cow that had wandered out of a nearby pasture and onto the shoulder of the road. The driver of the pick-up sustained injuries as a result of the crash, and the truck itself was heavily damaged. The driver retained the services of an attorney, who filed suit against the farmer that owned the cow. In addition, the county in which the accident took place was also named in the suit, citing inadequate lighting on the road. The driver claimed that he could not see the cow “until the last moment” because of how dark it was. The accident had taken place at 1:30am. Attorneys working for the insurance carrier that underwrote the policy covering the county contacted CompuWeather. They wanted to know what factor, if any, the weather played that night.

After going through the details of the accident, the meteorologist assigned to the case suggested that an analysis of the Moon and how much light it provided be included in the report. The weather was clear that night, with no fog, haze or other natural obscuration present. That would prove to be an important point when combined with the result of the astronomical portion of the analysis. The meteorologist determined that the Moon was in between its Waxing Gibbous and Full phases, meaning that approximately 87% of the surface was illuminated that evening, at an angle of 70 degrees above the horizon. In plain language, “a lot” of natural light would have been present.

Defense attorneys, at the suggestion of CompuWeather, retained a lighting reconstruction expert. Working in conjunction with CompuWeather’s forecasting division, the expert was able to take his light meter readings, on a night when the weather was similar to that which existed on the night of the accident, and when the Moon was in a similar position and phase. It took more than six months for those conditions to come together, but the CompuWeather forecast office kept track of the weather and was able to alert the expert days in advance. After presenting the weather and lighting evidence, it was eventually determined that a lack of lighting did not play a factor in causing the accident that night, and the county was deemed not liable in the matter. The driver eventually settled with the farmer. The cow, sadly, did not survive the ordeal.