David King Interview | Meet The 77 Year-Old Who Predicts The Weather Without Technology
And most of the time he gets it right…
Every morning at 8am, David King steps out into his garden to inspect an array of thermometers, wind vanes and rain gauges made from wine bottles. The 77 year-old former policeman surveys the sky and clouds before recording the weather that day. He’s been keeping detailed records of the climate in the south east of England since 1966.
Britain’s weather is famously changeable. The Met Office can only give you an accurate weather forecast of about one week ahead. David however predicts the weather forecast up to six months in advance – and he gets it right with an unerring accuracy. “The Met Office have got a £97 million computer. All I do is look at the plants, trees and animals," says David. “ I just use what I’ve got around me. If our forefathers could tell the weather three to six months ahead and get it right, why can’t I?"
“The Met Office have got a £97 million computer. All I do is look at the plants, trees and animals…"
For the past forty years, David has shunned technology when it comes to weather forecasting. Instead he relies on nature and ancient charts. He watches the birds, notes when flowers bloom, charts the moon phases, surveys the stars and listens to old country sayings. Many expert meteorologists think David’s methods are bizarre and unfounded. He has no professional qualifications, but his 90 per cent accurate forecasts tell a different story.
It all started when David was a policeman in south London in the 1950s, patrolling the streets from Chelsea Bridge to Vauxhall. “You had to be very streetwise in those days. We had no guns or handcuffs. You lived off your wits and you lived by talking to people." His interest in weather started by watching the ebb and flow of the River Thames. David noticed how the moon affected the tides and consequently the weather. He started reading the moon, stars and skies with the help of an ex-RAF flight engineer. Partly to get his advice on predicting the weather, but mainly because he wanted tips on wearing the right clothes for the conditions while pacing the streets of London.
David moved to Croydon in 1964, back when the south London suburb was filled with fields, trees and birds. It was here David started speaking to local country folk who taught him how to read the land – from watching the birds to recording the sunset each day. He dug out old moon charts compiled by monks in the Medieval era. Slowly, he started to make weather predictions from his observations – and surprised himself by getting them right.
"A number of visiting teams got in touch with David in the run up to the London Olympics"
Armed with 40 years worth of knowledge, David now lives in Edenbridge in Kent. He walks six to eight-miles each day recording which plants are flowering, which insects appearing and looking at the birds flying in the sky. David uses this data to make his predictions for the year ahead. “I did a BBC Radio York show last September. I said on 19th November you are going to get a massive storm. They said, 'Nah that’s rubbish.' Low and behold, the storm came. That’s all because I’m working so far ahead."
Over a 10 year period, David visited cattle markets all around the south east, conducting over 800 interviews with farmers and country folk. He came back with around 35,000 different weather sayings. He’s now whittled them down to 5,000 tried and tested. One of his favourites is if it’s sunny on Christmas Day, then the following summer will be warm and the harvest will be bountiful. “Most people poo-poo these country sayings - but they really work." In 2016, it was mild and dry. This year’s harvest looks set to be fruitful, just as David predicted.
There are a few old country sayings that don’t work. For example, the old wives' tale that cows lie down when it is about to rain. “It’s not because it’s going to rain," says David. “It’s because their legs are tired."
"When migratory birds such as swallows depart, it means the hot weather is over for this summer"
Birds are an important indicator of weather to come. When migratory birds such as swallows depart, it means the hot weather is over for this summer. In fact, it was the cuckoo that confirmed David’s inkling that we would have an early spring this year. Instead of arriving on 17th April, the cuckoo arrived 20 days early. This was signalled in advance by the cuckoo plant. It normally flowers in mid-April, prompting a bird called a willow warbler to build a nest because the cuckoo is coming. 36 hours later, the cuckoo will arrive and lay one egg in the willow warbler’s nest. This year the cuckoo plant flowered on 24th March. Sure enough the cuckoo bird arrived two days later.
David gets weather forecast requests from people all over the country – from farmers to wedding planners. He gets a lot of wedding requests. The royal family allegedly contacted David when planning Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding.
Back in 2012, a number of visiting teams got in touch with David in the run up to the London Olympics. They wanted to know what the weather would be like for the track-and-field events. Eight weeks before the event, David said the weather would get warmer towards the second week and there would be a heatwave on the final ceremony. He was bang on.
