Watching with the weatherman: the self-taught meteorologist

“Dave the Weather” may seem comical - but many take his predictions seriously.

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It’s 11am on a late January morning and “Dave the Weather” is preparing for his daily walk. From his living room on a Kent housing estate, the 75-year-old former policeman – full name David King – inspects his tiny garden, crammed with grape vines, bird feeders, wine-bottle rain gauges, seven thermometers, two wind vanes, a sun sensor – and a view of the sky beyond.

“Clear as a bell,” he says. “But watch, we’ll get mares’ tails later. And that means rain within 24 hours.” Outside, it is cold: -2.2°C when Dave last checked at 8am. He examines the spreadsheet on which he has recorded the weather five times a day since 1985. The average morning temperature on 20 January is 3.9°C. The hard winter Dave warned of months ago has arrived.

“The summer of 1990 was hot, just like last year,” he says. “The winter that followed was very cold, so I knew we’d see that again.”

Among weather forecasters – even the many keen amateurs – Dave is an anomaly. For one thing, he eschews technology, preferring to rely on his own data, significant calendar dates, thousand-year-old moon charts, ancient sayings and observations. His predictions are bold. The Met Office can tell you about the week ahead but Dave makes forecasts for the next six months – and aims for 90 per cent accuracy.

Some experts think he is “uneducated, arrogant, ignorant”, he says, and he thinks little better of them. But many local farmers, transport companies, emergency services and wedding planners take his predictions seriously.

It’s time to go out, along a country lane. Dave is wearing a cap, thick jumper, cords and wellington boots that crunch on the frozen mud. He does not wear a jacket, scarf or gloves.

“You want to feel the wind on your face. Sniff the air. Look – and see. That’s how our forefathers learned.”

Signs of even chillier weather to come are all around, Dave says. There are fewer wildflowers than usual for the time of year: nature won’t put out its finery just to be killed. The sheep’s coats are heavy. Food for the birds – alder fruit, ivy berries, meadowsweet, rosehips – hangs high off the ground, suggesting snow to come.

Dave’s interest in climatology began when he was still a police officer on the streets of London, at the mercy of the elements. Later, after he moved to Kent, his hobby became an obsession. Over a decade he conducted 800 longhand interviews with local people, which he augmented with research in libraries and churches. He accumulated 35,000 “old saws” about the weather, which he trimmed down to 5,000 “tried and tested sayings”.

His favourite, “an absolute banker”, involves Christmas. If 25 December is sunny – as it was in 2014, and as he predicted in August – the next harvest will be bountiful. That means a wet Easter, a frostless May and a mostly good summer. The exception will be July, when there will be two full moons. “That means it pisses with rain,” Dave says. “I learned that in the vineyards of France.”

He climbs over a gate and walks along the River Eden, where open mussel shells suggest the presence of otters. Canada geese and fieldfares soar in the distance towards the North Downs. The wind switches to the east and the temperature drops.

After two hours and five miles, Dave is home. He has a cup of tea and updates his notes. He acknowledges mistakes. Last year he forecast snow; we got floods. But he is often right. As the light dims, his promised mares’ tails appear: thin, wispy clouds, like the faint stroke of a splayed paintbrush. The next morning it rains in Kent.

weatherwithouttechnology.co.uk

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis