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Forecaster refuses to let vision be clouded

By Folkestone Herald  |  Posted: February 08, 2013

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A CERTIFICATE on the wall from the Cloud Appreciation Society declares that the holder will "henceforth seek to persuade all who will listen of the wonder and beauty of clouds".

And whether there's an accumulation of altocumulus or perhaps a cheeky streak of stratus fractus, Ian watches the clouds from his Harbour Way window, notes their behaviour and puts it together with the most modern technology to create the Cloud Master's daily forecast.

"Mornin' all you slowly awakening souls from a bright and breezy (or cold and grey) Folkestone," his daily Facebook update will declare, providing a national, county-wide and ultra-local forecast, which is proved right far more often than not and, it could be said, more often than others.

"The Met Office does a great job, but it's a massive country, which could have snow in one place and bright sun two miles away. My job is to fill in the gaps."

Ian's small "hobby room" is packed to the gunwales with the tools of his trade. Folder upon folder of charts and cuttings line one wall, faced by shelves of books on every possible aspect of meteorology.

Two computer screens show a bewildering variety of charts and maps.

Ian has been interested in weather since the "summer of the century" in 1976, and the "spectacular" winter the following year – but had his teacher at Cheriton Primary been less strict, he might never have taken his curiosity further .

"We had to do a topic", he explains, "and everyone said they were going to do football or trains.

"I wanted to do trains – I'm a closet trainspotter – but the teacher said everyone had to do something different, which is where the weather came in.

"I was about eight or nine at the time and it's all just gone from there."

Ian was laid off from his job in a tomato greenhouse two years ago, after 20 years' service. He is now semi-retired, caring for his elderly mother and providing a service valued by his 700 Facebook fans.

"It did me a favour," he confides. "I can't even walk past the tomato aisle in Sainsbury's without breaking out in a cold sweat now. When I was made redundant, instead of being bored, I made the most of my interests and passions.

"I've got something to get up for, because people are waiting for the forecast, and it keeps me busy.

"Now I've got all this spare time, I have fun."

He describes himself as a "weather geek" but his knowledge is impressive. Proudly wearing the jumper his sister made, with clouds and rays of sun knitted into a woollen sky, Ian explains the set of circumstances that created the recent cold snap, and the subsequent thaw.

He discusses the way in which the geography of Folkestone affects its weather – the hills protect it from some excesses – and demonstrates how he uses the array of different websites, as well as "holding a wet finger up to the wind" to make his predictions.

"I don't have blood running through my veins, it's rainwater", he grins.

"It got a bit chaotic last week, I thought if one more person asks whether it's going to snow, I'll scream, but I love it. It's a passion and I never get tired of it.

"British people are obsessed with weather, we're so good at talking about it and moaning about it, although sometimes when someone asks me, and I can't help going into full detail, I can see their eyes start to glaze over.

"Before Facebook, all this was kept within these four walls, but now I can share what I know with everyone – that's how the Cloud Master page came about.

"I do have an arch enemy weather site on Facebook but he's got 26,000 fans and he comes out with sensationalist statements, then runs away. People ask him questions and he doesn't answer.

"My page has the personal touch, I've got time to answer everyone.

The other storm chaser page is like a big city, but mine's like a little village, where everyone knows everyone."

The personal touch is definitely present, as people ask whether it will be safe to put the washing out in Folkestone or drive to Margate on a cold morning, and Ian does his best to answer.

It is for that reason he does not want the Cloud Master to become too big, as he fears that touch could be lost.

And there is another reason behind the page.

"I know it sounds morbid, but when I do shuffle off this mortal coil, I'd like to say 'I was here', and this is my way of saying it", he explains with ever-present humour. "I'd like to think that when I get hit by a bus or struck by lightning – which would be a great way for me to go – people won't forget me."

But until that day comes, Ian will carry on doing what he loves, to the satisfaction of his followers.

But he will only forecast a few days in advance – and most definitely will not fall into the trap of long-range "barbecue summer" predictions.

"No comment," he grins, when asked whether there is any chance at all of a Phew What A Scorcher 2013. "We've had five or six poor summers, so it would be a pretty poor show if we had another bad one – but, no, no comment on that."

Ian is a man of many talents, as the picture above shows.

His Great Doodle project, to publish a cartoon online every day for a year, finishes in May and is a challenge involving another of his passions.

"Why do people climb mountains?" he asks.

"Because they're there. It's something I've always wanted to do and now I've got the time to do it."

"I've always been a great one for hobbies," he says.

See his work at www.thegreat doodle.blogspot.com, or idjmedia.blog spot.co.uk or idj20.blogspot.com, where he posts examples of drawing and yet another passion, photography.

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