Chennai Rains | TN’s unique community of weather-watchers helps people ride out the storm

As the city gears up for a week of torrential downpour, Tamil Nadu’s lively network of weather bloggers have sprung into action on social media, keeping people updated with chatty forecasts

November 10, 2021 01:25 pm | Updated 08:30 pm IST

People stand on a dry patch of flooded Marina beach after a heavy rain shower in Chennai on November 7, 2021. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

People stand on a dry patch of flooded Marina beach after a heavy rain shower in Chennai on November 7, 2021. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

In the twilight hours of Saturday, as the city faced the highest amount of rainfall since the deluge of 2015, at around 1.30 am, a text message stirred K Srikanth awake. It was the parent of a child scared by the seemingly unending drums of thunder. “They wanted to know when it would stop,” says the veteran weather blogger from Anna Nagar. “At times like these, our job is more than making accurate forecasts — it is to offer empathy, solace, and calm people down.”

As Chennai faces another severe bout of rains — the city has already exceeded its annual rainfall average with more than a month of monsoon left — its weather bloggers have been hard at work, posting regular forecasts on Twitter and Facebook. Accounts like Tamil Nadu Weatherman run by Pradeep John (377.9K followers), Chennai Rains, run by Srikanth and his group (119.6K), Chennai Weather run by Raja Ramasamy (99.9K) have been buzzing with activity — as have other similar accounts with variations of these words (Tamil Nadu, Chennai, rain, monsoon) in their handles.

“I don’t look at weather blogging as just predicting whether it will rain or not, I try to explain why a certain phenomenon happens,” says Srikanth, who studies weather models, cyclone patterns, wind charts and so on using satellite images available in the public domain.

He uses these visual cues to break down information into three parts: a recap of the phenomenon that took place the previous day, how it is looking now, and what different weather models predict for the next 24 hours.

“You could write 400-word explainers but most people will come back to ask when, where and how much it will rain,” he laughs. Over the years, weather bloggers have had people asking them if they should schedule film shoots, travel to certain areas, book tickets for cricket matches. Fixing a wedding date is no longer just an astrologer’s business — it is the weatherman’s too.

“In 2015, a groom’s family was to come down to Chennai for a wedding on December 6-7. They couldn’t reach the bride’s family, and they called me to ask if they should go ahead with the wedding… It gives you jitters sometimes, to be involved in such big moments in stranger’s lives,” recalls Srikanth.

An awe of cyclones

While these are the dilemmas of the urban world, in interior Tamil Nadu, especially in farm regions, weather forecasts are crucial to livelihoods. Greater accessibility to meteorological data has increased its popularity among laypersons.

Farmer P Periyasamy has seen his ancestors predict rains by closely observing clouds and paying attention to winds.

“I too can tell, to a certain extent,” says the 30-year-old. But he combines his native knowledge with technology. “I started with IMD radar to keep track of the weather,” he says. Some seven years ago, when he had not yet upgraded to a smartphone, he passed on what he learned from the radar to farmers in the neighbourhood.

Perisasamy is based in Dharapuram in Tirupur district and grows groundnuts, corn, and coconuts. He knows how crucial rain prediction is to farmers, especially around harvest time.

“If they are harvesting corn, for instance, and it pours, the entire harvest could go to waste since it would get wet,” he explains. And so when he started out, he used WhatsApp and Facebook messenger to connect with fellow farmers. In 2017, he created a Facebook page called Kongunadu Weatherman, inspired by Tamil Nadu Weatherman Pradeep John.

But unlike John, Periyasamy focusses on predicting rains in the Kongu belt: Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, and Salem. “I get it right 70% to 80% of the time,” he says, adding that farmers have postponed their harvest based on his advice.

The passion for studying weather is something many cities in Tamil Nadu share — Chennai perhaps has the highest number of such weather enthusiasts.

In Neelankarai, another senior blogger ‘VV’ Prasad has been keeping an eye on the rain gauge installed on his terrace; it is a busy week for him.

“Indian monsoon is studied around the world,” he says. “Because the Bay of Bengal is small, our weather changes dynamically, and is harder to monitor. That is part of the fun for Tamil Nadu’s weather bloggers,” he says.

As opposed to most of India, which gets the South-West monsoon, Tamil Nadu gets the North-East monsoon (winds come in from the Bay of Bengal), which coincides with the cyclone season, explains Srikanth. “And all of us are fascinated by cyclones. Whether out of fear or awe, we feel connected to it,” he says.

It is not just Chennnaiites, but former residents who now live in the UK and the US that monitor the city’s weather, adds VV.

“I am a part of a WhatsApp group of over 100 weather enthusiasts from Tamil Nadu, but mostly Chennai, where we discuss the technical aspects of weather watching,” he says. “We even have an informal contest where we test our predictions and give each other gifts for correct predictions.”

A weather-wise community

This cultural wave has mushroomed; there is now a weather blogger in almost each locality in the city. This, VV believes, is essential. “Official rain gauges may be 10 kilometres from your place and during thunderstorms, even one kilometre makes a huge difference in the amount of rainfall received,” he says.

The idea, after all, is to create a weather-wise community, which can only happen through repeated observations of which weather models work for which regions, and knowledge of the local infrastructure. Something that Chennai’s kids seem to understand already.

All of 16, S Saran, a weather geek, uses Facebook and WhatsApp to talk about all things weather with like-minded people. “I am part of groups in which there are several people my age,” he says.

Saran posts updates on social media in Tamil and English; known as KTC Weatherman on Twitter and Facebook, he has over 3,000 followers.

“It started as a lockdown activity last year when I had plenty of time on my hands,” he says. And now there is no turning back.

Saran lives amid thunderstorms. When rains loom over the Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur, Chengalpet-Chennai region, it is time for him to get to work. There is, after all, a common motivator for students like him — he is the first person in his school to know of a rain holiday.

- With inputs from Akila Kannadasan

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