Hi, I'm Dave Thurlow and this is The Weather Notebook. Today, I have a true story about a lawsuit over lightning in New York State during a prolonged drought in the mid-1880s. On a hot, cloudless August afternoon, a Presbyterian minister named Duncan McLeod organized a meeting to pray for rain. The meeting was attended by most of the local residents and all but one of the local farmers. Phineas Dodd, a firm believer that nature would take its own course, was the sole holdout. Three hours after the prayer meeting ended, a line of severe thunderstorms rumbled across the county, bringing rain at last. During the storm, lightning struck farmer Dodd's barn and it burned to the ground.
Farmer Dodd, took the minister to court and sued for damages, arguing that the thunderstorm that caused the destruction of his barn was the direct result of the prayer service organized by McLeod.
In court, the minister was in a difficult position. Hadn't he been praised for causing the rain? How could he now deny a direct cause and effect relationship between the prayer service and the thunderstorm that evening? Fortunately, McLeod had a good lawyer who pointed out to the judge that the minister had prayed for RAIN, and not for thunderstorms. Thus, McLeod was not responsible for the lightning that had destroyed Dodd's barn. On this basis, the case was dismissed. If floods instead of lightning had caused the damage, perhaps McLeod would not have fared so well in court.
Thanks to contributing writer James Fleming, a weather historian and author at Colby College in Maine. The Weather Notebook is underwritten by Subaru with major support provided by the National Science Foundation.