On the BBC he became a "cult hero". Now weatherman Dan Corbett is growing a cult following in NZ for his colourful turn of phrase and sunny demeanour. Could he be our next Augie Auer or Jim Hickey?

Dan Corbett will never forget driving over the brow of a lush, green valley in Texas, United States, and seeing total devastation laid out before him.

It was 1997 and a category EF5 tornado - that's as big as they get - had just wiped out the town of Jarrell, killing 27 of its 1300 residents.

"I remember going to see the community afterwards and you drove through this lovely green valley and over the brow of the hill, and you saw this long, brown scar," Corbett says.

"It was a mile wide and five miles [8km] long, and you got to the edge of it and the road stopped. All the asphalt had gone, all the trees, houses, and it had even sucked up the earth. It always brings it home when you see the sheer power of what it can do."


Meteorologist Corbett was working for a local CBS television station in Waco, Texas, in an area known as Tornado Alley. Part of that job was warning people if twisters were on their way, so they could get to safety. That tornado revealed the value of Corbett's work: had residents not been warned to seek shelter, the death toll could have been higher.

For nearly 20 years, Corbett has predicted the path of twisters, crossed live from knee-deep English floodwaters and warned Wimbledon fans of rain showers. He now advises Kiwis on where to find the sunniest beaches at Anniversary Weekend.

In the UK, he says, he was BBC One's answer to Jim Hickey. He now works for the MetService in Wellington but won't rule out a tilt at New Zealand's evening news - he says television does get in your blood.

TV3's head of news, Mark Jennings, says Corbett has a distinctive style - you love it or hate it.

"Personally, I like it," Jennings says. "Sometimes I think he gets a little too demonstrative but it is hard to pull back when you have adopted a style like this.

"He actually reminds me of the late Augie Auer. Augie liked to draw a picture for the audience and try to bring the subject alive, and Dan is similar.

"He is clearly a talent and he would be on any news director's list of candidates if a weather-presenting job opened up."

Corbett was born in the UK but moved to the US at age 8, where he began chasing storms. He initially worked for private weather firms, and did forecasting for pilots and industrial clients such as gas companies after graduating with a meteorological degree, before turning his attention to the screen.

"I remember one day just watching the television and watching some bloke wave his hand, and I thought, 'I could do a better job than that,"' he says.

"Being in America and having still an English accent, I was slightly different - or as some of them would say, odd. So it took a bit of time, it took a couple of years to break in."

But break in he did, working for two CBS-affiliated stations before being lured back to Britain to be the lead weather presenter for the BBC's new 24-hour news service.

The station had a less formal approach to what the BBC had done, and Corbett's more casual manner and waving arms had one established presenter warning: "Oh dear god, boy, you can't do that sort of thing on British television."

Within months, that same presenter adopted some of Corbett's mannerisms.

Fellow BBC weatherman John Hammond says Corbett was a breath of fresh air. But beneath the quirky persona is a serious meteorologist who cares passionately about the science. "He has a unique gift of cutting through the 'met-speak' to give meaning to the weather in everyday terms," Hammond says.

"Only one person could express the internal musings of your pet dog and turn it into a weather forecast."

By the time Corbett and his wife Helen quit their jobs at the BBC and packed their bags for New Zealand, the UK's Radio Times was calling him a "cult hero".

British blogger Kirsty Smith is a member of the Corbett "cult" - in July 2006 she launched a blog dedicated to Corbett and his turn-of-phrase.

"Dan's forecasts on the BBC News Channel had drawn my attention long before that," she says, "mainly due to his infectious enthusiasm and frequent addition of quirky lifestyle comments: 'Not the night for the telescope/washing on the line', 'Perfect day to mow the lawn/have a barbecue', often accompanied by mimes or hand gestures." Kirsty uses the abbreviation TTWFN, in honour of Corbett's nightly BBC sign-off, "that's the weather, for now".

In 2011 he took on the role of media and communications meteorologist at the MetService. He's finding the weather here "challenging", and quite different from the bland weather of Britain.

"Here you can get raging northerlies, raging southerlies, it is amazing," he says. "It's a weatherman's dream in that sense."

And though the weather here doesn't tend to be as life-threatening as much of what he has presented, it can still be "quite mean and nasty, with fangs and teeth as well".

That reference to "fangs and teeth" is what has become known as a "Dan-ism"; he uses memorable phrases to make people remember - and understand - the weather.

"In my case, I create the metaphors. I talk about 'today will be the day where you'll be sitting in your car and you'll go past all the duck ponds and all the ducks will have smiles on their faces', so people will get a picture in their mind.

"It sounds daft but it's creating another image, which helps almost reinforce the message."

Corbett won't rule out a return to the 6pm news, but for now he's happy being the go-to guy for the public whenever there's a summery high over the Hokianga or a storm brewing in the Bay of Plenty.

If there is, and you hear Corbett warn you to stay inside, best take his advice - there could be fangs and teeth in that storm.