When you have a calling, your passion need not be your profession. A topper at SBOA school in Geography, as a twelve year old boy, Pradeep was intrigued by a Cyclone that crossed Chennai in October, 1994. “The howling and the hissing sounds are still fresh in my mind.” This was followed by another storm two years on. It brought a torrential downpour of 700 mm over 3 days. Schools were shut, power was cut and there was no internet. “I began to observe and study the size of the droplets, how they splashed on the ground.” This curiosity led him to start collecting “news clippings from The Hindu” and he gradually evinced interest in “satellite imagery, isobars and temperature reading” well beyond his college education.
With the economic downturn in 2008, it wasn’t raining jobs. This placed Pradeep under a cloud for three years. Despite being armed with an Engineering Degree from Sathyabama University in Computer Science topped up with an MBA from the University of Madras, this youngster experienced an early ‘career drought’ of sorts. So when an opportunity at a stock broking firm – India Infoline finally came his way, Pradeep John grabbed it with both hands and feet. Never mind the arduous and monotonous routine that involved travelling long distances by bus to software parks. The fancy designation of ‘Relationship Manager’ actually meant distributing pamphlets on demat accounts, at the peak of the share market crash!
The ‘scrip tease’ on the Sensex didn’t quite fascinate Pradeep who pursued his hobby of tracking the weather with aplomb. Having coughed up more than two lakh rupees on an Oracle course, he rustled up whatever resources he could to forecast climatic patterns. Initially, there were updates by Indian Weatherman Rakesh from Chennai and the Kea Weather Blog that whetted his appetite. Soon, he was into serious “number crunching”, ferreting out “rare rainfall data” and zeroing in on “all India toppers.” All this while he moved to a government job as a Manager with the Tamil Nadu Urban Infrastructure Financial Services Limited (TNUIFSL) Although his ‘hobby’ is in the nature of a public service, it has never cast a shadow over his office work.
The sheer “lack of awareness” and the absence of proper “updating of information” on something as crucial as the weather which “touches everyone’s life, made Pradeep embark on his word of ‘mouse’ avatar as Tamil Nadu Weatherman. With remarkable accuracy and in the common man’s lingo, eschewing complex meteorological jargon, his billingual forecasts have been a hit with the public. The Tamilnadu Weatherman facebook page which started in 2014 with 3 or 4 daily updates and about 500 followers, has seen quite a meteoric rise in its popularity with more than 6.55 lakh followers and counting and a million views during adverse weather conditions. The success formula has stemmed from catchy but accurate leads and headlines for all his posts
Tamil Nadu Weatherman became a household name during the 2015 Chennai Deluge. Credibility earned through sleepless nights of poring over images and data and interpreting weather patterns, gave Chennai a heads up. When Pradeep asked folks not to go to the office or schools, people took his warning seriously, a lot more than the official meteorological department forecasts! Ditto with his updates on the Vardah Cyclone in 2016, some of which garnered 1.4 million views. The Gaja and Fani cyclone reports were also spot on. What sets his social media updates apart from the other ‘official’ forecasts are relevant nuggets of information. In peak summer, Pradeep does not give you mere searing temperatures but also places that are witnessing scorching heat. Sample this. “Furnace of Tamil Nadu – Tiruttani records 45.1 C, which is the hottest day in Tamil Nadu in the last two years. Outskirts of Chennai will sizzle too. The last time a station inTamil Nadu crossed 45 C was Tiruttani on the 16th May, 2017…”
In sharp contrast to the infrastructural back up of a government department, Pradeep John is a One Man Army, who operates without an inverter at home. “I just have 3 laptops and a mobile phone which I keep charged. During a power cut, putting out updates are challenging. I face the same hurdles in operating like any common man would.” There have been offers from the public to install inverters, gen sets and even solar equipment at his home but Pradeep has politely declined all this. Despite his financial crunch, he spends fifty thousand rupees every year to subscribe to weather sites for his public service. Although he is the sole breadwinner, with his better half Hannah Shalini a housewife and a school going daughter Laura Abigail to fend for, Pradeep swears that he has “not taken a single rupee from any quarter” to keep his pro bono service going.
As for the hot topic of the season, whether Chennai will get through this harsh summer and the acute water scarcity, with a ‘We Shall Overcome’ flourish, Pradeep recalls that the water storage in the city was more precarious even in the past.. What about cloud seeding? “The wind patterns in Chennai are not favourable for that.” What about prayers for rain? “I respect all beliefs.”
That’s not the only vivid memory. “Nobody used to even look at my face in those 3 torrid years when I was hunting for a job.” His facebook page has dramatically changed his image. Educational institutions queue up for requests for lectures. Political parties have his number on their speed dial for a literal ‘rain check’ before rallies. In a lighter vein, “in 2015, I had jet black hair. Now there’s pepper and salt!” Our ‘never say ‘dye’ Tamil Nadu Weatherman is in for showers of blessings.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)