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Q&A: The Wisdom of Hanoi’s Weatherdude

With storm season a yearly occurrence in Vietnam, it's always a good time to sit down with the fount of climate knowledge that is Hanoi’s Weatherdude to learn about the atmospheric movements of our planet.

Since 2014, Weatherdude has been there to provide the kind of updates that non-Vietnamese speakers need. He’s currently the only person giving forecasts for the capital in English and, though he humbly claims to be merely an amateur, his predictions are remarkably accurate.

With more than 10,000 followers on Facebook, his hobby has become a Hanoi institution. He is the vigilante of the weather forecasting world and is one of the city's most trusted sources of meteorological news. Despite holding a "get to know the Weatherdude" event a few years ago, the man himself remains shrouded in mystery, and would only speak to Saigoneer under a condition of anonymity.

How old were you when you realized you had what it takes to be Hanoi’s Weatherdude?

That’s a deep question. I always refer back to the time I was walking in the rain, and I came back after a long storm totally drenched. I was about 12 years old and my mom said, "You really like walking in the rain!" My mom basically reinforced in me that I like to feel the elements. When there was a storm people would say, "Close the windows, there’s lightning and thunder outside!" I was the kid who went outside. My mom screamed at me and said, "You need to get in the house."

I studied science at university, but I never focused just on meteorology. I was always interested in atmosphere, like what's happening in Hawaii, the lava stuff. I just feel like I have an interest and I kept that interest for a long time, and maybe that becomes a relative expertise.

Have you always been fascinated by weather? How long have you been the Weatherdude?

The Weatherdude site has been around for four years, but I’ve been talking about the weather everywhere I’ve worked for about 15 years. A good friend of mine five years ago said, "Why don't you open a Facebook page? You don’t need a blog or website, just make a page and start generating interest." It sounded like a joke — Hey Weatherdude’ — but then it became an actual thing.

It’s often very polluted in Hanoi, particularly in winter. How much of that haze is pollution and how much is natural?

If you look at pictures from French colonial times, it was misty in March then. It’s to do with geography mostly. The thing about it is, when it’s that type of weather there’s no wind moving through, so the AQI shoots right up. The mist is a meteorological phenomenon, but smog is increasing every year.

This is the best time of year. Look how clear it is! The storm blows the pollution away. That’s why Saigon is so clean because it's summer every day. They have a dry season but it's not like this dry season. That long three-month stillness where hardly anything moves.

What can we expect from the weather this year?

Did you hear about the big storm in India recently with the dust? Climate change, right, it's real. It means the intensity of storms will get stronger. Just that one degree difference or half a degree difference causes a lot of variables to increase. That means tighter storms that are stronger in the middle. The winds speeds are higher and the precipitation harder. A lot of climate experts say typhoons are not getting bigger in terms of diameter, they are getting bigger in terms of the eye wall, which is getting more intense. That's why you have a lot of category fives. We’re probably gonna get our first typhoon in about a month.

But these convection storms…I feel like they have been increasing quite considerably — in the last five years especially. When I looked out from my balcony yesterday and I saw those mammatus clouds…a few years ago, we had two of those in June and I noticed that cranes had been broken by the wind. The metal from those cranes was not there. Hopefully, nobody was in the way.

Mammatus clouds above Hanoi. Photo via Saigoneer.

So storms are getting worse?

If I said there are going to be huge ones…I mean, how do I know? Based on the last few years and on current monitoring and world temperatures, they are getting more extreme. But it's like the physics uncertainty principle — you can't predict when and where and how big at the same time. And it’s frustrating as hell. You have to have a supercomputer.

Maybe in the future we can figure it out, but storms are going to get bigger. More trees knocked down. I think the biggest thing is the wind. Precipitation, too. According to climate experts, northern Vietnam is in a predicted drought area starting in the next 20 to 50 years. So I think there are still going to be intense storms, but less frequent.

You’ve already answered this a little bit, but what are your views on climate change?

I definitely believe in the science because it’s science. But what is normal? It’s really hard to figure out what’s normal. How long have we had records for these storms? In Vietnam, maybe 20, 30 years? If you ask a meteorologist what’s going to happen in ten years…nobody knows, because the experiment hasn’t been done yet. Terra incognita, that’s what I always write on the page.

We can predict stronger winds. It’s a punch. Any village on the coast, in the Philippines, the houses are going to be knocked down every year. There are about 20 storms in the Pacific each year. That fist is getting bigger.

You’ve been here for 17 years. Have you noticed significant changes over time in Hanoi’s weather?

As a 17-year average, I’d say the winters aren’t cold anymore. The first few years I was here I think it got down to three or five degrees (Celcius). I think in the summers the rain is more frequent. We’ve had some really hot summers. Last year wasn’t too bad. This year is like a late summer. It didn’t get into the 30s until last week.

The number of super typhoons has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. The Pacific will get a Category 5 storm probably in the next two weeks. The conditions are starting to build. The temperature of the sea needs to be at a certain degree. Then it starts evaporating faster, causing spiraling and convection currents.

I’ve heard that planes are experiencing more turbulence. Do you know why that might be?

Yeah, I’ve heard that too. It’s to do with convection. Higher global temperatures mean more turbulence. Convection is turbulence because its hot air rising and forming eddies. Like a candle flame. The higher the global temperature, in theory, the more evaporation and convection.

You’ve created quite a name for yourself now. Who has contacted you about what you do?

VTV8. They do the weather here. They contacted me and asked me to be a guest speaker on TV a couple of years ago with a bunch of beautiful women in áo dài and I said, "I’m not sure I’m going to match!" And I was too proud, I didn’t want to sell out.

My colleagues at Saigoneer are wondering if you have a secret twin who could be Saigon’s Weatherdude?

I knew that was coming. A lot of people from Saigon have contacted me. Sapa, Ha Long Bay, Da Nang too. But I’ve had quite a few from Saigon. "Help us! It’s flooded! What can I do tomorrow?" I send them an update, but I’m not there, I can’t say for certain. I’m Hanoi’s Weatherdude.

Weatherdude stresses that for life and death situations, people should always refer to official government advice.

[Top image via CNN]

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