Geography does pose a slight problem. David's expertise lies mainly in London and the south east of England. The weather in Edenbridge, for example, isn’t going to be the same in Liverpool or Aberdeen. David is slowly building knowledge up the east coast into Yorkshire to help predict the weather up there. He also has 50 to 60 stalwarts recording their own weather patterns across the UK. “If someone writes to me and says they are getting married, I take down their postcode to find out the exact date and time of the moon phases and I can start to work it out. I don’t charge, I do it for free because slowly you build street cred, don’t you? You earn respect."
"I do it for free because slowly you build street cred, don’t you?"
What do the Met Office think about David’s technology-free methods? “I don’t care what they think," says David. “I was a member of the Royal Meteorological Society for over 20 years. We had meetings every month. Michael Fish (a famous BBC weatherman) and all those suits think they know everything. I said to them, your computer started in 1985. My data started in 1150. That’s one thousand years worth of data. I don’t care how good your computer is. With respect, you are doing it all wrong. That went down with the experts like a lead balloon, didn’t it?"
So what does David predict for the rest of 2017? He informs me that everything is two to three weeks early this year. “The first frosts will come in October 2017. Everything will stop growing. Last year we had a very long autumn. Lots of blackberries and stuff. You won’t get that this year. Everything will stop dead third week of September when the storms come."
There’s an old folk saying that a hard winter is followed by a poor summer which is followed by an even harder winter. David has worked out these hard winters come about every 15 years after a good summer. “The last really cracking summer we had was 2003. Add 15 years to that and you get 2018. I work with the moons. Now the first five moons for 2018 are all snow and ice. The hottest days in June 2017 – 13th to 26th – will be the coldest days in February 2018. That’s a 100 per cent banker. So we will get a freezing cold January and February, plus a lot of snow this year."
There is one question David is always asked – will is snow on Christmas Day? “There’s no snow for London and the south east at Christmas this year, but there might be above Birmingham. Some people will say this is global warming. I say rubbish." David doesn’t believe that human-produced carbon emissions are affecting our planet’s temperature, contrary to scientific research by NASA. “We had a Mediterranean climate in the south of England in the 1000/1100s. In 1341 we had nine months of frost. In 1585 we had nine months drought. In 1731 everything froze including the Thames. Every 250 years, it runs cyclical. We get hot periods and cold periods."
He does agree however that deforestation is critically harming the planet. “The whole of the equator is covered in trees. If you start chopping trees down, you take away the lungs of the earth. That’s why the clever ones are so annoyed and upset that rainforests are being chopped down across India, Thailand, Indonesia and South America."
So if you want to start predicting your own weather at home, where do you start? David’s website is great resource – it has all of his upcoming predictions written in detail, plus an archive of previous weather forecasts. To get started at home, go to the Time and Date website and put your postcode in to find out the moon phases for your area. Next, use David’s book, Weather Without Technology to help you note down and predict the weather in your hometown. “If you record the weather day-by-day for a whole year, then on day 366, you can tell what the weather is going to be, more or less exactly. It takes about a year to run in."
There are a few tips David always lives by. Watch where the wind blows on Quarter Days (21 March, 24 June, 29 September and 21 December) as this will be the predominant wind direction for the next 90 days. The wind direction on St Martin’s Day (11 November) in particular will tell you if it’s going to be a warm or freezing cold winter. Also keep an eye on moon phases and the tides. A full moon paired with a high spring tide (when the tidal ranges are greatest), a perigee (when the moon orbits closest to the earth) could spell a weather-related disaster for the UK. This will occur on 4 to 6 November 2017. We could see a repeat of the North Sea floods of 1953, which affected England, Scotland, the Netherlands and Belgium.
In today's modern world, it's so easy to get caught up in technology, constantly checking your weather app and then bemoaning when it's wrong. While technology can be enormously helpful, there's something to be said about holding onto methods used by our ancestors. The trick is to stay observant. Put down your phone and take a little more notice of what is going on around you. Which birds can you see? What are the insects doing? Are there plants flowering or foliage dying? The signs are just outside your window. You just need to know what to look for.
While we are never guaranteed a white Christmas nor can we expect a British summer without any rain, there is one thing that is certain. You won’t find David King sitting inside watching the weather forecast on the television any time soon. “Those weathermen on the TV, they just read off a script. I’m 50 years into climatology, so I know a little more about what I’m talking about than they do. The only script I’ve got is nature."