In his Twitter bio, Pradeep John, aka Tamil Nadu Weatherman, describes himself as a common man who loves rain more than anything else. “Tweets mostly on weather and at times on cricket, covid, stocks and others,” he says, adding, “Follow IMD for official forecasts.”
Yet, many people in the city follow him instead of the official forecast, preferring his easy, chatty updates on the weather, coached in layman’s terms. His social media pages are intensely popular—he has 385.3k followers on Twitter and 819k on Facebook—and many city dwellers won’t think about heading out to work or planning an event without consulting these pages.
A peek into his latest posts throw up his latest updates: detailed forecasts of the recent rains that battered Chennai all through November 11. “Massive beautiful ball of dense clouds has formed in the centre area of the depression. The outer bands are falling over Chennai right now,” he writes in a November 10 Facebook post, adding that heavy rains can be expected in the city till noon. “Stay safe. I can see many fun comments that Chennai escaped, and I want to clarify that the main show is yet to begin,” he says.
A self-confessed pluviophile, John developed an interest in the weather back in 1994, when a cyclone crossed Chennai. “It was the starting point for me; I was in the 7th standard,” says John, who holds an MBA degree and works a day job in a financial company. This curiosity cemented into passion two years later when Chennai received an unexpected bout of rain in June, an unusual occurrence since the city’s maximum rainfall comes from the Northeast monsoons later in the year. “It rained for thirty-six hours,” he recalls, adding that this occurrence made him develop a keen interest in understanding why it rained.
Internet accessibility was still in its fledgling stage back then, but what was available were newspapers. “The Hindu used to put out satellite imagery of rainfall,” says John, who would closely study it. Then, in 2008, he began blogging about the weather, joining a community of other weather bloggers who proliferated around the same time. He refers to Mumbai-based Rakesh Kapadia, another weather enthusiast, as his guru.
While his Blogspot site was great for building community, it didn’t really garner many followers. So, in 2014, he began putting out rainfall information on his Facebook page, trying to educate people on how to interpret weather charts and convergence. Till November 2015, he had less than 1000 followers, but it didn’t matter; he was simply doing it out of interest anyway, tracking the weather before and after work and through the weekends. In November 2015, however, it all changed.
After predicting and tracking the floods that inundated Chennai back then, he shot into fame, becoming a cult figure of sorts in the city. The floods were chased the following year by his predictions around Cyclone Vardah. “The most number of posts were shared back then,” he says, adding that while he doesn’t post every day, he does put out information regularly during times of bad weather. “Weather tracking is my passion; it makes me complete,” says John, who received a Pride of Tamil Nadu Award in 2018 for social impact.
However, he appears a trifle worried when I ask him about him being the last word in the city’s weather. “It is very stressful,” he says. “The weather never happens as we say it will.” It was easier, he says, when he had fewer followers, fewer eyes on him. “It can be too much,” he says.